Why Russia Probably Will Not Bomb Kiev’s Forces in Eastern Ukraine

During the early 1950s American warplanes dropped some 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea. In April 1961, the U.S. bombed targets in Cuba. During the 1960s and early 1970s the U.S. devastated Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with approximately 6,000,000 tons of bombs.

In December 1983, America bombed Beirut in response to terrorist attacks there that killed 299 American and French soldiers. To demonstrate America’s strength and resolve in the wake of the Beirut bombings, President Reagan ordered U.S. forces to invaded tiny Grenada. The U.S. dropped yet more bombs, including one that killed at least a dozen people in a hospital. In 1986 Reagan ordered the dropping of yet more bombs — this time on Libya. Some struck civilian areas.

His successor, President George H. W. Bush ordered the dropping of more bombs during the invasion of Panama in December 1989. One of his publicly stated justifications for bombing Panama was America’s need to protect the lives of Americans living there. When the United Nation’s Security Council drafted a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama, it was vetoed by France, Great Britain and the U.S. – which cited its obligation to protect some 35,000 Americans in the Canal Zone.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the United States bombed Iraq in early 1991. It dropped 177 million pounds of bombs on that country.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, both the United States and NATO found themselves free to invade and bomb countries that would never have been bombed or invaded, had the Soviet Union continued to exist.

Lord Ismay had observed that NATO’s purpose was threefold: “To keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down.” But NATO’s primary mission was to protect Western Europe against possible Soviet aggression. Thus, it should have closed down after the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, President Clinton and his advisers thought otherwise and pushed to expand NATO relentlessly closer to Russia’s borders by adding new member states from the old Soviet bloc.

From the perspective of the current crisis in Ukraine, President Clinton had committed an error of historic proportions. You need not take my word for it; take George Kennan’s, who, in 1997, predicted: “Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era.”

“Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”

Not only was Mr. Clinton’s decision strategically short-sighted, it also was dishonorable. After all, President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, had promised Mikhail Gorbachev that if the Soviet leader assisted in the peaceful unification of Germany under NATO, Western Europe’s military alliance would not expand one inch eastward after that. ‘Mr. Gorbachev upheld his part of the deal, but President Clinton dishonorably reneged.

America’s dishonorable behavior was an affront to Russia’s prestige, which, as Mr. Kennan observed, is “always uppermost in the Russian mind.” The political elites in Russia were outraged.

Consequently, every round of NATO’s expansion poured salt into a festering wound. Making matters even worse was NATO’s decision to change its strategic concept to allow for unprovoked offensive war. Thus, although Serbia’s ethnic cleansing was despicable and needed to be stopped, NATO’s bombing of Serbs during the War in Bosnia (1992-95) and during the Kosovo War (1998-99) was viewed by some Russians as an unprecedented example of “mission creep” that further threatened Russia’s security.

America then bombed Afghanistan in the wake of al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. But, Afghanistan had it coming — if only because it continued to provide a safe haven for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

But, the al-Qaeda attacks on 9/11 also provided a smokescreen for the greatest war crime of the 21st century. It began in March 2003, when the Supreme Court-installed neocon regime of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice/Powell/Wolfowitz/Feith launched the illegal, immoral invasion of Iraq. Like vipers, these unindicted war criminals spewed venomous false allegations that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction AND had ties with al-Qaeda. Many clueless chauvinists in the mainstream news media propagated their venom.

Russia, France and Germany fiercely opposed the invasion, but were not about to start World War III over a third-world country headed by a ruthless dictator. Rest assured, however, the invasion never would have occurred, had the Soviet Union still existed.

(There are many reasons to be glad that the Soviet Union no longer exists, but this is not one of them.)

The war began, you might recall, with the “shock and awe” bombing of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace. Bombing began on March 19, 2003. According to one estimate, nearly 5,000 bombs were dropped during the shock and awe phase of the war.

Unfortunately, the massive death, destruction and dislocation in Iraq have not ended. The events set in motion by the unindicted war criminals in the Bush administration – as well as their neocon fellow travelers in the media and the halls of Congress – have resulted in a “blowback” of historic proportions. Simply look at the advances by ISIS and chaos engulfing Iraq today.

Although Russia has shown far greater restraint than the United States when it comes to dropping bombs on people, it is not innocent. As the dominant country in the Soviet Union, Russia dropped bombs of innocent villagers in Afghanistan during the 1980s. Then, in 1988, the Soviets began firing Scud missiles. Although nearly 115,000 Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989, three Scud firing batteries deployed around Kabul were manned by Soviet troops and fired more than 400 missiles during the battle for Jalalabad that spring.

