Why It’s So Important To Expose US Provocations in Ukraine

I exchanged email with someone who works as a researcher for a peace institute. He acknowledged that the U.S. bears some responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine but he thinks the “the vast bulk of the responsibility for the invasion of Ukraine lies with Vladimir Putin.” This researcher wants the U.S. to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but he thinks the U.S. should continue arming Ukraine so it can defend itself against Russian aggression.

There are several interesting points to make in response to that researcher’s positions.

First, what does “vast bulk of the responsibility” mean exactly? Does Putin bear 67% of the responsibility (with the other 33% being the responsibility of the U.S. and NATO)? Does Putin bear 75% of the responsibility? 90%? 99%? The researcher is informed enough to know that the U.S. isn’t totally innocent in the crisis, but he didn’t proffer a numeric response to my request for him to suggest a percent.

These questions about degree of responsibility may seem academic and unanswerable – are they even meaningful? – but they are actually quite important. Similar questions are routinely asked in courts of law, and one can ask the same thing about many wars:

  • World War I – generally regarded as a stupid, avoidable, unnecessary war, so blame is shared on both sides;
  • World War II – generally regarded as the last and possibly greatest “just” war, with Germany, if not Japan, bearing almost 100% of the blame (though see Leaving World War II Behind);
  • the Vietnam War – generally regarded as unjustified and stupid, so the U.S. shares a large percent of the blame (over 50%?);
  • the Kosovo war – generally regarded as justified, but recent revelations bring into question the nobility of even that war (in short, the Kosovo Liberation Army that the U.S. supported was, arguably, a terrorist group, and the U.S. launched the war largely to weaken a Russian ally);
  • the second war in Iraq – generally regarded as stupid and unjustified (no WMDs, no relation to 9/11), so the U.S. bears over 50% of the blame; and
  • the war in Afghanistan – generally regarded as partially justified but, in the end, disastrous.

Some people would argue that wars are always unjust, in the sense that military invasions are always wrong and the best response to a military attack is always a non-violent response.

Getting back to the topic of the war in Ukraine, the evidence shows that the U.S. bears a substantial share of the responsibility for the war in Ukraine. If forced to give a number, I’d say at least 33%. Aggressive NATO expansion right up to Russia’s borders, including support for the 2014 coup in Ukraine that overthrew a pro-Russian government, and support for far-right, anti-Russian armed groups, represent actions that any reasonable viewer would regard as extremely provocative. Furthermore, the U.S. squashed peace initiatives in Ukraine both before and after the 2022 invasion. U.S. diplomats had for years warned that NATO expansion into Ukraine would result in war. The U.S. would never allow Russia or China to engage in similar military and political expansion along U.S. borders. Heck, the U.S. doesn’t even allow quasi-socialist countries to emerge in Latin America. And the U.S. has launched numerous wars, proxy wars and government overthrows far from its borders with less justification than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Indeed, the U.S. regards the entire world as its rightful sphere of influence.

See Senior U.S. diplomats, journalists, academics and secretaries of defense say: The U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine and the links therein for justification for my judgements above about U.S. responsibility for the war in Ukraine.

Numerous alternative media outlets and commentators (e.g., Common Dreams, Truthout, antiwar.com, Scheerpost, The Intercept, Jeffrey Sachs, Matthew Hoh, Chris Hedges, John Mearsheimer, Aaron Mate, Caitlin Johnstone, Medea Benjamin, Nicholas Davies, Consortium News, and LA Progressive), have published articles documenting how the U.S. and NATO provoked the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Prior to 2022, scores of mainstream news articles documented the presence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the U.S. support for them. Since the invasion, a smattering of opinion pieces in mainstream media (including even the New York Times) have exposed U.S. culpability in Ukraine. Recently, more and more mainstream media outlets have been jumping on the bandwagon; see, for example, Harper’s Magazine’s Why are We in Ukraine?.

