March 6, 2022
Opinion by Greg Ray
What happens next in Ukraine?
Will it escalate into a wider war that spreads death and destruction into other parts of Europe?
Will it become a massive festering wound in Russia’s side through which the Putin dictatorship bleeds to death? Will somebody, by accident or in desperation, hit the nuclear button?
What scenario would you like to see?
Personally, I’d like to imagine a ceasefire, a negotiated settlement and a walk back from the abyss. And I honestly think it could happen. But only the US is powerful enough to make it happen and I don’t know whether the US administration is willing to take that step. I believe it should be, since so much is potentially at stake.
Do you buy the current Western propaganda line that this whole problem is completely the result of unhinged madman Putin wanting to recreate a new version of the Soviet Union? I hope you don’t. I hope you have realised by now that the yelling voices in our Western media that insist this is the case are misleading us again.
Unfortunately our media distorts the truth, oversimplifying complex subjects into grabby headlines. When it comes to wars, our media is almost always in favour of shooting first and asking questions later. In fact, it is not even very interested in asking questions later, since that often proves embarrassing.
Perhaps you remember Iraq? When much of our news media was shrieking in favour of the Bush administration’s doctrine of “pre-emptive war” on the basis that Iraq had something to do with the 9-11 attacks (it didn’t) or that it had a stockpile of “weapons of mass destruction” it was planning to use against Western countries (a complete lie, as it turned out).
Afghanistan? A pre-existing plan to invade, conveniently given a pretext by the 9-11 attacks, that may have served some geopolitical purpose but who would even remember now.
Hundreds of thousands of people dead and displaced and countries reduced to smoking ruins.
In the media war always seems like a great idea
We could add Libya to the list, and then Syria. In the media war always seems like such a great idea, but in the real world of flesh and blood it doesn’t look so good.
Let’s agree that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is horrific. I certainly believe that. I agree that Ukraine should be independent and free to hold democratic elections, to join the EU if and when it meets the standards. I believe the Russians should get out of Ukraine and go home.
And I believe this could happen if the US stepped up and declared it was prepared to talk to the Russians about a ceasefire.
This is because I believe the US was the prime mover in making this mess in the first place.
Russia had been saying for many, many years that it viewed the non-stop recruitment of former Soviet states into NATO as a threat to its security. Bear in mind that NATO is a Cold War military alliance targeted at the former USSR, which of course no longer exists. So now it’s targeted at remnant Russia instead.
Despite Russia’s unsurprising fear that these new NATO members are being or could be turned into potential staging points for future military operations and are being or could be used to host US missile bases targeted at Russian cities, Russia has had no choice but to swallow its objections and accept the reality of its creeping encirclement.
The big question behind the issue in Ukraine (and Georgia too) is why in the world did the US think it was going to be a good idea to haul those last dominoes into the NATO military alliance against Russia? What would have been wrong with letting them be neutral, like Finland, for example? It could have happened.
As soon as NATO, at US bidding, declared in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine would be welcomed into the West’s military alliance, the stage was set for armed conflict. Russia invaded Georgia, for a start, to keep it out of NATO. And it told the world that it saw Ukraine as an existential red line. It did not want Ukraine to be turned into an armed NATO camp on its very doorstep. The 2014 coup that swapped out a corrupt pro-Russian government in Ukraine for a corrupt pro-Western one still didn’t push Russia over the edge. It intervened militarily to secure its long-standing naval base at Sevastapol and it tried to insist that Ukraine’s pro-Russian eastern provinces be allowed to stay within Russia’s orbit. Western-backed Ukraine didn’t want to talk about that and Putin finally dropped his bundle. I guess he figured that, if armed conflict was inevitable, he’d be better off moving sooner rather than waiting until the NATO fortification of Ukraine went further.
My question is, why is anybody surprised by that? What would the US do if Russia put missiles on Cuba? (Oh, wait, that was the Cuban missile crisis, wasn’t it?)
The war is horrible and it should stop
None of this is to say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is good. It isn’t. It is horrible and it should stop.
All I’m saying is that – despite what you might read in the papers and see on TV – there is an actual context to this story that goes beyond the question of whether or not Putin is just another one of those madman who hate freedom that the West is constantly having to knock on the head because suddenly and for no reason at all he decided to attack his peace-loving neighbour, even though he knew doing that would bring him and Russia a whole world of shocking pain.
If you insist that Putin is a madman I won’t even argue. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. Either way, it doesn’t change the other facts about how this mess came about. Yes, he is the aggressor and the invader and he stands condemned for it. But the West had a role in making this war. It pushed Putin and Russia to the brink and all the rhetoric in the world can’t change that. Having had a role in making the war, the West should accept a role in stopping it by the best means possible.
Critics of this point of view will argue that my suggested course of action would be “appeasement”. They will say I have fallen for pro-Russian propaganda. They will say that Ukraine should be free to join NATO and that to suggest otherwise is akin to blaming a rape victim for their plight. They will say that I am proposing to reward Putin’s dictatorial regime for all of its misdeeds. They will say that talk of trying to negotiate a way out of the war is cowardly and weak. They will say all of that and more because it seems the loudest voices want escalation, not negotiation. But being loud isn’t the same as being right.
So now we come back to what happens next.
I believe the US can and should bring the war to an end by stepping up and talking to the Russians about a ceasefire that could save Ukraine and leave it politically neutral and demilitarized.
That, in my opinion, would be the responsible and mature thing for America to do.
There are, of course, many people who have much greater insight into the Ukraine situation than I do. One person whose views are perhaps worth hearing is Professor John Mearsheimer, who has an illustrious background in the US military and academia and whose special study has been superpower politics, with an emphasis on Russia. Back in 2015 he gave this talk, which today might seem quite prescient.
Earlier this year he followed up with this talk, in which he erroneously predicted that Putin would not invade Ukraine, but otherwise made numerous highly relevant observations.
After the invasion he was invited to make further comments, and to suggest how the situation might end. Here is that talk.
Watching all three of these talks is a solid investment in time, but I believe it would be helpful for many people to hear his point of view before forming a solid opinion on the topic.