Showing posts with label Russia-Ukraine War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Russia-Ukraine War. Show all posts

Wednesday 12 October 2022

On "Blaming America for Russian Aggression"

 "Eloquent rebuttals"

According to an article in Bulwark entitled "Blaming America for Russian Aggression, Then and Now":

The claim that American actions, especially pushing to enlarge NATO, precipitated Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been asserted not only by Kremlin officials but also by foreign policy realists, anti-establishment pundits, and “anti-imperialists” in the West. It persists despite eloquent rebuttals by Cathy Young, Chris Miller, Peter Dickinson, former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, and many others.

As a novice, newly self-discovered foreign policy realist now being lumped together with "Kremlin officials," I guess it's time for me to face the truth about what caused the Russian invasion of Ukraine and how the USA was innocent of blame.  How do these articles rebut my recent hypotheses that the USA and western allies supported the overthrow of the democratically-elected President of Ukraine in a bloody coup in 2014 which was "a" provocation if not "the" provocation of the Russian invasion days later?

Niranjan Shankar's "Blaming America" article makes no mention of the Maidan Uprising.  Shankar glosses the time period saying: "Putin forced the country to renege on a proposal to join the EU in 2013 and subsequently invaded in 2014." Obviously, Ukraine is still not a member of the EU.  The suggestion that the 2013 trade agreement (which was signed in 2014, after Maidan) was "a proposal to join the EU" is an exaggeration.  "Putin forced the country" is Shankar's interpretation of the fact that Putin invited Ukraine to join a Eurasian Customs Union and offered a bailout of $15 billion. "Reneged" is a questionable choice of word to describe Yanucovych's decision to end the negotiations and accept the Russian offer when the EU showed little interest in providing a bailout.  

"Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse"

 Cathy Young's "Putin's Bogus Blame-NATO Excuse" at least mentions the Maidan Uprising.  She writes:

Indeed, the 2013-14 “Euromaidan” protests that led to a new revolution in Ukraine—and to the beginning of Russia’s protracted war against its neighbor—were sparked when Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych, who succeeded Yushchenko in 2010, into abruptly abandoning an about-to-be signed EU trade agreement and ditching several bills meant to fulfill the EU’s conditions for the pact. 

Young seems to acknowledge a cause-and-effect relationship between Maidan and the Russian invasion but she says nothing more about the uprising.  Her claim that "Putin strong-armed and cajoled Yanukovych" suggests that she was in the room when the strong-arming and cajoling were happening--which seems unlikely.  Yes, Yanukovych "succeeded Yushchenko in 2010" in what she fails to mention was a democratic election, supervised and accredited by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe).  Consequently, if the great majority of Ukrainians (West and East) objected to Yanukovych and his trade deals, rather than a a bloody coup in 2014, they could have voted him out of office in 2015.

"Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO"

If Cathy Young sounds like she was in the room, in "Vladimir Putin Fears Ukrainian Democracy not NATO," Peter Dickinson sounds like he was at Putin's bedside recording his every murmur, dream and nightmare.  Like Young, Dickinson suggests cause and effect between Maidan and the Russian invasion.  He argues that Putin responded to the "Ukrainian pro-democracy uprising by ordering the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine." Like Young, Dickinson has nothing more to say about the subject of Maidan.  It is striking that in an article on "Ukrainian Democracy," Dickinson seems undisturbed that the democratically-elected President was overthrown in a bloody coup, and blithely describes the coup as a "pro-democracy uprising." 

"What Putin Really Wants"

 In "What Putin Really Wants"  Christopher Miller has nothing to say about and makes no allusion to the Maidan Uprising that I can detect.  However, Miller makes the kind of claim that always catches my attention:  "The vast majority of Ukrainians reject them [the Minsk Accords]."  The Minsk Protocol was an agreement between Russia and the Ukraine in 2014 overseen by the OSCE and mediated by France and Germany to end the fighting between East and West Ukraine by granting increased autonomy to the eastern regions.  Miller's source for the claim that the vast majority of Ukrainians reject the agreements is an article in Euromaidan Press"Three-fourths of Ukrainians oppose Minsk accords in current form, poll shows."