I don’t know how someone who knows the history of U.S. wars and government overthrows worldwide can look at what the U.S. did in Ukraine and not feel that Russia was correct to feel threatened. Even if the U.S. bears only 10% of the responsibility for what happened, it still has a lot of blood on its hands. After the collapse of the USSR, Russia wanted desperately to be integrated into the West, but the NATO needed an enemy to justify its existence. The expansion of NATO provoked the war that is now touted as showing the need for NATO.

As Noam Chomsky said, “The Iraq War was totally unprovoked… In contrast, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was most definitely provoked…. A host of high-level U.S. diplomats and policy analysts have been warning Washington for 30 years that it was reckless and needlessly provocative to ignore Russia’ security concerns, particularly its red lines: No NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine, in Russia’ geostrategic heartland.”

So, you see, I am not saying that Russia’s invasion was justified. Like many U.S. wars, it was criminal. I am just pointing out that the U.S. is far from innocent in the crisis, as the articles above show.

It’s great that the peace researcher I exchanged emails with acknowledges that the U.S. isn’t totally innocent, and it’s great he wants diplomacy. What I told him, though, was that his push for diplomacy is unlikely to succeed unless people like him – as well as the public, Congress, and the mainstream media – acknowledge the extent of U.S. provocations. After all, if the war was almost entirely due to Putin’s aggression, then U.S. support for Ukraine is noble.

I also said that I take no position on whether the U.S. should arm Ukraine. I should have added: I want an immediate diplomatic solution. I don’t want to arm Ukraine to continue the suffering and the risk of escalation. I want an end to the war. The important point is that the war was entirely avoidable, but the U.S. wanted it and extended it, using the innocent people of Ukraine as pawns in a cynical and deadly geopolitical chess game.

I hope that in this essay I have exposed four myths concerning the Russian invasion of Ukraine:

Myth #1: In wars, such as the war in Ukraine, the blame usually lies entirely on one side. Instead, in reality often both sides share blame.

Myth #2: The Russian invasion of Ukraine was “unprovoked”. That strikes me as a cynical lie, and it’s shameful that mainstream media outlets allow the government to get away with it.

Myth #3: Acknowledging that the U.S. and NATO provoked the invasion implies exonerating Russia for that invasion. (corollary to Myth #1)

Myth #4: Pushing for a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine is likely to be effective without exposing U.S. provocations in Ukraine.

Most Americans have backed President Biden and Congress’s arming of Ukraine and didn’t complain when Congress raised the 2024 Pentagon budget to close to $900 billion, while cutting social programs. (The military budget is even higher if you add the slush fund for the war in Ukraine, the costs of the Departments of Energy and Veteran Affairs, and military-related interest on the national debt.) The costs are mostly hidden, in the $33 trillion of national debt, and in the lost opportunity costs of endless wars.

Amazingly, not six months after the disastrous end to the disastrous war in Afghanistan, America was again in a war – this time a proxy war with Russia. Yet neither the mainstream media nor most of the public raised a finger to question the wisdom of the war. And the U.S. is actively preparing for war with China, escalating tensions by sending high-level politicians to visit Taiwan, arming Taiwan with weaponry, and enlisting countries such as Australia to create a noose of military power around China. What could go wrong?

This is why it’s so important to expose how the U.S. government lied about Ukraine, just as it lied about Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so many other wars, proxy wars, and government overthrows. Then, maybe, the perfidy of the military-industrial complex will be exposed and a saner military and foreign policy can be established.

Donald A. Smith is a writer, a peace activist working with CodePink, a Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, the editor of http://waliberals.org, and the creator of https://progressivememes.org. He lives in Bellevue, Washington and has a PhD in Computer Science.

33 thoughts on “Why It’s So Important To Expose US Provocations in Ukraine”

  1. A peace institute?
    It would be interesting to informed which one and how those we know is connected to it.
    Is it one whose musings are featured here or those connected to it in some manner share their works with us?
    It sure seems those who used to be those who would protest foreign wars (especially when it involved Bush and Darth Cheney) are those who spin this one because it’s a Progressive war with their man Biden in charge.

