A crisis made in the USA: why Russia will likely invade Ukraine

Democracy is just camouflage for the true strategic objective of a permanently weakened Russia.

Preamble. Living in the US and writing honestly about US-Russia relations (and China too) is very difficult. That is because the US is the aggressor, but Russia is an authoritarian country. That split is used by the US establishment to shuffle discussion away from US aggression on to Russian authoritarianism. Side-by-side, anyone calling the US on its aggression is labelled pro-Russian. In that way, the US establishment cleverly inoculates itself against criticism and taints its critics.

President Vladimir Putin confronts a decisive historical moment. Talks with the US and its NATO partners have shown that the US has no intention of reversing its grinding long-running campaign against Russia. The US wants regime change in Russia. That does not mean democracy, talk of which is just camouflage for the true strategic objective of a permanently weakened Russia. All that matters is Russia be weakened, and the well-being of Russians is truly of no consequence in Washington.

That is the landscape Putin confronts. The implication is Russia’s position is unlikely to strengthen in years to come. Consequently, now may be the most favorable moment to take actions that both strategically strengthen Russia and achieve its own secondary long-term political goal of partial reunification of the historic European component of Russia (i.e., reabsorption of Belarus and Eastern Ukraine).

Implacable US antipathy

The baseline for the argument is recognition that the US has an implacable antipathy to Russia. That antipathy has a long history. In 1918 the US invaded Siberia, intervening in the Russian civil war between the Tsarist Whites and Reds. The invasion set the stage for pre-Cold War hatred of the Soviet Union.

Today, US antipathy is driven by the triumph of Neocon thinking which maintains no country should be able to challenge the US anywhere in the world. That makes Russia an existential enemy as it still can. Additionally, US antipathy is driven by need for an external enemy. That enemy helps channel the country’s intrinsic aggression and distracts the US from its own internal failings. It is why every cold war will always be followed by a new cold war.

The net result is the US is committed to a long-term strategy of destruction of Russian power. That has been evident for twenty years in the eastward expansion of NATO; in the fomenting of the 2014 coup in Ukraine; in the encouragement of Georgian aggression in South Ossetia in 2008; and in the encirclement of Russia with a military curtain running from Stettin in the west to Seoul in the east.

The untrustworthy US

Compromise with the US is impossible. First, it is ruled out by Neocon doctrine. Second, it is contrary to US political character. American diplomatic history is one of repeated violation of treaties and agreements, which are discarded the moment the US has the upper hand and they become inconvenient.

From its inception the US repeatedly broke its treaties with sovereign Indian nations. After World War II it broke with the Yalta Accord negotiated between Roosevelt and Stalin, a breach which has never been acknowledged. As for its deceits against native tribes, the US tells itself that behavior is irrelevant ancient history. The reality is it is alive and well, and part of the country’s political DNA.

Iraq as a window on the US and its strategy

Iraq provides a window, illustrating both the US’ bad faith and how the strategy of regime change works. For years the US coordinated a propaganda campaign aimed at cultivating support for military action on grounds that Saddam Hussein was a regional threat to all.

As part of that Iraq was subject to economic sanctions, and it was also accused of having weapons of mass destruction. None were ever found, but the US was found to be lying about them. The agreement was UN inspections would be determinative, but that agreement was tossed when the inspectors came up empty handed. Meanwhile, during the inspection period, the US built up its Persian Gulf military forces in preparation for war.

And of course, the US invasion of Iraq has not produced a prosperous democratic Iraq. Instead, the people of Iraq have paid a hideously high toll, and the country is permanently at risk of civil war and disintegration.

Lessons for President Putin

The parallels between the US campaign against Iraq and the US campaign against Russia are striking and irrefutable. The US is now implementing the same strategy against Russia, using the Ukraine as a spear.

The long-term game plan is clear. The US will continue to strengthen its hostile presence in Ukraine and on Russia’s borders; it will continue to foster public opinion against Russia as part of priming the case for even more aggressive action; and it will continue to try and undermine the Russian economy.

That means Russia is boxed in and that situation will likely only worsen. Moreover, having assembled its forces, a Russian stand-down risks being interpreted as a sign of weakness which would encourage stepped-up US aggression. That speaks for Russia to occupy Eastern Ukraine, perhaps as far west as the banks of the Dnieper.

Made in the USA

The current crisis is made in the USA, but the US can still defuse it by stepping back and agreeing to a demilitarized zone in Eastern Europe. However, that is unlikely to happen as it would contradict Neocon doctrine and go against the character and history of the country. President Biden would also be further politically damaged. In effect, he too has been boxed in by the Neocon operatives in the State Department, the Pentagon, and his own National Security Council.

Foreign aggression is popular with a large chunk of the US electorate, including so-called liberal elements as represented by the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post. In part, that is because the country is protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Consequently, the killing and destruction is overseas and largely out of sight. US citizens get away scot-free for their encouragement of war. They enjoy the emotional thrill of militarism and jingoism, while avoiding paying the price of death and destruction.

Thomas Palley

Thomas Palley is Schwartz economic growth fellow at the New America Foundation; Senior Economic Policy Adviser, AFL-CIO. His most recent book “From Financial Crisis to Stagnation” has just been released in paperback by Cambridge University Press (February 2013).

Member of Insight Editorial board.