Q and A

These are questions submitted by readers, and answered by Tom Hull.

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April 24, 2022

[Q] 15,000 words & you omit completely any mention of the US State Dept f _ cking around in UKR for the last two decades, the billions of $ of weapons the US has poured into the country and the depredations of Victoria Nuland.

Aside from the total cr _ p Agitprop in the US media, this is the most feeble thing I've read on the topic.

Look at a map. UKR is a buffer state. Rule No. 1 of buffer states: to placate its larger neighbours. Zelensky is an abject failure at this.

A solid 'F'. -- Crocodile Chuck [2022-04-22]

[A] This is sad, especially the notion that smaller states should roll over and play dead to appease or amuse their bullying neighbors. No doubt it happens more often than not, as it's easier to notice the exceptions than the rule: Cuba defying the US since 1959, or Vietnam turning China back in 1979. Ukraine is paying a high price for defying Russia, but those who submit to more powerful neighbors pay a price too. Belarus is an example: a country which defers to Russia, run by a compatible kleptocrat. Of course, you could substitute a bunch of examples in Latin America.

Zelensky is open to second guessing on a number of counts, but he was only elected after Russia had taken a couple bites out of Ukraine, and was threatening more. It would have been prudent to negotiate a partition with Russia, but it's not clear that Putin would have accepted such a deal. So he set about trying to line up some leverage, appealing to the US and EU in terms that further agitated Russia. Still, in the final days before the invasion, it was not Zelensky who was taunting Putin; it was the US, with its leaked intelligence reports, and threats of sanctions (but no armed resistance, which Putin could have misread as an invite).

In great power rivalries, it's not unusual for local proxies to go rogue, to provoke atroities and sabotage efforts at negotiation -- a lesson we should recall from Vietnam and Afghanistan. Zelensky is less obviously a stooge, but he's been so effective at rallying American and European support that his backers have let him run the show. It isn't clear how he'll handle negotiations, and won't be until Putin is ready. In the long run, we may wind up judging him more harshly for letting the war happens and not ending it sooner, but for now his ability to stand up against Russia's imperial conceits is simply admirable.

I don't know a lot about covert US interference in Ukraine politics, but I've hardly neglected more general anti-Russian propaganda since 1991. Even if it wasn't official policy, the US security apparatus was purged of benign internationalists in the late 1940s, and restocked with ardent cold warriors, many of them with deep backgrounds full of anti-Russian loathing (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezenski, and Madeline Albright, but there have been many more). These people never had any qualms about kicking Russia when it was down, and they rarely failed to seize upon opportunities to flip a country against Russia. The 2004 and 2014 "revolutions" in Ukraine are examples. I have no idea how much the CIA did to foment those events, but I don't doubt for a minute that they fed and nurtured them, and celebrated in their success. On the other hand, I suspect that there were other outside resources, coming from the EU, from the private sector, even from "philanthropists" like Soros. In particular, various NGOs that purport to promote democracy have, at least historically, been staged as political fronts. Conversely, I have no doubt that there is an extensive network of Russian agents operating in Ukraine, and that they played an outsized role in the separatist movements of 2014. But it's hard to tell how much of each external influence there was, and how effective it was, so I preferred not to dwell on it. But also, it makes sense to me that Ukraine should harbor both pro- and anti-Russian constituencies, and that the shifts toward Europe or Russia reflect popular wishes, as one would expect in a democracy.

It's true that I didn't mention Victoria Nuland in my pieces. She is a prominent neocon, with Ukrainian ancestry and a degree in Russia studies. She rose to prominence in the GW Bush administration, continued with Obama, skipped Trump but was hired back by Biden (Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs) -- a clear signal that Biden intended to push arms into Ukraine as soon as he took office. She is best known for a leaked phone conversation where she seemed to be picking/vetoing possible Ukrainian office holders. Wikipedia has a picture of her and Kerry meeting with "Ukrainian opposition leaders" before Yanukovych was impeached, and before her preferred candidate, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, became prime minister. This tape is often cited as "smoking gun" proof that the US was running Ukraine and using it as a wedge against Russia. That interpretation would be consistent with her history. Also worth noting that her husband is Robert Kagan, a co-founder of Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which started scheming for the Iraq War back in 1997. He was appointed to the State Department Foreign Affairs Policy Board in 2011. His father, Donald Kagan, was born in Lithuania, and has long been a promiment warmonger. Both left the Republican Party to support Hillary Clinton in 2016, and they supported Biden in 2020.

I suspect that the more we learn about the rapport between the Biden administration and Zelensky from Inauguration 2021 all the way to the invasion, the more evident it will become that Russia was being pushed into a corner with no respectable exit. As far as I'm concerned, none of that excuses Putin's invasion, or makes me at all sympathetic to his predicament. But it does show that many of the basic assumptions Washington makes about security and foreign policy are deeply and dangerously flawed.

I've written tons and tons over the years about the malign influence of neocon warmongers and their "humanitarian interventionist" helpers, so I'm surprised that someone who has read me regularly for such a long time wouldn't have noticed that thread in my Ukraine writings.

[Q] I may have missed it in your 23 theses -- eyes are a limiting factor. Sorry if I did in fact pass it over. If not, how do you see the (for USSR) disastrous and certainly motivated "delay" in the invasion of Western Europe as Stalin begged and 5 million(?) Russians died while the west waited to see if the Germans and Russians might neutralize themselves? Individual and Jungian memories of the Great Patriotic War/.. -- Barry Layton, Cleveland [2022-04-20]

[A] I don't know the answer to this, but I'm skeptical that Americans in a position to do something about it failed to see the importance of helping Russia defeat Germany. Sure, Stalin wanted the US/UK to open up a second front in Western Europe earlier than they did, but even after D-Day the overwhelming majority of German forces was aimed at Russia. At least, the US started providing Lend-Lease aid to the USSR even before the US declared war on Germany in December, 1941, which was probably a bigger help than an earlier second front would have been. I'm not sure why Eisenhower waited on D-Day as long as he did, but I doubt any of the major US policy makers were intent on sabotaging Russia. Not that there weren't Americans who hated Communism enough to propose allying with Germany against Russia -- there just weren't many of them. What did happen was that after the war, as the US no longer needed Russia to do the heavy fighting, the alliance fractured and anti-Communists became increasingly prominent, with the US doing all sorts of things Russians would grow to resent. Slighting or forgetting Russia's primary role in defeating Germany was a big one. But as I noted, Russia had a long history of feeling slighted by the West, and the Cold War added thousands of tiny cuts. Perhaps worse, it didn't end there.

[Q] Interesting point. I hadn't thought about that. I would say that both Napoleon and Hitler took the war to Russian soil. They just couldn't sustain it and lost. Would Ukraine even have the capability to actually attack in Russian or are they fundamentally just a small, defensive force? -- Robert Gable, Menlo Park, CA [2022-04-18]

[A] My point was that Russia cannot be invaded and occupied -- even by arguably superior forces, as proven by Napoleon and Hitler. No one thinks that Ukraine could even begin to mount a counter-invasion. There probably are people who think that if Ukraine can continue to inflict serious losses on Russia, confidence in Putin may fade, leading to some kind of coup. That was how Germany defeated Russia in WWI, but the odds of that happening now are very small, for a long list of reasons. The only way out is a negotiated settlement.

It is, of course, possible for Ukraine to attack points in Russia over the border, as has happened at least once so far (an attack on a fuel depot). Doing so could provoke Russia into escalating the war further, and certainly would stiffen Russian morale while making Ukraine look bad. The only way out of that quandry is to negotiate a resolution. The sooner the better.