    1. A peace institute is not very effective if it can’t end wars and can’t prevent them.
      The NATO Nations are the biggest warmongering meddlesome nations in the world. We are brainwashed to believe democracies don’t start unprovoked wars and that all authoritarian nations are warmongering nations if they are powerful enough to threaten other nations. The US, UK and many other democracies started unprovoked wars against many authoritarian states.
      So many people protested nuclear weapons when Reagan was the president and the Iraq War when W was the president. Very few if any people protested Obama’s continuation of Bush’s wars, his invasion of Libya or his drone strikes.

  2. If you’re going to say that Russia’s “invasion” (SMO) wasn’t justified, you have to be able to say what Putin should have done instead since you admit the U.S. both “wanted” and “provoked” the war. Should Putin have allowed NATO to park forces and weapons on his border (if so, should Russia be allowed to park their forces and weapons in Mexico?)? Should he have allowed the kiev nazis to continue slaughtering ethnic Russians in the Donbass? Please don’t say diplomacy – he tried, right up to the last minute. The U.S. and NATO laughed in his face. So unless you can give me specific steps that Putin should/could have taken that would have led to peace, I’d say the U.S./NATO are 100% responsible.

    But then, I’m talking to someone who thinks the U.S. was only “over 50%” responsible for the Iraq War. Criminey, who do you think is responsible for the other 49%?

  3. Heck, the U.S. doesn’t even allow quasi-socialist countries to emerge in Latin America.

    Always amazing how easily leftists lie. There have been plenty of socialist governments preying on the Latinos. The tyrant Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua who arrested dozens of opposition leaders, banned opposition parties from campaigning and controlled the “election”, as the soon as the socialist loses his presidential immunity he will be arrested for killing hundreds of students. The tyrants in Venezuela who stole people’s businesses and mansions and destroyed the economy, while enabling criminals in the suburbs to prey on the people in the cities.

    And of course the socialist favorite, the communists who took over Cuba and killed a higher percentage than Stalin killed in the Soviet Union. Who murdered business owners and their families, who fired into cells full of political prisoners, who had as their policy that every member of their gang should murder at least one person so they couldn’t defect – a practice they learned from the Cheka murderers and rahpists in Russia. A country with a more prosperous people than many European countries, with more doctors and other vital professions per million citizens, was plunged into poverty and darkness.

    but the NATO needed an enemy to justify its existence.

    Again, socialists lie so effortlessly. The Left hates Russia for being conservative – the Russians have banned all homosexual propaganda. So socialists in Washington say, “Ultimately this war is about LGBTQ rights!” They hate Russia for supporting pro-Palestinian Syria and Iran, which the Hive can’t allow. They hate Putin for condemning the mass immigration that he correctly says is destroying the West – the mass immigration social democrat and communist parties rely on for imported votes, as people have been abandoning them steadily since the 1980s. Today the socialists only have a minority of votes even among Swedish workers. So they can’t have a major European country opposing mass immigration.

    But of course Donald Smith instead goes with, “there are NAZIS in Ukraine!” Every nationalist party and organization condemned the 2014 coup, where nationalist Ukrainian leaders sided with Biden’s side in exchange for government paychecks. Those “nazis” support Stepan Bandera, who attacked Polish civilians, which is why the Germans put him in a concentration camp. They let him out later to fight the Russians, but he again attacked Poles. The Bandera followers are a minority, while the schools and government in Ukraine increasingly brainwash the people, for example by having the children draw paintings praising Third World immigration. The planned future for Ukraine.

    Ukraine is an outpost of leftist globalism, aimed at conservative Russia, supported by every Social Democrat and communist party in the West.

    1. “Ukraine is an outpost of leftist globalism, aimed at conservative Russia, supported by every Social Democrat and communist party in the West.”

      I think you’re long on rhetoric and short on facts. The Ukraine is decidedly an outpost of globalism, but not in the leftist mold; rather it is- and has been for over a decade- firmly in bed with the capitalist right that seeks global domination. (The horrific whirlwind the Ukraine is reaping from that association is quite apparent to those without patronage and has already driven many into the arms of other nations.)

