Benjamin Abelow Interview on the Ukraine War in the Italian Newspaper La Verità

La Verità is a Catholic, center-right publication with a circulation of 30,000

Because of the popularity of the Italian translation of my book on the Ukraine war, I have been interviewed several times by the mainstream Italian press and television networks. I’ll copy below the English-language text of a very recent interview with me in the Catholic, center-right newspaper La Verità. It gives a good overview of some of my current thinking. For those unfamiliar with my book, you can read it here on Medium, free of charge, in essay format, where it has had 76,000 views and 28,000 reads. If you prefer a print copy, you can obtain one here on Amazon, or at independent bookstores or B&N. You also can read about the book and see related material at the book’s website. To date, it has been translated into seven languages: German, Italian, French, Polish, Dutch, Danish, and Slovenian.

Here’s the interview. It’s dated May 21, 2024.

Dr. Abelow, you say that the war in Ukraine is the fault of the United States and NATO. But the aggressor is Putin, right?

“If you make history start from the day of the invasion, obviously Putin seems to be the source of the problem. But history did not begin on the day of the invasion. Our governments and the media tell us that Vladimir Putin is a new Hitler, or a new Tsar or a new Stalin, who went to war to destroy Ukraine and invade other countries. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, the evidence is completely opposite.”

So why did Putin invade Ukraine?

“The most important factor was the U.S. attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO, which Russia perceives as an unacceptable threat. This is nothing new: as early as 1997, fifty leading U.S. foreign policy experts sent a public letter to President Bill Clinton warning him that NATO expansion would be a foreign policy mistake of “historic proportions.” And in 2007 or early 2008 – we don’t know the exact date – the U.S. National Intelligence Council concluded that attempts to bring Ukraine into NATO, might prompt Russia to annex Crimea, and invade Ukraine proper. One cannot predict the future any better than that.”

But NATO resolutions require unanimity: what was the role of European leaders?

“Western European leaders initially disagreed with Ukraine joining NATO. When President Bush sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Bucharest to try to convince them, their opposition was so strong that Rice started crying. Really, she began to cry. In the end, however, American pressure prevailed and the European leaders passed a favorable resolution. As you well said, NATO resolutions require unanimity, and any single national leader could have blocked the resolution, but these European leaders lack the strength, moral fiber and integrity to stand out from the pack and say ‘no’.”

Isn’t Putin being paranoid?

“You decide. In 2020 and 2021, NATO conducted live-fire missile exercises in Estonia using 48 ballistic missiles with a range of 300 km. The missiles were launched only 110 km from the border with Russia. This means that the missiles could hit 190 km into Russian territory. The missiles did not enter Russian airspace. But they could have. Now, NATO was not really planning an attack on Russia. But how do the Russians know that the West was not actually planning to attack Russia? Should they trust our word? Would we trust their word on these things?”

What is the answer?

“Imagine a scenario in which Canada is allied with Russia and starts launching missiles to practice destroying air defense targets in America. How do you think the United States would react? They would demand an end to all exercises and the immediate removal of the missiles. This was just one of many military exercises on or near Russia’s border. Putin reacted just as the United States would have.”

But Putin has been fighting for two years, and he has captured 20 percent of Ukrainian territory. How can you say he was not trying to conquer Ukraine?

“Not everyone knows that within 24 hours of the start of the invasion, Putin’s staff contacted Zelensky’s office offering a cessation of hostilities in exchange for the Ukrainian declaration of neutrality. This is what was happening on the first day of what Putin called the Special Military Operation. It was not an attempt at conquest, but an attempt at “coercive diplomacy,” which had begun months earlier when he assembled troops on the border with Ukraine. Putin was trying to force Ukraine to accept what he had unsuccessfully sought since at least 2007.

Putin had almost succeeded: Zelensky wanted to discuss his offer. But it seems that the United States interfered. The same thing happened the following month: full negotiations between Russia and Ukraine took place between March and April 2022 in Istanbul, Turkey. Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who had helped bring the peace process to life, said that a working document for peace had gone through 17 or 18 drafts and would probably culminate in an agreement. But just then, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson showed up at Zelensky’s in Ukraine and told him, ‘You may be ready for peace, but we, the collective West, are not.’”

Hard to imagine that Johnson would have done such a thing without President Biden’s full approval.

“Exactly. In America, more and more people are realizing that this Ukrainian fiasco was just as unnecessary, stupid and the fault of the West as the war in Iraq. Like Iraq, this war is being supported on false premises. In Europe, you think you are opposing the new Hitler. When you wake up, you will realize that it is like it was in Iraq, based on false premises.”

Why did Putin move specifically in February 2022?

“In the second half of 2021 three important events occurred, one after the other. First, in July NATO issued a communiqué reiterating its decision to bring Ukraine into the alliance. Two months later, the Pentagon signed an agreement with Ukraine reaffirming its entry into NATO and – more importantly – with a commitment to arm and militarize it, and this regardless of what would happen with NATO in a formal sense. Two months later still, the State Department signed a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine confirming that Ukraine would join NATO. In turn, Putin sent formal requests to both the United States and NATO to leave Ukraine out of NATO. But both the U.S. and NATO rejected the request outright, not even wanting to discuss it, arguing that a U.S.-led militarized outpost on Russia’s border was none of Russia’s business.”

Western leaders would not agree with your perspective. How do you explain that? In fact, they would probably say that you are an agent of the Kremlin.

“The policymakers who relentlessly pushed for NATO expansion caused this disaster. These people almost never take responsibility. They look for others to blame. It would take a considerable amount of honesty on the part of a leader to say, ‘We made a terrible mistake.’ Very few people have the psychological capacity to acknowledge a terrible mistake even to themselves, much less in public. So, they try to save face. They deny their responsibility. They say their plan was good, so good that we should continue with it. They say that those who say the king is naked are agents of the Kremlin.

Add to this the very bad role played by the press: instead of acting independently and fulfilling their social responsibility, our media have become subservient to our governments, and function largely as a propaganda wing of the state.”

Benjamin Abelow is the author of How the West Brought War to Ukraine: Understanding How U.S. and NATO Policies Led to Crisis, War, and the Risk of Nuclear Catastrophe. The book has been translated into German, Italian, Polish, Danish, and Slovenian, with French, Dutch, and other translations forthcoming. Abelow holds a B.A. in modern European history from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.D. from the Yale School of Medicine, where he also served as Lecturer in Medicine. He previously worked in Washington, DC, writing, lobbying Congress, and lecturing about nuclear arms policy. His other areas of interest include the study of trauma, including war trauma.