[American leaders] don’t think the balance of power matters any more…. If you think we’ve had trouble with the Russians, just wait for the trouble we are going to have with the Chinese. I am very popular in China. I go to China quite often. I usually start my talks by saying, ‘It’s good to be back among my people.’ Because when I get to China I’m intellectually more at home there than I am in Washington….Professor John Mearsheimer, 2016
Will there be a war over Ukraine? Have recent negotiations opened a path to peace? Unfortunately, the diplomats have achieved very little. The White House says no further talks with Russia have been planned.[i] Worse yet, American intelligence officials say that Russia is setting up a pretext to invade Ukraine. On 14 January Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said, “Without getting into too much detail, we do have information that indicates Russia is already working actively to create a pretext for a potential invasion…. In fact, we have information that they have prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct what we call a ‘false flag operation’; an operation designed to look like an attack on … Russian-speaking people … as an excuse to go in.”[ii]
Do countries carry out false flag attacks to justify invasions? Of course, they do. On the Eve of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, a small group of German operatives dressed in Polish uniforms seized the Gleiwitz radio station and broadcast a short anti-German message in Polish. For the sake of realism, prisoners from Dachau concentration camp were dressed in Polish uniforms, murdered, and left at the scene as proof that Polish soldiers had been killed in the attack. Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson in the movie Schindler’s List, provided the Polish uniforms and weapons for this Operation, which went by the bizarre name of Grossmutter gestorbin (Grandmother died).[iii]
According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Moscow has also been preparing a social media disinformation campaign to depict Ukraine as the aggressor. For those who remember, the Kremlin accused tiny Georgia of “aggression against South Ossetia” to justify a full-scale Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov explained the Russian invasion in terms of a United Nations principle, “the responsibility to protect,” which arose out of the international community’s failure to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In essence, Lavrov said Georgia was engaged in ethnic cleansing in South Ossettia and Russia had to invade. Ironically, the only ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia that year was conducted against Georgians by South Ossetians.[iv]
Many people in America and Europe believe that the West has unnecessarily provoked Russia. They believe that Russia is the victim of U.S. imperialism and NATO expansionism. As Russian President Vladimir Putin warns U.S. President Joe Biden of a “complete rupture” of relations, conservative talk radio’s Michael Savage suggests that Biden is “picking on Russia.” Tucker Carlson of Fox News has criticized Biden’s reaction to Russian troops deploying to the Ukrainian border. Carlson thinks Biden’s policy is too confrontational. Carlson warned, “Do not discount, no matter how farfetched it would seem, a hot war with Russia.” But Carlson has discounted something more troubling. He has discounted the history of cooperation between Biden and the Russians, Biden and the Chinese, Biden and communists of every stripe. Here is the secret key to what is occurring around the world today.
Those who think Putin is a “nationalist” are mistaken. He is an ally of North Korea, Red China, Cuba, Vietnam, Angola, etc. These are all communist countries. Putin’s Russia has been helping communist countries everywhere. And today, it looks as though communism is ready to steamroll its way to a dominant global position. But the fly in the ointment has been the Ukrainian people’s opposition to the old Soviet structures in their own country.
Is America obligated to defend Ukraine? No. We have no such obligation. Would it be strategically advisable? No. Of course, most Americans sympathize with the Ukrainian people; but defending Ukraine is not possible for several reasons. We do not have the necessary troops. We are committed to defending too many other countries. Furthermore, we have failed to modernize our nuclear forces even as we confront China in the Far East. Worse yet, Americans are divided at home. Last month, three retired U.S. generals “penned an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for the Pentagon to make preparations [to put down] another ‘insurrection’ after the 2024 election.”[v] According to the generals, “With the country still as divided as ever, we must take steps to prepare for the worst.”[vi]
Some patriotic Americans, of course, see Washington, D.C. as the enemy. Some may even view Russia as a potential ally. This has happened because Russian leaders have long pretended they are no longer communist. At the same time, American reds, who present themselves as Democrats, pretend they are at odds with Russia. By misleading everyone about who they are, the communists have achieved a remarkable dominance that is not yet fully recognized. In baseball the players all wear uniforms so we can tell them apart. In the Great Game of today, players from the Red Team sometimes wear Blue Team uniforms. Pitchers from the Red Team have even pitched for the Blue Team. This is how the Red Team has scored one home run after another – gaining control of oil-rich Venezuela, gaining control of mineral-rich South Africa and Congo, breaking the back of U.S. energy independence, overrunning Afghanistan, etc. And now the Red Team is ready to take Ukraine. Moscow need not worry about curve balls or fast balls. Even now, the ball is being lobbed over the plate, nice and easy.
