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 U.S., 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. Perhaps lobbying by the merchants of death, that is, the military-industrial complex, plays a role in this disastrous failure.
International law hypocrisy
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 U.S. — 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 — 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 U.S., Britain and Israel. For example, the U.S. 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 U.S. media certainly didn’t emphasize that this unprovoked aggression was a violation of international law. This U.S. media hypocrisy seriously undercuts its credibility. In addition, the U.S. media’s failure, along with the cowardice of European nations about pointing out U.S. 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 U.S. and NATO and their unwillingness to take Russia’s security concerns seriously.
Promise not to expand eastward
Russia has pointed out the 1991 U.S. promise not to expand NATO 1 inch to the east in exchange for the Soviet Union allowing the reunification of Germany. This promise was crucial for the Soviets, given previous devastating invasions by Western European nations. 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 U.S. The U.S. 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-U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns warned U.S. 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, the U.S. acted in ways that resulted in this predicted crisis occurring.
For example, in 2014 the U.S. played a major role in a coup against the democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was viewed as pro-Russian. The U.S. was then influential in the selection of the new Ukrainian leaders. Ukrainians in western Ukraine were ecstatic, whereas Ukrainians in the Donbas area viewed the new government as being illegitimate. The predicted civil war then happened in the Donbas area and Russia intervened.
Negotiations are the key
Unfortunately, this conflict between Russia and the U.S. turned into a shooting war between Russia and Ukraine when Russia invaded. In order to avoid an escalation into a much broader and more deadly conflict, both sides must quickly make some uncomfortable compromises. Otherwise …