      You claim that the left characterizes the Ukraine conflict as LGBTQ Ukraine vs Non-LGBTQ Russia, but you fail to realize that the Ukraine is as bad or worse than Russia when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Due to the needs of wartime, those restrictions on the LGBTQ demographic of the Ukraine are relaxed but it’s a historic certainty that they will come roaring back once the shooting stops. Why on earth would the left support the Ukraine, knowing its history and being able to put two and two together to see its probable future in that regard?

      You mention Daniel Ortega, who “arrested dozens of opposition leaders, banned opposition parties from campaigning and controlled the “election”” but this could just as easily be a thumbnail description of Zelensky!

      As for Venezuela, sure I’ll grant that the standard of living went down- at least for a while- during the nationalization process; the thing to keep in mind, though, is that the greatest reduction in the standard of living were those land barons- capitalists, every one- who were made to give up their holdings for the greater good of the people. And, despite the constant onslaught of US intervention and sanctions, the people are being fed and clothed and housed to a greater degree than before. It’s a slow process, but doesn’t Venezuela have the same right to self-determination that any other nation- including the US- claims for itself?

      Furthermore, I can assure you that the Ukraine is NOT supported by every Social Democrat nor every Communist Party in the West. At best, assuming any group in question stands by its ideology, they are neutral and condemn both the Ukraine and Russia for their actions. (Those will also condemn the US/NATO for making things worse in aid of its own agenda.) There are, of course, those who break with ideology and join the group that’s the ‘flavor of the month’ just to be accepted- many of these are the ‘I stand with Ukraine’ folks who very likely can’t even point to the Ukraine on a map and who likely never even heard of it prior to the Russian SMO.

      In closing, while I applaud the passion of your presentation I cannot do other than disagree with your conclusions.

  4. I have to agree that U.S. bears the responsibility for this war. Putin’s use of a small force in his Special Military Operation was an attempt to FINALLY get the U.S. and NATO to acknowledge what he had been saying consistently for FIFTEEN YEARS; to show that Russia was deadly serious about what it considered to be an existential threat from the NATO expansion project and arming of Ukraine. Some of his military advisors were not happy that he chose to invade Ukraine with a diffused, non-dominant force, contrary to conventional tactics. It should be obvious to any rational person that the invasion was to send a clear, unambiguous message, NOT to “take Ukraine.” Anyone who thinks this military action was a part of a Russian imperial project in Europe should simply be dismissed as shallow, ignorant, uninformed: the unfortunate victim of propaganda.
    And it worked. Within weeks Ukraine and Russia were at the negotiating table, where all of the horror and bloodshed and misery that have since ensued could have been stopped. Of course we all know what happened. Mr. Zelensky was told by his patrons that peace was not the goal, and here we are.
    It was only then that Zelensky became “Churchill” and the proxy war in Ukraine a holy crusade. Now there has been the horror, destruction and loss of life that could have been prevented if not for the Evil incarnate that rules Washington, London and the cabal of the “rules based order.”
    And there have been war crimes, and you can bet that they have been committed by both sides. For war crimes are the inevitable result of war itself, with war being the ultimate war crime. So it is in a very real sense, legal niceties aside, that those who provoke war, insist upon war and refuse to allow negotiations to end war are the ultimate war criminals. That would be…..I think we all know who they are. They condemn themselves by their absolutely cynical and callous actions.
    A not so subtle point is that the Ukrainian government and military was committing war crimes BEFORE the invasion by killing Russian ethnic citizens in the Donna’s BEFORE the Russian invasion, with around 14,000 dead at the hands of the Ukrainian military between 2014 and 2020. It is a matter of record that Ukraine was planning another, massive assault on Eastern Ukrainian dissidents when Putin decided to intervene.
    It is a cynical, deadly game that the Western powers are playing, and Ukraine is the inevitable victim. They should have been more careful in their choice of “friends.”

