We Lied, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Tells On Key U.S. Mistake With Russia

robert f kennedy jr

“We should have listened to Putin over many years. We made a commitment to Russia, to Gorbachev, that we would not move NATO one inch to the east. Then we went in, and we lied,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in an interview with UnHerd (Robert Kennedy Jr: America needs a revolution, by Freddie Sayers, Editor-in-Chief of UnHerd, ), published on Wednesday.

Instead of listening to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warnings about “red lines”, the U.S. has repeatedly crossed them, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said in the interview.

The Democrat running for U.S. president added that Washington should have either invited Moscow to NATO or dismantled the anti-Russian alliance after the Cold War.

Instead of offering to integrate Russia into the West, as many diplomats urged in 1991, the U.S. expanded NATO to its borders.

“What is the purpose of NATO other than to oppose Russia? If you are addressing Russia in a hostile way from the beginning, of course their reaction is going to be hostile back,” Kennedy said.

He described what happened in Kiev in 2014 as “essentially a coup d’état” supported by the U.S., recalling the infamous phone call in which Victoria Nuland was “handpicking a new cabinet” for Ukraine hostile to Moscow.

“If Mexico did that and then started killing – they killed 14,000 Russians in Donbass, the Ukrainian government – if Mexico did that to expatriate Americans, we would invade in a second,” Kennedy said, adding that Putin “repeatedly told us: these are the red lines, you are crossing.”

American leaders should be able to “put yourself in other guy’s shoes,” just like his uncle John F. Kennedy did during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, stepping back from the brink of nuclear war, which all of his advisers were pushing for.

Kennedy condemned the |barbaric and illegal invasion” of Ukraine and called Putin a ‘gangster’, a ‘thug’ and a ‘bully’, but said the conflict needed to be settled quickly, because the U.S. had already “sacrificed 300,000” Ukrainians in battle. While the White House presented aiding Kiev as a humanitarian mission, every step that we have taken has been to enlarge the conflict and to maximize bloodshed,” he said.

“Let’s be honest: It is a U.S. war against Russia, to essentially sacrifice the flower of Ukrainian youth in an abattoir of death and destruction for the geopolitical ambition of the neocons” to see regime change in Moscow, Kennedy said. He added that the people who created the problem were not capable of settling it.

Asked about his proposed solution, Kennedy said that something like the Minsk accords, agreeing to keep Ukraine out of NATO, and removing nuclear missile launchers from Russia’s borders might work.

Below are parts of the interview taken by Freddie Sayers:

RFK Jr: I am talking about issues that I think most Americans and probably most Democrats are concerned about: the systematic gutting of the middle class; the elevation of corporations — particularly polluting corporations; and, from the financial industry to the military-industrial complex, the corrupt merger of state and corporate power. Through wars, bank bailouts and lockdowns, we have been systematically hollowing out the American middle class, and printing money to make billionaires richer. During the Covid lockdown, there was a $4.4 trillion shift in wealth from the American middle class to this new oligarchy that we created — 500 new billionaires with the lockdowns, and the billionaires that we already had increased their wealth by 30%.

That is just one of the assaults, and then you go to the bailout of the Silicon Valley Bank, and the war in Ukraine, which is costing us $113 billion; the war in Iraq and the wars that followed that have cost us $8 trillion. The total cost of the lockdowns was $16 trillion, and we got nothing for any of it. Is it any wonder that we do not have a middle class left in the United States of America? Unless we rebuild the middle class, and rebuild our economy, our national security is going to fail, and our democracy is going to fail.

FS: You have been using the word “corporatism” a lot in interviews — what do you mean by it?

RFK Jr: It is the domination of government, and particularly democratic governments, by corporate power. I have spent 40 years litigating against the agencies, the regulatory agencies in the United States, so I can tell you that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is effectively run by the oil industry, the coal industry and the pesticide industry. When I was on the trial team that brought the Monsanto cases, and we ended up with a $13 billion settlement after winning three trials, we uncovered that the head of the pesticide division at the EPA was secretly working for Monsanto, and was running that agency to promote the mercantile ambitions of that business rather than the public interest. He was killing studies, he was fixing studies, he was ghost-writing studies. And that is true throughout the agencies.

If you look at the pharmaceutical industry in our country, it runs the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA gets 50% of its budget from Big Pharma. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spends half of its budget purchasing vaccines from Big Pharma, and then distributing it. And the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is just an incubator for new pharmaceutical products. It does not do the basic research that we want them to be doing — about where all these diseases come from. The studies that do get done are studies that develop pharmaceutical products. And then the NIH collects royalties when the pharma company sells those products. The regulator is essentially a partner with the regulated industry. The Department of Transportation (DOT) is run by the railroads in our country and by the airlines; the banks have utterly corrupted the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC); and the media has corrupted the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

FS: Are you alleging actual corruption within all these government agencies, or is it more of a general sense that there is a revolving door between them and industry? 

