By Sam King
The sooner military operations in Ukraine stop the better. There are two ways the war can stop. Either one side loses and stops fighting, or there is a negotiated settlement. Negotiated settlement – starting with a ceasefire and peace talks – is the fastest and least destructive path.
Yet U.S. policy appears to make a peace settlement impossible. The near unanimous view in Washington seems to be that the war should be drawn out, possibly even escalated, so as to bleed Russia as much as possible.
This highly aggressive US policy is demonstrated by a range of statements made by top US political figures from the President down, the total unwillingness of the US to engage in any real negotiation with Russia, as well as US / NATO sabotage of any initiatives by their client regime in Ukraine to negotiate with Russia.
While Western media hysteria lays responsibility for the war solely on the Russian side, it is obvious that the United States could easily have prevented the war from starting – at the very least forestalled it – had the Biden administration wished to do that. That could have been achieved (and could be achieved now) by Biden agreeing to negotiate with Russia.
The U.S. was involved in negotiations with Russia prior to the Ukraine invasion, at least in name, but this was a façade. Backed up by a choir of hawkish mass media, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken consistently refused to consider any of Russia’s main demands, while dismissing them as ludicrous, unrealistic, etc.
In an April 15 interview on The Intercept, Noam Chomsky argued that the Russian demands are very clear: neutralisation and demilitarisation of Ukraine. He says the Russian demand for demilitarisation does not mean that Ukraine has no military, but that it cannot be a staging ground for heavy weaponry that can threaten Russia.
Chomsky likens the demands to Ukraine adopting a policy similar to a country like Mexico: it is a sovereign nation that has an independent foreign policy advancing its own interests but cannot be the staging ground for advanced weapons pointed at the United States.
ANTI-RUSSIA HYSTERIA OBSCURES THE PATH TO PEACE / NEGOTIATIONS
The McCarthyite atmosphere whipped up in the Western mainstream media, heaping complete responsibility on Russia for the war and refusing to identify U.S. policies that have created the conditions for it has prevented discussion about how to end the conflict.
Criticism of Russia by the media or public opinion in a country like Australia, or other U.S. allied imperialist states cannot have the impact of changing Russian policy. The Ukraine invasion and Vladimir Putin are both supported by a large majority of the Russian public.
That majority public opinion in hostile states like the US and Australia is against Russia’s actions must be of secondary concern to Putin. At the same time, blaming only Russia for the war creates the false perception that it is only a Russian war – not also a U.S. proxy war against Russia – covering over the fact that a change in the policy of the U.S. and its allies could end the war.
Australia is not a major direct participant. However, if the Australian government (or another allied imperialist country) where to publicly call for the US to seriously engage in negotiating a settlement, that would have a big impact in putting negotiations for peace on the agenda and applying pressure on Biden – especially if the war drags on.
One basic contradiction in the Western propaganda narrative is between the almost ubiquitous presentation of the war as essentially an all-out massacre of Ukrainian civilians by the Russian armed forces and the U.S. unwillingness to even entertain trying to bring the war to an end.
If it were true, as we are told nightly, that the Russians are levelling populated civilian apartment buildings and generally targeting civilians in a campaign of wanton mass killing – then shouldn’t Biden be making a serious effort to stop or halt this?
According to the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, there had been 2,072 recorded civilian deaths as of April 18. That is the number of civilian deaths resulting from the actions of both sides. The real number of dead would be higher. However, even if we double or triple the UN figure – it still shows the mass media claims of targeting civilians is false. Levelling a single occupied residential building could kill hundreds, if not thousands of people.
If the Russian policy really were to target civilians and level cities, it has the fire-power to kill not thousands but millions – as the U.S. did in Iraq when it deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as electricity generation and water treatment plants. Clearly that is not happening in Ukraine though the McCarthyite atmosphere prevents many people from pointing out the obvious.
A previous high-point of anti-Russia hysteria, especially in the United States, occurred around the baseless accusation by the Democratic Party – which had emerged as the principal party of the U.S. ruling class – that Hillary Clinton’s 2016 election loss to Donald Trump was not due to her widespread unpopularity among American voters as the candidate of the corporate elite – but was because of Russian interference in the election.
The Democrats refusal to accept their election defeat, and the participation by much of the liberal mass media in repeating the baseless anti-Russian conspiracy, was an important step towards creating the McCarthyite like atmosphere still prevailing.
A major aspect of the propaganda offensive has been to personally demonise Vladimir Putin. This personalisation of the conflict helps to generate hysteria. A hate figure – before Putin it was Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Ghaddafi, Saddam Hussein and so on – obviously helps to popularise the propaganda line.
