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Calling Russia’s Attack ‘Unprovoked’ Lets USA Off the Hook

FAIR, BRYCE GREENE, MARCH 4, 2022, Many governments and media figures are rightly condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine as an act of aggression and a violation of international law. But in his first speech about the invasion, on February 24, US President Joe Biden also called the invasion “unprovoked.”

It’s a word that has been echoed repeatedly across the media ecosystem. “Putin’s forces entered Ukraine’s second-largest city on the fourth day of the unprovoked invasion,” Axios (2/27/22) reported; “Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine entered its second week Friday,” said CNBC (3/4/22). Vox (3/1/22) wrote of “Putin’s decision to launch an unprovoked and unnecessary war with the second-largest country in Europe.”

The “unprovoked” descriptor obscures a long history of provocative behavior from the United States in regards to Ukraine. This history is important to understanding how we got here, and what degree of responsibility the US bears for the current attack on Ukraine.

Ignoring expert advice

The story starts at the end of the Cold War, when the US was the only global hegemon. As part of the deal that finalized the reunification of Germany, the US promised Russia that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward.”  Despite this, it wasn’t long before talk of expansion began to circulate among policy makers…………

Despite these warnings, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were added to NATO in 1999, with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia following in 2004.

US planners were warned again in 2008 by US Ambassador to Moscow William Burns (now director of the CIA under Joe Biden). WikiLeaks leaked a cable from Burns titled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines” that included another prophetic warning worth quoting in full (emphasis added):

Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region.  Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.

Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war.  In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.

A de facto NATO ally

But the US has pushed Russia to make such a decision. Though European countries are divided about whether or not Ukraine should join, many in the NATO camp have been adamant about maintaining the alliance’s “open door policy.”

Even without officially being in NATO, Ukraine has become a de facto NATO ally—and Russia has paid close attention to these developments. In a December 2021 speech to his top military officials, Putin expressed his concerns:…………………………

The Maidan Coup of 2014

A major turning point in the US/Ukraine/Russia relationship was the 2014 violent and unconstitutional ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych, elected in 2010 in a vote heavily split between eastern and western Ukraine. His ouster came after months of protests led in part by far-right extremists (FAIR.org3/7/14). Weeks before his ouster, an unknown party leaked a phone call between US officials discussing who should and shouldn’t be part of the new government, and finding ways to “seal the deal.” After the ouster, a politician the officials designated as “the guy” even became prime minister.

The US involvement was part of a campaign aimed at exploiting the divisions in Ukrainian society to push the country into the US sphere of influence, pulling it out of the Russian sphere (FAIR.org1/28/22). In the aftermath of the overthrow, Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine, in part to secure a major naval base from the new Ukrainian government.

The New York Times (2/24/22) and Washington Post (2/28/22) both omitted the role the US played in these events. In US media, this critical moment in history is completely cleansed of US influence, erasing a critical step on the road to the current war.

Keeping civil war alive

In another response to the overthrow, an uprising in Ukraine’s Donbas region grew into a rebel movement that declared independence from Ukraine and announced the formation of their own republics. The resulting civil war claimed thousands of lives, but was largely paused  in 2015 with a ceasefire agreement known as the Minsk II accords.

The deal, agreed to by Ukraine, Russia and other European countries, was designed to grant some form of autonomy to the breakaway regions in exchange for reintegrating them into the Ukrainian state. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian government refused to implement the autonomy provision of the accords

Anatol Lieven, a researcher with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in The Nation (11/15/21):

The main reason for this refusal, apart from a general commitment to retain centralized power in Kiev, has been the belief that permanent autonomy for the Donbas would prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and the European Union, as the region could use its constitutional position within Ukraine to block membership.

Refusal to de-escalate…………

By December 2021, US intelligence agencies were sounding the alarm that Russia was amassing troops at the Ukrainian border and planning to attack. Yet Putin was very clear about a path to deescalation: He called on the West to halt NATO expansion, negotiate Ukrainian neutrality in the East/West rivalry, remove US nuclear weapons from non proliferating countries, and remove missiles, troops and bases near Russia. These are demands the US would surely have made were it in Russia’s position.

Unfortunately, the US refused to negotiate on Russia’s core concerns…………..

Instead of addressing Russian concerns about Ukraine’s NATO relationship, the US instead chose to pour hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons into Ukraine, exacerbating Putin’s expressed concerns. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy didn’t help matters by suggesting that Ukraine might begin a nuclear weapons program at the height of the tensions.

After Putin announced his recognition of the breakaway republics, Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled talks with Putin, and began the process of implementing sanctions on Russia—all before Russian soldiers had set foot into Ukraine.

Had the US been genuinely interested in avoiding war, it would have taken every opportunity to de-escalate the situation. Instead, it did the opposite nearly every step of the way……………

None of this is to say that Putin’s invasion is justified—FAIR resolutely condemns the invasion as illegal and ruinous—but calling it “unprovoked” distracts attention from the US’s own contribution to this disastrous outcome. The US ignored warnings from both Russian and US officials that a major conflagration could erupt if the US continued its path, and it shouldn’t be surprising that one eventually did.

Now, as the world once again inches toward the brink of nuclear omnicide, it is more important than ever for Western audiences to understand and challenge their own government’s role in dragging us all to this point.

 https://fair.org/home/calling-russias-attack-unprovoked-lets-us-off-the-hook/

March 5, 2022 - Posted by | politics international, Ukraine, USA

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