July 14, 2023
In Blog Russia-Ukraine War
At the 2008 Bucharest summit, Ukraine was promised eventual membership in NATO. In 2022, on the eve of the Russian “special military operation,” Ukraine was already participating in joint military exercises with NATO, and was the massive recipient of NATO weapons and training. But it still wasn’t granted membership status. The Ukraine war is now in its 500th day, the country has been badly damaged and its combat forces have suffered losses in the hundreds of thousands. Still, at the Vilnius summit this past week, Ukraine was put on the elite club’s waiting list. The summit communique noted that a “NATO-Ukraine Council” was established to facilitate “Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO,” but actually belonging was as elusive as ever. Remonstrating that this was “absurd,” President Zelensky stomped his feet in protest, threatening not to attend the summit, until he was nudged that it’s not wise to bite the hand that feeds you. So the Vogue Warrior dutifully showed up and got some gentle pats on his keppele for being an obedient little boy.
The obvious question is, Why has NATO repeatedly balked at Ukraine’s membership? And the answer was not long in coming. President Biden explained that if Ukraine joined NATO, then under Article 5 of the NATO treaty, the U.S. would be at war with Russia and that’s not a good thing. It went unremarked the oddity of this clarification. If Ukraine was the innocent victim of a brutal, unprovoked Russian aggression, wasn’t this precisely the moment to admit Ukraine and stand four-square behind it? That, after all, is what solidarity with a friend in need dictates. But Biden, on the contrary, took it as self-evident that coming to Ukraine’s defense with U.S. combat troops was off the table. The horrible truth is, NATO never slated Ukraine to join; that was just a goad and ploy. Instead, Washington ideally hoped to arm Ukraine to the teeth so as to neuter Russia militarily without firing a shot. But the US surely knew it was playing with fire. If John Mearsheimer and Stephen Cohen could correctly predict that Russia wouldn’t acquiesce in its deadly encirclement, it’s a stretch that Foggy Bottom was in the dark. Rather, in one simulation Russia would be provoked into a war so as to bleed it, but Ukraine—without NATO membership—would be left to its own devices, fighting and dying while the murder industries in the US made a killing. In other words, Ukraine is only useful without Article 5: its assigned role is to die for NATO, not vice versa. It was not only Russia that fell into NATO’s trap; so did Ukraine. (Albeit, Russia fell in wittingly; it had no better option.)
The mask is now off and, it seems, the truth has sunk in even on the dim-witted Vogue Warrior. Hence his (truncated) tantrum. The ex B-grade comedian couldn’t resist the role of the century: half-Churchill (reading CIA-scripted pablum), half-Rambo (in his preposterous olive-green fatigues). He’s a real-life Woody Allen character straight out of Bananas or Sleeper. In way over his head, Zelensky was—choose your cliché—taken for a ride, played like a fiddle. Washington enticed Ukraine with the prospect of NATO membership supposedly to protect it from Russian aggression, whereas its real objective was to provoke a Russian aggression in which Ukraine would, alas, have to suffer devastation so that NATO could achieve an immaculate victory. Sound familiar? It should. In the 1930s Stalin pleaded with the Western powers to join with Russia in a collective security pact against the rising Nazi menace, while during World War II he pleaded with the other Allied powers to open up a second front (until 1944, virtually all the Nazi troops were fighting on the Eastern front). The West, however, had its own agenda: let the Soviets and Nazis bleed each other to death, and it could then walk away with the spoils. In an ironic historical symmetry, if Russia was then, Ukraine is today the sacrificial lamb. Still, even by the utterly cynical standards of Great Power politics, NATO’s perfidy in Ukraine is breathtaking.
