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Other States Have Security Interests, Too
Ukraine shows that the American public, and its elites, do not understand the consequences of war, nor do they understand how we even arrived at this crisis: we don't take Russia at her word.
Current events in the Modern Era are very quickly forgotten.
Remember Syria? Remember ISIS? Remember how the crux of foreign policy in 2016 was over failed intervention in the Mid-East? That it was staged by the Obama administration in Libya and Syria to remove “dictators” — one failing and one succeeding, both spiraling into the resurgence of insurgent cells and barbarism? One country now a wasteland of slavery which we created by toppling a regime, and the other that became a hotbed for ISIS (not ISIL, the name used by the Obama administration because it excluded mention of Syria, their 2nd term disaster)
Alas, many do not. If you do remember, congratulations! You can probably count yourself among those with either an above-average memory or at minimum, having partial engagement in where your tax dollars turn into explosions.
If you do not, however, let us recall the presidential debates of 2016. Understand that Hillary Clinton was running for president with the full backing of the Foreign Policy Establishment, and all of the supposed experts were fully backing her. And yet…
”Our purpose here is to provide safe-zones on the ground…” (1:02)
Never truly denying its suggestion. Never truly acknowledging the consequences of a no-fly zone, and never truly addressing the problem of its purpose: if you establish a no-fly zone, you are denying airspace. If the no-fly-zone is violated, you must commit to downing enemy aircraft. If you are not doing that, you either do not wish for a no-fly zone, or you are being intentionally obtuse.
This fundamental dodging of the consequences of foreign policy is exactly why the United States is in the position it is now in. It has shown a flagrant lack of care for the consequences of its actions for the past twenty years, and now it is reaping what it has sowed. It has created an entire class of MacBook bourgeois (our wonderful, smug upper-class) who seek to plunge us into chaos.
This fundamental gloss over what a no-fly-zone represents the average American’s view of warfare. We have become so vulnerable to these manipulations because the same people who can influence their representatives also have no idea what they’re asking for. Read the replies to this tweet, and then search Twitter for No Fly Zone — you’ll find those who understand the consequences, and then the masses of people who are driven by nothing more than derangement over wanting something (…) to be done.
The American public doesn’t understand what war is; we are so insular and detached from the war that President Bush's surge in Iraq was the most we’ve cared for war in the last twenty years. And because we, as a nation, are so detached from war, we are also detached from the circumstances that we, as a nation, create that only encourage it.
The United States, in the last twenty years, has only been engaged against insurgencies, or nations who are so hopelessly outmatched in a total war they are quickly wiped from memory. Most of these talking heads, capable of whipping their audiences and supporters into frenzies, have no idea what they’re talking about. They speak only in platitudes, in feel-good-gestures. War is abstract to them; only a consequence when they have to receive flag-draped caskets. American security trumps all other interests, and even then, the American people (and especially the military-industrial-government-media complex) don’t take into consideration that other nations exist on the world stage and that they may have competing interests.
If the administration and the media were honest, which they’re not, they would admit upfront they wish for war with Russia. But let us ask this — do any of us even understand the conflict that so many of us are so eager to enter? Do any of these blue check liberals understand the roots of this conflict; do they care? Do any of our representatives, who seem so intent on entering this conflict, understand the history of the region or the security implications of our actions over the past eight years, let alone the last thirty?
The answer is no — in fact, hell no! Very few understand this conflict, its origins lost to us since its beginning more than a week ago. All the public understands, at this point, is “Russia Bad, Ukraine Good.” Even fewer of our elected officials, or bunk media, who should know better, ignore that Russia has every entitlement to ensure its security and that opposing this principle carries consequences.
What we have here is either a crime of negligence or of malice. The United States has intentionally aggravated the situation in Ukraine, and indeed, in East Europe at large. Either way, something’s happened in Eastern Europe, and we’re not off the hook for it.
What happens when you back an animal into a corner?
The fundamental issue of this conflict is the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO. The expansion of which has been a principal concern of Russia, in all its forms, even since its collapse as the Soviet Union. Russia is hesitant to take the word of NATO, or any of its member states, especially given the rapid expansion that commenced in the 1990s and early 2000s.
