Like all wars, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is monstrous. To my mind, the lead up to the war is even more monstrous.
I’m writing this because I think a highly probable outcome will be nuclear exchange between Russia and the United States. We should do our best to stop it.
There is a straightforward way the West could immediately stop the war. That would be to accept that the security guarantees that Russia proposed prior to the war are reasonable, and accept them.
Are Russia’s demands reasonable? The full set is in Appendix 2. Have a look.
- Russia’s key demand is that NATO guarantee that no country directly adjacent to the Russian border – specifically Ukraine and Georgia – shall become a member of NATO. Russia wants a neutral buffer between itself and the US/NATO military alliance.
- It also demands that no country (e.g., America) have nuclear weapons outside its own borders, and that all American nuclear weapons be returned to the US.
- Emotionally important to Russia, a third demand that the Ukraine government cease attacking Russian-speaking people in the Donbas region, and adhere to the Minsk agreements (there is reason to suppose that the Ukraine government has been committing atrocities against people in the Donbas.)
- Whatever the facts may be in this mess of ethnic divisions, thugs and power conflicts, there are no good guys here. The point of the Minsk agreements was to stop the shelling.
Western media portray Putin as the ‘bad guy’. And why not? Putin invaded Ukraine. And in war ‘our side’ – in this case the Western allies – are always the good guys.
It might be helpful to review some high points of history since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.
Appendix 1 is a partial timeline. The story in brief is that the time of the reunification of Germany (1990) the Soviet Union was assured that NATO would not expand towards Russia. It did, starting with the Clinton administration in the 1990s. There was no obvious reason to do this, Western diplomats at the time warned that it would be destabilizing.
(Now the situation has become so destabilized that I hope that living in the Blue Mountains two hours outside of Sydney makes me less likely to be directly affected by a nuclear exchange between Russia and the US).
Seeing the steady encroachment of NATO towards Russia (the Soviet Union was disbanded), finding that the US/NATO was both unwilling to either keep its promises or take him seriously, Putin drew a red line: If you integrate Ukraine into NATO there will be consequences. It has been clear for decades that Russia feels threatened by NATO expansion.
Last December in 2021 NATO asserted its intention to bring Ukraine into NATO. Putin had two responses.
- First, he proposed a security agreement where NATO would not include Ukraine or Georgia.
- Finding no positive response to this proposal, he invaded Ukraine and threatened to use nuclear weapons.
We use terms such as ‘US’ and ‘NATO’. But in fact it is real people, with real names, each with their specific ways of thinking and worldviews, shape this dynamic. One of the more influential people in shaping United States policy towards Ukraine and Russia is Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the Biden administration. She has long advocated arming Ukraine and taking a hard line towards Russia.
Given that Russia has invaded Ukraine, and the Ukrainian are putting up a far better fight than expected, it might appear that Nuland was correct. We have Putin initiating a monstrous invasion, and the Ukrainians valiantly resisting.
Again, what this analysis misses is that it was precisely the policies that Nuland and others advocated that pushed Putin to launch the invasion. In other words, we drove him crazy… assuming that he is crazy. Perhaps he is simply a rational calculator in terms of geopolitical considerations.
A psychological note: Psychologically mature people are able to see their part in a conflict, and if appropriate acknowledge that they were wrong.
Desperate people do desperate things. The war does not appear to be going well for Putin. The US/NATO is importing massive amounts of arms and money into Ukraine. Sweden and Norway intend to join NATO. International sanctions are affecting the Russian economy.
The US hopes to get Putin in an untenable position where perhaps he will be deposed. Maybe. Or maybe, as a rational actor, he will escalate to his next announced threat level: using a small-scale nuclear tactical weapon. At which point everybody goes crazy, the whole thing spirals out of control and, horrified at nuclear Armageddon, I’m glad I’m in Australia. But there are no guarantees here, either.
A question I always ask is: Where is a leverage point? Where can we exert influence to turn things around?
Given the current tide of events, I don’t see one within a short time frame. The Biden administration is committed to its current course of action, and apparently has rejected pulling back. American public opinion is with him in this. Presumably so are the moneyed backers of both Republican and Democratic congresspeople. Mainstream media uncritically reflects the view that Putin is the bad guy and we are the good guys. And of course the military-industrial complex celebrates the billions of dollars they make manufacturing weapons.
