Ammunition, weapons and other munitions are loaded onto a pallet bound for Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, U.S. January 21, 2022. U.S. Air Force/Mauricio Campino/Handout via REUTERS

The United States is drawn to war like a moth to the flame, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is of course no exception. “We are engaged in a conflict here. It’s a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not,” said Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary under Barack Obama.

“Make no mistake about it: Diplomacy is going nowhere unless we have leverage, unless the Ukrainians have leverage, and the way you get leverage is by, frankly, going in and killing Russians.”

If one were to judge from the frenzied media coverage alone, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is the first war of modern history. Western media has tried everything from psychoanalyzing Russian president Vladimir Putin, urging the censure of Russian literature, removing evidence of Ukrainian war crimes from the internet, to demanding the continued shipment of weapons to Ukrainian forces

As the war grinds on, anti-war journalists and academics based in both Russia and “the West” have found themselves out in the cold. On this front, two prominent examples stand out, and share the distinction of being punished for their accuracy.

Former United Nations Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter was removed from Twitter after claiming Ukrainian forces were committing crimes against humanity. In the lead up to the United States’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Ritter was one of the few figures who argued there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons—a claim which was later vindicated. 

If Scott Ritter is suffering for his track record of being correct, John J. Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, has practically become a villain for predicting the horrific Russian invasion of Ukraine back in 2014.

The problem was not with his prediction, but rather, where he laid the blame. His 2014 article was titled Why the Ukraine Crisis is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin.

One American journalist wondered:

Students at the University of Chicago circulated a petition which bizarrely accused Mearsheimer of “Putinism” and demanded he issue a statement regarding his position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Putting aside the bizarre (but widely held, in some circles) belief that Vladimir Putin read Mearsheimer’s article and then promptly invaded his neighbor half a decade later, Mearsheimer’s work is still worth looking at.

He blamed “the West” for Ukraine’s crises in 2014 for two main reasons: the constant enlargement of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the Western desire to push Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of interest, and into their own. Both of these factors are very much at work today.

How to be a sore winner: The disastrous expansion of NATO

NATO has added 14 new member states since German unification

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, was founded in 1949 to project American power over Europe, and build an alliance to oppose the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviets created their own counter alliance, the Warsaw Treaty Organization (commonly known as the Warsaw Pact).

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and American imperial victory in the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact disintegrated. However, despite the elimination of its “main threat,” NATO only grew in power and influence.

Mearsheimer was not the first to point out this worrying development. As the United States pushed NATO’s boundaries ever further, even former JFK aide Theodore Sorensen (who Kennedy described as his “intellectual blood bank”) wrote in the Washington Post: “It is hard to imagine a more provocative decision taken with less consultation and consideration for the consequences.”

Ambassador George F. Kennan, one of the key architects of not only the Truman Doctrine, but the strategy of “containment” for the Soviet Union, commented in the New York Times: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”

One should not mistake Sorensen and Kennan for anti-imperialists, or even opponents of NATO—quite the contrary.

While these warnings that NATO should not expand were certainly prescient, what is more disturbing is that they followed promises from the United States that NATO in fact would not expand.

The American guarantee that NATO would not expand eastward towards the Soviet Union was critical for Moscow’s endorsement of German reunification. On February 8, 1990, George HW Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, had a private meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Soviet Union, concerning just this topic.

At this meeting Baker specifically said, “There would be no extension of NATO’s current jurisdiction eastward.”

Gorbachev confirmed, saying, “Any extension of the NATO zone is unacceptable.”

Baker replied, “I agree.”

At this point, Germany represented NATO’s most easterly outpost. One needs only refer to the map above to see just how thoughtlessly the Americans pushed that promise through the paper shredder.

Crucially, the West German government corroborated this claim. The magazine Der Spiegel published declassified documents which confirmed that the West German Foreign Minister Hans- Dietrich Genscher told Eduard Shevardnadze of the Soviet Union: “NATO will not expand to the east.” 

Within less than ten years after this promise, NATO had engulfed three more former Soviet countries, encroaching on the Russian border. 

