By tying itself to a reckless and dangerous America, the Ukrainians made a blunder that client states will study for years to come.
Must Watch: Putin offers Nuclear Weapons to Everyone
By Lee Smith
Russian President Vladimir Putin chose this war, Joe Biden said in his Thursday afternoon speech to America regarding the conflict in Ukraine. That is true, but U.S. elites also had something to do with Putin’s ugly and destructive choice—a role that Democrats and Republicans are eager to paper over with noble-sounding rhetoric about the bravery of Ukraine’s badly outgunned military. Yes, the Ukrainian soldiers standing up to Putin are very brave, but it was Americans that put them in harm’s way by using their country as a weapon, first against Russia and then against each other, with little consideration for the Ukrainian people who are now paying the price for America’s folly.
It is not an expression of support for Putin’s grotesque actions to try to understand why it seemed worthwhile for him to risk hundreds of billions of dollars, the lives of thousands of servicemen, and the possible stability of his own regime in order to invade his neighbor. After all, Putin’s reputation until this moment has always been as a shrewd ex-KGB man who eschewed high-risk gambles in favor of sure things backed by the United States, like entering Syria and then escalating forces there. So why has he adopted exactly the opposite strategy here, and chosen the road of open high-risk confrontation with the American superpower?
Yes, Putin wants to prevent NATO from expanding to Russia’s border. But the larger answer is that he finds the U.S. government’s relationship with Ukraine genuinely threatening. That’s because for nearly two decades, the U.S. national security establishment under both Democratic and Republican administrations has used Ukraine as an instrument to destabilize Russia, and specifically to target Putin.
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While the timing of Putin’s attack on Ukraine is no doubt connected to a variety of factors, including the Russian dictator’s read on U.S. domestic politics and the preferences of his own superpower sponsor in Beijing, the sense that Ukraine poses a meaningful threat to Russia is not a product of Putin’s paranoia—or of a sudden desire to restore the power and prestige of the Soviet Union, however much Putin might wish for that to happen. Rather, it is a geopolitical threat that has grown steadily more pressing and been employed with greater recklessness by Americans and Ukrainians alike over the past decade.
That Ukraine has allowed itself to be used as a pawn against a powerful neighbor is in part the fault of Kyiv’s reckless and corrupt political class. But Ukraine is not a superpower that owes allies and client-states judicious leadership—that’s the role of the United States. And in that role, the United States has failed Ukraine. More broadly, the use of Ukraine as a goad against enemies domestic and foreign has recklessly damaged the failing yet necessary European security architecture that America spent 75 years building and maintaining.
Why can’t the American security establishment shoulder responsibility for its role in the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine? Because to discuss American responsibility openly would mean exposing the national security establishment’s role in two separate, destructive coups: the first, in 2014, targeting the government of Ukraine, and the second, starting two years later, the government of the United States.
In the last year there have been two attempted “pro-democracy” inter-elite coups in pro-Kremlin states on Russian borders: Belarus and Kazakhstan. Both of those so-called “color revolutions” failed, but Ukraine represents a much more pressing concern, especially given the country’s push for NATO membership, which Biden officials like Secretary of State Antony Blinken publicly encouraged last year with no intention or possibility of actually making it possible. Yet rather than compelling the United States to rethink the wisdom of planting the NATO flag on Russia’s border, Putin’s escalating rhetoric—and troop movements—only made the Biden team dig in deeper.
This is a game that Biden and key figures in his administration have been playing for a long time, beginning with the 2013-14 Obama administration-backed coup that toppled a Russia-friendly government in Kyiv. This was the so-called Maidan Revolution, a sequel of sorts to the George W. Bush-backed Orange Revolution of 2004-05. Much of that same Obama foreign policy team—Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, and others—is now back in the White House and State Department working in senior posts for a president who personally ran Obama’s Ukraine policy.
What did all these figures have in mind for Ukraine? The White House and U.S. foreign policy experts from both parties are united in claiming that Ukraine is a U.S. ally, a democracy, and a beacon of freedom, which are no doubt fine words to hear when you have been left to fight Vladimir Putin on your own. But to understand what Ukraine truly is, we must start where all geopolitics begins: by looking at a map.