RFK Jr: It is both. There is legalized bribery and illegal bribery. The rules governing conflicts of interest are not just ignored — they are systematically ignored. And the rules started out not strong enough to really protect the public interest. You have both things going on — honest graft and dishonest graft.

FS: This sounds like a traditional Left-of-centre critique, but you are now being described as Right-wing. Do you think the old distinctions between Left and Right are breaking down?

RFK Jr: I consider myself a traditional Kennedy liberal. I do not know of any values that my uncle John Kennedy harbored, or my father shared, that I don’t share. They had antipathy and suspicion towards war and the military-industrial complex; they did not want corporations running the American government; they were completely against censorship. They were against the use of fear as a governing tool, and they spoke out about it often. If you go down the list of things that they believed in, I do not think there’s really any daylight between me and what they believed.

But I do think that there is a growing coalition in this country of populist forces, on the Left and Right, that are convening now and finding common ground. And I think that really is probably the only thing that is going to rescue American democracy.

FS: So you’re overtly trying to get support from conservative voters?

RFK Jr: I always have been. I spent 35 years as — I don’t want to toot my own horn, but — arguably the leading environmentalist in the country. I was the only environmentalist who was going on Fox News constantly, on Sean Hannity, on Neil Cavuto, on Bill O’Reilly, on Tucker Carlson. People would say to me: “You are legitimizing those platforms by going on there.” And I said: “I am not compromising my values.” When I go on there, I am talking to their audiences. I want to speak to their audiences. How are we going to persuade people, how are we going to end polarization, if we are not talking to each other? I will go on any platform, and the only platforms I would not go on are ones that my wife just cannot live with. If it was up to me, I would go on Steve Bannon and I would even go on Alex Jones, because I want to talk to those audiences.

I think there is a rebellion happening in our country now — there is a populist rebellion — and if we do not capture that rebellion, for the forces of idealism and the forces of generosity and kindness, somebody else is going to hijack that rebellion for much darker purposes. I do not think it is a good idea to say we are not going to talk to American populists because they are deplorable. Americans are our brothers and sisters, and we need to listen to them. And their backs are against the wall because of policies that have come from both Republican and Democratic parties.

RFK Jr: I would not agree with the policy that you just described. My family has been deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and I have been involved with environmental justice issues. My first case was representing the NAACP [The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People]. In 2001, I spent the entire summer in a maximum security prison in Puerto Rico for civil disobedience that I did in conjunction with a case that I brought, defending the poorest black and Hispanic populations in America, arguably — the population of Vieques. I brought probably as many environmental justice cases during my career as anybody else, and I understand that there is institutional racism in our country. You see it in many police departments, although not all of them. Certainly not all police are racist, but it is a huge problem. Blacks in our country are living not only with the legacy of slavery, but the legacy of 100 years of Jim Crow, having their leaders systematically murdered — and then being redlined! In the 2008 collapse, it was black homeowners who were targeted first. We need to figure out ways to make sure that those communities are participating in the American experiment.

FS: Let me ask you about climate and the environment, which is a lifelong issue for you. In the last few years, environmentalism seems to have shifted from being an anti-establishment position to an establishment, corporate-endorsed position. Do you think there is a good version of the green movement, and a corporate, Davos-style version of the movement? And how would you distinguish between them?

RFK: Yes, definitely that has happened. Climate has become more polarized than ever, and with good reason. The crisis has been, to some extent, co-opted — by Bill Gates and the World Economic Forum and the billionaire boys’ club in Davos — the same way that the Covid crisis was appropriated by them to make themselves richer, to impose totalitarian controls and to stratify our society, with very powerful and wealthy people at the top, and the vast majority of human beings with very little power and very little sovereignty over their own lives. Every crisis is an opportunity for those forces to clamp down controls.

And then you also see, with climate, there has been a shift — from habitat preservation and regenerative farming to trying to reduce the power of the carbon industry — towards corporate carbon capture, which can be monetized by the corporations and exploited without seeing any real benefit on the ground. And also with geoengineering solutions, which I oppose. It tends to be that the people who are pushing them also have IP rights — in other words, patent rights in a lot of those technologies. There is definitely an optic of self-interest.

