---Israel Shamir, "Putin
Prefers a Bad Peace"
by Michael K. Smith
Even before the current round
of nuclear brinksmanship in Ukraine, U.S.-Russian relations
had descended to a lower point than U.S.-Soviet relations
reached during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We've been courting
nuclear annihilation for some time.
Those who would like to exempt Washington from blame now will have to account for U.S. hostility towards Russia and the USSR, both of which long pre-date anything that could remotely be construed as provocation by Putin. After all, the United States invaded and occupied the former USSR from 1918-1920, maintained a harshly belligerent stance all during the Cold War, and unleashed a plague of financial locusts to loot state enterprises throughout the former USSR as soon as the Berlin Wall came down, while enrolling the newly "independent" states into an anti-Moscow military alliance that extended to the very borders of Russia. Standards of living plunged, death rates soared, diplomacy suffocated, and Boris Yeltsin's proposed U.S.-Russian partnership was immediately forgotten.
If a China-Russia alliance had
installed hostile governments in Canada and Mexico at the end
of WWII, after which all of Latin America went full Communist
while narco-terrorists began killing Anglo Texans and banning
English, it's unlikely any blame would fall on
Washington if it attempted to resolve the situation by force,
as it surely would. So we can dismiss pious moral
grandstanding about the "evil" Putin as the boundless
hypocrisy it transparently is.
Furthermore, we should note
that the rhetoric employed in this mad rush to terminal war is
curious and irrational. For example, labeling Putin a "war
criminal" actually legitimizes war, since it implies there is
some ethical or at least inoffensive way to conduct mass
slaughter, which is all that modern warfare is. Transparent
attempts to miss this point by labeling massacre "collateral
damage" should be dismissed with ridicule.
And it can hardly be repeated
too often that the USA is far and away the guiltiest
"criminal" where war is concerned, having by far the greatest
war industry ever seen in human history headquartered on its
soil and forming the heart of its economy (the Defense
Industrial Base), which it has used to fight an endless series
of wars directly or by proxy throughout the world for the past
eighty years. No other contemporary or historical power has
achieved anything close to this commitment to mass killing.
So it is absurd to define the situation in Ukraine as a uniquely evil instance of military aggression by Vladimir Putin. In a world of asymmetrical power with no effective world government, technically sophisticated powers always have the upper hand in violent conflicts with their neighbors, which are inevitable. And, of course, they insist on having friendly neighbors, preferably cooperative, though submissive will do.
Hostile neighbors no one
accepts. How much of the Americas does the United States
permit be part of a hostile military alliance? According to
the Monroe Doctrine, not one square inch. How did Washington
react to Cuba installing Soviet nuclear missiles 90 miles from
Florida in 1962? (Spoiler alert: it nearly blew up the
planet.) What did the media do when Rafael Correa jokingly
proposed an Ecuadorian military base in Miami to balance
Washington's Mena Air Base in Ecuador? It laughed, though the
punchline is far from a joke.
A majority of the world is fed-up with the hypocrisies of unilateral world order under U.S. control, and is not averse to accommodating an emerging China-Russia-India based new world order. Yes, the current war in Ukraine is causing further expansion of NATO (supposedly a good thing), but this, in turn, is devouring resources needed to stave off European economic collapse, while an emerging Russia-China-India alliance accelerates the collapse of the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, a
U.S. client state, Biden's phone calls in the early stages of
the current war went unanswered while Putin's were cordially
received. Got respect?
Our mind managers warn us of the horrors of forced neutrality via Finlandization, and urge instead that we strive for regime change in Moscow. Strange. Finland is a success story, having achieved balance and stability via social democratic prosperity. On the other hand, U.S.-fostered regime change converts countries into corpse-strewn wastelands on a regular basis. Think Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Trying out this strategy on Russia obviously carries a high risk of nuclear annihilation. What stupendous prize awaits us if we successfully navigate this potentially species-terminating risk? The preservation of "our interests and our values," as Hillary Clinton so loves to say.
In other words, converting
whole cities to radioactive ash is a small price to pay for
preserving our favorite abstractions. Got it.
We hear Putin is a strongman,
an authoritarian, a totalitarian dictator, though we also hear
people are fleeing Russia in droves. Why are they at liberty
to do that in a "dictatorship"?
By the way, was Abraham Lincoln also a dictator, he who suspended habeas corpus, jailed journalists, shut down hundreds of newspapers, and locked up thousands of political enemies? And what about Woodrow Wilson, who destroyed unions, imprisoned editors, closed newspapers, and assumed dictatorial control of finance, the press, farms, and commerce and transportation?
Or maybe FDR was a dictator, who imprisoned over 100,000 U.S. citizens without charge and burned more civilians alive in a single night than either atomic bomb killed six months later?
What do we actually mean when we call Putin a dictator? That the media isn't free? But a major part of Russian, state-owned media has long transmitted pro-Western, anti-Russian content, paid for by Russian taxpayers. Try and find taxpayer-funded, Putin-sympathetic content that reaches mass audiences in the U.S. Good luck.
