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Russia’s Ukraine invasion may have been preventable, The US made a huge mistake?

Russia’s Ukraine invasion may have been preventable, The US refused to consider Ukraine’s NATO status as Putin threatened war. Experts say that was a huge mistake, MSNBC, March 5, 2022,  By Zeeshan Aleem, MSNBC Opinion Columnist

The prevailing wisdom in the West is that Russian President Vladimir Putin was never interested in President Joe Biden’s diplomatic efforts to avert an invasion of Ukraine. Bent on restoring the might of the Soviet empire, this narrative goes, the Russian autocrat audaciously invaded Ukraine to fulfill a revanchist desire for some combination of land, power and glory.

In a typical account operating under this framing, Politico described Putin as “the steely-eyed strongman” who proved immune to “traditional tools of diplomacy and deterrence” and had been “playing Biden all along.” This telling suggests that the United States exhausted its diplomatic arsenal and that Russia’s horrifying and illegal invasion of Ukraine, which has involved targeting civilian areas and shelling nuclear plants, could never have been prevented.

But according to a line of widely overlooked scholarship, forgotten warnings from Western statesmen and interviews with several experts — including high-level former government officials who oversaw Russia strategy for decades — this narrative is wrong.

Many of these analysts argue that the U.S. erred in its efforts to prevent the breakout of war by refusing to offer to retract support for Ukraine to one day join NATO or substantially reconsider its terms of entry. And they argue that Russia’s willingness to go to war over Ukraine’s NATO status, which it perceived as an existential national security threat and listed as a fundamental part of its rationale for the invasion, was so clear for so long that dropping support for its eventual entry could have averted the invasion.

……………..    the abundance of evidence that NATO was a sustained source of anxiety for Moscow raises the question of whether the United States’ strategic posture was not just imprudent but negligent.

The fact that the NATO status question was not put on the table as Putin signaled that he was serious about an invasion — so plainly that the U.S. government was spelling it out with day-by-day updates — was an error, and potentially a catastrophic one. It may sound cruel to suggest that Ukraine could be barred, either temporarily or permanently, from entering a military alliance it wants to be in. But what’s more cruel is that Ukrainians might be paying with their lives for the United States’ reckless flirtation with Ukraine as a future NATO member without ever committing to its defense.

………….    by dangling the possibility of Ukraine’s NATO membership for years but never fulfilling it, NATO created a scenario that emboldened Ukraine to act tough and buck Russia — without any intention of directly defending Ukraine with its firepower if Moscow decided Ukraine had gone too far.

But for the West to offer to compromise on Ukraine’s future entry into NATO would have required admitting the limitations of Western power.

“It was the desire of Western governments not to lose face by compromising with Russia,” Anatol Lieven, senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the author of “Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry,” told me. “But it was also the moral cowardice of so many Western commentators and officials and ex-officials who would not come out in public and admit that this was no longer a viable project.”

The West didn’t want to set limits on NATO’s enlargement and influence or lose face. So what it did was gamble.

“The choice that we faced in Ukraine — and I’m using the past tense there intentionally — was whether Russia exercised a veto over NATO involvement in Ukraine on the negotiating table or on the battlefield,” said George Beebe, a former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and special adviser on Russia to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “And we elected to make sure that the veto was exercised on the battlefield, hoping that either Putin would stay his hand or that the military operation would fail.”

What’s happened has happened, and there’s no going back. But it still matters.

The U.S. must do everything it can do to end this war — which is already brutalizing Ukraine, rattling the global economy, and could quite easily spiral into a nuclear-armed confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, if things get out of hand — as swiftly as possible, including negotiating on Ukraine’s NATO status and possible neutrality with an open mind. And over the longer term, Americans must realize that in an increasingly multipolar world, reckoning with the limits of their power is critical for achieving a more peaceful and just world………………………………………………..

Russia has grown concerned again about Ukraine for a number of reasons. Analysts like Lieven and Beebe point out that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has taken a number of sharp measures to eradicate Russian influence in Ukraine recently by doing things like banning the use of Russian language in schools and state institutions, shutting down Kremlin-linked television stations and arresting some of the most prominent Russo-sympathetic leaders in the country — all while cooperating on the ground with NATO. Russia read this as a sign that Kyiv was throwing its lot in with the U.S. and the prospect of an agreement ensuring autonomy for the separatist-held Donbas region, crucial to Russia’s plan to thwart Ukraine’s NATO entry, might be dead……………………

Emma Ashford, resident senior fellow with the New American Engagement Initiative in the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, wrote in an email that it was a “pity” that “NATO’s open-door principle was not up for debate.” Though she was skeptical about the political ability of the West to “promise to close NATO’s open door, particularly in a way that would have been credible to Moscow,” she said there were potential ways to deal with Moscow’s concerns, such as “a moratorium on NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, conventional arms control agreements limiting the scope of NATO military integration and cooperation with Ukraine, or some form of negotiated Ukrainian neutrality.”

The idea behind a moratorium — of, say, 20 years — is to provide a way for the West to propose to Russia that the issue can be taken up by a future generation of leaders, at a time when Russia’s political class has changed and geopolitics may have shifted………….

All we do know is that the NATO element mattered a great deal to Russia’s political establishment, and there’s reason to think it could’ve changed the course of negotiations. When things looked dicey, it was worth trying……..

dangling is incredibly dangerous, and it’s possible that it just caused Ukraine to experience the worst of all worlds: not receiving NATO protection while also enduring one of the most aggressive forms of Russian domination possible.

Many of the experts I spoke to said Ukraine’s neutrality or some kind of altered NATO status should be part of the discussion in diplomatic backchannels. Critics will say this constitutes “appeasement” of Putin. But as Biden has already made clear, the U.S. is not willing to wage war with Russia, and it certainly isn’t going to allow Ukraine into NATO when Russia is attacking it, since that would require all of NATO to go to war with Russia. The issue now is to think clearly about how to end a conflict that could spiral into World War III.

It is imperative that America develops a clearer understanding of its adversaries and behaves more judiciously in an increasingly multipolar world. It is not difficult to imagine the U.S. making a miscalculation over what China would be willing to do to secure its domination of the South China Sea. The U.S. may want to be the only great power in the world, free to expand its hegemony with impunity, but it is not. Refusing to see this is dangerous for us all.


March 19, 2022 - Posted by | politics international, USA, weapons and war

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