FS: We had an example here in Europe, with the farmers’ protests in the Netherlands. New environmental rules on use of nitrate fertilizers and other things came in and populist voters — frankly, the kind of voters who might be interested in you — were very angry about it, as it seemed to ignore ordinary people’s economic reality? Did you observe that?

RFK Jr: I fell on the side of the farmers in that debate because I saw what happened over the years, which is the increase in the power of this combination of corporate and government power, which colluded to get those farmers to switch over to heavily nitrate fertilizer-dependent and GMO farming. It was purposeful and systematic. Once you get all of those farmers to switch to hydrocarbon-based fertilizers and to monocultures, then you say: “Those things are bad and now we are going to shut you all down.” It is a bait and switch, a way of destroying small farmers.

If we want to have democracy, we need a broad ownership of our land by a wide variety of yeoman farmers, each with a stake in our system. That’s what Thomas Jefferson said. Wiping out the small farmers and giving control of food production to corporations is not in the interests of humanity. We need to help those farmers transition off the addiction that we imposed upon them in the first place.

FS: That takes us to this pressing question: one thing you talk about a lot is that America is in a permanent state of war and you want to put an end to that. With regard to Ukraine, how do you propose to do that?

RFK Jr: Settle it. The Russians have repeatedly offered to settle. If you look at the Minsk accords, which the Russians offered to settle for, they look like a really good deal today. Let’s be honest: it’s a US war against Russia, to essentially sacrifice the flower of Ukrainian youth in an abattoir of death and destruction for the geopolitical ambition of the neocons, oft-stated, of regime change for Vladimir Putin and exhausting the Russian military so that they cannot fight anywhere else in the world. President Biden has said that was his intention — to get rid of Vladimir Putin. His Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, in April 2022, said that our purpose here is to exhaust the Russian army. What does that mean, “exhaust”? It means throwing Ukrainians at them. My son fought over there, side-by-side with the Ukrainians and we have sacrificed 300,000 of them. The commander of the special forces unit in the Ukraine, which is probably the most elite fighting force in Europe, has said 80% of his troops are dead or are wounded and they cannot rebuild the unit. Right now, the Russians are killing Ukrainians at a ratio of either 1:5 or 1:8, depending on what data you believe.

FS: If you became president you would inherit the situation as it is. Would your policy be to say that Russia can keep the territory it has conquered? You would be accused of surrendering.

RFK Jr: What I am accused of is irrelevant to me, as you may have figured out by now. Let’s do what is sensible, what saves lives. This was supposed to be a humanitarian mission — that is how they sold it to us in the United States. But that would imply that the purpose of the mission was to reduce bloodshed and to shorten the conflict, and every step that we have taken has been to enlarge the conflict and to maximize bloodshed. That is not what we should be doing.

If you look at the Minsk accords, it sets the groundwork for a final settlement. The Donbas region, which is 80% ethnic Russian — and Russians that were being systematically killed by the Ukrainian government — would become autonomous within Ukraine and would be protected. Let’s protect those populations with a United Nations force or whatever we have to do to make sure the bloodshed stops. In addition to that, we need to remove our Aegis missile systems, which house the Tomahawk missiles — nuclear missiles — from 70 miles from the Russian border. When the Russians put nuclear missiles on Cuba, 1,500 miles from Washington DC, we were ready to invade them, and we would have invaded them if they had not removed them. The way they got removed ultimately is: my uncle and father made a deal with Ambassador Brennan and Khrushchev, who they had a close relationship with and they could talk directly to at that point. The deal was: we will remove our Jupiter missiles from Turkey, on your border, because we know that’s intolerable to you.

Russia has been invaded twice in the previous 100 years. One could see why they would not want nuclear missile systems in hostile countries on their border. We should also agree to keep NATO out of Ukraine, which is what the Russians have asked. I think based upon those three points, somebody like me could settle this war. I do not think the neocons are capable of settling it, nor the people who surround President Biden — because they were the ones who created the problem. I do not think they will ever recognize that. I think part of a settlement is to recognize that, with some of the history that went into this war, there were geopolitical machinations on both sides. And by the way, I am not excusing or justifying Vladimir Putin’s barbaric and illegal invasion of the Ukraine. But my uncle always said, if you want to actually achieve peace, you have got to put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and you have got to figure out the local pressures on him too.

FS: You mention the Cuban Missile Crisis and your uncle’s strategy: you could argue that’s an example of the opposite approach. He stared them down. He played chicken and he won, in a sense. He took a firm stand. And there are lots of people who feel that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is just such a moment and that somehow a stand needs to be taken and Putin can’t be rewarded for invading. What do you say to those people?

