Western media has worked hard over the past number of weeks to define the parameters for the viewing public’s understanding of the conflict in Ukraine. These imposed cognitive līmes depend on a number of boundary markers or affirmations; that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is a monster bent on Russian territorial expansion, that Russia is an inherently aggressive state, and that the invasion of Ukraine was an entirely unprovoked attack. In essence, this constructed framework of understanding has become the only acceptable lens through which audiences in the West are allowed to see what is happening, and so it allows for a particular narrative to be woven. As soon as the passive consumers of western media have accepted this state-controlled narrative of the war, it becomes possible for the United States and its NATO clients to present themselves through a compliant media as honest brokers and peacemakers.
This rather odd behaviour is a recognisable characteristic of the liberal interventionism of the United States and Britain. Again and again, since 1945, the United States has intervened in the domestic affairs of states around the world — either by insinuation or by direct military intervention — and, after it has stoked up tensions and ignited a violent conflict, it steps back to assume the role of a paternalistic and neutral arbiter. Britain did exactly the same in Ireland. Successive British governments colluded with loyalist paramilitaries to force a response from the nationalist community which would require the deployment of the British army. After three decades of British state-sponsored terrorism in the British occupied north of Ireland, the London government had written for itself the part of a beneficent democratic government sincerely trying to bring peace to a land torn asunder by a bitter sectarian war.
Viewed through the western media lens, the United States and NATO are white hat saviours unable, for the time being, to come to the aid of this great damsel in distress — Ukraine. The parameters set on the public discourse by the western media present the war in Ukraine as a simple binary of good versus evil; a wicked Russian wolf huffing and puffing at the three little pigs’ door. We are not offered a backstory. As a closed narrative, the western media fable is a discrete tale with a beginning, middle, and end. Nicely tucked up, the consumers of this fairytale are ignorant of the pre-history — of how the three little pigs were caught plotting with the old woman in the gingerbread house to kidnap and cannibalise the wolf’s friends, Hansel and Gretel.
Quite clearly there is a backstory to the present conflict in Ukraine, and nowhere in the western media is this being discussed. Here and there, but to some considerable kickback, we are hearing something about the part NATO expansion has played in this, and this is important. On 9 February 1990, in the Kremlin in Moscow, the then US Secretary of State James Baker made a number of assurances to both the Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev and to Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, that, in exchange for the Soviet Union’s acceptance of a reunified Germany in NATO, the North Atlantic alliance would move ‘not one inch eastward.’ Even at that time Gorbachev, responding to Baker’s assurances, warned the US delegation that ‘NATO expansion is unacceptable.’
It was on this understanding that the 1990 NATO-Soviet agreement was made. The USSR did not interfere in the state reintegration of East and West Germany as a NATO member state with the assurance of the Bush administration (George H. W. Bush) that the western nuclear alliance would not expand into the territories of the Warsaw Pact or Soviet republics. Yet, not a decade later, during a time of Russian weakness, the United States broke the agreement by enlarging NATO to include Czechia, Hungary, and Poland (12 March 1999). Five years on and another enlargement included Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia — all former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet republics. Bearing in mind that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed in April 1949 as a treaty of mutual assistance against the Soviet Union, after the dissolution of the USSR (26 December 1991) NATO no longer had a reason to exist. Its continued existence and eastward expansion, therefore, could only be perceived by Moscow as a threat to Russia’s regional influence. When at the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit the United States unilaterally invited Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance (to protests from Germany and France), it had become quite clear to Vladimir Putin that this was a significant geopolitical threat.
When the Ukrainian parliament voted on 23 December 2014 to end its neutrality, preparing the way for it to join the NATO alliance, a clash with Russia became inevitable. Looking at this in context, this would see a hostile nuclear military alliance led by the United States locked in place along Russia’s European border. Ukrainian membership of NATO would jeopardise Russia’s access to Sevastopol — its naval base in Crimea and its vital access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. By this point it was obvious to the Russian government that the threat was not coming from Ukraine, but from the United States and NATO. From a Russian perspective, Ukraine was nothing more than a pawn in a hostile US-NATO manœuvre against Russia. The Russian Federation simply could not allow — could not afford — to let this happen.
So yes, NATO expansion is very much part of the background to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But as we look more closely at the United States’ behaviour regarding Ukraine, a picture quickly emerges of a long-term game being played by Washington — a dangerous game directed towards the smothering of Russian influence reaching back through the breakup of the Soviet Union, through the Cold War, to the years immediately after the end of the Second World War. Identifying the Ukrainian SSR as the soft underbelly of the Soviet Union, the Truman administration sought out anti-Communist and anti-Russian elements in the territory of Ukraine which might prove useful to US interests as its relations with Stalin and the Soviet Union cooled in the post-war period.
Harry S. Truman, before becoming president and before the United States entered World War II, articulated his philosophy of US interventionism when Germany invaded the USSR: ‘If we see that Germany is winning the war, we ought to help Russia; and if that Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and in that way let them kill as many as possible.’ This approach ultimately informed what would become the Truman Doctrine of US foreign policy:
It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures. I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.
The ‘free peoples’ he had in mind were the ethnic and national minorities inside the Soviet Union, and he identified these as the best and most effective means of weakening the USSR without direct military intervention. A war with Russia would be costly for the United States. It would of course result in a nuclear war. By subverting the USSR from within, his calculus was to bleed Russia by fomenting dissent and anti-Soviet rebellion in eastern Europe and the Soviet republics and to support these oppressed ‘free peoples’ in struggles which would ‘kill as many as possible.’ Without risking a single American life, Truman devised a policy towards Russia that would work towards instigating conflicts inside the Soviet Union which would, over time, drain Russia of the manpower and resources it needed to function as a superpower state. In essence, this understanding of the Truman Doctrine has not changed in the United States’ policy towards Russia, and Ukraine has long been identified as the ideal theatre in which to apply this technique.