Looking at this is ample cause for despair. Having done my own meditation in this space, my conclusion for myself is: Never give up!
So what to do? As inadequate as this may seem, talking about it is the go, as is prayer. Perhaps in some on foreseeable way the conversation will shift something; perhaps it won’t. We should at least try.
For Americans, the Capitol switchboard is 202 224 3121.
This review may make some people uncomfortable or angry. It asserts that US / NATO leadership has been monstrous. My comments are not meant to gloss over the fact that Putin is a tyrant. It is simply to look at our part in what has become a globally threatening situation (I am an American former naval officer living in Australia).
Appendix 1 A timeline
Fall of the Berlin Wall.
East and West Germany unified, with the agreement of the Soviet Union.
US / NATO senior officials promised the Soviet Union that NATO would not expand towards Russia.
Dissolution of the USSR into separate countries.
= Cold War over
There was a possibility of a ‘Peace Dividend’: Vastly reducing the US military budget, thus releasing more money for domestic purposes.
[Note: The US did not reduce its military budget.]
Under Clinton’s administration NATO expands towards the former Soviet Union’s borders by adding Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. [= breaking the 1990 promise.]
The Clinton administration negotiated a deal with North Korea to provide fuel oil, provided that North Korea stopped developing nuclear reactors could also produce weapons grade uranium.
Project for the New American Century founded. It champions massive military spending to support American interests globally.
Minsk agreements to stop fighting between Ukraine forces and Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. [This situation is complicated; see this article for more.]
Putin expresses interest in joining NATO; he wants Russia to share in Western prosperity.
The Bush administration fails to fully provide the promised fuel oil to North Korea. [= a broken promise]
[The Bush administration’s rationale was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that could be dangerous to the United States. Prior to the invasion, the CIA had asserted there were no such weapons. Indeed, despite arduous search, no weapons of mass destruction were found.]
Gaddafi deposed and killed in Libya with US support. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton celebrates her success.
NATO Summit in Bucharest. NATO issues statement that Ukraine and Georgia would become part of NATO. [Note: the northern Ukrainian border is directly adjacent to Russia; Russia wants a buffer.]
Ukraine makes speaking Russian legal.
Ukraine makes speaking Russian illegal. Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine rebel against repression.
Minsk agreements guaranteeing autonomy to eastern Ukrainian provinces. [= a way to stop the fighting.]
Russia annexes Crimea.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promises U.S. support for Ukraine’s future NATO membership.
NATO meeting in Riga Nov 30- Dec 1 communique:
Georgia and Ukraine are long-standing and close NATO partners.
Contributing to our missions and operations.
And aspiring for membership.
We are already strengthening their capabilities to defend themselves.
Training and exercising together.
This prompts Putin to reiterate that integrating Ukraine into NATO is an unacceptable ‘red line’ that must not be crossed.
Russia advances draft treaties for “security guarantees”, including a legally binding promise that Ukraine would not join NATO, and a reduction in NATO troops and materiel stationed in Eastern Europe,
Having given up on reaching an agreement with the US/NATO, Russia indicates how seriously it takes the threat of Ukraine joining NATO by invading Ukraine and indicating the possibility of using nuclear weapons.
Appendix 2 Russian proposed security agreements
The article this was taken from is here.
On December 15, the Russian Federation delivered to the United States of America the project of a Treaty and an Agreement to defuse the growing tension between the two parties.
The two documents were made public by the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 17.
The draft treaty foresees in Art. 1, that each of the two parties “shall not undertake actions that affect the security of the other party” and,
In Art.2, that “shall seek to ensure that all international organizations and military alliances in which it is taking part adhere to the principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations.”.
In Art. 3 the two parties commit themselves “not to use the territories of other States with a view to preparing or carrying out an armed attack against the other Party“.
Art. 4 provides then, that “the United States shall not establish military bases in the territory of the States of the former USSR that are not members of NATO”, and “shall deny accession to the Alliance to the States of the former USSR to prevent further eastward expansion of NATO“.
