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  • Mike Lyons

UKRAINE AT WAR


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been condemned as violent, brutal, and illegal. That is all true, but it is impossible to think of any war which is not violent, brutal, and illegal – whether waged by Japan, Nazi Germany, USA, Russia, China, Britain, or any other power. What are the reasons advanced by, and the objectives of, the warring parties?


What are the Real Stakes in this War


Fourteen years ago, in 2008, President George Bush opened the door for Ukraine to become a member of NATO. However, it has not become a member, and there is no prospect of it becoming a NATO member in the foreseeable future. Ukrainian President Zelensky has announced that Ukraine will no longer seek such membership.


The Donbas region lies to the east of Ukraine, bordering Russia. Russian is the main language of approximately 70% of the population in the Donbas. There has been ongoing fighting in that region between Ukraine and Russian “separatists”. Unsuccessful efforts have been made to resolve the issues and to stop the fighting. After four months of war, Russia has captured control of the whole of the Donbas region and is unlikely to relinquish control.


For all practical purposes, Russia’s objectives prior to launching its invasion on 24 February 2022 have been achieved. All that remains is for a bona fide, influential global leader (such as the US President) to facilitate a peace treaty. Instead, the US (with NATO) wages war, using Ukraine as its proxy, to weaken and undermine Russia. How many dead Ukrainians, how many Ukrainian refugees, and how many destroyed Ukrainian towns and cities?


President Biden has denounced Russia’s President Putin as a war criminal and suggested that he should not be permitted to remain in office. Whatever Putin’s failings, Joe Biden suffers from one incurable condition – his advancing years. Through no fault of his own, he is not capable of leading the most powerful (and warlike) nation on earth. Shortly after Biden’s inauguration, he was seen on television screens around the world, falling up the stairs (not once but twice) as he boarded an aircraft. Had he fallen down instead of up, Vice President Kamala Harris would today be the president of the United States of America!


Russia will not resort to the use of nuclear weapons unless it is confronted by an existential threat. Russia and the US each have about 6,000 nuclear arsenals. In the event of nuclear war, the US and Europe would be at far greater risk than Russia for a simple reason. The Russian landmass is about 1.8 times larger than US, which is roughly the same size as Europe. The USA and Europe, with much greater and such dense populations would inevitably be much more vulnerable to nuclear catastrophe than Russia.

The stakes are far too high.


NATO – The Background


NATO was founded in 1949 to create a common defence against the Soviet Union. The three main purposes of NATO were to: “Keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down”. The last purpose changed when West Germany joined NATO in 1955.


NATO’s Article 5 provides that: “An armed attack against one or more of them [members] shall be considered an attack against them all.”


Assurances given to Gorbachev – NATO would NOT Expand Eastwards.


The Berlin Wall fell on 9 November 1989. Moscow contends that in discussions at the time between US Secretary of State, James Baker, and Gorbachev, the US promised that there would be no expansion of NATO eastwards if the USSR agreed to a united Germany remaining in NATO. West German Foreign Minister Kohl also agreed to this commitment and Gorbachev accepted these assurances. The Soviet and US records of the Baker/Gorbachev discussions are largely identical. Gorbachev should have secured these assurances in writing, but he failed to do so.


US Ignores its Commitment and Pushes East


After the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, the Clinton administration embarked upon NATO enlargement. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary were admitted to NATO in 1999. Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, and the three Baltic republics of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania followed in 2004. In 2008, the Bush administration proposed NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. For Russia, that was the last straw and it led to the 2014 Ukraine crisis. Russia had lost the buffer which the Kremlin considered vital for its security.


According to Chicago University Professor, John Mearsheimer, the US and its European allies were mainly responsible for the Crimean crisis. NATO expansion was part of a strategy to integrate Eastern Europe, including Ukraine into the West. However, Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany had all crossed Ukraine to strike at Russia. It is an enormously important strategic buffer for Russia and no Russian leader would tolerate a military alliance moving into Ukraine. Nor would the US tolerate distant powers deploying military forces anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.


The current situation in Ukraine was entirely predictable. International relations experts have been warning about the risk of expanding NATO eastwards for the past 30 years. Putin and other Russian officials talked of “red-lines” which, if crossed, posed a serious threat for the world.


In 1998, George Kennan (the American historian known as the “architect of the Cold War”) said expansion of NATO would mean the beginning of a new Cold War, describing it as a tragic mistake. In 1997, fifty prominent US foreign policy experts sent an open letter to President Bill Clinton outlining their opposition to NATO expansion saying - “It is a policy error of historic proportions”. In 2008, the director of the CIA, William Burns said that “Ukraine’s accession to NATO was the brightest of all red-lines.” Opinions about the folly of further NATO expansion were heard more and more frequently. Former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, Henry Kissinger, and American Russian scholar, Stephen Cohen have all issued warnings about NATO expansion.


The Minsk Agreements


The Minsk agreements were intended to end the conflict in the Donbas region between Ukraine and the Russian “separatists”. Minsk I was signed in 2014, but it failed to stop the fighting. A plan was put forward by France and Germany at a summit attended by the Russian, Ukrainian, German, and French leaders as well as the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). This led to Minsk II which was signed on 12 February 2015.