Ukraine is situated between two greater powers, Russia and the European Union. That makes Ukraine a buffer state. Geopolitical logic dictates that buffer states cultivate and maintain cordial relations with the greater powers that surround them, unless they want to be swallowed up by one of those powers. That’s because siding with one great power against another often leads to catastrophe. No less an authority than the prophet Isaiah tells us so. He warned the Jews not to side with the pharaoh—a broken reed, he called Egypt, which pierces the hand of anyone who leans on it—in the dynasty’s conflict with the Babylonians. Isaiah was right: The Jews bet wrong and were dragged off into exile.
Today Israel is no longer a buffer state; rather, it’s a regional power. But geography didn’t change, which means that Israel is still a tiny country surrounded by larger entities, like Turkey and Iran.
So how did the Jewish state transcend buffer-state status? Because it acquired what is reportedly a large nuclear arsenal with air, land, and sea delivery capabilities—the vaunted nuclear triad—which render it immune to an enemy’s first strike, and ensures, for the time being anyway, that Israel is no longer a stomping ground for empires. Conversely, Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for U.S. security guarantees in the event its neighbors, Russia in particular, turned hostile.
What kind of strategy dictates that a state hand over its security vis-a-vis local actors to a country half the world away? No strategy at all. Ukraine was not able to transcend its natural geography as a buffer state—and worse, a buffer state that failed to take its own existence seriously, which meant that it would continue to make disastrously bad bets. In 2013, the European Union offered Kyiv a trade deal, which many misunderstood as a likely prelude to EU membership. Young Ukrainians very much want to join the EU, because they want access to Europe so they can flee Ukraine, which remains one of the poorest countries on the continent.
The trade deal was an ill-conceived EU project to take a shot at Putin with what seemed like little risk. The idea was to flood the Ukrainian market, and therefore also the Russian market, with European goods, which would have harmed the Russian economy—leading, the architects of this plan imagined, to popular discontent that would force Putin himself from office. Putin understandably saw this stratagem as a threat to his country’s stability and his personal safety, so he gave Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych an ultimatum: either reject the deal and accept Moscow’s $15 billion aid package in its place, or else suffer crippling economic measures.
When Yanukovych duly reneged on the EU deal, the Obama administration helped organize street demonstrations for what became history’s most tech-savvy and PR-driven regime change operation, marketed to the global public variously as Maidan, EuroMaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, etc. In February 2014, the protests forced Yanukovych into exile in Moscow. Consequently, Nuland and other Obama administration officials worked to assemble a new Ukrainian government friendly to the United States and therefore hostile to Russia.
In late February, the Russians responded to the American soft coup in Ukraine by invading Crimea and eventually annexing it and creating chaos in Eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration declined to arm the Ukrainian government. It was right to avoid conflict with Moscow, though by leaving Kyiv defenseless, it showed that the White House had never fully gamed out all the possible scenarios that might ensue from setting a client state on course for conflict with a great power. Instead, Obama and the Europeans highlighted their deadly miscalculation by imposing sanctions on Moscow for taking advantage of the conditions that Obama and the Europeans had created.
The White House seems to have taken a perverse pride in the death and destruction it helped incite in Eastern Europe. In April 2014, CIA Director John Brennan visited Kyiv, appearing to confirm the agency’s role in the coup. Shortly after came Vice President Biden, who took his own victory lap and counseled the Ukrainians to root out corruption. Naturally, a prominent Ukrainian energy company called Burisma, which was then under investigation for corruption, hired Biden’s son Hunter for protection.
By tying itself to an American administration that had shown itself to be reckless and dangerous, the Ukrainians made a geopolitical blunder that statesmen will study for years to come: A buffer state had staked its future on a distant power that had simply seen it as an instrument to annoy its powerful neighbor with no attachment to any larger strategic concept that it was willing to support. Russia then lopped off half of the Donbas region on its border and subjected Ukraine to a grinding, eight-year-long war, intended in large part to underline Russian capacity and Ukrainian and American impotence.
Ukraine then made a bad situation even worse. When the same people who had left them prey to Putin asked them to take sides in an American domestic political conflict, the Ukrainians enthusiastically signed on—instead of running hard in the opposite direction.
