Can you even remember when it began? Doesn't it seem like forever? And the timing " if forever can even be said to have timing " has been little short of miraculous (if, by miraculous, you mean catastrophic beyond measure). No, I'm not talking about the January 6th attack on the Capitol and everything that led up to and followed it, including the ongoing televised hearings. I'm talking about the war in Ukraine. You know, the story that for weeks ate the news alive, that every major TV network sent their top people, even anchors, to cover, and that now just grinds along somewhere on the distant edge of our newsfeeds and consciousness.
And yet, a seemingly never-ending war near the heart of Europe is also proving a disaster beyond measure globally, as Rajan Menon was perhaps the first to note right here at TomDispatch, threatening starvation across much of what used to be known as "the third world." Meanwhile, barely noticed but more disastrous, the latest news on the carbon an embattled humanity is pouring into the atmosphere is anything but cheery. Yes, CO2 emissions actually dropped modestly in the worst Covid year, but rebounded strikingly in 2021. In fact, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced recently, we now have more carbon in the atmosphere than at any time in the last four million years. It's now also officially hit a level 50% higher than that of the pre-industrial world. And just to let you know, in case you're not living in an American west or southwest experiencing a megadrought the likes of which hasn't been seen in at least 1,200 years (with record-setting temperatures landing last weekend), or haven't been living through unprecedented heat waves in India, Pakistan, Spain, and elsewhere, this is not exactly cheery news.
Consider all of this context for the remarkable 93-year-old Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular, to put the Ukraine War in the largest and most devastating context possible. He did so recently in an interview entitled "Chronicles of Dissent" with Alternative Radio's David Barsamian. Edited for length, it now appears at TomDispatch. Tom
Welcome to a Science-Fiction Planet
How George Orwell's Doublethink Became the Way of the World
David Barsamian: Let's head into the most obvious nightmare of this moment, the war in Ukraine and its effects globally. But first a little background. Let's start with President George H.W. Bush's assurance to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move "one inch to the east" " and that pledge has been verified. My question to you is, why didn't Gorbachev get that in writing?
Noam Chomsky: He accepted a gentleman's agreement, which is not that uncommon in diplomacy. Shake-of-the-hand. Furthermore, having it on paper would have made no difference whatsoever. Treaties that are on paper are torn up all the time. What matters is good faith. And in fact, H.W. Bush, the first Bush, did honor the agreement explicitly. He even moved toward instituting a partnership in peace, which would accommodate the countries of Eurasia. NATO wouldn't be disbanded but would be marginalized. Countries like Tajikistan, for example, could join without formally being part of NATO. And Gorbachev approved of that. It would have been a step toward creating what he called a common European home with no military alliances.
Clinton in his first couple of years also adhered to it. What the specialists say is that by about 1994, Clinton started to, as they put it, talk from both sides of his mouth. To the Russians he was saying: Yes, we're going to adhere to the agreement. To the Polish community in the United States and other ethnic minorities, he was saying: Don't worry, we'll incorporate you within NATO. By about 1996-97, Clinton said this pretty explicitly to his friend Russian President Boris Yeltsin, whom he had helped win the 1996 election. He told Yeltsin: Don't push too hard on this NATO business. We're going to expand but I need it because of the ethnic vote in the United States.
In 1997, Clinton invited the so-called Visegrad countries " Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania " to join NATO. The Russians didn't like it but didn't make much of a fuss. Then the Baltic nations joined, again the same thing. In 2008, the second Bush, who was quite different from the first, invited Georgia and Ukraine into NATO. Every U.S. diplomat understood very well that Georgia and Ukraine were red lines for Russia. They'll tolerate the expansion elsewhere, but these are in their geostrategic heartland and they're not going to tolerate expansion there. To continue with the story, the Maidan uprising took place in 2014, expelling the pro-Russian president and Ukraine moved toward the West.
From 2014, the U.S. and NATO began to pour arms into Ukraine " advanced weapons, military training, joint military exercises, moves to integrate Ukraine into the NATO military command. There's no secret about this. It was quite open. Recently, the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, bragged about it. He said: This is what we were doing since 2014. Well, of course, this is very consciously, highly provocative. They knew that they were encroaching on what every Russian leader regarded as an intolerable move. France and Germany vetoed it in 2008, but under U.S. pressure, it was kept on the agenda. And NATO, meaning the United States, moved to accelerate the de facto integration of Ukraine into the NATO military command.
In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected with an overwhelming majority " I think about 70% of the vote " on a peace platform, a plan to implement peace with Eastern Ukraine and Russia, to settle the problem. He began to move forward on it and, in fact, tried to go to the Donbas, the Russian-oriented eastern region, to implement what's called the Minsk II agreement. It would have meant a kind of federalization of Ukraine with a degree of autonomy for the Donbas, which is what they wanted. Something like Switzerland or Belgium. He was blocked by right-wing militias which threatened to murder him if he persisted with his effort.
Well, he's a courageous man. He could have gone forward if he had had any backing from the United States. The U.S. refused. No backing, nothing, which meant he was left to hang out to dry and had to back off. The U.S. was intent on this policy of integrating Ukraine step by step into the NATO military command. That accelerated further when President Biden was elected. In September 2021, you could read it on the White House website. It wasn't reported but, of course, the Russians knew it. Biden announced a program, a joint statement to accelerate the process of military training, military exercises, more weapons as part of what his administration called an "enhanced program" of preparation for NATO membership.
It accelerated further in November. This was all before the invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed what was called a charter, which essentially formalized and extended this arrangement. A spokesman for the State Department conceded that before the invasion, the U.S. refused to discuss any Russian security concerns. All of this is part of the background.
On February 24th, Putin invaded, a criminal invasion. These serious provocations provide no justification for it. If Putin had been a statesman, what he would have done is something quite different. He would have gone back to French President Emmanuel Macron, grasped his tentative proposals, and moved to try to reach an accommodation with Europe, to take steps toward a European common home.
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