Minsk II aimed to grant limited power to the separatists and to give them autonomy and representation in the Ukraine government. Moscow saw the agreement as a way to guarantee its security demand that Ukraine never join NATO. French President Macron saw Minsk II as the blueprint for a breakthrough in the crisis and the only path on which peace could be built. However, the various parties had different interpretations of Minsk leading to a breakdown and a failure to implement Minsk II. Fighting never ended and the Minsk agreement was never implemented.


Amid rising tensions, Russia officially recognised the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics on 21 February 2022. The next day Putin announced that the Minsk agreements no longer existed, blaming Ukraine. On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine. The invasion followed the failure to give effect to Minsk.


The US Role


The US actively seeks to undermine, weaken, and potentially destroy Russia, using Ukraine as its “proxy”. The Ukraine war is also America’s war. It is a conflict between the US and Russia, even without US “boots on the ground”. While countries such as France, Turkey, Hungary, and Israel have each endeavoured to mediate a settlement of the conflict, the US has unashamedly aided and abetted this tragic war, pouring billions of dollars into the conflict. The US could and should have taken steps to mediate a settlement between the warring parties. Instead, the US and its allies have taken all measures against Russia, short of direct intervention in the conflict.

Knowledgeable observers have said that: “Western politicians do not care about how many Ukrainians must die in order for them to achieve their goals.”


Germany’s Indecision


Three days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a “Zeitenwende” - a turn of an era, in German foreign policy. Germany would immediately commence rebuilding its military and supplying weapons to Ukraine. In a single speech he had overturned German restraint and pacifism in its security and defence policy. However, since his bold speech, Scholz has been trying to manage, rather than confront Russia, and German military assistance to Ukraine remains paltry.


Then, there was another change of direction. In late June 2022, Scholz announced a major investment which would turn the Bundeswehr into the largest military force among European members of NATO saying Berlin would “defend every square metre” of NATO territory. Despite his ambivalence, Scholz’s decision for Germany to rebuild its military, overturning German restraint and pacifism, and his later announcement to turn the Bundeswehr into the largest military force in Europe is a chilling reminder of Germany’s central involvement in two world wars in the 20th century, both centred in Europe (which is where the current Russia/Ukraine war is being fought).


The West V The Rest


When the war broke out, US President Biden said that the West would ensure that Putin would become a “pariah on the international stage”. However, for much of the world, Putin is not a pariah. The populations of those countries which abstained or voted against United Nations resolutions to condemn the Russian invasion amount to roughly half the world’s population. China has continued to support Russia since the invasion began. India has neither criticised nor sanctioned Russia and has abstained from voting on three UN resolutions. India continues to buy Russian arms and oil, and there is considerable public sympathy for Russia in India.


Russia is now the only major power which talks to all countries in the Middle East, including Sunni-led countries such as Saudi Arabia, and Shiite-led countries such as Iran and Syria. Israel has not imposed sanctions on Russia. Countries in Africa have largely refused to condemn or sanction Russia. South Africa, a member of the BRICS Group has not criticised Russia. Brazil has declared “impartiality”.


With China’s GDP expected to far exceed that of the US by the end of this decade, and with India’s GDP expected to rank third, these two countries will ensure that Putin will not be an international pariah and many countries will continue to do business with Russia.


Indonesia which is hosting the next G-20 Summit in November 2022 has welcomed Putin’s presence and has also extended an invitation to Ukraine’s President Zelensky.


Doubts Emerge


The war with Ukraine has entered its fifth month. The EU has started to recognise that peace can only be achieved through negotiations. Recent protests in Brussels involving more than 70,000 demonstrators have condemned NATO’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. Many have linked their dire economic circumstances to the EU’s sanctions regime on Russia and NATO’s rush to arm Ukraine.


Washington’s earlier boast of driving Putin from power and destroying Russia’s capacity to make war is looking dubious. The world economy is reeling from energy and food supply shocks while Putin points out that Western sanctions to undermine the Russian economy have boomeranged, driving up the global cost of food, electricity, and fuel. Russia earned a record €93 billion from energy exports during the first 100 days of the war while China and India continue to buy Russian oil.


Ukraine’s major city of Severodonetsk has recently come under the full control of the LPR. Only days ago, Zelensky described Severodonetsk as the “epicentre of the confrontation in the Donbas” saying that “In many ways, the fate of Donbas is being decided there”. Ukraine’s troops have since been ordered to leave Severodonetsk, and ninety percent of the city has been destroyed, while Russian forces continued to seize territory in Donbass.


Conclusion


On 19 June, Zelensky claimed that his military would continue to fight to achieve the “return of everything that is ours”, but no military can sustain the kind of losses which Ukraine has experienced. Most of Russia’s demands have been met, after massive loss of life, millions of Ukrainian refugees, and the destruction of swathes of Ukrainian territory.


The Biden administration must step back from its goal of weakening Russia and stoking the flames of war. Instead, it should turn to diplomacy, and work to achieve a negotiated settlement. That would be in the best interests of Ukraine, Europe, the US, and the world.

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