To understand what the Red Team signifies, it is worth revisiting an interview I did with Russian historian Marina Kalashnikova more than a decade ago. I asked Kalashnikova why Moscow was aligning itself with Beijing and other communist countries. She surprised me by saying the primary reason was communist ideology. When I suggested that China was a natural ally for Russian because Russia could supply China’s energy needs, Kalashnikova disagreed. “I would say that the ideological motivation is much stronger,” she countered; “so, I guess that communist principles and ideas bring them together much closer than the energy supply factor.” [vii] Kalashnikova further explained that American analysts “expect one thing and Russia behaves in quite a different way, sticking with their communist ideology. The American ‘audience’ and officials should know that in Russia ideology always prevails.”[viii] (Please note: Kalashnikova and her husband Viktor believed they were poisoned by the Russian state security or the GRU on account of their outspoken views. Marina Kalashnikova died of cancer at a Moscow hospital a few years after my interview with her.)[ix]
I believe Kalashnikova was correct in her assessment of Moscow’s motives. And so, we must reckon with a hidden communist agenda on the part of the Russian government. We must understand that Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union, contains Soviet structures that were left in place to maintain control of that country’s economy and security forces. It is impossible to say how much control these Soviet structures retain today, after the Maidan Revolution of 2014. Certainly, the Kremlin would have to rescue these secret structures if they came under serious threat from pro-Western reformers in Kiev.
Given all this, will Russia invade Ukraine? If the country’s hidden Soviet structures are still in control, no Russian invasion is necessary. On the other hand, open union with Russia must occur sometime in the future. Why not begin the process now? Perhaps the time has come for Moscow Center to assert ownership. According to John Kirby at the Pentagon, “We already have … indications that Russian influence actors are already starting … to fabricate Ukrainian provocations … in both state and social media … to justify … some sort of pretext for incursion.”[x] Kirby then added, “We’ve seen this kind of thing before out of Russia. When there isn’t an actual crisis to suit their needs, they’ll make one up.”[xi]
Evidence for Mobilization
Reporting from Kiev last November, Stéphane Siohan wrote of “speculation about a new Russian military mobilization and the possible risk of an armed offensive against Ukraine.” According to Siohan, despite fears of a Russian invasion, “there is no major alert, no mass mobilization, no call-up of reservists. In fact, one gets the impression that large-scale war takes place in the media and on social media. However, Western and Ukrainian services report a reinforcement of Russian troops on the borders of Ukraine.”[xii]
In 2019, several months before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Emil Avdaliani of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies wrote, “Russia is now considering going back to mass mobilization. The draft system was never, in fact, abrogated after the breakup of the Soviet Union….” Avdaliani further noted, “Recently, the Russian government has been making contradictory statements and policy moves on the subjects of conscription and the role of civilian industry in wartime.” More significantly, he added, “Mass mobilization and the military costs it entails invariably kill Russia’s economy.”[xiii]
The Russians are pushing “the pedal to the metal” in terms of war preparations. They are paying an economic price for all this. There is an old quote, from a Russian general on the eve of World War I: “Mobilization is war.” Videos are now appearing online of young Russian reservists getting on trains. One video, tweeted by Igor Girkin, shows a Russian soldier walking out to the train with his wife and child. The video showed many others, dressed in drab military green, waiting to board the same train.[xiv] Girkin’s Twitter account has many videos of Russian trains moving tanks and APCs. He tweeted a very strange video of unmarked truck convoys “leaving and entering Ukraine on dirt roads in areas where there are no border crossings.”[xv]
It does, indeed, look as though Russia is mobilizing to invade Ukraine. Last April Russian cities were ordered to prepare for mass burials. Orders on “the organization of urgent burial of bodies in wartime” began appearing on the websites of several Russian cities.[xvi] A video from the Surgut City Cemetery, taken last year, clearly shows row after row of freshly dug graves.[xvii] Last month, Russia introduced “regulations to expedite mass burials of those killed during military conflicts.” According to Radio Free Europe, these regulations will take effect on 1 February 2022 and pertain to those “killed during military conflicts or as a result of these conflicts….”[xviii]
If this is all an elaborate deception, what purpose could it serve? Russian leaders deny they are planning to invade Ukraine. Yet all these actions suggest an invasion is coming. What makes all of this even more disturbing, however, is the way in which current Russian mobilizations coincide with Chinese mobilizations, and how both coincide with the ongoing pandemic. Consider, as well, other Russian preparations; for example, Russia has built a considerable underground infrastructure for surviving a nuclear war (see the work of Leon Gouré for details).[xix] Russia has been deploying the new S-500 ABM system for knocking down America missiles and bombers. Russia has new generation hypersonic missiles, more advanced tanks and aircraft, new nuclear warheads and thermobaric bombs. Many of these military game-changers have been deployed recently. Add to this Russian civil defense training in secondary schools. Why would Russia be bluffing?