The US ordered Ukraine to launch a counter-offensive for which it was woefully ill-prepared. I speculated at the start of the announced counter-offensive that “The probable motive behind recent daredevil drone attacks inside Russia and the destruction of the dam is to divert attention from the offensive that will never be” (“Ukraine—Desperate Tactics,” June 6, 2023). A month later, it never was. Ukrainians captured a fistful of villages with a combined population smaller than my high school and a combined length shorter than my jogging distance each morning. On what did I base my speculation? I unabashedly confess to being wholly ignorant of military affairs. Bloodlust was never my cup of tea: my parents imparted a wholly negative balance-sheet on war; death and destruction conferred no bragging rights in my home. (When a distant Israeli relative showed up at our door in the 1970s proudly proclaiming he was in the IDF, my mother dryly replied, “So what?”) But I do live in a Ukrainian neighborhood informally known as “Little Odessa by the Sea.” (It abuts Brighton Beach.) It’s just one step removed from that ravaged land. “In spite of all the machines of destruction,” Leon Trotsky, who organized and led the Red Army, once wrote, “the moral factor retains decisive importance in war.” During the past year, my neighborhood has been flooded by Ukrainians of military age. However high their morale was at the start of the war, can Ukrainians now be unaware that they’re being used as cannon fodder to satiate the lunatics in Washington? Something’s clearly amiss when, of all people, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff must “exhort Ukrainian troops to defend their country” (N.Y. Times). Those who can, escape; those who can’t, fight on as army pay dwarfs civilian wages. But they’re not about to hurl themselves into merciless Russian artillery fire unless forced to. On the other side, if the fighting spirit of Russian soldiers initially lagged as they second-guessed the wisdom of the “special military operation,” the likes of U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham put these doubts to rest as he declared with a coprophagous grin, “The Russians are dying. It’s the best money we’ve ever spent.” So the counter-offensive has, predictably, been a bust. The copious 11,000-word Vilnius communique makes not a single mention of or even allusion to the counteroffensive. (Interestingly, the communique also doesn’t directly pin blame on Russia for the dam explosion as it cautiously circumlocutes that “the destruction of the Kakhovka dam highlights the brutal consequences of the war started by Russia.”) The N.Y. Times reports day in and day out that Russia’s officer corps is in complete disarray. It never stops to reflect, however, that, were this the case, why hasn’t Ukraine’s ballyhooed counter-offensive capitalized on it?
If Ukraine’s phantom counter-offensive rates no mention in the NATO communique, China most emphatically does. It was always a dubious proposition that Russia posed any security threat to Eastern Europe, much less the Western powers. Even in the Soviet era, when Stalin was acclaimed the Great Leader of the World Revolution, Trotsky shrewdly observed (in 1940) that in fact “Stalin is the most conservative politician of Europe.” Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. “Russia under Putin is a profoundly conservative power,” one of the most astute observers of the Kremlin notes, “and its actions are designed to maintain the status quo” (Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine). Even if it aspired to, neither in the Soviet nor post-Soviet era has the Kremlin, poised on a rickety platform, been in a position to radically reshuffle the political map. If Washington sought to militarily neutralize Russia, it was not to deter Putin’s demonic plot to restore the Tsarist Empire, but, instead, so as to position all its pieces on the Grand Chessboard in preparation for the decisive battle ahead. Once Russia was removed from the board, Washington would have a free hand elsewhere—or so it hoped; things turned out differently—where the stakes were high indeed. The Vilnius communique states that “NATO’s key purpose and greatest responsibility is to ensure our collective defense, against all threats, from all directions.” Notice it doesn’t say “military threats.” What, pray tell, might those threats be and from which direction? The communique leaves no room for doubt:
The People’s Republic of China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values…. The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence.
In other words, China seeks to displace the U.S. as the global hegemon by recourse to the same methods that has ensured Washington’s global dominance (in tandem with Europe as a junior partner) since the end of World War II. And, dammit, that’s just not fair! The plans to counter this “threat” make for most ominous reading:
We are working together responsibly, as Allies, to address the systemic challenges posed by the PRC to Euro-Atlantic security and ensure NATO’s enduring ability to guarantee the defense and security of Allies…. The deepening strategic partnership between the PRC and Russia and their mutually reinforcing attempts to undercut the rules-based international order run counter to our values and interests.
How exactly does NATO plan to uphold our “values and interests” against China’s “ambitions”?
We will individually and collectively deliver the full range of forces, capabilities, plans, resources, assets and infrastructure needed for deterrence and defense, including for high-intensity, multi-domain warfighting against nuclear-armed peer-competitors. Accordingly, we will strengthen training and exercises that simulate conventional and, for Allies concerned, a nuclear dimension of a crisis or conflict, facilitating greater coherence between conventional and nuclear components of NATO’s deterrence and defense posture across all domains and the entire spectrum of conflict.… NATO is ready and able to deter aggression and manage escalation risks in a crisis that has a nuclear dimension. (emphasis added)
This does not bode well. But even as this conclave of Dr. Strangeloves gears up for nuclear conflagration, it cannot be said that it is beyond redemption:
We recognize the critical importance of women’s full, equal, and meaningful participation in all aspects of peace and stability … we will advance gender equality and integrate gender perspectives.
Will a womyn get to press the button?