By Barry Sheppard
The June 4 New York Times prominently printed a long opinion piece by Christopher Caldwell titled “U.S. Helps Prolong Ukraine War”. While not an editorial, it was printed in the space editorials appear when they are written.
Caldwell is a neoconservative who opposes the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He is identified by the Times as “a contributing Opinion writer”. In the article, Caldwell says, “But the United States has helped turn this tragic, local and ambiguous conflict into a potential world conflagration.”
He refers to an article written in the French daily Le Figaro by Henri Guaino, an advisor for past French president Nicolas Sarkozy:
“Mr. Guaino argues by misunderstanding the war’s logic the West, led by the Biden administration, is giving the conflict a momentum that may be impossible to stop. He is right.
“In 2014 the United States backed an uprising — in its final stages a violent uprising — against the legitimately elected government of Viktor Yanukovych …”
Caldwell doesn’t explain that this was a rightist uprising by Ukrainian nationalists, with armed far-right groups in the lead, who formed, with U.S. direct intervention, a rightist Ukrainian nationalist government. That government moved to ban the Russian language as one of the official languages of government, which it had been. They mandated the teaching of Ukrainian in schools in the Russian-speaking east.
These armed far-right groups look to the Ukrainian forces that collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War for inspiration.
This new government rapidly launched a civil war against the largely Russian-speaking east. The armed far-right groups formed the Azov Brigade, which became the spearhead of the Ukrainian army up to today.
The West supported the Ukrainian nationalist side in this civil war, while Russia supported the resistance in the east.
The civil war came to a stalemate in the Donbas region that borders with Russia but has continued to the present. Early this year the Ukrainian side launched a new offensive in the Donbas, resulting in troops from the two Peoples Republics in the Donbas and Russian troops stepping up their resistance.
The West, led by the U.S., supported the new government’s pledge to join NATO, completing the eastward move of NATO to confront and threaten Russia all along its west border.
Crimea at the time was part of Ukraine. Crimea had been part of Russia since Tsarist Russia had conquered it from the Ottoman Empire in the late 1700s. In the mid 1950s, the government of the Soviet Union moved Crimea from the Russian SSR to the Ukrainian SSR for administrative reasons, still part of the USSR.
Since Russia conquered Crimea, the port city of Sevastopol was the naval base of Russia’s (and then the Soviet Union’s) Black Sea Fleet. With the break-up of the USSR and the independence of Ukraine, it was agreed that the naval base would remain under Russia’s control.
If Ukraine had joined NATO in 2014, the naval base would fall under the U.S.’s control. Russia responded by retaking Crimea, supported by the Russian-speaking populace.
Caldwell writes “In recent years, Russia’s control of Crimea has seemed to provide a stable regional arrangement. Russia’s European neighbours, at least, have let sleeping dogs lie.
“But the United States never accepted the arrangement. On Nov. 10, 2021, the United States and Ukraine signed a ‘charter on strategic partnership’ that called for Ukraine to join NATO … and affirmed an ‘unwavering commitment to the reintegration of Crimea into Ukraine’.
“That charter ‘convinced Russia that it must attack or be attacked,’ Mr. Guaino wrote. ‘It is the ineluctable process of 1914 in all its terrifying purity’.”
The reference to 1914 is to the escalation by competing military blocs of rival imperialist countries that resulted in the First World War.
Caldwell also writes, “The United States started arming and training Ukraine’s military, hesitantly at first under President Barak Obama. Modern hardware began flowing during the Trump administration, though, and today the country is armed to the teeth.
“Since 2018, Ukraine has received U.S.-built Javelin antitank missiles, Czech artillery and Turkish Bayraktar drones and other NATO-interoperable weaponry. The United States and Canada have lately sent up-to-date M777 howitzers that fire GPS-guided Excalibur shells. President Biden has just signed into law a $40 billion military [additional] aid package.
“In this light, mockery of Russia’s battlefield performance is misplaced. Russia is not being stymied by a plucky agricultural country a third its size; it is holding its own, at least for now, against NATO’s advanced economic, cyber and battlefield weapons.
“This is where Mr. Guaino is correct to accuse the West of sleepwalking [into direct war against Russia].”
Caldwell concludes his long article: “The situation on the battlefield in Ukraine has evolved to an awkward stage. Both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses. But each has made gains, too.
“Russia has a land bridge to Crimea and control of some of Ukraine’s most fertile lands and energy deposits, and in recent days has held the battlefield momentum. Ukraine, after a robust defence if its cities, can expect further NATO support, know-how and weaponry — a powerful incentive not to end the war any time soon.
“But if the war doesn’t end soon, its dangers will increase. ‘Negotiations need to begin in the next two months,’ Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State, warned last week, ‘before it creates upheavals and tensions that will not be easily overcome.’”
Caldwell says that to make no concessions to Russia would be “insanity”.