Contrary to MIller's claim that "the vast majority of Ukrainians reject them," the article states, right off the top, that the poll "showed that the majority of Ukrainians (54%) believe that the Minsk accords should be revised." [Bold highlighting is in the original article.]  The debate outlined in the source article concerns variations in the format and which countries should be involved.  Western analysts may be eager to conclude that Ukrainians reject the Minsk Accords, but that is not what the poll shows.

I dove into the poll which is the source for both articles (thank God for Google Translate and BTW, am I the only person in the world who checks the polls quoted in the press?  Help me out here, people!)   The poll being cited is a general survey of the "Socio-political attitudes of the [Ukrainian] population" based on telephone interviews with 2500 respondents in December 2021, excluding residents of the Donbas and Crimea.  Although Miller sounds categorical that the vast majority reject the accords, according to the poll, only 11% of respondents (275 people) said they were very familiar with the content of the Minsk Agreements.  If anything, the poll reflects general support for the idea of the Minsk Accords, ending the east-west conflict, despite differences of opinion on and knowledge of the details.

The mistake is to believe that any thought or feeling is shared by the vast majority of Ukrainians.   According to the poll, if an election were to be held the next day, 23.5% of decided voters would vote for Volodymyr Zelensky--well ahead of his rivals but far from the 100% support we in the West are encouraged to imagine he enjoys.  In the poll, 33% of respondents identified Zelensky as the candidate they would "not vote for under any circumstances."

"What Putin Fears Most" 

Of the four "eloquent rebuttals" Shankar lists, only Michael McFaul's "What Putin Fears Most" has much to say about the Maidan Uprising.  After the predictable list of what Putin thinks, feels, dreams, wants and fears, McFaul and his co-author Robert Person write:

Putin believes that Russian national interests have been threatened by what he portrays as U.S.-supported coups. After each of them—Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, the Arab Spring in 2011, Russia in 2011–12, and Ukraine in 2013–14—Putin has pivoted to more hostile policies toward the United States, and then invoked the NATO threat as justification for doing so.

Are the authors telling us that these are all Putin-imagined coups and have no connection with reality?  The only example I have researched, "Ukraine in 2013-14," appears to be an overt US-supported coup. If the USA supported the overthrow of the pro-Russian President of Ukraine twice, wouldn't that be a justification for Putin to view NATO as a threat?

The authors describe the Maidan Uprising and its context as follows:

The next democratic mobilization to threaten Putin happened a second time in Ukraine in 2013–14. After the Orange Revolution in 2004, Putin did not invade Ukraine, but wielded other instruments of influence to help his protégé, Viktor Yanukovych, narrowly win the Ukrainian presidency six years later. Yanukovych, however, turned out not to be a loyal Kremlin servant, but tried to cultivate ties with both Russia and the West. Putin finally compelled Yanukovych to make a choice, and the Ukrainian president chose Russia in the fall of 2013 when he reneged on signing an EU association agreement in favor of membership in Russia’s Eurasian Economic Union.

Sometimes, the choice of words is everything.  A bloody coup is a "democratic mobilization";  the billionaire president is a "protégé" and "servant"; "wielded other instruments of influence" like campaign financing (?); to be elected with a margin of the popular vote which would put most US presidential elections to shame is to "narrowly win."  Yes, Yanucovych backed out of the negotiations and was pushed by Russia to do so; but, as reported by Reuters at the time (19 December 2013),  "the unwillingness of the EU and International Monetary Fund to be flexible in their demands of Ukraine also had an effect, making them less attractive partners."

When Person and McFaul come to describe the Maidan, they claim:

To the surprise of everyone in Moscow, Kyiv, Brussels, and Washington, Yanukovych’s decision to scuttle this agreement with the EU triggered mass demonstrations in Ukraine again, bringing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets in what would become known as the Euromaidan or “Revolution of Dignity” to protest Yanukovych’s turn away from the democratic West. The street protests lasted several weeks, punctuated by the killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych’s government, the eventual collapse of that government and Yanukovych’s flight to Russia in February 2014, and a new pro-Western government taking power in Kyiv. Putin had “lost” Ukraine for the second time in a decade.