In the months after the defeat of the Third Reich (7 May 1945), US clandestine services operating in the allied zone of control in western Germany began rounding up Ukrainian nationalists fleeing Soviet justice. The Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and other ultra-nationalist Ukrainian groups exploited the German invasion of the Soviet Union to attack Jews and Roma in western Ukraine. Without any encouragement from the Germans, the OUN began rounding up Jews and murdering them, and throughout the war they worked closely with the SS in the extermination of Europe’s Jewish population. These were war criminals guilty of some of the worst crimes against humanity perpetrated in the history of civilisation. After the war they were hunted men, but they had found a friend in America. The US government shipped thousands of them across the Atlantic, exempted them from prosecution, and gave them a clean legal bill of health. In return they were expected to organise in exile the resistance to Soviet rule in Ukraine.
It was because of this the OUN and its Nazi ideology survived — even thrived. The anti-Communist groups they established in the US became places were their obnoxious beliefs spread and where they recruited new members from within the Ukrainian-American community. Over the decades they kept in touch with the OUN-B; that part of the OUN which constituted the anti-Soviet underground resistance inside the Ukrainian SSR, and funded its guerilla insurgency against the Soviet forces. When Ukraine became an independent state in 1991, the OUN-B — funded by the CIA and the OUN in the States — re-emerged and became a political party; the Social-National Party of Ukraine (later renamed Svoboda). Along with other groups with Nazi pedigrees — Right Sector, C14, and others — Svoboda and its paramilitaries have served US interests in Ukraine ever since.
With the adoption of Resolution 120 in September 1996, Washington supported the independence of Ukraine and the country was identified as an important element of the United States’ national security. From this point on it became a foreign policy objective for the US government to oppose and frustrate any possibility of the reintegration of the states of the former Soviet Union. The US State Department and its diplomatic and clandestine services (CIA) would work closely with their assets in Ukraine to drive a wedge deeper and deeper between Kyiv and Moscow. This, however, would always prove difficult in a new democracy. As the old democracies know, the people do not always vote as they should — and this is what happened in Ukraine. From 1996 the State Department had always taken an active role in helping Ukraine choose the political leadership Washington wanted, but when the people had other ideas in the 2010 presidential election the US began to rethink its approach.
Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the opposition, was elected in a run-off election (7 February 2010) and he — the choice of Russian-leaning eastern Ukraine — was not the candidate the US wanted. At this time, fearing Ukraine forming closer ties with Russia, the United States began lobbying friendly elements in the country — Svoboda and the rest of the extreme right — to oust their democratically elected president. The State Department and CIA-supported Orange Revolution of 2004-5 had failed to secure US objectives in Ukraine, and the thinking in Washington was to start applying some shock therapy — and this came in 2014 in the shape of the Maidan coup.
The Maidan began as a routine US-inspired Colour Revolution (a Bush Doctrine regime change initiative), but it quickly proved too peaceful and democratic to bring down the government the whole of Ukraine had elected in independently verified free and fair elections. The shock arrived in the form of ultra-nationalist paramilitaries masquerading as protesters, and these did prove effective. By refusing to accept any presidential concessions, they orchestrated a series of violent clashes with the government and struck down the government with a coup d’état; taking for themselves key ministerial posts in the US-backed interim government — the offices of Deputy Prime Minister, the Attorney General, and the Minister of Defence. They never needed democracy to take power. They did not, admittedly, have the electoral support, to stay in government, but they had proven their point and had successfully integrated Nazi militias into the Ukrainian military and placed — with US support — ideological Nazis at every level of the state apparatus and military command structure. So successful was this coup that the western media, until the Russian invasion, was feverishly publishing articles about the danger the Ukrainian Nazis posed to the state.
In many respects, this use of the most extreme conservative elements within the state and their paramilitary forces was a rerun of the right-wing takeover playbook the United States had been using in Latin America from the late 1970s. US regional hegemony was secured and maintained in countries like Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua by the CIA and the State Department training and funding these elements and deploying advanced propaganda techniques and political dark arts to destabilise small impoverished democracies, making them vulnerable to US-backed right-wing coups. It has been as clear as day to Russia that this has been happening in Ukraine, and the events of 2014 — the events that made a Russian invasion inevitable — were the fruition of a US policy reaching all the way back to the end of the Second World War. While the end game may have been rewritten over the decades, the plan has remained the same. The US government would destroy Ukraine from within in order to weaponise it against Russia.
In sum, the plan was always about forcing a reaction from Russia and drawing it into a war in Ukraine that would bleed Russia. This was the plan at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Moscow fell into the same trap then. Washington’s concern is not for the people of Ukraine. It was never concerned for the people of Afghanistan. Washington’s concern is that the people of Ukraine are prepared to fight and die, and in doing so kill as many Russians as possible. The US objective here is not the liberation of the ‘free peoples’ of Ukraine, but the weakening of Russia.
Jason Michael McCann, M.Phil. (TCD) Conflict Studies The author holds a postgraduate degree in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict from the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and an academic fellowship in the study of conflict from the University of West Flanders. He has published on the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the murder of the Hungarian Jews in 1944.
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