    1. “Within weeks Ukraine and Russia were at the negotiating table, where all of the horror and bloodshed and misery that have since ensued could have been stopped. Of course we all know what happened.”

      Yes, we do know what happened. Lavrov pronounced the draft he was presented with unacceptable. Then two days later Johnson arrived and leaned on Zelenskyy not to continue trying to reach a deal.

      1. April 7, 2022. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov accuses the West of trying to derail the peace talks, claiming that Ukraine had gone back on previously agreed proposals. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett later states (on February 5, 2023) that the U.S. had blocked the pending Russia-Ukraine peace agreement. When asked if the Western powers blocked the agreement, Bennett answered: “Basically, yes. They blocked it, and I thought they were wrong.” At some point, says Bennett, the West decided “to crush Putin rather than to negotiate.”

  5. My discussions with the researcher at the peace institute were “off the record,” so I cannot reveal any more details. A lot of what happened in Ukraine is hidden behind veils of secrecy, classification, and lies. Just looking at what is public knowledge, it’s clear the U.S. bears substantial responsibility for the war. I can only imagine what sort of nasty things the CIA and related groups did covertly. The hypocrisy and cynicism of the U.S. are astonishing. For more detail, see the article “Senior U.S. diplomats, journalists, academics and secretaries of defense say: The U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine” linked in the essay above.

  6. “Peace Institute Researcher” calls a “Democratic Precinct Committee Officer” translates to “War Apologist” calls a “Warmonger Apologist.” (Sarcasm)

    1. Isn’t it clear that my essay is overwhelmingly antiwar and calling for peace? I very clearly condemned both U.S. provocations and the Russian invasion.

      1. The clarity is the problem — we have a few commenters who are pro-war, if one of the warring parties is Russia, and who tend to throw tantrums when they notice anyone e.g. treating Vladimir Putin as an adult who’s responsible for his actions.

        1. I agree, Thomas. Putin is crazy, bad, and stupid. He’s crazy because he’s Russian, bad because he loves killing people for no reason whatsoever, and so stupid because he thought we really cared. But you caught me. I’m also pro-war because I’m Rambonov–the the real Russian Rambo. Except, without Hollywood or money to document all my humanitarian work. (Sarcasm alert)

          1. I don’t think Putin is crazy or stupid. He’s bad because he’s a politician.

            For years, it seemed like he had taken the lessons of Chechnya — that invading, conquering, occupying, and annexing a country and putting your quislings in as satraps isn’t really all that easy — to heart. He seemed content to preside over the fading Russian empire while just trying to keep it from fraying too much at the edges on his watch.

            But given long enough, anyone with that kind of power makes a mistake sooner or later.

          2. Right, Chechnya was a spontaneous Jihadi war for “freedom and democracy” that we had nothing to do with just like in Syria and Afghanistan. (Idiotic sarcasm alert)

      2. I apologize. I should have mentioned that I liked a lot of what you wrote. Here are my issues:
        1. Provoked means justified, not a little bit–it’s all or none. “Provoked but unjustified” bleeds that academic moral superiority from political careerists/elitists. Provoke a bear in his den, the bear is justified to be as ugly as a bear can get. It’s not a beauty contest and I doubt any of us would disagree if roles were reversed.
        2. Negotiating whether the US has less or more than 50% of the responsibility is like arguing the US is half pregnant when it delivered this ugly 33 year old baby. Any questions, please refer to point 1 and plenty of documentation about Russia pushing back on NATO expansion.
        3. “Our enemies are the James Bond stupid one-dimensional maniacs” permeated our consciousness like the cosmic background noise did to the universe. War is in and on our mind. We’re always waiting for that super villain.
        As a result of #3, you personally didn’t deserve the label of political careerist just by being an official in the democratic party. I’m truly sorry if I offended you and thanks for your response.

        1. Especially given the fact that the provocations weren’t subsiding. But why would they? Nothing we do is provocative. Now Russia having a country amongst all those US/NATO bases and lethal weapons is.