"To the surprise of everyone":  this phrasing stretches credulity.  The size and rapidity of the demonstrations prove advanced planning and, as we have seen, sources inside Ukraine pointed to TechCamps in the US embassy as the training ground if not the hub. "The killing of dozens of peaceful protestors by Yanukovych's government":  as we have confirmed from multiple sources  the protesters were armed, fired on and killed police officers. Most shockingly, if the detailed report based on video, interviews with Maidan protesters, and bullet impact studies, by political scientist, Ivan Katchanovski of the University of Ottawa, is to be believed, the uprising was orchestrated by an alliance of right-wing ultra nationalists who fired upon their fellow protestors.  

Who's Afraid of Democracy? 

It is a truism in literary studies that when writers want to avoid politics they focus on individual psychology.  As I read these detailed comments on Vladimir Putin's psyche, I wonder if these political analysts are trying to avoid politics.  Putin may very well be afraid of democracy, but so are those who preferred a bloody coup in 2014 to a Presidential election in Ukraine in 2015.

Sunday 7 August 2022

The War in Afghanistan that the USA Won

"We Won!"

According to Charlie Wilson's War, by George Crile, when the last Russian troops were driven out of Afghanistan by the mujahideen (Islamic "holy warriors") in February 1989, Milt Bearden, head of the CIA's Islamabad station cabled simply "We won."  Crile's work brings together a wealth of knowledge and experience, in-depth insight into the issues and geopolitics, and extensive research into and interviews with all the major players.  Beyond a detailed history of the USA's covert war against the Russians in Afghanistan, Charlie Wilson's War provides a guided tour of the internal operations of the CIA and a study of the fraught relationship between the US government and its spy agency.  Crile details how a motley crew of characters--Congressman Charlie Wilson, socialite Joanne Herring, rogue CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, and young savant warfare strategist Mike Vickers, to name but a few--managed to manipulate global politics involving the USA, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Nicaragua, Iran and China, and, arguably, provoked the collapse of the Soviet Union in November 1989.  In short, the book tells us how the CIA works, how the American government works, and even, in some measure, how the world works--and it's never quite as we might imagine.

What Is a "proxy war"?

I was drawn to Charlie Wilson's War because it opened a door to understanding what is happening in Ukraine today.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine, like the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, (and for that matter like the Vietnam War and the Korean War) is a proxy war between Russia and the USA.  In the simplest of terms, a "proxy war" means the hegemonic nations at war aren't necessarily the people who are actually fighting on the battlefield. I had thought the cynical expression about the USA's "fighting to the last Ukrainian" was original to the Russia-Ukraine war.  However, the expression is used repeatedly in Charlie Wilson's War as the CIA struggled to avoid the perception that  "The USA was ready to fight to the last Afghan."

 An "Unprovoked" "proxy war"?

The parallels between the Russia-Afghanistan-USA war and the Russia-Ukraine-USA war are multiple.  But the divergences are even more instructive.  The most obvious similarity between the two wars is that in both cases they are "proxy wars" between Russia and the USA (and its NATO allies). This most obvious fact about the war in Ukraine--that it is a proxy war--is the least likely fact to be reported in Western media.  This fact cannot be repeated because it contradicts a dominant theme in Western reports that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was "unprovoked."  Of all the moral, legal, geopolitical and even pragmatic insults and aspersions that can justifiable describe the Russian invasion, the one that makes the least sense and is the least credible is the one we hear most often, that it was "unprovoked."

An Overt war versus a covert war:  The remarkable differences

The key difference between how the USA supported and armed the Afghan tribal warlords and how the USA is now supporting and arming the Ukrainian military and Ukraine's various militias is the difference between a covert and an overt war.  In my previous post I asked the question "Was the 2014 Maidan Uprising in Kyiv a covert CIA operation?" and concluded that it could hardly be called covert.  It seems possible, maybe even probable that the Orange Revolution in 2004 overturning the presidential election in Ukraine was a US-backed operation.    It seems evident and obvious that the Maidan Revolution in 2014 was a US operation and there was surprising little effort made to hide the fact.  When Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt's telephone conversation planning who would run the Ukrainian government after the 2014 coup was leaked to the public, Nuland's only comment was that the leak was "good spy-craft." She didn't even bother to deny the implication that the Maidan Uprising was a US-supported overthrow of the government.  Instead, she and Ambassador Pyatt presented themselves for photo-ops with the demonstrators who would, shortly afterwards, overthrow the democratically-elected government in a bloody coup. 


