Tanks and Tragedy

On Dec. 21, 2022, NATO headquarters in Brussels joined other international landmarks in switching off its lights in solidarity with Ukraine. (NATO, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Michael Brenner, Consortium News, January 27, 2023 — Amid the vacuum of creditable reporting by the mainstream media, Michael Brenner offers a briefing on the background of the neocon-inspired war in Ukraine and his view on the present strategic situation.  

Never in memory has it been so daunting to figure out what’s going on during a major international crisis as with the Ukraine affair.

That sad truth owes much to the total absence of truthful reporting and honest interpretative analysis by the MSM. We are served heavy portions of falsity, fantasy and farrago crudely mixed into a narrative whose relation to reality is tenuous.

The near universal swallowing of this confection is made possible by the abdication of responsibility — intellectual and political — by America’s political class, from Washington’s high and mighty down through the galaxy of un-think tanks and self-absorbed academia.

Now, the legion of scripters for this fictional story are working with renewed energy to incorporate a few fresh elements: President Joe Biden/NATO’s decision to send an eclectic array of armor to buttress Ukraine’s faltering forces; and the mounting evidence of crippling, incremental dismantling of its army by Russia’s superior military.

As always, that reaction turns out to be an exercise in avoidance behavior. The roughly 100 tanks slated to arrive in piecemeal fashion over the coming year will be a “game-changer.” Putin’s army is a proven “paper tiger.” “Democracy” is destined to prevail over despotic barbarism.

Or so we are told in stomach-churning doses of snake-oil. I guess that we all have ways of amusing ourselves.

A systematic refutation of this mythic construction is both superfluous and futile. It has been done over the past year by able, experienced and thoughtful analysts who actually know what they are talking about: Colonel Douglas Macgregor, professor Jeffrey Sachs, Colonel Scott Ritter and a handful of others who together are relegated to obscure websites and scorned by the MSM.

(Here is an acute analysis by Ritter in Consortium News of the actual military value of the infusion of tanks and other armor and what that move augurs for the war’s trajectory.)

By way of introduction, I am adding my own assessment of the present strategic picture and where we are headed. It is based on inference — to some extent — as well as my reading of the conflict’s genealogy.  The main points are made in blunt, declaratory sentences. That strikes me as necessary to break through the fog of fabrications (lies) and calculated distortions which obscure what should be evident.

Starting Points 

NATO’S April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania, where Ukraine’s “aspirations to join NATO” were formally welcomed. (Archive of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, Wikimedia Commons)

The crisis’ starting point was in February 2014 when the Obama administration inspired and orchestrated a coup in Kiev that usurped the democratically-elected President Viktor Yanukovych.  Victoria Nuland, U.S. assistant secretary of state, was there in Maidan Square cheer-leading and conniving together with her brother in color revolution, Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt.

They collaborated with violent, extreme ultra-nationalist groups with whom Washington actively had been cultivating ties for a number of years.  Those ultras dominate Ukraine’s security service and the government’s key policy body, the Security Council, to this day.

The Maidan coup was the culmination of the deeply-rooted American objective of incorporating an anti-Russian Ukraine into the Western organizational orbit: NATO above all — as President George W. Bush sought to do as early as 2008.

The picket-fencing of a Russia kept at the margins of an American directed Europe had been an objective since 1991. The emergence of a strong, highly effective leader as represented by Vladimir Putin quickened the perceived need to keep Russia weak and boxed in.

On top of van, Ukrainian far-right opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok, left, along with Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, center, addressing Euromaidan demonstrators, Nov. 27, 2013. (Ivan Bandura, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Donbass uprising/secession, provoked by the Maiden coup attended by the coming to power of rabid elements in Kiev dedicated to subjugating the country’s 10 million or so Russians, resulted in the autonomy of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as well as the integration of the Crimea (historically and demographically part of Russia) into the Russian Federation.

From that moment on, the United States fashioned and executed a strategy to reverse both shifts, to put Russia back in its place and to draw a stark line of separation between it and all of Europe to its West.

Ukraine became a de facto American protectorate. Key ministries were salted with American advisers, including the Ministry of Finance headed by an American citizen dispatched from Washington. A massive program of arming, training and generally reconstituting the Ukraine army was undertaken. (In the years of President Barack Obama, the overseer of the project was Vice President Joe Biden.)

Dec. 7, 2015: U.S. Vice President Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv, Flickr)

Washington also used its influence to undercut the Minsk II accords wherein Ukraine and Russian signed onto a formula for peaceful resolution of the Donbass issue, supposedly underwritten by Germany and France, and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

We now know from candid public testimony that Kiev, Berlin and Paris had no intention from the outset of implementing it. Rather, it was a device to buy time for strengthening Ukraine to the point where it could retake the “lost” territories by inflicting a military defeat on Russia.

[Related: SCOTT RITTER: Merkel Reveals West’s Duplicity]

Preparations were made by the Biden administration to heighten tensions to the point where an armed conflict was inescapable. The sporadic shelling of Donetsk city (where 14,000 civilians were killed between 2015 and 2002, according to an official estimate by a U.N. commission) was increased several-fold, Ukrainian army units assembled en masse along the demarcated boundary. Russia preempted. The rest is history.