What about free speech? Well,
the Russian people have never had it, and therefore don't care
much about it. Americans have it in theory, but find its
political potency nullified in practice by tsunamis of state
and corporate propaganda. The most popular use of speech in
the contemporary U.S. is not to reveal errors of argument and
evidence, but to denounce others for being "idiots." How free
are we then?
Is Putin a nationalist? In
recent years state-enterprise CEOs in Russia were seen earning
millions of rubles a year while everyone else had to tighten
their belts. The Russian central bank bought U.S. Treasury
Bonds and supported the U.S. dollar at the expense of the
ruble. Where is the nationalism in such policy?
Is Putin anti-democratic? The
annexation of Crimea was overwhelmingly supported by Crimeans
Didn't Putin back Assad? Yes, because he was the legitimate head of state in Syria, while the alternative was rule by Islamic terrorists supported by the United States and Israel, but no sane person in Syria. Israel wants the dismemberment of Syria in order to keep the occupied Golan Heights forever.
Much demonology is spouted from
the simple fact that Putin is the former head of the K.G.B.
But Putin is critical of the Bolsheviks and is not himself a
Communist. Nevertheless, he considers the demise of the USSR a
"world tragedy," since overnight twenty-five million Russians
found themselves foreigners living in fourteen new countries.
Is Putin anti-Israel? Well,
Daesh oil flowed to Israel, and Putin said nothing, valuing
his relations with then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel, of course, supported Al-Nusra, and they were declared
terrorists by the United Nations. But Israel is admirable by
definition, because . . . the Holocaust. Strange, though, that
Putin gets no credit for aiding the Holy State.
We are told that no threat to the Russian state exists, so therefore no cause for war in Ukraine exists. But the Russian state and everything else can be blown off the map in a matter of minutes. The fact that the world is wired up to explode in a nuclear holocaust has been an American initiative from the beginning, and its dominant enemy has been (1) the USSR, and (2) Russia. NATO is by definition hostile to Russia, and lost even an ostensible reason for existing in 1991 with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Why is it still around? Because Russia is still around, and Washington doesn't like that fact. Its efforts to achieve regime change in Moscow can and may end human civilization, which isn't likely to improve matters for Ukrainians.
Is Putin an extremist? No.
There is nothing radical in him. He has no plans for social
re-arrangement. He merely seeks to have Russia respected as an
independent, wealthy, and "great" nation, and yes, he wants
Russia to be treated as an equal. But he also wants to fit
into the world, not rebel against it. These modest ambitions
are a threat to US/NATO hegemony and world dominance, which
represent the triumph of Western extremism.
Keeping things in perspective,
Putin is a Russian patriot. He wants to see Russia be a
strong, healthy country where people lead good lives, are
happy, and Russia occupies a prominent position
internationally. He's not a chauvinist or reactionary
The Orange Revolution was totally unexpected in Russia, which can't really be said to have a political opposition because there is no one who embodies and represents the views of a Russian majority. Having said that, Putin has been something of the "golden boy" in Russian politics for the past generation. He is good at addressing issues and speaking in clear terms that average people understand. The initial "democracy" of the Yeltsin period has been curtailed, but the middle class has developed rapidly on Putin's watch.
Yeltsin spoke to the U.S.
Congress in 1992, and offered Washington a partnership in
which each nation would treat the other as an equal. For
thirty years now the U.S. has rejected this. In the year of
the U.S./NATO attack on Serbia (1999), Yeltsin protested,
"Russia is not Haiti. You can't treat us like Haiti."*
Washington considers Haiti a "shit-hole" country, as one of
America's more honest presidents memorably put it.
Washington is incapable of giving Russia its due diplomatic respect. According to the reigning "Wolfowitz Doctrine," the U.S. should dominate the world and not allow any rivals for power to emerge. Russia therefore is and should be treated as a second rate power. This is a non-negotiable position.
Naturally, Putin does not
accept this, and never accepted the U.S. view that Russia lost
the Cold War. Russia saw the end of the Cold War as an
opportunity for them to become part of the international
community. At the core of Russian beliefs is that Russia must
be a Great Power. The Russian people have never doubted that
Russia is a great country. Having their noses rubbed in the
Wolfowitz Doctrine year after year is insulting, degrading,
and an open invitation to mutual suicide.
The USSR's forcing its rule
onto Eastern Europe was a big mistake, though understandable
given two Western invasions in a generation that left much of
the country a smoldering ruin. The U.S. ignoring the
possibility of Russia "coming back" to international
prominence was a big American mistake. Washington continues to
think of Russia as at most a regional power whose wants and
needs can be ignored. But no nuclear-armed country can be
At the end of the Cold War the U.S. promised not to expand NATO - not one inch - to the East, a promise it quickly violated.
Now we wait to learn if our
three-decade refusal to concede Russia minimal diplomatic
respect and cooperation will eventuate in nuclear war.
* Vladimir Pozner, "The Present State of Russian-American Relations," Monterrey Summer Symposium, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, July 24, 2020