The Contrast makes the point

As recounted in Charlie Wilson's War,  in the 1980s, the CIA was obsessed with keeping their operations clandestine in order to avoid provoking Russia into escalation: invading Pakistan or using nuclear weapons or both.  As Crile points out, the war in Afghanistan was barely even reported in US media. The CIA went to great extents to hide the source of the new high-tech weapons they were funneling to the mujahideen but, at the same time, they had the challenge of muting the politicians and hawks at home in the USA who were calling for escalation and threatening to blow the lid off the covert operation.  In Ukraine, from the 2004 overthrow to the 2014 coup to American bio-labs established in Ukraine to the tens of billions of dollars in weapons flowing from the USA to Ukraine, (not to mention the expansion of NATO to Russia's borders and the declarations in Ukraine of then Vice President Joe Biden) the Americans have publicly goaded the Russians into escalation, daring them to use nuclear weapons and/or to invade a NATO ally.  The same people who claim that Vladimir Putin is amoral and insane seem equally convinced that he won't do the obviously amoral and insane and use his substantial nuclear arsenal. 

"The Enemy of my enemy is my friend." 

Pakistan's role was crucial in ousting the Soviets from Afghanistan.  The Afghan forces would have been unable to fight without being able to retreat, regroup and be rearmed and resupplied through northern Pakistan.  The Americans' greatest concern was that the Russians would continue their invasion into Pakistan.  Had they done so, they might likely have been victorious in the region.

Four NATO countries share a border with Ukraine--Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.  If Russia were to attack any of these countries, the USA and all NATO members would, by treaty, be obligated to join the conflict.  A nuclear World War III would begin.

One of the biggest differences between Afghanistan in the 1980s and Ukraine in the 2020s is the shifting of alliances.  Most importantly, in the 1980s, China and the Soviet Union were considered mortal enemies.  In the 1980s, China manufactured weapons for the CIA which were distributed through Pakistan to arm the Afghans against the Russians.  Currently, the USA is imposing sanctions and sabre rattling against both China and Russia, forcing an alliance between these powerful, erstwhile unfriendly neighbours who now present a public face as the best of friends.

Comparing Outcomes:  Afghanistan versus Ukraine

We now know that once the Afghans had driven out the Russians using American technology, weaponry and training, the various tribal warlords began to turn on each other.  The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Landen emerged from the chaos as dominant forces in Afghanistan.  In 2001, from their bases in Afghanistan, bin Landen and a team of his fellow Saudis developed a plan to crash commercial jet liners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the White House.  (Since the CIA had made arrangements for Saudi Arabia to supply fully half of all financial aid going to the mujahideen, it is possible that Afghan warriors never fully realized that they were being armed by the USA.)  What followed  was an American invasion of Afghanistan (after a devastating and pointless invasion of Iraq) and a war that lasted 20 years, destroyed lives, cost trillions of dollars and ended in a US surrender returning the Taliban to power.

There are enormous differences between Afghanistan and Ukraine, but in both cases you have the USA pouring billions of dollars into countries known for their corruption which have ongoing civil wars and long-standing internal strife. In both cases, you have the USA supplying massive funds and armaments seemingly without paying much attention to who exactly they are funding and arming. In Afghanistan, the influx of massive amounts of US capital created a kleptocracy.  Hamid Karzai, the USA's choice to lead Afghanistan, attempted to hold the country together through nepotism, cronyism, bribes and favours, and failed miserably.

Arseniy Yatsenyu, the American choice to lead Ukraine after 2014, only lasted two years in office. Petro Poroshenko, the post-2014, anti-communist President of Ukraine was not only voted out of office after one term but had to flee the country, accused of high treason.  Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor who played the President of Ukraine in a TV comedy series and was then elected President of Ukraine in reality, came out of nowhere--sort of.

Since the Russian invasion, Zelensky has been aptly compared to Winston Churchill.  However, Zelensky's image has been showing signs of tarnish in recent weeks as Amnesty International has accused Ukrainian forces of war crimes, he has fired two of his closest advisors and his ambassador to Germany, and carried out extensive purges of suspected pro-Russians throughout his government.  Zelensky's attempts to make a direct appeal to China's Xi Jinping is unlikely to please Washington.  It is worth remembering that Churchill was voted out of office two months after the end of World War II.