          1. I agree. Telling Russia not to worry about NATO in Ukraine is like telling a mother not to worry about a lion outside her tent.
            Except, that lion ate three of her children by breaking into the same tent on three different occasions. (Sarcasm)

        2. No, “provoked” doesn’t mean “justified.”

          If I park my car that goes boom in front of your house at 3am and blast hip-hop directly at your house, it’s reasonable to describe me as “provoking” you. It doesn’t follow that you calling in a flight of B-2s to conduct an air strike on my car is “justified.”

          1. True. But it doesn’t change the point. “Provoked” and “justified” are two entirely different words with two entirely different meanings. Some responses to some “provocations” are “justified,” others aren’t.

          2. LOL. So your argument is they’re two different words? That’s one sure way to “provoke” an argument, not sure to “justify” winning it. But, it was a good try. I am tired. Time for a nap. I’ll be dreaming of peaceful coexistence without war because it doesn’t seem possible in real life. (just old man who doesn’t want his grandchildren to die in war sarcasm)

        3. If a bully repeatedly harasses a kid at school (tripping him, ridiculing him, stealing his money, laughing at him, shitting in his lunch pail, etc), and if the kid comes with a gun and shoots the bully, we’d say the kid wasn’t justified, but he was provoked. We’d say both share guilt.

          Now, admittedly, the U.S. did some pretty nasty stuff in Ukraine and elsewhere (killing lots of people). But as a peace activist, I condemn all invasions, as I condemn all the nasty provocations. A lot of what happened is classified. The U.S. is desperate to hide the facts. The U.S. may be more guilty than I am aware of.

          1. “But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” Except, she did and made Russia and China into enemies. They didn’t want to, they wanted to do business, but our “exceptionalism” and Neocons don’t back down. We’re here to kill monsters, who just happen to be armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. We marsh on, full of our moral superiority, into an OMNICIDE BY NUCLEAR WEAPONS– a totally unnecessary, stupid and evil end. This is the point of no return, brother. No hope, peace, or love is needed where we’re heading, only a sad and most “UNJUSTIFIED” end. (Waste of time sarcasm)

  7. the second war in Iraq – generally regarded as stupid and unjustified (no WMDs, no relation to 9/11), so the U.S. bears over 50% of the blame;

    Stupid and unjustified only gets to “over” 50%? Were you leaving yourself an out by saying “over”? As in 100%? Otherwise, your credibility takes a beating.

    1. You are correct. In the version of this essay on my blog I changed “over 50% of the blame” to “over 75% of the blame.” I can’t edit the version here.

      1. It’s 100%. Period. Anything Saddam did was a result of our past intrusiveness in that region.

  8. I agree that the U.S. provoked the war in Ukraine (deliberately, I believe, but stupidly can’t be ruled out) but I’m not sure how this does not entail that Russia’s response was, in fact, justified as pre-emptive self-defense.

    NATO was and remains a clearly aggressive, non-defensive alliance, explicitly directed against the Russian Federation on behalf of the U.S. The U.S. expanded it beyond the former East Germany right up to the Russian border in direct violation of explicit, if not written, commitments not to do so (with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Red Army’s peaceful withdrawal as consideration). The U.S. then overthrew the elected government of Ukraine, installed a puppet regime (which immediately commenced attacking its ethnic Russian regions), and promised to bring it into NATO, thus acquiring the principal route that had been used for invading Russia several times with catastrophic (if not successful) results.

    Clearly, the U.S. and NATO have been gunning for Russia ever since it repudiated communism and re-embraced identity and religion. Russia had shown itself resilient to ideological and cultural attack. After that failed, were the Russians supposed to just sit and wait for the physical one inevitably to follow?

    Please identify the realistic and acceptable alternative course of action.

    1. I would go as far as saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was more justified than the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but military invasions are (almost) always criminal. It’s enough to say that the U.S. provocations are criminal too. And it’s very important to expose how evil the U.S. provocations were. The bastard neocons who planned the war are evil geniuses.

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