My (Partial) Mea Culpa on Putin’s War Against Ukraine
In two previous posts, the first on February 1st and the second on the 20th I shared my skepticism of the U.S. government’s contention that Russia was going to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This was because there had been a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border from at least as early as March 2021 and also due to the fact that President Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and others in the administration had claimed repeatedly that a Russian invasion was “imminent” in December, January and this month without it actually occurring. Troubling as well was the Biden administration’s assurance that it had intelligence which pointed to an all out Russian invasion without being able to share the actual sources or evidence. Particularly disturbing was an exchange that took place between U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price and Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee at a briefing the end of January. Price claimed Russia was preparing a ‘false flag’ operation as the opening act for an invasion of Ukraine. The alleged scheme included a staged explosion and enlisting actors to portray people mourning the dead. To this Lee responded:
You say that they have taken but you have shown no evidence to confirm that and I’m gonna get to the next question here, which is, what is the evidence that they plan … I mean, this is like crisis actors? Really?’ This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into there, what evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?
Price said it was intelligence that had been declassified in order to share it publicly.
“Where is the declassified information?” asked Lee.
“I just delivered it,” Price said.”
“No, you made a series of allegations,” Lee responded.
The exchange concluded with Price telling Lee: “If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government, of the British government, of other governments, and want to find solace in information that the Russians are putting out that is for you to do.”
To me, this kind of thing, coupled with the fact that the promised invasion was simply not materializing, sent up all kinds of red flags about what was really going on. And, needless to say, whether or not the Russians actually intended to carry them out, Price’s wilder claims have still not proven to be accurate.
There was also remains the still legitimate question of how Ukrainian conduct, specifically with regard to the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics,” was also fueling the tensions that got us to this point. It is still a fact that the initial Russian troop buildup was in response to the Ukrainian military’s announcement on April 3, 2021 that it would be engaging in military exercises with five NATO members in Ukraine’s eastern regions later in the year. In particular, the announcement said:
defensive actions will be worked out, followed by an offensive in order to restore the state border and territorial integrity of a state that has been subjected to aggression by one of the hostile neighboring countries.
More recently, there was a report put the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, containing a map of ceasefire violations which clearly show that the Ukrainian government was committing the majority of the violations. As Joe Lauria pointed out in a February 21 article for Consortium News, on February 18th Biden claimed there was no evidence to support the assertion that Ukraine itself was escalating the conflict. The OSCE report proves otherwise.
However, none of the of the foregoing means there is any justification — at all — for the kind full-scale invasion of Ukraine Russia is currently carrying out. It is guaranteed to only ratchet up tensions in Europe even more, provide greater justification for the further expansion of NATO, further increases in U.S. military spending, further arming of Ukraine and other nations in Eastern Europe. Worst of all, it increases the likelihood that things may spiral out of control in Europe, possibly dragging other nations into the conflict and also the possibility for the use of nuclear weapons.
In the past Vladimir Putin made limited, cautious, calculated military moves, such as in Georgia in 2008 and Crimea and Donbass in 2014. It seemed to me that he might be playing a similar game of brinksmanship with the limited objectives of establishing independence for the pro-Russian Donetsk and Luhansk territories, as well as extracting a guarantee from the U.S. that NATO would not expand further into Ukraine or other countries on Russia’s border. But Putin’s present actions and rhetoric reveal a significant, qualitative change in addition to signs he may well be mentally unbalanced. Combine that with Russia’s estimated 6,800 nuclear weapons, this presents a very difficult and dangerous situation to resolve. One hopeful sign is that many of the Russian people have been apparently risking arrest to protest the invasion.
I still have doubts about Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz’ ability to guide the world through this minefield and serious doubts about demonstrable incompetents like Boris Johnson and his foreign secretary Liz Truss having any involvement in the process at at all. Perhaps the UN can step up more to provide more leadership. But Biden, Blinken et al have been proven right about this invasion.
Regardless of how things proceed from here on in, world opinion is going to have to be somehow marshaled for the demand that Russia cease and desist this invasion immediately and remove all of its troops from Ukraine before there is any further discussion on its legitimate security concerns, NATO expansion and the status of the Donetsk and Luhansk territories.