This, especially, is an important fact given that amid the Crimean crisis in 2014, many liked to fact check Putin’s claim that NATO made promises of non-expansion. Yes, while it is true no pen-to-paper agreement was made in this fashion, the assurances and cooperation of the Soviet Union and Russia in the 1990s were predicated on such an agreement. As the National Security Archive of George Washington University puts it;
U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s famous “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, 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 on into 1991, […] The documents show that Gorbachev agreed to German unification in NATO as the result of this cascade of assurances, and based on his analysis that the future of the Soviet Union depended on its integration into Europe, for which Germany would be the decisive factor. He and most of his allies believed that some version of the common European home was still possible and would develop alongside the transformation of NATO to lead to a more inclusive and integrated European space, that the post-Cold War settlement would take account of the Soviet security interests.
This informal agreement, of course, was broken with the entry of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland into the alliance. The common refrain, echoed by international relations experts, is that such an agreement was never made, and even if it was, it ceased being appropriate after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Even if this is true, why were repeated calls by Russia for NATO to stop ignored so brazenly? If we were to give Russia the respect it is owed, even from a historical basis, the least we could offer them is assurances in security. But as the international relations and schools of the foreign policy see it, Russia is owed no such courtesy. They are the Other, the Hun, the dangerous power across both seas. They Must Be Stopped! Of course, it is waved away — Russia had a period of political instability, therefore NATO should take free reign to expand eastward. And so they did.
The first group of nations, however, were not nearly as much of an issue as what followed — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, all in 2004. Four years later, at the NATO summit in Bucharest, the assembled member states agreed to the statement as follows:
NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.
This, to Russia, was an overstep. Entry of Georgia into NATO, alongside Ukraine, would leave the Caucasus, the European Plain, the Baltics, and the Black Sea all aligned against Russia. It would have three knives to its throat in Europe. A comparison to the United States, given its geography, is impossible — but imagine, if you would, that the Mexican state of Baja California and the Canadian provinces of British Colombia and Manitoba were hosts to Chinese military forces. Would the United States feel secure in such a position?
Of course, as stated, such a comparison is impossible and probably inappropriate. The United States’ red-line has always been the Monroe Doctrine, which is partly what prompted our harsh response in Cuba during the Missile Crisis. But again, the Monroe Doctrine is underpinned by a fundamental principle: expanding the influence and security of one state can be contrary to the security of another state. Even if the host nation agrees, other parties have cause to be concerned.
Again: I am not a great power scholar. But if a world leader speaks, I tend to at least examine their words. And Putin has made it clear for nearly two decades now: NATO involvement in Ukraine is unacceptable.
As Putin said, in a speech on the 21st of February, the night he recognized the Donbas republics:
“[E]ach country has the right to choose its system of security and conclude military alliances. […] International documents expressly state the principle of equal and indivisible security, which includes obligations not to strengthen one’s security at the expense of the security of other states. I can also refer to the 1999 OSCE Charter for European Security, […] and the 2010 OSCE Astana Declaration. In other words, the choice of ways to ensure security should not pose a threat to other states. If Ukraine was to join NATO, it would serve as a direct threat to Russia’s security. Let me remind you that back in April 2008, at the Bucharest NATO Summit, the United States pushed through the decision that Ukraine and Georgia would become NATO members. Many European allies of the United States were already well aware of all the risks of such a prospect […]. We receive a signal […] which says, ‘what are you worried about? It won’t happen literally tomorrow.’ ‘Well,’ we answer, ‘if not tomorrow, then the day after.’
Putin was then even more specific with his concerns about Ukrainian entry into NATO posing a unique threat to Russian security:
“Many Ukrainian airfields are located close to our borders. NATO’s tactical aviation stationed here, including carriers of high-precision weapons, will be able to hit our territory to the depth of the Volgograd-Kazan-Samara-Astrakhan line. The deployment of radar reconnaissance assets on the territory of Ukraine will allow NATO to tightly control the airspace of Russia up to the Urals. Finally, after the US broke the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the Pentagon is already openly developing a whole range of ground-based strike weapons, including ballistic missiles capable of reaching targets at a distance of up to 5500km. If such systems are deployed in Ukraine, they will be able to hit objects throughout the European territory of Russia, as well as beyond the Urals. The flight time to Moscow for Tomahawk cruise missiles will be less than 35 minutes, for ballistic missiles from the Kharkiv region 7-8 minutes, and hypersonic weapons 4-5 minutes. This is called, bluntly, ‘knife to the throat.’”