It is true, of course, that mobilizations have happened before and there was no invasion. But then, we ought to ask what it means when Russia deploys troops to Ukraine’s border while preparing provocations to justify an invasion. Also, what does it mean to dig thousands of graves in anticipation of a bloody war?
NATO vs. Russia
Russia’s experts are undoubtedly trying to determine whether NATO is a serious alliance. When placed under pressure, will NATO fight or fold? Here again, we revisit the situation of 1939 when Hitler asked the question, “Will the British and French defend Poland?” Field Marshal Erich von Manstein wrote in his memoirs that “Poland’s position was hopeless from the start.” And yet, the Western Allies went to war in defense of Poland anyway – lacking the wherewithal to save Poland from Hitler’s panzers. The initial result of defending Poland was devastating for the Allies. Poland was overrun, along with Denmark, Norway, the low countries and France. The Allies had underestimated the German military. The same situation repeats itself today, on a larger map. Ukraine’s military position, like Poland’s in 1939, is hopeless from the start.
At the same time, NATO’s weakness before Russia becomes increasingly evident. The Pentagon knows that the U.S. Army is overstretched with commitments in Asia, the Pacific, and the Middle East. The next largest army in NATO, the Turkish Army, has no direct access to Ukraine because of the Black Sea. The French Army is not ready for war and will not be ready for two or three more years. The Polish Army will be pinned down defending the Sawalki Gap and Bialystok. The other NATO countries hardly count in the equation.
Ukraine’s order of battle shows only two tank brigades. The rest is infantry of various kinds (motorized, mechanized, airborne, etc.). Meanwhile, Russia has deployed a guards tank army on Ukraine’s border. Worse yet, Ukraine’s helicopter and airmobile forces would be useless in a war with Russia, as Ukraine’s air force could never contest the air against Russia. Her helicopters would be massacred, her airmobile and airborne formations would have no mobility. Ukraine’s army, concentrated in eastern Ukraine, would be outflanked and surrounded. However heroic the resistance, the Russians would pocket the bulk of the Ukrainian Army. Surrender would quickly follow.
Does NATO understand this? Does NATO understand that Russia can turn off Europe’s supply of natural gas? And yet, NATO has not given Russia a green light for invading Ukraine. After a week of diplomatic meetings, Russia’s deputy foreign minister characterized present attempts to negotiate as “a dead end.” Neither side is backing down. Russia is baffled by the West’s moralistic posturing. The West is baffled by Russia’s military bullying.
Debunking Mearsheimer’s Analysis
Professor John Mearsheimer, author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, has believed for a long time that the West is making a serious mistake regarding Ukraine – similar to the one made in 1939 by the Western Allies. Mearsheimer sides with Professors Stephen Cohen and Henry Kissinger in saying the crisis in Ukraine is actually the West’s fault. Mearsheimer thinks we ought to appease the aggrieved Russian crocodile. According to Mearsheimer, the West should not have extended NATO eastward to protect nations trampled by Russian imperialism in the past.