Twice during the 1990s Russia bombed the city of Grozny. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city on Earth.”

Russia also bombed cities in Georgia, especially Gori, in 2008. According to some sources, Iskander missiles were used. But, like Afghanistan after 9/11, Georgia also had it coming. Its excessive and reckless shelling of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia – which hit Russian peacekeepers – gave Russia strong justification for invading and bombing Georgia – and, then, “liberating” parts of it. But Georgia’s desire to enter NATO best explains Russia’s actions.

In the wake of Russia’s successful invasion of Georgia, Dmitri Medvedev warned the West: “We will not tolerate any more humiliation, and we are not joking.” Nevertheless, Poland and Sweden responded by pressuring the European Union to establish the Eastern Partnership initiative as a way to lure former Soviet states away from Russia’s sphere of influence. In effect, they set the stage for the confrontation that rocks Ukraine today.

Obviously, the West ignored Medvedev’s warning when it gave its support to Kiev’s anti-Russia, ultra-nationalist protesters who, led by the neo-Nazis, overthrew a democratically elected government in an illegal coup. By doing so, the West’s so-called core value of supporting democracy around the world was shown to be nothing but hot air. Worse, by doing so, the West provoked Russia to “gather” the Crimea and fan the anti-fascist sentiments of separatists in the Donbas.

The West’s hypocrisy over Ukraine continues to be staggering. For example, while the protesters and their neo-Nazi provocateurs were resorting to violence in Kiev, the West cautioned the pro-Russia Yanukovych government to show restraint or face sanctions. Yet, those very same Western politicians and pundits have uttered no words of caution to the anti-Russia coup regime now in Kiev that orders the bombing and shelling of innocent Russians living in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 40 children.

America’s mainstream news media refuses to show the videos of women and children killed by bombs and artillery shells in eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, outrage against Kiev and the despicable hypocrites in Western political and media circles has been growing and has been expressed recently in powerful articles written by Professor Vladimir Golstein and Ms. Vera Graziadei.

In his article titled: “A modest proposal to future mass murderers: Learn from Ukraine,” Professor Golstein writes the following:

If you intend to kill your opponents on a massive scale, don’t just arm your people with machetes, iron rods or AK47s and start killing. With photos of atrocities flooding the Internet, the world community might eventually stop and even punish you.

This old-fashion method of mass killing is hard to sell in today’s world of freedoms and individual rights. A much better way to succeed in mass violence is to connect your victims to Russia, by denouncing them as the enemies of freedom and democracy and by calling them Russian terrorists and puppets in the hands of the current leader of Russia, whom you should call Stalin incarnate…

Once your enemies are associated with Russia and its evil leaders, you can explain to the West that your killings are necessary not because of your burning hatred for your victims, but because you want to embrace liberal values and join the EU, while it is those whom you kill who are the proponents of tyranny. Never forget to suggest that all your killings were provoked by Russia. Your western backers will surely add their authority to the blame. You can also imply that the territory vacated after your attacks can be used for a NATO base. To facilitate your efforts, it is important to enlist the help of some old Cold War warriors and neocons, such as Senator John McCain or Victoria Nuland, by explaining to them that the failures of your economy is the result of Russian sabotage. It is the remnants of their socialism that is destroying your country, and not your looting…

But make sure you enlist the help of some former dissidents or political leaders from Eastern Europe. Their memories of being abused by the Evil Empire are so strong, that it would be easy to convince them that those who are laying on the streets, burned, shot, or chopped to death, were Russian agents, intent on perpetuating Soviet-style tyranny. The hard-worn moral authority of these allies will surely silence your critics…

Being a mass murderer, you didn’t come to power by peaceful means, so some hard-nosed reporters might question your agenda, or demand the explanation for recent violence. Lecture them on the atrocities of Stalin, which surely dwarfs your own. If they persist and press you on the connection between Stalin and the violence that you’ve just unleashed upon your population, turn the tables and accuse them of being Kremlin apologists…

Professor Golstein’s indictment has been supplemented by Vera Graziadei, the British Ukrainian Russian actress and writer who grew up in the Donbas. Exposing ominous trends within Kiev’s coup regime, Ms. Graziadei noted that “Prime Minister of Ukraine Yatsenyuk publicly announces Kiev government’s genocidal plans in relation to anti-governmental militants and largely ethnically-Russian East Ukrainians who support them. Following the Third Reich’s textbook and without any attempt to conceal it, he refers to the group they are trying to exterminate as ‘subhuman’. This fascist manifesto is then proudly displayed on the Ukrainian Embassy in the USA’s website.”