(All of the above recitation is a matter of public record and documented.)

March, 2015: Civilians pass by as OSCE monitors the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine. (OSCE, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Where Are We Now?

Here, inference takes precedence.

The Biden administration has committed itself to escalation by the deployment of previously precluded heavy weapons systems. It has strong-armed its Western European allies to provide armaments, too. Why? The people driving policy in Washington cannot stomach the prospect of a defeat.

That is to say, a Russian crushing of the Ukrainian army, its incorporation of the claimed four provinces and the fatuous Western narrative shown to be little more than a string of lies. Too much in the way of prestige, money and political capital has been invested for that outcome to be tolerated.

Moreover, just as Ukraine has been used cynically as an instrument for bringing Russia to its knees, so is the denaturing of Russia as a power seen as integral to the global confrontation with China that dominates all strategic thinking.

The option of working out terms of co-existence and non-coercive competition with China has been rejected outright. America’s nearly entire political class is determined to reinforce the country’s global hegemony and is girding itself to do so. The rest of the country has yet to be informed, and it is too distracted to bother paying attention to the self-evident signs of what’s afoot.

The strategic program was laid out in the notorious March 1991 memo by Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon’s then under secretary for policy, about preventing the rise of any rival superpower. That has become Scripture for most of the foreign policy community.

(Its contents, along with the genesis of the neo-cons who adopted it long ago as holy writ, made the historic transformation from just one sect to being the semi-official doctrinal faith of the entire American imperium.)

Oct. 2, 1991: Paul Wolfowitz, on right, as under secretary of defense for policy, during press conference on Operation Desert Storm. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in center. (Lietmotiv via Flickr)

The absolute failure to crash the Russian economy, thereby to open the way to political change in Moscow, and to render its supplement to Chinese power nugatory is a disappointment; but that does not faze the true believers. The United States has unified a bridled collective West as its willing pawns who acquiesce in whatever moves Washington wants them to follow.

The signal event that punctuates that extraordinary subordination was Germany’s agreement to allow the United States (and associates) to blow up the Nordstrom pipelines, which successive Berlin governments had deemed essential to meeting German industry’s energy needs.

One can rationalize it as the readiness of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to “take one for the team.” What team? What overriding national interest? The annals of history record no comparable instance of a sovereign state inflicting such severe damage on itself on its own volition.

Map of the explosions caused at the Nord Stream pipelines on Sept. 26, 2022. (FactsWithoutBias1, CC-By-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

An additional plus from the Ukraine affair, in the eyes of American policy-makers, is the crystallization of an international system whose foundational structure is bipolar — a “we vs. they” world similar to the Cold War —  convenient insofar as it places few demands on intellectual imagination or skillful diplomacy for which they have neither aptitude nor appetite.

All members of the collective West have signed on to the Biden escalation plan. So, too, of course, the dominant factions in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government.

There is good reason to think that the purpose of C.I.A. Director William Burns’ sudden visit to Kiev a few days before the Abrams tank deployment was announced was to ensure that there would be no defectors among Zelensky’s inner circle or other senior officials who might get cold feet at the prospect of Ukraine becoming the battleground for a Russo-American war with effects similar to what it had endured from 1941 – 1944.

Burns’ visit was followed almost immediately by a massive purge of the leadership ranks along with officials at lower levels. The official line, accepted by the ever-pliable MSM, has been that this purge represented a virtuous anti-corruption campaign — albeit in the midst of a full-scale war.

We’ve been told that Burns came all that way to clear up a few minor issues (and perhaps to take the baths?). Zelensky himself had become too much of an asset as the heralded savior of Ukraine to be disposed of himself — as was Ngo Dinh Diem in Vietnam in 1963.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky displaying a present given by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after his speech to U.S. Congress on Dec. 21, 2022. (C-Span still)

Burns doubtless offered guarantees that he was secure — whomever else was going to be tossed overboard.  It is near impossible to see how the United States’ objectives can be reached in Ukraine. However, the neo-cons have no “reverse gear” — to use analyst Alexander Mercouris’ apt phrase.

They have instigated a crusade aimed at securing America’s global dominance — forever and anon. Ukraine is a waystation on the road to that visionary Jerusalem. In their grand scheme, though, they have failed to bother with a coherent, feasible strategy for resolving the current crisis.

As for President Joe Biden, he looks to be only nominally in charge. He has been entirely captured by the neo-cons. He hears no other voices. As a life-long, instinctive hawk, he leans in their direction. He is old and weak.

Before the end of the year, we all are likely to face the moment of truth. Russian forces will be on the Dnieper and, in some places, beyond it. Ukraine’s army will be on its last legs — Abrams, Leopard IIs, Challengers, Bradleys etc. notwithstanding.  What does the outwitted and feckless Biden bunch do then? Anything is possible.


Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu

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