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US, NATO and the Russian Invasion of the Ukraine: Part II – Historical Context and a broader Geo-Political framework

March 10, 2022

In Part I, we presented information on how the US commercial news media is reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US and NATO responses.

Historical context is key for understanding any geopolitical conflicts, especially since current actions rarely happen in a vacuum. In today’s post we will provide some excerpts (and links to full articles) from articles we think provide some important and critical context to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

THE WAR OVER UKRAINIAN HISTORY AND IDENTITY

“UKRAINE IS NOT just a neighboring country for us,” declared Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. “It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.” This conception of Ukrainian history forms the bedrock of Putin’s justification for invading the former Soviet republic, independent since 1991. On this week’s podcast, Ryan Grim talks with Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko about his country’s history, from the Dark Ages up the current war. They discuss Ukraine’s history of anarchist politics, the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution that toppled pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, and the tangled question of modern Ukrainian identity.

How Did We Get Here? The Strategic Blunder of the 1990s That Set the Stage for Today’s Ukrainian Crisis 

The alliance’s defenders now claim that Russia accepted it by signing the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. But Moscow really had no choice, being dependent then on billions of dollars in International Monetary Fund loans (possible only with the approval of the United States, that organization’s most influential member). So, it made a virtue of necessity. That document, it’s true, does highlight democracy and respect for the territorial integrity of European countries, principles Putin has done anything but uphold. Still, it also refers to “inclusive” security across “the Euro-Atlantic area” and “joint decision-making,” words that hardly describe NATO’s decision to expand from 16 countries at the height of the Cold War to 30 today. 

Chomsky: Outdated US Cold War Policy Worsens Ongoing Russia-Ukraine Conflict

The tension on the Russia-Ukraine border represents an ongoing conflict between two nations with many cultural affinities, but is also part of a much larger rivalry between the U.S. and Europe on one side, and Russia on the other. As Noam Chomsky reminds us in the exclusive interview for Truthout that follows, in 2014, a Russia-supported government in Ukraine was forcefully removed from power by a coup supported by the U.S. and replaced by a U.S. and European-backed government. It was a development that brought closer to war the two main antagonists of the Cold War era, as Moscow regards both U.S. and European involvement in Ukraine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) continued eastward expansion as part of a well-orchestrated strategy to encircle Russia. The strategy of encirclement is indeed as old as NATO itself, and this is the reason why Russian President Vladimir Putin issued recently a list of demands to the U.S. and NATO with regard to their actions in Ukraine and even parts of the former Soviet space. In the meantime, senior-level Russian officials have gone even further by warning of military response if NATO continues to ignore Moscow’s security concerns. 

How the U.S. Started a Cold War with Russia and Left Ukraine to Fight It

So why was negotiating a mutual security treaty so unacceptable that Biden was ready to risk thousands of Ukrainian lives, although not a single American life, rather than attempt to find common ground? What does that say about the relative value that Biden and his colleagues place on American versus Ukrainian lives? And what is this strange position that the United States occupies in today’s world that permits an American president to risk so many Ukrainian lives without asking Americans to share their pain and sacrifice? 

There’s No Justification for Russia’s Aggression, But US Double Standards on Illegal War Are Hard to Stomach 

In addition, Biden’s claim that the United States “always stands up to bullies” would be news to the Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians, and others who have been subjected to massive military attacks by U.S.-armed allies. His insistence that “we stand for freedom” is contradicted by his administration’s support for brutal dictatorships in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and elsewhere. Criticism of Russia’s veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the invasion rings hollow in light of successive U.S. vetoes of resolutions challenging the U.S. invasions of Grenada and Panama, U.S. attacks on Nicaragua, and Israel’s invasions of Lebanon. 

Putin, Lenin, Imperialism and the (Real) History of Ukraine

Ukraine is a place few people in this country can find on a map. Far fewer have any idea of when and how the Ukrainian state originated, or how it has related to its neighbors over time. So I might make up any random narrative about it, weaving in bits and pieces of truth here and there, and perhaps the majority of my listeners would nod agreeably at my presentation finding no flaws. There are a whole lot of ingredients to work with and to play with when it comes to Ukraine’s history. 

Putin’s Criminal Invasion of Ukraine Highlights Some Ugly Truths About U.S. and NATO

Many governments of the world have denounced Putin’s actions. But when it comes to the U.S. and its NATO allies, these condemnations demand greater scrutiny. While many statements from Western leaders may be accurate regarding the nature of Russia’s actions, the U.S. and other NATO nations are in a dubious position to take a moralistic stance in condemning Russia. That they do so with zero recognition of their own hypocrisy, provocative actions, and history of unbridled militarism — particularly in the case of the U.S. — is deeply problematic. From the beginning of this crisis, Putin has exploited the militarism and past bombing campaigns of the U.S. and NATO to frame his own warped justification for his murderous campaign in Ukraine. But the fact that Putin is trying to justify the unjustifiable does not mean that we must ignore the U.S. actions that fuel his narrative. 

Sanctions are Blunt Instruments Which Punish Entire Populations But Hurt Leaders Least

These are damaging blows to the Russian economy, but not necessarily to Putin and his circle or their ability to make war in Ukraine. Economic warfare seldom trumps military warfare, certainly not in the short or medium term. The Russian middle class is more likely to emigrate than rebel. Collective punishment of all Russians for what is very much ‘Putin’s war’ may even encourage national solidarity rather than turning people against the man in the Kremlin. Oligarchs may be upset by losing their grand houses in London, but they are much more frightened of being rehoused in some prison cell in Moscow. 

15 Bad Ukraine Narratives

The US-led West has broken one promise after another regarding Russia’s regional security concerns in Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War. The US has been politically and militarily surrounding Russia since the dismantlement of the Soviet Union in 1991. In violation of a disingenuous pledge made to the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the US has drawn numerous Eastern European countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia) into the lethal NATO alliance. It has installed troops and nuclear weapons near Russia’s borders. Eight years ago, the United States backed and enabled the removal of a Ukrainian government friendly to Russia. It developed economic and military ties to the newly installed Ukrainian government, which declared that it wished to join NATO.

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