But is Russia, as a crocodile, within its rights to swallow Ukraine? Mearsheimer’s argument has nothing to do with rights. It has to do with appetite. And here is the problem with Mearsheimer’s thesis. It is the same problem Churchill saw with Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy toward Hitler. Once you feed a country to the crocodile, the crocodile will be hungry for more. What Happens after Russia swallows Ukraine? Is Poland next on the menu? Or Romania? Or the Baltic States? What morsel comes next? At what point do you stop feeding nations to the crocodile?
To this Mearsheimer would say that NATO is also a crocodile. And NATO, he would add, has been nibbling right up to Russia’s border. But the analogy falls apart because NATO was not enlarged through invasions. It was enlarged by small countries seeking protection from Russia. Rather than being a crocodile, NATO is a confederation of crocodile treats. But surely, America is a big bad imperialist crocodile. Right? America is busy toppling dictatorships and setting up democracies. But no. America is the tastiest morsel of them all – its misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan to the contrary notwithstanding.
Mearsheimer insists the West is wrong to blame Putin for everything. Putin, he says, “is not bent on creating a greater Russia.” It is wrong to compare Putin with Hitler. This, says Mearsheimer, “is laughable in the extreme.” Of course, Poland is not laughing, and neither is Ukraine. We do not have to equate Putin with Hitler to see there are reasons for a comparison. After all, Hitler rebuilt Germany’s military even as Putin has rebuilt Russia’s military. Hitler annexed territory in Austria and Czechoslovakia even as Putin annexed territory in Georgia and Ukraine. Is any of this really laughable?
Certainly, the West has confused its democratic presuppositions with morality. The “tyranny of the majority,” as John Stuart Mill argued, can be as oppressive as any dictatorship. Western media and politicians use the term “democracy” as a political cure-all when it is nothing of the kind. As imperfect as Western democracy is, however, none of it justifies a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Putin may question democracy, but he is no James Madison who questions democracy for the sake of liberty. Writing in Federalist No. 10, Madison wrote “that a pure Democracy … can admit of no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will … sacrifice the weaker party.” In fact, Putin has always governed Russia on the principle of sacrificing the weaker party to the stronger. Has he not?
Yet Mearsheimer says the West is at fault for the situation in Ukraine. According to Mearsheimer, “The aim of the United States and its European allies is to peel Ukraine away from Russia’s orbit and incorporate it into the West…. To make Ukraine a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. And Russia says, ‘This ain’t happening, period. End of story. And we will do everything we can to make sure it does not happen.’”[xx] There are three key elements in the West’s strategy, says Mearsheimer: (1) NATO expansion; (2) EU expansion; (3) Fostering an Orange Revolution. According to Mearsheimer, “As you all know, the United States runs around the world trying to topple regimes and put in their place democratically elected regimes.” In the tradition of taking pity on the Devil, Mearsheimer warns: “But if you are Vladimir Putin, or if you are part of the leadership in Beijing, when the United States talks about [promoting] democracy … that means toppling your regime. And you won’t be surprised to hear … they don’t like that in Beijing and … Moscow.”[xxi]
Mearsheimer then points to NATO’s final declaration at the Bucharest Summit of 3 April 2008: “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Of course, they did not become members of NATO. Russia warned NATO off by invading Georgia in 2008 and by invading Ukraine in 2014. It is a funny thing, is it not? Ukraine is not afraid of NATO. Ukraine is afraid of Russia. Poland is not afraid of NATO, Poland is afraid of Russia. The Baltic States are afraid of Russia. Georgia is afraid of Russia. Do you suppose they have a good reason to be afraid?
It is Mearsheimer’s proposition that the Russian crocodile is frightened by the tasty morsels adjoining his snout. But how can this be? Russia is the world’s foremost nuclear power. Even if Georgia and Ukraine became NATO countries, NATO could not survive Russia’s nuclear might. How could NATO then threaten Russia?
Meanwhile, Russia has threatened a “military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela.”[xxii] Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he could not exclude the possibility of Russian “military assets” being sent to Latin America if negotiations over Europe fail. Russian deployments to the Western Hemisphere would almost certainly set the stage for Chinese deployments as well. Along these lines, the Russian State Duma deputy Yevgeny Fedorov proposed a nuclear “warning strike” against the United States. This would be to underscore Russian seriousness. “We are not bluffing,” Fedorov is saying. “Russia has the authority to do this.”[xxiii]
Notes and Links
[viii] Ibid, starting about the five-minute mark.
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