RFK Jr: You can argue the history of it. My uncle was surrounded by joint chiefs of staff, by an intelligence apparatus that was trying to get him to go to war. And the fact that there was one confrontation, where the Russian ship that was carrying supplies to Cuba stopped before it hit the embargo wall of US ships, that was not the end of the crisis. That was just a midpoint, and it could have gone anywhere from there. The end of the crisis happened because my uncle reached out to Khrushchev directly, and said: “Let’s settle this between ourselves.” And their settlement was secret, and it remained secret for many years. But my uncle wanted to settle it, and he understood that he had to put himself in Khrushchev’s position and that Khrushchev didn’t want war, and neither did he, but they were both surrounded by people who did want to go to war.

FS: So what is the wise, equivalent action that the US president should have taken when Russian tanks started rolling across Ukrainian borders from three directions, headed for the capital? 

RFK Jr: We should have listened to Putin over many years. We made a commitment to Russia, to Gorbachev, that we would not move NATO one inch to the east. Then we went in, and we lied. We went into 13 NATO countries, we put missile systems in with nuclear capacity; we did joint exercises with Ukraine and these others for NATO. What is the purpose of NATO? This is what George Kennan asked; this is what Jack Matlock asked. All of the doyens of US foreign policy were saying: “Russia lost the Cold War. Let’s do to Russia what we did in Europe when we gave them the Marshall Plan. We are the victors — let’s lift them up. Let’s integrate them into European society.”

FS: So you would have had Russia inside NATO?

RFK Jr: I think that that is something we should have considered. What is the purpose of NATO other than to oppose Russia? If you are addressing Russia in a hostile way from the beginning, of course their reaction is going to be hostile back. And if you are slowly moving in all of these states, who we said would never become part of NATO. What happened in the Ukraine is that the US supported essentially a coup d’état in 2014, against the democratically-elected government of Ukraine. We have telephone call transcripts of Victoria Nuland, one of the neocons in the White House, handpicking the new cabinet that was hostile to the Soviet Union. If you look at that, and you put yourself in Russia’s position, and you say: “Okay, the United States, our biggest enemy, is treating us as an enemy, has now taken over the government of a nation and made them hostile to us, and then started passing laws that are prejudicial to this giant Russian population.” If Mexico did that and then started killing — they killed 14,000 Russians in Donbas, the Ukrainian government — if Mexico did that to expatriate Americans, we would invade in a second. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of our opponents. And it does not mean saying that Vladimir Putin is not a gangster — he is. Or he is not a thug — he is. Or he is not a bully — he is. But going to war is not in his interest, either. And he repeatedly told us: these are red lines, you are crossing.

FS: Day by day, we hear news of atrocities taking place within the Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine. The idea that a peaceful settlement will be reached seems very distant at this point. Should we take it from what you are saying that your support for NATO as president would be different?

RFK Jr: That is something that I am going to look at as President. I am going to look at how we de-escalate tensions between the great powers: between China, between the United States and Russia. How do we let these countries deal with their neighbors without pressure from the United States that makes them feel like they are going to have to go into a military mode. I am not saying that is what happened here. I am saying that is something that we need to look at, and the reason that we need to look at that is we have institutional problems in our country.

This is something my uncle discovered in 1960/61. He realized during the Bay of Pigs crisis that the CIA had devolved into an agency whose function was to provide the military-industrial complex with a constant pipeline of new wars. And my uncle came out of one of those meetings as the Bay of Pigs invasion collapsed, and he realized the CIA had lied to him, and he fired Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA, Charles Cabell, Richard Bissell, the three top people in the CIA, for lying to him. And he said at that time: “I want to take the CIA and shatter it into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind.” We have to recognize that it’s not just our civilian agencies that have been captured by industry — the military agencies, the Pentagon, and particularly the intelligence agencies have been captured by the military-industrial complex. We have to recognize that and we have to say, “We do not want constant wars in our country; we cannot afford them.”

FS: So do you see yourself finishing the job they started then — do you want to take the CIA and shatter it into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind?

RFK Jr: I think the CIA needs to be reorganized. Most of the people who work at the CIA are patriotic Americans. They are very good public servants, and we need them to function. But I think we really need to separate the espionage functions of that agency and the Plans Division, the division that actually does dirty tricks, that kills people, that makes wars, that involves itself in actions. Because what happens is, that operations tail begins to wag the espionage dog. That term has been hijacked — it means information gathering and analysis, and that is the function that we want, that the CIA was created to perform. And very, very early on, Allen Dulles, essentially corrupted the purpose of it by getting the CIA involved in assassinations and fixing elections.