In Art. 5 “the parties shall refrain from deploying their armed forces and armaments, including in the framework of military alliances, in the areas where such deployment could be perceived by the other party as a threat to its national security.”
Thus “they shall refrain from flying heavy bombers equipped for nuclear or non-nuclear armaments and from deploying warships in areas, outside national airspace and territorial waters, from where they can attack targets in the territory of the other party.”
In Art. 6 “the parties shall undertake not to deploy ground-launched intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles outside their national territories, as well as in the areas of their national territories, from which such weapons can attack targets in the national territory of the other Party” and that “shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons, nor conduct exercises involving the use of nuclear weapons.”
In Art.7 “the parties shall refrain from deploying nuclear weapons outside their national territories and return such weapons to their national territories”, and “shall not train military and civilian personnel from non-nuclear countries to use nuclear weapons” nor “conduct exercises involving the use of nuclear weapons.”
The draft Agreement established procedures for the Treaty operation, based on the commitment that the two parties “will resolve all disputes in their relations by peaceful means“, and “will use the mechanisms of bilateral consultations and information, including hotlines for emergency contacts.”
The US party was given detailed explanations regarding the logic of the Russian approach, and the Russian Foreign Ministry hoped that in the near future the United States would enter into serious talks with Russia on this critical issue.
Appendix 3 Another timeline
The U.S. and NATO are threatening the planet, not Russia. Here are the facts:
- President Reagan rejected President Gorbachev’s offer to give up deployment of a “Star Wars” missile defence system in space as a condition for both countries to eliminate all their nuclear weapons.
- President Clinton refused President Putin’s offer to cut our massive nuclear arsenals to 1,500 bombs each, and to call on all of the other nuclear-armed states to negotiate the elimination of all nuclear weapons, in exchange for the U.S. not placing missile sites in Romania.
- President George W. Bush walked out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and put a missile base in Romania. President Trump placed another missile base in Poland.
- President Bush in 2008 and President Obama in 2014 blocked any discussion of Russian and Chinese proposals for a space weapons ban in the consensus-bound UN Committee for Disarmament in Geneva.
- President Obama rejected President Putin’s offer to negotiate a treaty to ban cyber war.
- President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
- From President Clinton through President Biden, the U.S. has never ratified the 1992 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, while Russia ratified it.
This is not to denigrate America. But what does it tell us about American leadership since Ronald Reagan? Note: To their credit Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated real reductions in nuclear weapons that were carried out.
Relevant articles and videos
I believe these are credible sources. Have a look.
|Jeffrey Sachs on Ending the Russia-Ukraine War|
|Russian “Aggressive Gambit”: Moscow Proposes Peace||Lays out the Russian security proposal.|
|How Do We Stop the Neo cons from Starting Another Disaster in Ukraine||James W Carden does not answer the question.|
|The Crisis in Ukraine Is Not About Ukraine. It’s About Germany||The hypothesis that the US provoking war in the Ukraine would block the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, thus preventing Germany from developing closer economic ties to Russia (which would reduce US influence).|
|John Mearsheimer Why Ukraine is the West’s fault|
|Ex-Nato head says Putin wanted to join alliance early on in his rule|
|Today’s Crisis Over Ukraine. Former US Ambassador to USSR Jack F. Matlock, Jr|
|The military situation in the Ukraine|
The recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, has made the Ukraine invasion – an American policy – even more acute for me. Beyond the appearance of adult maturity, what’s the difference between a young man with assault weapons and policies that lead to the real possibility of massive nuclear exchange? Scale. In each case the thinking is demented; we do ourselves a disservice to accept it as normal.
As it happens, I sleep well. If I did not sleep well, there are at least three things that would keep me awake at night:
- The real possibility of nuclear war.
- The escalating catastrophes of global warming and other disastrous environmental trends.
- The lack of interest and passion on the part of smart intellectuals and NGO leaders to think through in-depth what drives our ecological destruction, and commit to mobilizing thoughtful public will to turn things around.
It’s time we lift our game and communicate to help people grasp the painful reality of our existential emergency, and help people come to grips with the profound (and uncomfortable) changes necessary to have a hope of a positive future.