Why has there never been a coup in the United States? There isn’t an American Embassy there.

As more former Soviet states joined NATO, the Americans turned their attention to Ukraine. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was founded as an open, “transparent” alternative to the Central Intelligence Agency’s propaganda machine.

Their acting president explained, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA. The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential is close to zero. Openness is its own protection.”

The NED has assisted in American campaigns and coups against governments in Chile, Haiti, Liberia, Panama, the Philippines, and more. In 2013 the NED set its sights on Ukraine, establishing more than 60 projects in the country to the tune of billions of dollars, and referring to Ukraine as the NED’s “biggest prize.”

Victoria Nuland estimated this support to exceed five billion dollars. Nuland is an important character, who features incredibly prominently in the tale of American interference in Ukraine. 

Before ascending to her current position as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nuland served as US Ambassador to NATO (an oddly redundant position) and before this, she was a key advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney, where she advocated for the invasion of Iraq. 

She functioned as NATO’s media operative, encouraging NATO countries to contribute more troops to the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan

“Good. I don’t think Klitsch [the mayor of Kiev] should go into the government. I don’t think it’s necessary, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to then-US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, in a leaked 2014 phone call.  

Unsurprisingly, there are many recordings of US State Department officials hand picking the governments of other nations. Perhaps most famously, then-Senator Hillary Clinton was recorded admitting that she believed the US should have prevented any elections in the Palestinian territories, and that, “If we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win.”  

Nuland’s leaked call reveals a similar attitude, as the American embassy exerted undue influence over the composition of the Ukrainian government. The 2014 EuroMaidan protests offered Nuland and the US State Department the perfect opportunity to mold Ukraine into a western satellite.

Though it may take years for the full extent of American involvement to become clear, Nuland got what she (and the broader US State Department) wanted: pro-Russian President Yanukovych out, and pro-America/Europe Poroshenko in. In the same leaked phone call, Nuland proclaimed Arseniy Yatsenyuk should be the new Prime Minister. He was, of course, appointed to the position.

The vastly misunderstood EuroMaidan protests/coup in 2014 is difficult to parse, but journalist Branko Marcetic does an admirable job describing the coup’s allegiances to the Ukrainian far right, its subordination to Western powers, and its impact on the current war in Ukraine. 

To return to Nuland, Foreign Policy Magazine described her as, “The Undiplomatic Diplomat.” 

According to their article, Nuland’s diplomatic counterparts across Europe were consistently shocked at her dedication to shipping weapons across the globe and antagonizing the Russians. The beneficiaries of Nuland’s (and the CIA’s) weapons shipments are not only the Ukrainian government, but neo-Nazi militias, such as the infamous Azov Battalion

This would hardly be the first time the CIA has thrown millions of dollars in US weaponry at fascist armed groups. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the transfer of arms to Ukraine to the CIA’s arming of the mujahideen fighters (who included Osama bin Laden) of Afghanistan.

Shockingly, she was hoping delivering weapons to Ukraine would achieve the result of arming the mujahideen. It seems now all that’s left is to wait for the Americans to arm the Ukrainian neo-Nazi equivalent of Osama bin Laden. 

Victoria Nuland should be familiar to readers in Lebanon, as she was coincidentally in Beirut during the Lebanese Forces’ Tayouneh attack of October 2021.

Members of the American-backed Ukrainian Azov Battalion pose with the NATO compass and Swastika.

Nuland appears to have changed the Lebanese Army’s official position on the shooting. The LAF’s first statement described the protestors as having been “fired upon,” and yet their second statement—released directly after a meeting with Nuland—described a “dispute” and an “exchange of fire.”

Although it is difficult to be certain, it seems Nuland’s involvement, at a minimum, protected the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces militia from criticism and scrutiny. Screening for right-wing militias is a proud American tradition. 

Nuland’s “editing” of the LAF’s statement mirrors her actions in Ukraine in 2014-15. She corrected the US military as well.

When American general Philip Breedlove, who was also Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Allied Command Operations, discussed sending anti-tank weapons among other military material to Ukraine, Nuland balked at the word “weapon.”