Again: examine the below map of Russia’s position in Europe. Were Ukraine to enter NATO, it would be bordered by enemies on four fronts: the Norwegian-Russian border in the far north, the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), Ukraine, and the Black Sea / Caucasus with Turkey.
You can listen to the full speech here, with English subtitles. I encourage you to listen to it if at all possible. Not all of it is verifiable or fact, but there is more articulation of history and international politics in this single speech than the entirety of the Biden administration.
We must be realistic with our expectations of security. There is a limit to what Russia is willing to tolerate, and it was laid out far ahead of time. Ukraine and Georgia were the red-lines. We violated those red-lines. Even barring all other security expansion in Europe as being invited, and thus tolerable to our sensibilities, we should have at least cautioned ourselves to move to areas Putin explicitly told us were off-limits. We were told this fourteen years ago, after the Bucharest summit.
As for the policy of expanding the alliance, we have been attentively watching your discussion yesterday. On the whole, of course, we are satisfied with your decisions, which took place. But if I speak about Georgia and Ukraine, it is clear that the matter concerns not only security issues.
But in Ukraine, one-third are ethnic Russians. Out of forty-five million people, in line with the official census, seventeen million are Russians. There are regions, where only the Russian population lives, for instance, in the Crimea. 90% are Russians. Generally speaking, Ukraine is a very complicated state. Ukraine, in the form it currently exists, was created in Soviet times, it received its territories from Poland – after the Second World war, from Czechoslovakia, from Romania – and at present not all the problems have been solved as yet in the border region with Romania in the Black Sea. Then, it received huge territories from Russia in the east and south of the country. It is a complicated state formation. If we introduce into it NATO — problems, other problems, it may put the state on the verge of its existence. Complicated internal political problems are taking place there. We should act also very-very carefully. We do not have any right to veto, and, probably, we do not pretend to have. But I want all of us,Donbas when deciding such issues, to realize that we have there our interests as well.
The unipolar world promised to us after the collapse of the Soviet Union never materialized. Europe, Russia, and China stand alongside the United States as competing blocs on a world stage, but the United States casts aside any considerations of Russia as a power, and instead only views itself.
If you are opposed to war, then you must realize that this war was avoidable. Russia had a red-line and NATO has been crossing it since 2008.
Ukraine: Ethnic Russians and American Soft Power
Expanding on what was quoted from Vladimir Putin earlier, we must also understand the history of the Euromaidan revolution. To put it simply: the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, was in the midst of negotiation for an agreement with the European Union for economic ties. Yanukovych was navigating a precarious position with the Europe Union in the West, offering IMF loans and financial assistance, and Russia to the east, comprising a large portion of its trade and energy. Yanukovych wished for financial aid to compensate, even then, from what it saw as security concerns from Russia (Russia is not blameless in this — do not think I am construing it this way!) and asked for trilateral talks, bringing Russia into the process. The EU rejected and demanded Yanukovych sign the document as-is. He refused, citing a need to “find solutions […] sign a strategic partnership with Russia […]” among other reasons, but did not decline to ever sign it, simply pushing it to a later date.
This was taken by the largely western-leaning urban Ukrainian populace as a grievous fault. Quickly, street protests began, which turned into armed clashes with police — which then invited the presence of my favorite politician of the 21st century.
John McCain, ever the hawk, joined those in the capital in supporting the anti-government protests. Yanukovych was elected in 2010, under conditions called free and fair by international observers. However, he had turned against the West, so he was now fair game. It should come as no surprise that money began flowing into Ukraine, and with it came the US preparing for a governmental reorganization.
Why would they prepare for such an event, you may ask? The money was already flowing, and the revolution was already set to happen. The US was going to install its influence in Ukraine. Leaked through a recorded phone call between the then Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and the Ambassador to Ukraine;
You can read the transcript of this call in English here.
