Over the last three months, we have listened to a barrage of political pundits, military personnel and elected officials all of whom pontificate on the reasons for Russia’s outrageous behavior. I’ like to play devil’s advocate, something my readers know I’m rather fond of doing, and offer some alternative points of view. To be clear, understanding why Russia invaded is not condoning the invasion but understanding historical facts is essential if we are to understand Russia’s motivation, however misguided.
All wars are horrific. In my opinion, they should never be fought. I say this as someone who lived in a war zone, under constant bombing, for eight years. My family and I fled our home eleven times. I am intimately familiar with the horrors of war. During those eight years, I was convinced that wise leaders would come to their senses and resolve the crisis but like now I see no wise leaders stepping up or even calling for a cease-fire much less convening the warring factions for negotiations. In an effort to better understand this crisis, let’s begin with some of the critical history that is ignored by Western media because it contradicts their official narrative.
On February 9, 1990, then US Secretary of State James Baker gave his famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion when he met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. His was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and into 1991. These assurances were documented in declassified US, German, Soviet, British and French documents posted December 12, 2017, by the National the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher opened the session with a major speech at Tutzing, in Babaria, on German unification. The US Embassy in Bonn informed Washington that Genscher made it clear “That that the changes in Eastern Europe and the German unification process must not lead to an ‘impairment of Soviet security interests.’ Therefore, NATO should rule out ‘an expansion of its territory toward the east, moving it closer to the Soviet borders’.” The Bonn cable also noted Genscher’s proposal to leave the East German territory out of NATO military structures even in a unified Germany in NATO. These documents reinforce former CIA Director Robert Gate’s criticism of “pressing ahead with expansion of NATO eastward when Gorbachev and others were led to believe that wouldn’t happen.”
Fast forward to 2008 when, during the Bucharest summit, George W. Bush fatefully badgered reluctant leaders into pledging future NATO membership to Ukraine. William Burns, US Ambassador to Russia at the time, and now the US’s current CIA Director, sent a memo to then Secretary of State Condolezza Rice that included this warning: Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all red lines for the Russian elite, not just Putin. In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views that bringing Ukraine into NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” Burns added that it was “hard to overstate the strategic consequences” of offering Ukraine NATO membership, a move, he predicted, that would “create fertile soil for Russian meddling in Crimea and eastern Ukraine”
If we were to consider the starting point of this current crisis to be 1990, or 2008 with the Bucharest Agreement, or the 2014 US-orchestrated coup in Ukraine that removed a pro-Russian elected president and embedded neo-Nazi groups into every level of the Ukrainian government, or when Ukraine became a de facto member of NATO, thereby crossing a red line for Russia, one could conceivably view the Russian invasion differently.
The Minsk Protocols after the 2014 coup were an attempt at a peaceful settlement after some 13,000 pro-Russian citizens in eastern Ukraine were killed. In the Protocols, Kiev agreed to grant autonomy to Donbas via a constitutional amendment and begin a dialogue with the people of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbas region. Moscow signed the Minsk Agreement and recognized the Donbas as an integral autonomous part of Ukraine. Kiev to date has refused to sign the agreement.
According to the Los Alamos Study Group, one of the most respected and best informed anti-nuclear war groups in the world, the greatest danger in this conflict lies in the difference in motives between the parties. Russia seeks security while the US and its NATO allies are using Ukraine to destroy that security, and as Henry Kissinger said in 2015 with the aim “to break Russia.”
At the root of the Ukraine crisis is a specific strategy known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, named after Paul Wolfowitz, who, as Under Secretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, was one of the authors of a 1992 neo conservative manifesto aimed at ensuring American dominance of world affairs following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our first objective,” stated the document, “is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival to the United States, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere. This is a dominant consideration underlying a regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”
The Wolfowitz Doctrine triggered the post-Cold War use of NATO as an instrument of aggression against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It declared that diplomacy was dead, and that American power should rule by violence where necessary.
Understanding why Russia invaded is not condoning the invasion but it is important to understand that Russia views US and NATO actions as an existential danger to its very existence. The sincerity of that view is evident in the grave risks Russia is taking in this invasion which, again, we need not justify nor condone, but should at least acknowledge, whether we agree or not. Failure by the US and NATO over the course of decades to respect Russia’s position, and to provide a humane and reasonable provision for Russia’s security needs is the main cause of the present conflict.
Russia’s capital demand is that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO. This view is supported by none other than Henry Kissinger in his recent opinion piece in the Washington Post which I consider important enough to quote in its entirety.
“The Ukrainian issue is posed as a showdown: whether Ukraine joins the East or the West. If Ukraine is to survive and thrive it must not be either the West’s or the East’s outpost against the other. Rather, it should function as a bridge between them.
“The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries. (Ukraine became a de facto Moscow protectorate back in 1654.) Some of the most important battles for the empire were fought on Ukrainian soil.” (Ukraine became a province of the Russian empire when Catherine the Great deposed the Ukrainian commander-in-Chief in 1764.)
“The Black Sea Fleet, Russia’s means of projecting power in the Mediterranean, is based on a long-term lease in Sevastopol in Crimea. The Ukrainians live in a country with a complex history and a polyglot composition and have only been independent for 23 years. The western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939 when Stalin and Hitler divided up the spoils. Crimea, 60 percent of whose population is Russian, became part of Ukraine only in 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev, a Ukrainian by birth, awarded it as part of the 300th celebration of a Russian agreement with the Cossacks. The west is largely Catholic or Greek Catholic, the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian; the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other would lead eventually to civil war or breakup.
“To treat Ukraine as part of an East-West confrontation will scuttle for decades any prospect to bring Russia and the West, especially Russia and Europe, into a cooperative international system. Russia will not be able to impose a military solution without isolating itself at a time when many of its borders are already precarious. For the West, the demonization of Putin is not a policy, it is an alibi for the absence of one.
“Putin should come to realize that whatever his grievances, a policy of miliary impositions would produce another Cold War. For its part, the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington. Putin is a serious strategist on the premises of Russian history. Understanding US values and psychology is not his strong suit. Nor has understanding Russian history and psychology been a strong point of US policymakers.”
Kissinger, then, offers several possible outcomes.
Ukraine should have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations, including with Europe.
Ukraine should not join NATO, a position I took seven years ago.
It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea. But it should be possible to put Crimea’s relationship to Ukraine in a less fraught basis. To that end, Russia would recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea. Ukraine should reinforce Crimea’s autonomy in elections held in the presence of international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
Our Monroe Doctrine, signed in 1923, explicitly states that the Western Hemisphere is our backyard, and no major power will ever be allowed into our area of influence. Recall the Bay of Pigs incident when Russia installed nuclear weapons in Cuba. The West went ballistics and rightly so, but President Kennedy and Khrushchev, with the help of wise diplomacy, were able to resolve the crisis. Russia removed its nuclear weapons from Cuba and the US removed its ballistic missiles from Turkey. If Russia were to install missiles in Cuba, or on our Canadian or Mexican border, we would be doing the same thing Putin is doing now in Ukraine. Think about that.
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