The 62 page book, How the West Brought War to Ukraine[i] by Benjamin Abelow was published soon after the start of the invasion of Ukraine. It presents an easy to read explanation of the events and causes leading to Russia’s tragic invasion of Ukraine. What follows is primarily my summation of the book (together with additional observations by other experts).
For 250 years the US has been engaged in almost continuous wars. Regime change has been a central pillar of American foreign policy including violent overthrows of foreign governments. Most of these wars have been wars of choice. Although it is a crime for national leaders to start a war of aggression, most US presidents since World War II have done so. According to a Tufts University database, the US has engaged in more than 100 military interventions since 1991. These include devastating wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia.[ii]
By the standards which are currently being applied to Vladimir Putin, the Americans who brought devastation to Iraq and Afghanistan should be tried.[iii]
In 1990, Western leaders wanted to reunify East and West Germany. Moscow agreed and removed its 400,000 troops from East Germany and Western leaders undertook that NATO would not expand eastward towards Russia’s border. Although there was no formal treaty, there is ample evidence of these assurances which were given at the highest levels.
The Russian and US leaders negotiated the end of the US-Soviet Cold War in 1988-90 “without any losers”. However, President George H.W. Bush changed his mind, declaring in 1992 that “By the grace of God, America won the Cold War.” This has shaped every major Washington policy towards Moscow including the ongoing expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders.[iv] In 1999 NATO admitted three countries from Eastern Europe, and in 2004, NATO admitted more East European countries. By then, NATO had expanded nearly a thousand miles east towards Russia. In 2008, NATO (encouraged by George W. Bush) announced its intention to admit Ukraine and Georgia.
The first secretary general of NATO declared that the purpose of NATO was “To keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Despite the end of NATO’s core mission to protect Western Europe from a Soviet invasion, after 1991 NATO not only remained in existence but expanded eastwards towards Russia.
Western Provocations: 2014-2022
After 2014, the US began a massive program of military and financial aid to Ukraine although Ukraine was not (and still is not) a member of NATO. In 2016, the US established a ballistic missile site in Romania which could accommodate nuclear weapons having a range of 1,500 miles capable of striking Moscow. Those weapons could carry yields 10 times greater than the bomb which destroyed Hiroshima. In July 2021, Ukraine and America co-hosted a major naval exercise in the Black Sea region involving navies from 32 countries. NATO continued to assert that Ukraine would become a member.
Russia’s ambassador to the US warned that if the US and NATO continued to conduct military activities which imperilled Russia, this would be regarded as an existential threat. John Mearsheimer (Professor of Political Science at University of Chicago) described the situation: Russia demanded a written guarantee that Ukraine would never become a part of NATO and the alliance must remove its military assets deployed in Eastern Europe. However, US Secretary of State, Blinken responded, “There is no change. There will be no change.”
In February 2022, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. The outcome of this war is unpredictable. At one extreme there is the possibility of diplomacy and a negotiated compromise bringing peace. At the other extreme is the threat of nuclear catastrophe.
Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot
How would US leaders respond if Russia carried out similar actions near US territory? Would US leaders accept verbal assurances from Russia that its intentions were “benign”? The US would demand that Russian rockets be removed failing which the US might launch a pre-emptive strike, possibly leading to a thermonuclear war and the US would blame Russia.
For almost 200 years the US has forbidden foreign powers from placing military forces in the Western Hemisphere but, the US acts with disregard for the same principles in its dealings with Russia. The US pushes its military forces and training exercises to the edge of Russian territory, claiming that Western intentions are “benign”. As retired colonel Macgregor describes it: “I keep trying to explain to people that for the Russians, what happens in Ukraine is an existential matter. Don’t you understand what we would do if the Russians or the Chinese established a force in Mexico?” In December 2021, Putin asked, “Are we putting our rockets near the borders of the United States? No, we’re not. It’s the US with its rockets coming to our doorstep.”
In 1962, the Soviets placed nuclear missiles in Cuba precipitating the Cuban missile crisis. This occurred after the US had placed hydrogen bombs in Turkey. Ultimately the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba as part of a deal with the US that it would remove its Turkish missiles. Nuclear war was avoided because of a compromise involving John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. The situation is very different now. How should Russia respond?
Policy Experts Warned Against NATO Expansion
Senior US foreign policy experts have repeatedly warned that, in expanding NATO into Eastern Europe, the US was making a dangerous policy error. George Kennan (the most eminent of American statesman) warned that “Expanding NATO would be the most fatal error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era”. Subsequently, Kennan said: “I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War. The Russians will gradually react quite adversely, and it will affect their policies. There was no reason for this whatever.”
