Like all wars, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is monstrous. To my mind, the lead up to the war is even more monstrous.
I’m writing this because I think a highly probable outcome will be nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. It can’t happen? Desperate people do desperate things. Despite the odds, we should do our best to stop it. Protest won’t help. Conceivably communicating with the most prominent people we can will.
There is a straightforward way the West could immediately stop the war. That would be to recognize that the security guarantees that Russia proposed prior to the invasion are reasonable, and accept them. You have not heard about them? That tells us something about the current state of play.
Are Russia’s demands reasonable? See what you think. This article lays out the main points. They include:
- A NATO guarantee that no country directly adjacent to the Russian border – specifically Ukraine and Georgia – shall become a member of NATO. Russia wants a neutral buffer between itself and the US/NATO military alliance.
- No country (e.g. America) to have nuclear weapons outside its own borders, and that all American nuclear weapons be returned to the US.
- The Ukraine government cease attacking Russian ethnic minorities in the Donbas region, and adhere to the Minsk cease-fire agreements. This is emotionally important to Russia; there is reason to suppose that prior to the invasion the Ukraine government was committing atrocities against Russian minorities in the Donbas. There is a battalion in the Donbass region that proudly uses Nazi insignia.
Whatever the facts may be in this mess of ethnic divisions, thugs and power conflicts, there are no good guys here.
Western media portray Putin as the ‘bad guy’. And why not? Putin is a cruel tyrant. Putin invaded Ukraine. And in war ‘our side’ are always the good guys. Therefore, not just the media but many NGOs and commentators assert that the war was ‘unprovoked’.
If we review the history, it is clear that the US/NATO has provoked Russia into going to war.
The story in brief is that at the time of the reunification of Germany (1990) the Soviet Union was assured that NATO would not expand towards Russia. But it did, starting with the Clinton administration in the 1990s. There was no obvious reason to do this. Western diplomats, including George F. Kennan, one of the architects of America’s containment strategy, warned that it would be destabilizing.
Russia has made it clear for decades that it feels threatened by NATO expansion.
Why would they feel threatened?
- Russia lost 27 million people when Germany invaded the Soviet Union during World War II. Such traumatic memories last.
- American has established bases and submarines around Russia and Chinese perimeters.
- The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was an opportunity for a ‘peace dividend’. American military expenditures could have been dropped, with the money applied to domestic purposes. However, military expenditures remained the same.
- A think tank called The Project for the New American Century was founded in 1997. Its agenda called for America to be far and away the predominant military force in the world. Many of its people, including Donald Rumsfeld, assumed senior leadership positions the George Bush administration. As a consequence, the American military budget was vastly expanded; it is larger than the next seven countries in the world combined.
- America invaded Iraq under false pretexts. You may recall that the announced reason was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, even though prior to the invasion the CIA advised the Bush administration that there were no weapons of mass destruction.
- The Obama administration supported rebels in Libya who overthrew and killed Muammar Gaddafi. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrated her success.
Perhaps this gives some indication of why Putin would view US/NATO expansion towards Russia as threatening.
Seeing the steady encroachment of NATO towards Russia, and finding that the US/NATO was unwilling to either keep its promises or take him seriously, Putin drew a red line: If you integrate Ukraine into NATO there will be consequences.
Last year things heated up. In the December 2021 meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs NATO asserted its intention to bring Ukraine into NATO. Putin had two responses.
- First, he proposed a security agreement where NATO would not accept Ukraine or Georgia as NATO members, and all US nuclear weapons would be withdrawn back to America.
Finding no positive response to this proposal,
- He invaded Ukraine and threatened to use nuclear weapons.
This is Putin’s way making real the fact that the issue of having US/NATO forces directly on his border isoverwhelmingly important to him. He tried to communicate in words and concrete proposals, and got nowhere.
Some people assert that yielding to Putin’s demands would be a form of appeasement. From Putin’s point of view, allowing an armed NATO country directly on Russia’s border would be appeasement. My own view is that the sensible thing is for America to pull back.
As adults, it is easy to be numb. Oh yes, the war is over there somewhere. Putin is a monster; of course we should fight him. There is no way I could have any effect on the dynamic. I just want to get on with my own business.
Triggered by a seemingly minor incident, the dynamics that led to World War I quickly spiralled out of control. Emotionally triggered people do crazy things.
A question I always ask is: Where is a leverage point? Where can we exert influence to turn things around?
Given the current tide of events, I don’t see one within the requisite short timeframe. Putin has committed both his armies and his prestige. The Biden administration apparently has rejected pulling back. American public opinion is with him in this. Presumably so are the moneyed backers of both Republican and Democratic congresspeople. Mainstream media uncritically reflects the view that Putin is the bad guy and we are the good guys. And of course the military-industrial complex celebrates the billions of dollars they make manufacturing weapons.
Looking at this is ample cause for despair. Having done my own meditation in this space, my conclusion for myself is: Never give up!
So what to do? As inadequate as this may seem, talking about it is the go, as is prayer. Perhaps in some unforeseeable way the conversation will shift something; perhaps it won’t. We should at least try.
We do well to communicate with the most influential people we can think of.
- Do your own research think through the current situation. References I think are helpful or below. You might seek out different viewpoints as well, and assess their merits.
- Craft your own emails and blog posts.
- Send them to influential people.
- And for Americans, the Capitol switchboard is 202 224 3121.
This review may make some people uncomfortable or angry. I assert that US / NATO leadership has been monstrous. My comments are not meant to gloss over the fact that Putin is a tyrant. It is simply to look at our part in what has become a globally threatening situation (I am an American former naval officer living in Australia).
The recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has made the Ukraine invasion – and American policy – even more acute for me. Beyond the appearance of adult maturity, what’s the difference between a young man with assault weapons and policies that lead to the real possibility of massive nuclear exchange? Scale. In each case the thinking is demented; we do ourselves a disservice to accept it as normal.
Today’s Crisis Over Ukraine.
Former US Ambassador to USSR Jack F. Matlock, Jr
Jeffrey Sachs on Ending the Russia-Ukraine War
Sachs is a prominent economist with experience in Russia.
Russian “Aggressive Gambit”: Moscow Proposes Peace
Lays out the Russian security proposal.
George Kennan on NATO expansion
Kennan famously warned against Joseph Stalin’s intention to expand the USSR toward Europe. Years later, when circumstances had changed, he warned that expanding NATO towards the USSR would be destabilizing.
Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around.