She told Breedlove, “I would like to urge you to use the word defensive system to describe what we would be delivering against Putin’s offensive systems.” 

From the streets of Beirut to Kiev, where Nuland goes, bloodshed seems to follow. 

How would America react? A redundant hypothetical 

Surrounded by NATO states and with their neighbor being pulled further and further into the American orbit, Russia launched their invasion on February 24, 2022.

Russia was roundly, and rightly, condemned for starting a war of aggression against their neighbor. Their invasion has also raised alarms in Finland and Sweden, both of which seem poised to join NATO, potentially as early as this summer.

If the United States had intended to provoke Russian aggression through the enlargement of NATO and the destabilization of Ukraine to use the threat of Russian invasion as a means of cajoling ever more nations into NATO, they could hardly have been more successful. 

On April 7, Russia was even suspended from the UN Human Rights Council. Not suspended, however, were the United States, France, and the United Kingdom, all empires steeped in far more blood than the Russian Federation. 

Those who seek to explain the routes of this war, including Mearsheimer, have often crafted hypotheticals involving the US: “Imagine the outrage if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.”

This hypothetical is entirely unnecessary. Mearsheimer should not have pointed to Mexico and Canada, but rather, all of South America, and crucially, Cuba.

Throughout the entire Cold War (when an impressive military alliance opposed to the United States actually existed) the Americans were executing Operation Condor.

Condor was a wide-ranging CIA and Special Forces operation wherein the US (and its proxies) waging a campaign of terrorism, military coups, and political assassination across nearly all of Latin America. This was to prop up right wing juntas, and wipe out leftists and their sympathizers. Any nation which crept towards socialism would quickly find itself targeted by American forces. 

The clearest example of this dynamic, despite falling outside of Operation Condor itself, is the ongoing American war against Cuba.

Despite the end of the outright military invasions, the US maintains a permanent blockade against the island for daring to oppose Washington, and their covert campaign continues to this day.

(The history of the American war against Cuba is too dense to complete here, though to see just how the US would treat a neighboring country joining a hostile political alliance, read my full article on the subject).   

Is America willing to fight to the last Ukrainian? 

“For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” US President Joseph Biden intoned darkly to a Warsaw crowd.

Biden’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, quickly attempted damage control. “As you know, and as you have heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia—or anywhere else, for that matter,” he added. 

The American strategy for regime change in Russia has existed since before the modern nation of Russia itself. Blinken sounds as if he is trying to overrule his own president.

Although the Americans seem committed to encircling and sanctioning Russia (a project which, again, began long before this current conflict), they seem unwilling to go to war with a nuclear power over the question of Ukraine. Pro-American Ukrainians should not be surprised. 

Despite promises of defense and aid, the United States will take the most profitable route (one only need ask Saddam Hussein, who was assured he had the United State’s blessing to invade Kuwait in 1990, only to find himself bombarded by American munitions).

As Ukrainians are being killed in a war which the West helped spark, US based defense contractors are already counting their profits in the billions.

The devastation of this war has been wrought entirely on the Ukrainians and Russians pushed into the conflict. Yet, they surely will not be the ones to profit. The United States is implementing its old maxim: Privatize the gains, socialize the losses. 

While it may be Russia’s tanks which rolled across Ukraine’s borders, America’s foreign policy since the twilight of the Soviet Union gave them the fuel. With those who question this dubious American role furiously pushed out of mainstream politics, it appears the United States will only continue to further stoke the conflict in Ukraine.

As anti-NATO/anti-war news outlets are described as propaganda, Oliver Boyd-Barrett’s Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis proves insightful: 

“Propaganda is only something that the enemy and the enemy’s media do. It is inconceivable that Western media could operate as propagandists or be involved in the active dissemination of propaganda because Western media are “free,” whereas the enemy’s media, even when not actually government controlled, serve merely as passive conduits for the distribution of official information.”

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Michael Avanzato is a Research Affiliate with the Palestine Land Studies Center in Beirut. He received his M.A. in Public Policy and International Affairs from the American University of Beirut.