She added, “Ukraine’s Minister of Defence announces plans for ‘filtration camps’, where survivors linked to separatism will be detained, and Ukraine’s Land Agency reveals the Ukrainian LEBENSRAUM plan, which promises free land to Ukrainian soldiers willing to carry out the genocide of the Untermensch. Hitler would be proud and so was the US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki.”

Given the atrocities already committed by Kiev’s coup regime against pro-Russia sympathizers living in Odessa and Russians living in the Donbas, the restraint shown by President Putin has been remarkable. Consider his statement of 22 June: “We need to ensure that all fighting is stopped … Ultimately the political process is the most important. It is important that this ceasefire lead to dialogue between all opposing sides in order to find compromises acceptable for all.”

Then, consider his request on 24 June that Russia’s Parliament rescind its March 1 resolution that authorized the use of Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine. That request is bound to give the separatists in eastern Ukraine additional incentive to reach a negotiated settlement. He then followed up by suggesting that the cease fire be extended beyond one week, in order to give such diplomacy a better chance to succeed.

Mr. Putin’s call for diplomacy and compromise stands in sharp contrast to the actions taken by President George H. W. Bush when the lives of Americans were allegedly at risk in Panama. Simply substitute Russians living in eastern Ukraine for Americans living in Panama. Then substitute Ukraine’s coup regime headed by corrupt Petro Poroshenko for corrupt drug trafficker, General Noriega. Finally, substitute President Putin for President Bush. When you do, you realize that President Putin would be as justified (or unjustified) in bombing Kiev’s forces in the Donbas as Bush was when he ordered the bombing and invasion of Panama.

But, Russia is not the United States. It doesn’t bomb other countries at the drop of a hat. Unlike America under the Obama administration, one doesn’t see Russia using drones to bomb people.

Second, Ukraine is on the precipice of economic collapse. It is saddled with corrupt oligarchs and ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi militias who probably are beyond Kiev’s control. Thus, it promises to become an entangling briar patch for anyone bold enough to try to save even part of it.

Third, Russia surely would suffer another round of Western-imposed sanctions, were it to overtly intervene in eastern Ukraine. Fourth, Putin must realize, as Jacob Kipp and Roger McDermott recently put it, that, in the long run, “Continued anti-terrorist operations and more civilian casualties present a greater threat to the legitimacy of Ukraine’s newly elected president then either the Russian Army across the border or the ‘little green men’ operating inside eastern Ukraine.”

These considerations make it unlikely that President Putin will follow President Bush’s example.

Nevertheless, President Putin has been under immense domestic pressure to do something to halt the slaughter and destruction in the Donbas. According to the well-informed blogger at “The Vineyard of the Saker,” two days ago the Chairman of the Federation Council and President of the Just Russia Party, Sergei Mironov, was so outraged by the situation in eastern Ukraine “that he announced on a talk show on Russian TV that Russia should consider recognizing the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics which, as he said, would allow Russia to pour in as much money, weapons or even military forces as needed without having to consult with any third party.”

Murmurs of discontent among Putin’s loyal supporters, which appeared to be growing, have been muted by his diplomatic offensive. But, they will intensify if the “consultations” taking place in Donetsk — between separatist leaders, representatives of the Ukrainian government in Kiev, including the former president, Leonid D. Kuchma, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and a representative of the acting chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – fail to yield an agreement that satisfies both the separatists and Kiev’s coup regime.

Both the separatists and Kiev’s coup regime have vowed to renew their war if the cease fire expires on June 27th without an agreement. Unfortunately, reports coming from eastern Ukraine on June 24th indicate that there is no cease fire. The separatists have shot down another helicopter, killing eleven, and Kiev’s forces are shelling Semyonovka, Vysoko-Ivanovka, and the Artyom neighborhood of Slavyansk, among other places.

With the collapse of diplomacy and return of war, impatient Russians will ask whether Putin wasted precious time in the pursuit of an illusory diplomatic solution with uncompromising fascists – especially if it is revealed that the coup regime used that time to reinforce and reposition its troops for a final assault on the Donbas. Thus, he will come under renewed domestic pressure to use military means to prevent more Russians from being slaughtered.1

  1. Note: I recently appeared on RT’s Cross Talk, hosted by Peter Lavelle. The episode was devoted to U.S. foreign policy and titled “Game of Hawks.” Here’s a link to the debate. []

Walter C. Uhler is an independent scholar and freelance writer whose work has been published in numerous publications, including Dissident Voice, The Nation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Journal of Military History, the Moscow Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. He also is President of the Russian-American International Studies Association (RAISA). He can be reached at: waltuhler@aol.com. Read other articles by Walter C., or visit Walter C.'s website.