In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign came calling on Ukrainian officials and activists to lend some Slavic authenticity to its Russia collusion narrative targeting Donald Trump. Indeed, Russiagate’s central storyline was about Ukraine. Yes, Trump had supposedly been compromised by a sex tape filmed in Moscow, but Putin’s ostensible reason for helping Trump win the presidency was to get him to drop Ukraine-related sanctions. Here was another chance for Ukraine to stick it to Putin, and gain favor with what it imagined would be the winning party in the American election.
With the CIA’s Brennan and a host of senior FBI and DOJ officials pushing Russiagate into the press—and running an illegal espionage campaign against the Trump team—Ukrainian political figures gladly joined in. Key participants included Kyiv’s ambassador to Washington, who wrote a Trump-Russia piece for the U.S. press, and a member of the Ukrainian parliament who allegedly contributed to the dossier. The collusion narrative was also augmented by Ukrainian American operatives, like Alexandra Chalupa, who was tied into the Democratic Party’s NGO complex. The idea that this game might have consequences for Ukraine’s relations with its more powerful neighbor doesn’t seem to have entered the heads of either the feckless Ukrainians or the American political operatives who cynically used them.
Of course, Ukraine was hardly the only American client state to involve itself in domestic political gamesmanship. By appearing before the U.S. Congress to argue against Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took sides with Republicans against a sitting American president—which seems like an even bigger potential faux pas.
The differences between the two situations are even more revealing, though. The Iran deal touched on a core Israeli national interest. As a U.S. ally, Israel was challenging the wisdom of handing nuclear weapons to its own (and America’s) leading regional competitor and rival. By contrast, Ukraine had no existential or geopolitical reason to participate in the anti-Trump operation, which allowed it at best to curry favor with one side of the D.C. establishment while angering what turned out to be the winning party. Russiagate was the kind of vanity project that a buffer state with a plunging GDP and an army equipped with 40-year-old ex-Soviet weapons in a notoriously risky area of the world can ill afford—especially one that lacked a nuclear arsenal.
And that was only the beginning. Just as Russiagate seemed to be coming to a close in July 2019, U.S. national security officials injected yet another Ukraine-related narrative into the public sphere to target the American president. This one appears to have been initiated by Ukrainian American White House official Alexander Vindman and his colleague Eric Ciaramella, a CIA analyst who had served as Vice President Biden’s point man on Ukraine during the Obama administration. When Vindman told Ciaramella about a phone call in which Trump had asked the Ukrainian president for information regarding allegations about the Biden family’s corrupt activities in Kyiv, they called on help from U.S. intelligence services, the State Department, the Pentagon, Democratic Party officials, and the press. Quick, scramble Team Ukraine—Trump is asking questions!
In order to cover up for what the Bidens and perhaps other senior Obama officials had done in Ukraine, a Democratic Congress impeached Trump for trying to figure out what American policymakers had been doing in Ukraine over the past decade. As for the Ukrainians, they again put themselves in the middle of it, when they should have stayed home.
The end result was that the Ukrainians had helped weaken an American president who, unlike Obama, gave them arms to defend themselves against the Russians. More seriously, they reinforced Putin’s view that, especially in partnership with the Democrats, Ukraine did not understand its true place in the world as a buffer state—and would continue to allow themselves to be used as an instrument by policymakers whose combination of narcissism and fecklessness made them particularly prone to dangerous miscalculations. The 2020 election victory of Joe Biden, a man whose family had been paid by the Ukrainians to protect them, can have done little to quiet Putin’s sense that Ukraine needed to be put in its place before it was used yet again as a weapon against him.
From the perspective of the U.S. national security establishment, Biden’s victory over Trump signaled that its actions in Ukraine would stay hidden. So long as the media continued to bark that the 45th president of the United States is Putin’s stooge, no one would be held accountable for anything. Except, as it turns out, D.C. political operatives aren’t the only people who can make history. Putin can, too. And the people of Ukraine will come out much the worse for both of their efforts.
Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020). He has written for publications including The New York Times, The Hudson Review, Ecco Press, Atheneum, Grand Street, GQ, and Talk. This article was originally published on the Tablet Magazine.