But it also distracts, again, from the real issue. By thinking of “Putin’s war” we are not thinking of Russia’s war, nor Russia’s claimed security interests, which the Russians (not only Putin) wish to negotiate with the United States and the U.S. is refusing to do so.
Not only is Biden refusing to enter negotiations, he and others are making inflammatory and false statements targeted at Putin that indicate the White House clearly intends not to enter negotiations.
Over the last few weeks, Biden has publicly stated of Putin that he “has to go”, is a “war criminal”, who is committing “genocide” and might be planning chemical weapons attacks. Boris Johnson has chimed in, saying the purpose of economic sanctions is to “bring down the Putin regime”. Once accusations like “war criminal” and “genocide” are levelled against a head of state, it makes negotiations with them increasingly fraught.
In-fact these statements, which appear to be an escalating rhetorical campaign, clearly pose the question of whether U.S. policy in Ukraine and towards Russia is not really about regime change in Russia itself. The same question is posed, perhaps even more clearly by the increasing levels of U.S. and allied military aid to Ukraine.
U.S. NUCLEAR PRIMACY AND NATO AGGRESSION AGAINST RUSSIA
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was originally formed as a collective security pact among the rich, North Atlantic capitalist, imperialist states for the purpose of conducting their “Cold War” against the Soviet Union. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, NATO’s reason for existence was called into question.
Boris Yeltsin, the first post-Soviet Russian president – widely derided as a hapless US puppet – expressed interest in 1991 in Russia joining NATO. Putin took the same view in the early stages of his presidency that began in 2000. While consecutive Russian administrations appeared willing to come to a security agreement with the NATO countries, this outcome has never been acceptable to the United States.
Taking advantage of the “security vacuum” created by Russia’s weakness following the Soviet collapse, the United States sought to both expand NATO eastwards and pursue its policy of nuclear primacy. The later aimed to move beyond the previous policy of mutually assured destruction which prevented either side from making a first nuclear strike (as they would be destroyed in the inevitable retaliation).
U.S. nuclear primacy, a policy first devised during the Jimmy Carter administration with Zbigniew Brzezinski as national security advisor, aimed to develop a U.S. counterforce capacity that would allow the U.S. to destroy Russia’s arsenal before it could reach the United States.
The nuclear-primacy-counterforce strategy is intimately linked to NATO expansion because counterforce requires the establishment of missile defence systems. The U.S. doctrine aims to destroy most Russian weapons and delivery capacity through a series of rapid first strikes but also relies on missile defence shields to destroy the small number of Russian missiles still launched.
Destruction of Russian forces relies on the placement of U.S./NATO weapons in the new NATO member countries bordering Russia – the most strategic being Ukraine. Missile defence strategies rely on the same: defence facilities have already been placed in Romania and Poland.
Eastward NATO aggression has been a policy for over 30 years, involving a series of accessions of Central and East European countries to the treaty organisation. Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania joined in 2004; Croatia and Albania followed in 2009. Georgia and Ukraine were promised membership in 2008 but, under strong Russian objections, have so far remained outside.
In 2001 – the George W. Bush government unilaterally abrogated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) signed by the US and the USSR.
Russian reactions have been a surprise to no one and publicly discussed for decades. George Keenan was a chief architect of the “Truman Doctrine”, US imperialism’s strategy to “contain” the Soviet Union after World War Two. In 1997 he argued in the New York Times that a decision to “expand NATO up to Russia’s borders” would be “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.”
According to Keenan:
“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking. And, last but not least, it might make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to secure the Russian Duma’s ratification of the Start II agreement and to achieve further reductions of nuclear weaponry.”
The Russia-phobic public mood brought on by the Democratic Party helped Trump’s Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis unveil in 2018 an updated National Defence Strategy (NDS) openly targeting China and Russia. The NDS which is the guiding policy doctrine of the Pentagon and the US military made anti-China and anti-Russia aggression official:
“inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security” and “it is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”
“Long-term strategic competitions with China and Russia are the principal priorities for the Department, and require both increased and sustained investment, because of the magnitude of the threats they pose to U.S. security and prosperity today, and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.”
Perhaps foretelling U.S. policy towards Ukraine and Russia, the NDS states that “deterring or defeating long-term strategic competitors” (note “defeating”) involves “manoeuvring them into unfavourable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.”
Trump and Mattis also took the opportunity to tear up the 1988 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The treaty had banned short-medium range and intermediate range missiles based on land. US abrogation allows for placement of these missiles in NATO countries close to Russia’s border.