Many other US experts publicly opposed NATO expansion but their counsel was ignored. In 2015, John Mearsheimer said that if the West did not stop trying to integrate Ukraine militarily, politically, and economically, the Russians, out of concern for their security might feel compelled to take military action. Instead, US policy gurus have attributed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to “an unhinged and unprovoked Hitler-like drive for territorial expansion.”
NATO expansion has culminated in the Ukraine war. 25 million Soviet citizens died during the German invasion of Russia during World War II. Russia was also invaded by Napoleon in 1812.There can be no doubt that Russian perceptions of external threats are deeply influenced by this history. Instead of recognising Russian security concerns, US analysts claim that Putin is engaged in a “Hitlerian land grab”. While the West continues to perpetuate the myth that the war in Ukraine is motivated by Putin’s wish to restore the Soviet union, this ignores what Putin said in 2010: “Anyone who does not regret the breakup of the Soviet Union has no heart. Anyone who wants its rebirth in its present form has no head.”
US experts who predicted that NATO expansion would lead to disaster were correct. However, many Americans and Europeans have been overtaken by a “war fever by proxy” and the few American politicians who have the courage to raise questions about the Ukraine war are called “traitors”. In a recent discussion in Sydney, Zhiqun Zhu (Prof of Political Science and International Relations at Bucknell University) remarked - “In Washington, the political atmosphere is so poisoned that it is very difficult to raise a different voice to propose some moderate options, alternative options, to the current policy.” In 2016, when Donald Trump called for “friendly” relations with Russia (in keeping with the position previously taken by earlier presidents, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan) he was referred to in the media as a “Kremlin client” and a “Putin Puppet”.
Who bears responsibility for the humanitarian disaster in Ukraine and the deaths of thousands? Who is responsible for the destruction of Ukrainian homes and businesses, the refugee crisis, and famine in Africa, and who will bear responsibility if this war in Ukraine escalates to nuclear war? In a proximal sense, Putin is responsible. However, policymakers in the US (and Europe) have significant responsibility. Had the US not pushed NATO to the border of Russia, the war in Ukraine may never have taken place. Instead of supporting a negotiated peace in the Donbas, the US poured weapons into Ukraine and refused to renounce its plan to incorporate Ukraine into NATO.
When Zelensky was elected, he had a strong mandate for negotiating an end to the Donbas conflict. Without unrealistic notions foisted onto Ukraine by the US, Ukraine would long ago have worked out a modus vivendi with Russia. However, Zelensky never received any American support to pursue a peace agenda. On the contrary!
It should be noted that Ukraine is not in any way a vital security interest of the US, but for Russia, Ukraine is the most vital of vital interests. Putin has been on record saying, “If the American intent is to destroy Russia, then the American intent will be self-destruction - - - - America is facing an existential threat of its own making.”
What sane person could believe that putting a Western arsenal on Russia’s border would not produce a powerful response? In 2008, the US ambassador to Russia, William Burns said that for Russia, Ukraine was the “reddest of red lines”. Today, the world is at risk of nuclear war due to a level of American government stupidity and blindness, and a level of deference and cowardice from European Leaders.
To conclude, the following observations were made in an article published on this site in April 2022: The Hero and the Villains of Ukraine. [In case it is not obvious, the “Villains” in the title are the United States of America]. In proposals submitted to Washington and NATO in December 2021, Moscow called for a halt to the US led military bloc’s expansion and for them to renounce military activity in Ukraine. It also demanded that Ukraine never be admitted to NATO. It is easy to forget, but on 8 March 2022, only days after the invasion started, Zelensky said he was ready for talks on compromises regarding Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea, and he was also willing to renounce Ukraine’s bid to join NATO. Instead, US President Biden described Putin as a “war criminal”, a “murderous dictator”, “a pure thug” and “a butcher”, even going so far as to say that he “cannot remain in power”.
In 2014, Henry Kissinger said “The demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy. It is an alibi for not having one.” Despite the US media having characterised Putin’s victory in the 2018 presidential elections as a fraud and a sham, he received 77% of the vote. The New York Times reported, “There is no question that Mr Putin is wildly popular among Russians.” The same article reported that pro-Western candidates had received less than 5%. That’s Democracy.
“AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM” – HEAR THE OTHER SIDE!
[i] How the West Brought War to Ukraine (published in 2022) by Benjamin Abelow (He is a researcher and writer and holds a B.A. in European History from the University of Pennsylvania and a M.D. from the Yale University School of Medicine. He has worked in Washington D.C. lecturing, writing, and lobbying Congress about nuclear arms policy) [ii] A New Foreign Policy – Beyond American Exceptionalism by Jeffrey D. Sachs - 2018 [iii] Who are the War Criminals by Brian Toohey (Published in John Menadue’s Policy Journal, Pears & Irritations, September 2022) [iv] War with Russia by Stephen F. Cohen - 2018