The recent appalling Russian invasion of Ukraine must be condemned. It’s yet another atrocious aggression in a long series of violations of international law by several countries including the US, Britain, Russia and Israel. It is terribly disappointing that humanity has failed to advance beyond the use of warfare (military, economic and cyber) to settle problems. Lobbying by the merchants of death, that is, the military-industrial complex, certainly plays a role in this disastrous failure.
US hypocrisy on international law
Many nations and their media, particularly Western nations, have rightly emphasized this horrific violation of the rule of law by Russia. Ironically, it is the US – arguably the nation that has done the most to undermine international law through its widespread military aggressions, support for coups, illegal use of economic warfare (unilateral sanctions), protection of Israel from sanctions, and non-participation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) – that now proclaims most loudly the sanctity of international law.
Selective coverage of attacks
The Western media were less critical of other violations of international law by the US, Britain and Israel. For example, the US and Britain lied about the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. In 2003, they led a coalition of nations in a unspeakable war crime that devastated Iraq, killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and led to the destabilization of the Middle East. Iraqis are still suffering horrendous consequences of this years-long war crime. The US media certainly didn’t emphasize that this unprovoked aggression was a violation of international law. In addition, the corporate-dominated US media didn’t call for then President George W. Bush and other members of his administration to be investigated by the ICC for war crimes. This US media hypocrisy seriously undercuts its credibility and shows that it’s a key component of the US propaganda system. In addition, the US media’s failure along with the cowardice of European nations about pointing out US violations have contributed to the undermining of international law.
Lack of context
Returning to today, the media have failed to provide any context for this shameful Russian war crime. The context doesn’t justify Russia’s use of force, but it’s important to understand how we arrived at this awful situation. Unfortunately, this terrible war crime was the predictable result of lies and actions by the US and NATO and their unwillingness to take Russia’s legitimate security concerns seriously.
Promise not to expand eastward
Russia, with documentation from numerous investigations by Western sources, has reminded the world of the 1991 US, German, UK and French promise not to expand NATO one inch to the east in exchange for the Soviet Union allowing the reunification of Germany. Given previous devastating invasions by Western European nations, one can understand why the Soviets might want this promise. For example, during WWII, estimates are that the Soviet Union lost over 26 million people, about 13% of its 1939 population.
George Kennan, architect of the U.S. containment policy towards the Soviet Union, was interviewed by Thomas Friedman in 1998 about NATO’s eastward expansion. Kennan said: ”I think it is the beginning of a new cold war. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else.”
Even before there was any expansion, Russia made clear its concern over the expansion to no avail. NATO has since expanded eastward from 16 members to 30 members today. NATO weapons are not far from Russia’s borders, in some areas approximately the same distance as Soviet weapons in Cuba were from the US. The US risked nuclear war to deny Cuba’s sovereignty over having Soviet weapons. Hence Russia’s demands about keeping NATO weapons away from its borders shouldn’t be a surprise
A predicted crisis
In 2008, then US Ambassador to Russia William Burns, now director of the CIA, warned US officials about the danger of holding out the prospect of NATO membership to Ukraine. He warned that it could lead to civil war and present Russia with a crisis on its border in which it could be forced to intervene. Instead of trying to prevent this situation from happening, the US acted in ways that resulted in this predicted crisis occurring.
For example, in 2014 the US played a major role in a coup against the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who was viewed as pro-Russian. The US was then influential in the selection of the new Ukrainian leaders. Most Ukrainians in western Ukraine were ecstatic whereas many Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine, particularly in the Donbas area and Crimea, viewed the new government as being illegitimate.
The predicted civil war then happened in the Donbas area when the new Ukrainian government almost immediately targeted the use of the Russian language. This language policy was quickly overturned, but the damage had already been done. Additional violent acts by neo-Nazi forces led to protests by people in Donbas. In addition, Russia took control of Crimea and the residents of Crimea subsequently overwhelmingly voted to join Russia.
The coup government militarily moved to stop the protests in the Donbas area causing the predicted Russian intervention there. Fighting has been going on in this area at a low level for much of the past 8 years despite the Minsk II accords that were agreed to in 2015 but not implemented.
Negotiations are the key
Unfortunately, this totally unnecessary conflict between Russia and the US turned into a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine when Russia invaded. The people of Ukraine are paying a terribly high price serving as an (unwitting?) proxy for the US. Ordinary Russians, who had no say about the criminal attack, are also facing a much harsher life as a result of this war crime against Ukraine. In order to avoid an escalation into a much broader and more deadly conflict, both sides must quickly make some uncomfortable compromises. Otherwise …
Ron Forthofer is a retired professor of biostatistics, having taught at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Since retirement in 1991, has been an activist for peace and social justice. He ran for Congress and for governor of Colorado for the Green Party.