Fun and quotable bits:
“Fuck the EU.” - Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who was handing out cookies to the anti-government protestors
“So on that piece Geoff, when I wrote the note [US vice-president's national security adviser Jake] Sullivan's come back to me VFR [direct to me], saying you need [US Vice-President Joe] Biden and I said probably tomorrow for an atta-boy and to get the deets [details] to stick. So Biden's willing.” - Victoria Nuland
This was nothing more than a brazen, foreign-backed coup to install a more friendly government. That’s all it was. Americans plotting to install a government for the Ukrainians and convey to them who their government will be, lest they anger the west again. And we continue to forget it! And even so, when we remember it, we excuse it — Russia is the bad guy! That’s why we’re toppling governments and starting civil wars: because you weren’t friendly enough to us or allies (but fuck the EU!). And Biden was even personally involved in this process through the State Department — thought that was when he was still lucid.
This coup was fermented and backed by the United States. Anything following was done with its direction, and with the contents of this call, can we truly believe that the Ukrainian government is much more than American puppets? It’s hard to say. That inconclusiveness existing as all should show to us that we’ve overstepped our bounds.
All of this, on top of the Russian ethnic groups in the East, is largely aligned to Yanukovych and having their preferred president ousted. And having their interests explicitly moved against (alignment with Russia), and their preferred presidents ousted by a coup with foreign backing… is not a pretty picture. Note the two dark blue provinces to the far east - Luhansk and Donetsk, now independent republics recognized by Russia, and Crimea to the south, now integrated into Russia itself. These areas all contained either Russian majorities or significant contingents of Russians — the 17 million referred to by Putin in his Bucharest speech.
This ousting was then followed by the Crimean annexation, and the beginning of the Donbas war, but again — these provinces, overwhelmingly in support of Yanukovych in an election that was validated by the west — were now shown their votes did not matter.
The war in the Donbas itself is far too complicated an ordeal to even begin to summarize — all I will say is that both sides, the separatists and the Ukrainian government, have committed atrocities. The conflict is a tragedy. But it is a tragedy, at its roots, created by a western-backed coup.
What am I getting at?
This war was avoidable.
First, by NATO — primarily presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, for their insistence on NATO’s expansion.
Second, by the EU and State Department — under Barack Obama, his state department’s backing of the coup in 2014 plunged the country into crisis to prevent “Russian influence.”
Third, by President Biden — refusing to move anywhere on a conflict that has been stagnant for years, instead choosing to arm Ukraine as if the war was a foregone conclusion. It was not.
Who pulled the trigger? Russia did. You can blame them all you want, but there has been red-line after red-line, ignored by subsequent administrations as they insist that Ukraine will become a part of the west in more ways than one. Following five years of anti-Russian hysteria in the United States, with the party that backed it in power, the situation would not have gotten better for Russia against a Biden administration.
We failed to take into consideration that we don’t live in a world where we’re the good guys. We’re just another actor on the world stage. We can advocate our interests all we want — that’s not a problem. The United States, however, cannot encourage a more peaceful and secure world by putting the security of other nations in jeopardy.
For any angered individuals: I am not an expert in international relations or great power politics, but if I had to subscribe to a school of thought, it would not be that of whatever we’re pursuing now. I do not hopelessly worship the United States’ foreign policy; if that is your criticism of me, you can keep moving.
The only scholar I’ve agreed with to any significant degree is John Mearsheimer: I recommend you also watch his talk on Ukraine, linked below, as it inspired me to write this piece by having me realize that the average person has no conception of the roots of this conflict.
Other topics I wish I could find a way to cover:
Ukrainian “pre-misinfo” or “strong information operation”:
This thread is a nightmare of the modern world of communication we live in. Misinformation is bad unless we do it. Then it’s good. Filling up the annals and the conversation with shit, forever.
“Putin is insane, and also short, and that’s why he’s invading.”
A perfect confluence of circumstance, by the way, that Alexander Vindman is involved in this article.
Presented Without Comment:
Remember to stay sane.
Until next time,