That the New York Times would feature this article so prominently indicates that an important section of the capitalist class’s political thinkers believes that Biden’s present course can “sleepwalk” into direct U.S. war with Russia with all its dangers, and that a negotiated settlement with Russia must happen.
Germany, France and Italy are calling for a negotiated settlement, and have met with Putin and Zelensky. Under this pressure, Biden said that the war would end with a negotiated settlement.
He also said that the U.S. would not tell Ukraine what to do about negotiations, meaning there will be none. Ukraine is not calling the shots in NATO’s war against Russia, the U.S. is, and the U.S. has blocked any negotiations with Russia.
For now, it is full steam ahead for Biden and his war machine, including threats to other countries that don’t go along. He is keeping all his sanctions against Russia and stepping them up.
This includes his sanctions against Russian wheat and fertilizer. Russia is a major supplier to the world of those commodities, and the result has been a shortage of wheat worldwide, and hunger in much of the Third World dependent on Russia for them.
The White House and the major media in the U.S. have promoted the lie that Russia itself is to blame, turning the victim into the criminal and the criminal into the victim, as Malcolm X said about U.S. policy.
The U.S. administration visited Africa in an attempt to get those countries to stop importing Russian wheat which it sells at cheap prices, but they rejected that out of hand as their people face hunger.
What is the U.S. strategy in Ukraine? An article in CounterPunch by Dan Glazebrook in March explains that it has been to “bait and bleed” Russia.
Glazebrook writes, “The term ‘bait and bleed’ was defined by International Relations theorist John Mearsheimer in 2001 as a military strategy that “involves causing two rivals to engage in a protracted war, so that they bleed each other white, while the baiter remains on the sideline, its military strength intact.”
“The current National Defence Strategy (NDS) of the USA explicitly endorses such a strategy, and it makes no bones about who it is aimed at. The NDS, authored by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, describes itself as ‘a clear road map for the Department of Defense to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,’ adding that ‘interstate strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security.’
“On p.5 of the summary document, under the heading ‘strategic approach,’ the NDS vows that ‘with our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions.’ There it is, in black and white: it is official US policy to bait Russia into conflict.
“The US certainly has form in this regard. Until 1998, the mainstream view of US support for the anti-communist insurgency in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s was that it had been a response to the Russian invasion of December 1979.
“But in an interview in 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, admitted that the truth was the exact opposite. In fact, ‘it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.
And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention…The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war.’ Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.’
“Asked whether he regretted the move, which plunged Afghanistan into a conflict which is now into its fifth decade, he replied ‘Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?’
“Plunging the Afghan people into a half-century of devastating war was of no consequence for the likes of Brzezinski. His successors clearly have the same attitude towards Ukraine.
“In a widely viewed 2015 lecture on Ukraine, Mearsheimer noted that ‘If you really want to wreck Russia, what you really want to do is encourage Russia to conquer Ukraine.’ The US and the UK – the latter in particular – appear to have been taking this advice very seriously.”
Putin fell into the trap with his invasion of western Ukraine and drive on Kyiv, with the purpose of imposing a government favourable to Russia, which was correctly denounced.
It also was a major blunder. Apparently, Putin was unaware that Ukraine had been “armed to the teeth”, and Ukraine repulsed the drive on Kyiv. Russia was forced to withdraw its forces and regroup in the Donbas and the south.
The Russian war then became a defence against Ukraine joining NATO and a future NATO attack, and defence of Crimea.
Any realistic negotiated settlement would have to accept these justifiable Russian interests against NATO aggression. Germany and France appear to accept that. Biden doesn’t.
The New York Times reported that Ukraine’s regular army has been defeated in the Donbas. The Times doesn’t report the truth that the army there was the Azov Brigade. It was the Azov Brigade that was in the southern city of Mariupol and it was its last thousand fighters who surrendered to Russia.
Ukraine’s army in the Donbas is now composed of volunteers, the Times said. Biden has responded to Ukraine’s defeats with ever more sophisticated weapons, that the Ukrainian army doesn’t know how to use, the Times has just reported. Among those weapons are ever more long-range ones. Putin has said that if those long-range weapons are used, Russia will respond.
To use those weapons, it is likely that NATO troops will have to be involved. In this regard, Caldwell also reported, “The United States may be playing an even more direct role. There are thousands of foreign fighters in Ukraine. One volunteer spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May of fighting alongside ‘friends’ who ‘come from the Marines, from the States’.
“Just as it is easy to cross the line between being a weapons supplier and being a combatant, it is easy to cross the line from waging a proxy war to a secret one.”
The only way Russia will now be defeated in the Donbas and the land bridge to Crimea and Crimea itself — Biden’s goals — is by NATO troops entering the conflict, with the dangers Christopher Caldwell outlines.
Biden is attempting to re-create a unipolar world dominated by the U.S. First the defeat of Russia and then by the defeat of China.
Antiwar forces should be demanding a negotiated settlement with Russia now, thwarting Biden’s imperial goals.