Four Increasingly Cynical Views about the War in Ukraine

by Donald A. Smith, PhD

This is an extended version of my essay published in Common Dreams as Who is to Blame for the War in Ukraine?.

Here are four views about the war in Ukraine, listed in order of increasing cynicism about U.S. culpability for the crisis:

  1. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was totally unprovoked and the U.S. response was a noble defense of democracy and of the rules-based international order. Ukraine had a right to ally with the West and had a legitimate fear of Russian aggression (as do Poland and former Czechoslovakia, for example).
  2. NATO expansion into Ukraine and other countries near Russia was reckless, because Russia had made it clear to diplomats that it considered Ukraine off-limits to NATO. America bears some responsibility for provoking the crisis, because it should have been obvious to policy makers that their trying to expand NATO into Ukraine would lead to a war. But the Ukrainians had the desire and the right to align with the West and so U.S. intentions were noble.
  3. The U.S. and NATO failed to respect the divisions in Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian provinces and groups, and the U.S. failed to respect Russia’s legitimate security concerns — e.g., not to have a hostile country along its borders that was attacking Russian speakers in the east. The U.S. did not grant Russia its legitimate sphere of influence. But the U.S. did not want a war.
  4. The U.S. exploited divisions in Ukraine, launched a regime change operation, and armed the new government, including anti-Russian militias, in order to intentionally provoke a war. The aim was to weaken Russia, increase European dependence on the U.S. (both militarily and economically), and enrich U.S. arms and energy industries. The neocons running U.S. foreign policy couldn’t care less about Ukrainian (or Russian) lives lost, or about damage to European economies.

I devised these four views during discussions with my member of Congress, Rep. Adam Smith (WA-D, no relation), who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and former Chair. He, of course, believes view #1 and thinks that NATO expansion was needed to deter Russian aggression. But he told me that view #2 is plausible though wrong.

If you believe the official narrative coming out of D.C. and out of most of mainstream media, you too will think that view #1 is correct and that the U.S. is as innocent in the crisis as a newborn baby.

Given the history of U.S. lies and aggression with respect to foreign policy and with respect to overseas interventions, one would have to be naive indeed to believe view #1.

I believe the evidence points to view #4 being correct: the U.S. intentionally provoked a war. But it is possible that view #3 is closer to the truth and that ideological fervor led the architects of U.S. policy in Ukraine to be blinded to the obvious likely results of their policies; however, that seem unlikely, because both diplomats and the RAND Corporation had told policy makers that trying to expand NATO into Ukraine would lead to war. In fact, RAND recommended arming Ukraine to provoke a war and weaken Russia.

My reasons for holding view #4 are documented in Senior U.S. diplomats, journalists, academics and Secretaries of Defense say: The U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine. In short:

  • There were stark divisions within Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian provinces and groups — divisions that the U.S. exploited to provoke a crisis.
  • The U.S. aided the 2014 government overthrow in Ukraine that replaced a Russia-friendly government with one subservient to, and armed by, the West and hostile to Russia. (For example, it banned the official use of the Russian language, greatly angering Russian-speaking Ukrainians.) Former U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, and lifetime director of the Atlantic Council, says the U.S. “engineered” the 2014 coup.
  • The U.S. allied with and armed far-right, anti-Russian militias Azov, Svoboda, and Right Sektor that were attacking Russian speakers in the east and that had been widely condemned in U.S. media and by Congress prior to 2022.
  • The CIA was deeply involved (see this and this) and worked hard to hide its tracks (a broad “effort, around the time of the invasion, to close off many ‘sources related to Russia/Ukraine matters’”).
  • Senior U.S. diplomats warned that NATO expansion into Ukraine and other former Soviet block countries was unnecessary that Russia would react militarily.
  • The U.S. stymied peace deals between Russia and Ukraine that could have prevented or ended the war. See also this and this.
  • The U.S. has a history of launching wars, proxy wars, and regime change operations throughout the world, but in particular against Russian allies (e.g., Afghanistan, Serbia, Syria, and Libya). In other words, the U.S. considers the entire world to be its legitmate sphere of influence. Russia’s invasion was along its borders and involved a country with deep historical, cultural, and linguistic ties to Russia. The U.S. often allies with terrorist groups to achieve its aims. We were told that the U.S. bombing in Serbia was a noble defense of innocent people. It has since been revealed (see this and this) that the Kosovo Liberation Army was, basically, a terrorist organization armed by the CIA. When the Serbians tried to defend themselves, the U.S. accused them of engaging in war crimes. Some U.S. allies in the Kosovo war were later convicted of war crimes.The U.S. currently occupies 1/3 of the sovereign nation of Syria (the parts with oil) with help from its proxy army, the Syrian Defense Forces. The U.S. still has troops in Iraq, though the government there wants them out. Overall, the U.S. has over 750 military bases in over 70 countries.

How would the U.S. react if, after turning Mexico into a client state, Russia overthrew and armed the government of Canada, appointed the new Prime Minister, armed anti-U.S. militias that were attacking English speakers in Ontario, and banned the official use of the English language?

In the view of Rep. Smith, NATO expansion was necessary to prevent Russia from taking over not only Ukraine but also the Baltic states. (Likewise, he thinks that U.S. military actions near China are needed to deter Chinese aggression in Taiwan.) My view, and that of many diplomats and others, is that NATO expansion provoked the very war that is now being touted as justification for said expansion.

Indeed, Rep. Smith once told me this story: when he first arrived as a new member of the HASC, a senior member warned him that the military establishment (“The Blob”) is a “self-licking ice cream cone” that incestuously creates its own reality. (Another metaphor: it’s a voracious beast that sucks up resourcesover a trillion dollars a year — and human lives into its maw.)

Despite the CIA’s valiant efforts, many of the facts about what happened in Ukraine are available to the public. It’s quite amazing that — so soon after the ignoble end to the disastrous twenty-year war in Afghanistan — the media, Congress, and most of the public have been so easily bamboozled by government propaganda into supporting yet another avoidable, morally fraught war. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people; displaced millions of people from their homes; devastated Ukrainian infrastructure; greatly increased the already repugnant military budgets in the U.S., Europe, and Russia (money sorely needed for climate mitigation and other urgent exigencies); increased inflation and shortages worldwide; and increased the risk of World War III and nuclear annihilation. Moreover, it’s a war which Russia is now winning — a fact that increases the risk of escalation.

A negotiated end to the war in Ukraine is urgently needed. As Chas W. Freeman says, had the U.S. allowed Ukraine to agree to a negotiated solution back in 2021, before the Russian invasion, or in the spring of 2022, soon after the invasion, Ukraine and the West would now be much better off. Waiting any longer will just prolong the suffering and strengthen Russia’s position — if it doesn’t get us all killed. Still, Russia would probably agree to a negotiated solution.

Senior U.S. diplomats, academics, journalists and Secretaries of Defense say the U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine

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