As widely predicted, the earlier – 2001 – U.S. abandonment of the 1972 ABM treaty was bound to trigger an eventual Russian response once the country was strong enough. Sure enough, by 2018, Russia unveiled a range of new developmental nuclear delivery systems—an intercontinental hypersonic glider, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, and a nuclear-powered torpedo.
As Putin put it when announcing the new weapons publicly, “we have repeatedly told our American and European partners who are NATO members: we will make the necessary efforts to neutralise the threats posed by the deployment of the US global missile defence system”.
UKRAINE AS THE “GEOPOLITICAL PIVOT“
US intervention in Ukraine – especially the U.S. sponsored regime change operations in 2004 and 2014 – has to be seen in this context of three decades of US aggression against Russia (which came after more than five decades of U.S. aggression against Russia in the Soviet period).
Realist academic John Mearsheimer has been widely viewed and quoted showing that Ukraine represents the key geostrategic zone between territory controlled militarily by NATO and that controlled by the Russian Federation. Accordingly, a neutral Ukraine would act as a buffer state between the two military powers and reduce tensions between them.
A similar acknowledgement of the strategic importance of Ukraine is made throughout Brzezinski’s famous 1997 book, The grand chessboard: American primacy and its geostrategic imperatives.
In it, he argues that, “Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.” (p45)
In Brzezinski’s phrasing, “American policy makers [from the 1990s] also came to describe the American-Ukrainian relationship as “a strategic partnership,” deliberately invoking the same phrase used to describe the American-Russian relationship.” (p113)
John Bellamy Foster, who describes the current war as a “U.S. Proxy war in Ukraine”, outlines the long term and increasing US and allied military aid:
“Washington provided an enormous amount of military support to Kyiv between 1991 and 2021. The direct military aid to Kiev from the United States was $3.8 billion from 1991 to 2014. From 2014 to 2021, it was $2.4 billion, increasing in rate, and then finally skyrocketing once Joe Biden came into office in Washington. The United States was militarizing the Ukraine very fast. The United Kingdom and the Canada trained around 50,000 Ukrainian troops, not counting those trained by the United States. The CIA actually trained the Azov Battalion and the right-wing paramilitaries. All of this was targeting Russia.”
Annexation of Ukraine into NATO (either de-facto or formally) and hence expanding NATO’s territory right up to the Russian border (just 450km from Moscow), is seen as an unacceptable threat. Russian officials have long warned, and continue to insist, that a NATO armed Ukraine, a staging post for advanced offensive weapons pointed at Russia, is a “red line” that nuclear armed Russia will never accept.
It may be possible to argue, following Keenan or Mearsheimer, that U.S. and NATO policy towards Russia for the last thirty years is some sort of bipartisan catastrophic mistake. Though, what is impossible to deny is that the policy has been a policy of aggression against Russia and that Russia is clearly responding to that aggression against it.
The idea that any state subject to U.S. hostility might somehow not have legitimate security concerns does not belong in the real world. Similarly, the notion that Russian security concerns are somehow not legitimate, simply because the Russian capitalist regime of Vladimir Putin is not socially progressive, also represents a refusal to think about and analyse the real world. The Russian state, which possesses the second biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons, will defend its interests whether we like it or not.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH RUSSIA NOW!
Collating these basic historical facts does not imply any sort of political support for the horrendous and brutal February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine. Rather, such a basic historical grounding is a necessary starting point for working out what to think.
Opponents of capitalist war and imperialist aggression, those who also refuse to kowtow to the stifling McCarthyite orthodoxy and pro-imperialist moralism that obscures and lubricates the militarism of the U.S. and other rich, imperialist aggressor states need to formulate concrete and realistic plans for how we can act now to oppose their militarism.
Those of us living in Australia, the United States or other countries far from Russia cannot make effective demands on, or action against, the Russian state. To be effective we need anti-war action that targets Australia and its imperialist allies.
The principal and most urgent demand seems to be “negotiate now”. Biden needs to agree to that. The Australia government can’t, but we should be demand Australian (plus the ALP and Greens) adopt a position of calling on Biden to negotiate.
To make it clear, we can demand Biden “negotiate on Russia’s security demands” – which are demilitarisation and neutrality for Ukraine.
In addition, the brutal economic sanctions, which mostly hurt Russian working people, as well as working people around the world, should be lifted immediately. Calling for Ukrainian client regime to release its political prisoners and rescind its ban on opposition political parties can also highlight to working people here the hypocrisy and one sidedness of the mass media presentation of the war.
Finally, we should demand that U.S. and NATO end military aid to their client regime in Kyiv – as this has the aim and objective of expanding and prolonging the conflict and the losses.