Thank you for posting this article. In addition to these secret complaints, the publicly voiced complaints that Russia are using to justify an attack do seem to have merit. Russian speakers in the breakaway regions have been harassed by Ukrainian snipers since 2014. Given these two problems, it’s understandable that Russia are seeking to ‘denazify’ Ukraine. If only the US and Ukraine had listened to Russia’s call for negotiation before things escalated into kinetic conflict.
I don’t think Russia wants to reconstitiute the Soviet Union. Too many of the satellite states that made up the Soviet Union are economic basket cases that would need subsidy. But having buffer zones is a valid concern. The US pursue it.
There are solutions that would give both sides what they want. Austria remains a neutral state to this day, is not part of NATO, yet enjoys economic prosperity and a close integration to Europe. Insisting on a NATO membership for Ukraine seems like dictating a solution without understanding the problem, which is a sin of which the current US administration are repeatedly guilty.
Russia now have the world’s attention. Hostilities should cease unilaterally pending the outcome of negotiations, this time in earnest. If these negotiations fail, hostilities can always resume. One goal of such negotiations would be to lay down the conditions for avoidance of future hostilities.
Ukraine, by written agreement signed by President Clinton, was barred from NATO mbership or installation of offensive weapons. The U.S. broke that agreement and brought about the 2014 Maiden insurrection that replaced the government favorable to Russia. Ukraine is an important buffer to Russia, and the U.S. actions present a real existential threat to Russian security.
Putin a dictator? Ironic that a dictator proposed constitutional amendments that restricted Presidential powers.
As for Yanukovych “reneging”, that is certainly the (((Western liberal democracy))) narrative. The reality is the terms of the IMF loan wold have been impossible to pay without massive massive budget cuts and giving up all of Ukraine’s reserves. The trade side would have wiped out Ukraine’s industrial base. Yanukovych may have been a crook, but he wasn’t stupid. The deal offered by Russia wasn’t a great deal, only significantly less bad than the EU/IMF deal.
It was all a set-up, of course, because the trained-in-Israel Maidan “protesters” were on standby ready to move on Vicky “Fuck the EU” Nuland’s order.
Chabad-Lubavitch kosher tribe runs jewSA and Russia. It is all about the jews. Hail the new jewish messiah, Moschiach Vladimir Putin, ready to sacrifice goys in another war, and even the jews if necessary to achieve the jew World Odor.
Ukraine is being used in the same way by the US, as Poland was used by the British prior to WW2.
Neo-Nazi Ukraine: Synagogue Established for Israeli Volunteers (2016) google it
So, having decided after all these years to take military action to end the threat on Russia’s border and to protect the people of the “breakaway republics”, Russia should just stop and beg for the very same result that Russia has urged for years? That makes no sense.
Russia has urged that Ukraine be demilitarized, made a neutral state.
After the foreign backed (CIA/globalist) coup, the “breakaway republics” declared independence from the puppet state run by neo-Nazis. Ever since, the republics have been subjected to attacks by the Ukrainian military.
Recently, shelling of the cities had intensified.
A reminder. The United States itself is a “breakaway republic”. It’s independence was not recognized upon declaration. War was necessary to make it effective.
Further, for years, Russia had proposed a compromise that would have left the republics within Ukraine with protection of language and cultural rights. This would have been very like the status of Quebec in Canada. Rejected.
Arms shipments to Ukraine, the recent assertion by Ukraine that it ought to have nuclear weapons, join NATO, increased attacks on the republics, and the bioweapons labs in Ukraine financed and controlled by the US… despite lies by the MSM and “fact checkers”, these did exist until Russia bombed those sites in recent days, were all security risks for Russia.
This article, while attempting to appear reasonable, does not speak of Russian concerns very much. It is more of that “bad Putin” nonsense. Vladimir Putin and the loyal Russians around him brought Russia back from the dead after oligarchs and the Harvard boys had brought the population to literal starving and freezing, when Russia was mercilessly looted and set up for slave status.
The people of the “breakaway republics” are both overwhelmingly of Russian ethnicity and Russian speakers. They cannot be distinguished from other Russians. That is not true of Western Ukraine, and Russia does not want to “take over” any part of that. Russia wants to end the threats. Period.