We know from the Nuland/Pyatt telephone call that the plan was to keep the ultra-nationalist, right-wing extremists (Oleh Tyahnybok and Vitali Klitschko) out of government.  However, since the invasion, the right-wing groups and their militias have proven to be the most skilled and determined fighters, and have become heroes, even to the minorities, Roma, Jews, moderates, socialists, and LGBTs who were their victims in the past. 

What Does victory look like?

Russian victory. Interviewed on "Underground" on RT (Russia Today--which is now banned in the West), John Bolton, Trump's one-time National Security Advisor, was to the point: Russia has no interest in holding Ukraine.  Bolton claimed that once Russia had control of the eastern provinces, Crimea and a southern port, they could and likely would, if necessary, lay waste to the rest of the Ukraine.

In the event of Russian victory, a best case scenario would be a Ukraine divided between East and West (not unlike North and South Korea, China and Taiwan, India and Pakistan, the countries of the former Yugoslavia, etc--the list of similar examples gets pretty long).

I have heard the claim expressed with great conviction that if Putin defeats Ukraine he will continue to expand the Russian empire and invade neighbouring countries. I fail to see the logic or any evidence for this prognosis.  I have to assume that it is based on the underlying assumption that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was unprovoked and Putin is a power-hungry madman.  I suppose part of my reluctance to accept this analysis is that it implies that Russia must be defeated at any cost and makes a nuclear war inevitable.

Ukrainian victory. The results of a Ukrainian victory are much more complicated and difficult to predict.  The best case scenario from a Western perspective is that the war-weary people of Russia will rise up and overthrow the regime.  However, Putin has shown what he can and effectively will do to maintain his dictatorship.  Moreover, from a Russian perspective, the people have seen this scenario before in recent history.  With liberalization and greater openness to the West under Gorbachev then Yeltsin, bringing down the wall, agreeing to the re-unification of Germany, Russians expected immediate prosperity, security, and that there would be no expansion of NATO.  Whether or not Russian expectations were justified is much debated, but it is clear that the Russian people didn't get what they expected.  Can the West reasonably expect the Russian people to buy the same set of promises again?

The least likely and worst case scenario would be the collapse of the Russian nation-state. The Caspienreport offers a detailed analysis of why a collapse is unlikely, but at the same time, how the collapse (if ever it should happen) would lead to decades of wars as neighbouring countries begin to claim the territories of a defeated Russia.

Ukraine Back to the future?

Ukraine cannot return to the days before the Russian invasion (2014 to 2022) because that would be a return to the civil war between East and West.  Ukraine cannot return to the days before 2014 or 2004 because that would be a return to Russian hegemony.  The great hope is that a strong, independent, unified Ukraine will join the European Union and NATO.  However, with or without Zelensky, in the aftermath of the war, an ultra-nationalist government and the bloody purge of Russians, pro-Russians and suspected Russian sympathizers seem likely. Such "ethnic cleansing" would prevent Ukraine's membership in the EU and NATO.  Paradoxically, the same cadre which might give Ukraine a victory might also prevent Ukraine from enjoying the benefits of victory.  The rise of a Ukrainian Neo-Nazi equivalent of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Landen isn't the worst possible nightmare, but it would be a nightmare.


This CBS documentary looks at how Ukrainian forces are being supplied and armed: Arming Ukraine:  A NATO and Western Perspective

In interviews, the embedded CBS reporter is told that "only 30% of the supplies are getting to the frontlines."

From The Grayzone:

CBS deletes documentary promo on corrupt Ukraine military aid after US gov’t pressure


Update 2

From The Grayzone, in an interview with Futon Armstrong, the USA's National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, Armstrong provides the following analysis of the various levels of US-supported coups.

FULTON ARMSTRONG:  Coups, we have to be careful.  Just a teeny bit of history here, that when the US government supports coups, it’s done on different levels.  There’s the highly political level where the policy is to achieve regime change without actually getting into the mud with potential coup plotters.  A second level would be one where we establish it as a policy, and we, through various players in the US government, including covert players but also overt players, go out and sort of look for people who say, think, sort of ‘help me rid me of this priest’ sort of stuff.  And then the third one is when you’re hands-on and you’re actually recruiting people, arming people, and setting particular operations in motion.

 Note:  In my blog post (above) it is clear, evident and uncontested that the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 was a "level two" US-supported coup.  There is reason to suspect but insufficient evidence available to someone like me that the coup in Kyiv went all the way to a "level three."

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