The CIA has been involved in coup d’états and attempted coup d’états in about a third of the countries in the world, most of them democracies. So if our national policy as a country is to promote democracy, the CIA’s policy has been the opposite. It has been at odds with the United States. My father recognized this too: his plan was to reorganize the CIA along those lines to separate the espionage and the analysis and information gathering functions from the black functions, because otherwise the espionage section sees its job as justifying all of these nefarious activities they are involved in, and there’s no accountability. There is never any accountability. You overthrow a government in Iraq, and what happens: you create Isis. You then get involved in Syria, from Isis, and you drive 2 million refugees into Europe which destabilizes democracy all over Europe and basically causes Brexit. That’s the outcome of what the CIA considers a successful operation to depose Saddam Hussein. Is it really successful? I do not think so. We have a 60-year war with Iran and that war began when the CIA overthrew the first democratically-elected government in the 6,000-year history of Persia. And we are still living with the blowback from that operation. And there is no accountability and these agencies need to be accountable, and I would break up the CIA in a way that would make them accountable.

FS: The way you talk about the CIA and other agencies, saying that these organizations are corrupt, that the media is corrupt — at the same time, you talk about how you want to bring people together, and you are worried about how divided society is. Is there not a sense that your rhetoric is divisive? It leads people to believe that a big chunk of their own country is against them? There is an enemy within, in the RFK world view, that needs to be destroyed. Is not that divisive?

RFK Jr: The way that you bring people together is by telling people the truth and getting them to agree on facts. If I am wrong in any of the facts I told you, you and other people should challenge me. Because I feel that my job is to search for empirical truths, and then to be honest with people about it. If you try to censor people, if you try to lie to them about what’s happening — that our government is broken — if you try to lie about that, it just divides them further. You have to acknowledge there is a problem. I am a former drug addict and the first thing that you do if you want to deal with drug addiction is you admit there is a problem and then you can deal with everything. We need to admit there is a problem in our government before we are able to heal our country.

FS: The rot, by your account, goes deep and wide. It almost feels like a revolution when you talk about it, because there must be many thousands of people who are in positions of power who you would want out. Do you think of it as a revolution?

RFK Jr: We need a revolution, I would say that — a peaceful revolution, and a revolution that brings us back to the values that have been robbed from us over the past 40 years, systematically, which I watched happen. I was watching what happened in 1980. We had a functioning government and we were in the middle of the Great Prosperity and most Americans trusted the government and we all trusted the media. And today, 22% of Americans trust their government and 22% trust the media. And the reason we have this blizzard of misinformation — or what is called misinformation — is because people are looking for other sources of information that they can actually trust, because the people who are supposed to be giving us good information are not. It’s spin; it is propaganda. It’s government-orchestrated, and people know it.

Everybody knows we were lied to about Covid. Everybody knows we were lied to about Vietnam. Everybody knows we were lied to about Iraq. “Weapons of mass destruction.” My opinion about these agencies is not happening in a vacuum. Everybody knows that Pharma lied to us about opioids, and about Vioxx. These are not conspiracy theories: “Robert Kennedy is crazy, because he thinks a corrupted FDA helped the pharmaceutical companies create the opioid crisis.” This is a fact that is well-known, well-documented, and that happened. And the question is: how are we going to stop it from happening again? And the answer to that is we’ve got to start by telling the truth about it.

FS: You talk a lot about the corruption of America, at home and abroad. Do you even think a good version of America is achievable at this point?

RFK Jr: I do think it is achievable, and I think it is achievable very quickly. I think my ultimate ambition is to restore the faith and the love of America, and the pride in America, so that my children can grow up with the kind of pride that I felt about my country. I can restore our moral authority around the world, and restore the reputation of America as an exemplary nation, something that the rest of the world can look to as an example, one that people will want to copy rather than as a threat. My uncle believed that America should be a leader, but we should not be a bully; and people understand the difference between those two things. Because my uncle steadfastly avoided war, and instead said: “I do not want the picture of Americans around the world to be somebody with a gun, I want it to be a Peace Corps volunteer. I want it to be the Kennedy milk programme, in all the countries in Latin America and Africa; USAID, which was built to foster the growth of the middle class in those countries; and the Alliance for Progress.” And because of that, people around the world love John Kennedy more than any president in our history. There is more boulevards named after him, more avenues, more statues to him, more universities and hospitals, in Africa and Latin America and all over the world than any other US President. That is because he had a different vision that was not based on conquering people, but on helping them.

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