Western Diplomats and Experts Have Been Warning About US and NATO policies Escalating Ukraine Crisis
Much before the Ukraine war this year, several internationally renowned foreign policy experts, including retired senior officials and other persons close to the establishment in the USA and its western allies, have been warning that a policy of excessive hostility towards Russia, persistent interference in Ukraine to strengthen its opposition to Russia ( even at the cost of strengthening fascist elements there), eastward expansion of NATO and ignoring legitimate security concerns of Russia is a serious threat to regional and world peace.
To appreciate these concerns, we need to go back to the end of the decade of the nineteen eighties when issues like the unification of Germany and the weakening of the USSR were dominating international diplomacy. At that time senior USA and other western leaders assured Soviet leaders that if they did not object to the unification of Germany, the west in turn will ensure that there was no further eastward expansion of NATO towards Russia.
This has been confirmed by several documents and records relating to this important period of history, even though no written agreement was reached. Recently ( see February 15, 2022—Responsible Statecraft, essay titled ‘I Was There: NATO and the Origins of the Ukraine Crisis’) Jack F. Matlock, ambassador of the USA to the Soviet Union during this critical period, recalled that in 1989-90 “Gorbachev was assured, though not in a formal treaty, that if a unified Germany was allowed to remain in NATO, there would be no movement of NATO’s jurisdiction to the east, not an inch.”
In fact there has been NATO movement of several thousand miles, almost all eastward, as following the unification of Germany in 1990, as many as 14 new members have been added, moving the NATO closer and closer to the borders of the Russian Federation.
In 1996 the USA interfered in the Russian elections so that its favored politician Boris Yeltsin could be elected as the President. Yeltsin implemented pro-big business and pro-west economic policies that impoverished the common Russian people. This emboldened US policy makers to go back on the assurances regarding NATO expansion eastward. However even Yeltsin opposed this. US ambassador to the Russian federation, William Burns, who incidentally is now the CIA director under Biden, warned then that all Russians are divided in opposing this, cutting across local political divides. In subsequent writings he continued to voice this opinion till very recently.
In June 1997, as this issue was being hotly debated, as many as 50 senior foreign policy experts of the USA, including former senators, retired military officials, diplomats and academicians, got together to send a letter to President Clinton, voicing their opposition to NATO expansion ( see website of Arms Control Association—Opposition to NATO Expansion, June 26,1997).
This letter stated very clearly—“We, the undersigned, believe that the current US led effort to expand NATO, …is a policy error of historic proportion.” This letter reminded the US President that in Russia NATO expansion continues to be opposed across the entire political spectrum and will strengthen the non-democratic forces and in Europe this will accentuate the divide between the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, fostering instability.
This letter concluded by urging the US President strongly that the NATO expansion process should be suspended and alternative actions should be explored.
As the debate intensified, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invited Jack Matlock ( who apart from being a former ambassador is also widely respected as an expert on USA-Russia relations) to testify before it. In his testimony, Matlock stated that if the US government goes ahead with the proposed NATO eastward expansion, this would be the most serious strategic blunder since the end of the Cold War.
Ignoring these warnings the USA went ahead with the eastward NATO expansion. In March-April 2008 President Bush escalated tensions further by proposing NATO membership further to Georgia and Ukraine, neglecting the even stronger Russian objections to the membership of these two countries in particular. This proposal was made and pursued by him despite the opposition to this of not just several western allies but reportedly even of some of US intelligence agencies and senior officials.
While waving the flag of Ukraine membership, the USA also started increasing its interference in internal affairs of Ukraine. This increased in 2003-04 at the time of the so-called orange revolution to ensure the election of an anti-Russian regime. This was again repeated around 2013-14. As Matlock has written in his recent review of the build-up of tensions (2022)—US intrusion into its domestic politics was deep, actively supporting the 2014 revolution and overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in 2014.
What has been most disturbing is that the USA interference led to open support for those forces in Ukraine politics which have been variously referred to as far right, neo-Nazi and fascist. This was also confirmed in an article published in Foreign affairs journal dated March 18, 2014, written by two foreign policy experts Andrew Foxall and Open Kessler associated with US policy organizations. This article titled ‘ Yes there are bad groups in the Ukraine government’ stated—The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s government –and the persons who brought it to power—are indeed fascists. This review stated that Ukraine is home to Svoboda, arguably Europe’s most influential right-wing movement today. Further this article said—Today Svoboda holds a larger chunk of its nation’s ministries ( nearly a quarter, including the prized defense portfolio) than any other far-right party on the continent. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister represents the Svoboda as does the prosecutor general and the deputy chair of Parliament, where the party is the fourth largest. USA leaders visiting Ukraine openly sided with these fascists ad their leaders and this helped their cause of ousting the elected national leaders who were keen to have peace with Russia. These fascist elements got ample time to consolidate their position when a government which opposed NATO membership went out and a regime which promoted NATO membership came in.
The step-by-step, relentless pursuit of the policy of eastward expansion of NATO over a period of about 25 years by the USA has been accompanied by rising concerns of Russia regarding its urgent security interests. This is not just a Putin-centered obsession but a very real and genuine concern shared by all sections of political opinion in Russia, and no one knows this better than current CIA director William Burns, who in the course of his various important assignments in Russia, has been warning his government regarding the strong sensitivities in all sections of Russian political opinion on this issue.
In 2019 Vladimir Zelensky was elected as a ‘peace candidate’, a description used by Stephen F. Cohen, eminent foreign policy expert of the USA in October 2019, nearly a year before his death in 2020 at the age of 81. In other words people supported him because of his stated agenda of peace. For some time he tried to sincerely take forward this peace agenda, which also involved peace talks with Russia and providing greater autonomy to Donbas region with a higher concentration of Russian speaking people, but he soon came under heavy pressure from the fascist forces. Cohen stated in an interview with Aaron Mate—His life is being threatened by a quasi-fascist movement in Ukraine. Such threats that if he pursued peace with Russia and the peace-making Minsk accords he will be killed or hanged from a tree actually appeared from fascist sources. Zelensky then backed out from the peace process with Russia and started acting under the powerful combine of fascist and quasi-fascist forces supported by the USA.
Hence the Minsk peace process was aborted and the tension kept escalating with each step taken towards the closer integration of Ukraine with NATO. The importance of this issue can be realized from this observation of Jack Matlock at the time of the build-up of the Ukraine crisis in mid-February this year. He stated, “Since Putin’s major demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, of if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.”
Hence it is clear that the eastward expansion of NATO has taken place at a very heavy cost of endangering world peace. Even after the invasion by Russia and its terrible humanitarian impacts and the wider threat to world peace, serious efforts to bring the war to an end have been missing. Chas Freeman, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, USA, has said in a recent interview ( Gray Zone, March 24 2022, interview with Aaron Mate) – Everything we are doing, rather than accelerate an end to the fighting and some compromise, seems to be aimed at prolonging the fighting.” Some USA/NATO policy makers appear to be in favor of fighting Russia ‘to the last Ukrainian’. Prof. Chomsky has said citing this interview that US policies which go on sending more deadly weapons to Ukraine while blocking diplomatic solutions are like a ‘death warrant’ for Ukraine.
Despite all this the Putin-led Russian invasion cannot be justified because of its huge humanitarian costs, death of thousands and displacement of over 4 million people. Other methods of building a world consensus against the aggressive US policies and designs should be found. Therefore Russia should end this invasion as early as possible. Internal and external pressure should increase for the USA to give up its aggressive, hostile and divisive policies.
The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.