Self-determination of peoples was considered a core principle, honored by all freedom loving people and nations until Crimea voted to re-join Russia after the neo-Nazi coup. Then, suddenly, honoring a referendum and the will of the people of the Crimean peninsula constituted “invasion”. A blatant lie. A huge injustice.
Take a look. The DOD scrubbed information about it’s bioweapons labs in Ukraine from their web site, but the pages had already been saved and archived. A threat to the world, not only to Russia. One wonders if Mr. Gates’ confident prediction, with a smirk, of another, deadlier pandemic might have had anything to do with those labs in Ukraine.
War is bad, sad, tragic, I do agree. So does any human being who is not a psycho. However, it becomes necessary under intolerable circumstances. The “bad Putin”, in reality a thoughtful, responsible, Russian patriot has attempted a limited operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine, a country taken over by foreign powers, globalist powers determined to destroy Russia. And every sovereign nation.
Putin’s ultimatum was exactly like that of Kennedy’s with respect to the Cuban missile crisis. The US was willing to risk nuclear war over the presence of the missiles there, a security threat.
There is also the hypocrisy of those who hate President Putin in that none ever made a complaint about the murder of people of the republics or the constant attacks on their cities. That says quite a lot
If this goes wider, and if God forbid, this goes nuclear, that will be down to the criminals in the West.
Who else recalls seeing Joe Biden brag about having had a Ukrainian prosecutor fired for investigating Burisma, the energy company that gave Hunter Biden a no-show “job” ? It was obscene.
But three other Democrat big wigs progeny also were given such lucrative “employment”.
Among nations, Ukraine is a huge donor to the Clinton Foundation. Poor little Ukraine, think about it, sending money to a foreign foundation.
Does it appear to anyone else that American taxpayer dollars were sent to Ukraine, only to return, but on a lop-sided merry-go-round, to only a select few? Does the nasty term, “money laundering” cross anyone’s mind? How about “massive corruption”. Anyone like “influence peddling”?
Yes, Ukraine constituted a grave danger to Russia and to the world.
And the ones involved in the corruption there from the West might very well prefer all out war, even nuclear, to giving up power, much less to the possibility of prison sentences.
So, I would suggest praying, as Vladimir Putin does, that the limited military operations succeed and that Ukraine can become a neutral state without foreign domination and interference.
And don’t believe anything, neither narrative nor images and videos, put forth by the MSM regarding the conduct of the war. So much fakery, another topic. And know this, that “bad Putin” has warned Ukrainian citizens to leave areas about to be bombed. Why he fails so consistently to be a bloodthirsty dictator should put a hold on your minds. When NATO, the US destroyed Balkans cities, bombing mercilessly on and on and on, with no military objective, no one was warned to get out of the way, possibly because in that case, there was nowhere to go.
It was an orgy of bombing.
I am tired of watching, reading President Putin’s character denigrated. I have watched, listened to, read his full speeches, question and answer marathons, interviews, and read books. I recommend a video from the University of Chicago, featuring Professor John Meersheimer, explaining 6 years ago that the situation in Ukraine, the crisis, was the West’s fault, not Russia’s. YouTube or bitchute.
I work for a living, and it takes time. But it is at least responsible, unlike parroting second-hand criticisms of journalists, many with an agenda or a view to their paycheck. Truth seeking takes an effort. It is morally indispensable.
We in the US should have such a conscientious president. We need someone capable of removing the predatory class from power.
The non-colloquial English of ‘Yvonne’s’ reply suggests ‘she’ is a Russian troll writing this contribution. Certainly ‘her’ positions reflect blind adhesion to Russian talking points.
But to pick out the key question from ‘her’ comment. Why should Russia stop military action now? There was an inclination in the West to ignore points of view other than those of the ‘right people’ in Ukraine. The perpetual state of siege in the breakaway republics comes to mind.
Now the Russians have indicated that they are serious enough about these issues to take military action. The fact that they continue without negotiation allows raises question about Putin’s sanity. This is why a cease-fire followed by focusing front-and-center on negotiations is the only way to go.
Trading a ceasefire for suspension of sanctions would be a valid negotiating ploy.
But talking past one another while continuing suicide military missions is not going to bring any result that adds value. Both sides are doing this.