Ukraine Crisis Should Have Been Avoided

An avoidable crisis that was predictable, actually predicted, willfully precipitated, but easily resolved by the application of common sense, writes Jack Matlock, the last U.S. ambassador to the U.S.S.R.

By Jack F. Matlock, Jr.
ACURA Viewpoint

We are being told each day that war may be imminent in Ukraine. Russian troops, we are told, are massing at Ukraine’s borders and could attack at any time. American citizens are being advised to leave Ukraine and dependents of the American Embassy staff are being evacuated.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian president has advised against panic and made clear that he does not consider a Russian invasion imminent. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has denied that he has any intention of invading Ukraine.

His demand is that the process of adding new members to NATO cease and that in particular, Russia has assurance that Ukraine and Georgia will never be members. President Joe Biden has refused to give such assurance but made clear his willingness to continue discussing questions of strategic stability in Europe.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has made clear it has no intention of implementing the agreement reached in 2015 for reuniting the Donbas provinces into Ukraine with a large degree of local autonomy—an agreement with Russia, France and Germany which the United States endorsed.

Maybe I am wrong—tragically wrong—but I cannot dismiss the suspicion that we are witnessing an elaborate charade, grossly magnified by prominent elements of the American media, to serve a domestic political end. Facing rising inflation, the ravages of Omicron, blame (for the most part unfair) for the withdrawal from Afghanistan, plus the failure to get the full support of his own party for the Build Back Better legislation, the Biden administration is staggering under sagging approval ratings just as it gears up for this year’s congressional elections.

Since clear “victories” on the domestic woes seem increasingly unlikely, why not fabricate one by posing as if he prevented the invasion of Ukraine by “standing up to Vladimir Putin”? Actually, it seems most likely that President Putin’s goals are what he says they are—and as he has been saying since his speech in Munich in 2007. To simplify and paraphrase, I would sum them up as: “Treat us with at least a modicum of respect. We do not threaten you or your allies, why do you refuse us the security you insist for yourself?”

The End of the Cold War

Bush -Gorbachev press conference, Helsinki Summit, Finland. Sept. 9, 1990. (George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, many observers, ignoring the rapidly unfolding events that marked the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, considered that the end of the Cold War. They were wrong. The Cold War had ended at least two years earlier. It ended by negotiation and was in the interest of all the parties. President George H.W. Bush hoped that Mikhail Gorbachev would manage to keep most of the twelve non-Baltic republics in a voluntary federation.

On August 1, 1991, Bush made a speech to the Ukrainian parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) in which he endorsed Gorbachev’s plans for a voluntary federation and warned against “suicidal nationalism.” The latter phrase was inspired by Georgian leader Zviad Gamsakurdia’s attacks on minorities in Soviet Georgia. For reasons I will explain elsewhere, they apply to Ukraine today.

Bottom line: Despite the prevalent belief, both among the “blob” in the United States, and most of the Russian public, the United States did not support, much less cause the break-up of the Soviet Union. We supported throughout the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and one of the last acts of the Soviet parliament was to legalize their claim to independence. And—by the way—despite frequently voiced fears—Putin has never threatened to re-absorb the Baltic countries or to claim any of their territories, though he has criticized some that denied ethnic Russians the full rights of citizenship, a principle that the European Union is pledged to enforce.

But, let’s move on to the first of the assertions in the subtitle:

Was the Crisis Avoidable?

Well, since President Putin’s major demand is an assurance that NATO will take no further members, and specifically not Ukraine or Georgia, obviously there would have been no basis for the present crisis if there had been no expansion of the alliance following the end of the Cold War, or if the expansion had occurred in harmony with building a security structure in Europe that included Russia.

Maybe we should look at this question more broadly. How do other countries respond to alien military alliances near their borders? Since we are talking about American policy, maybe we should pay some attention to the way the United States has reacted to attempts of outsiders to establish alliances with countries nearby. Anybody remember the Monroe Doctrine, a declaration of a sphere of influence that comprised an entire hemisphere? And we meant it! When we learned that Kaiser’s Germany was attempting to enlist Mexico as an ally during the first world war, that was a powerful incentive for the subsequent declaration of war against Germany.

Then, of course, in my lifetime, we had the Cuban Missile Crisis—something I remember vividly since I was at the American Embassy in Moscow and translated some of Khrushchev’s messages to Kennedy.

Should we look at events like the Cuban Missile Crisis from the standpoint of some of the principles of international law, or from the standpoint of the likely behavior of a country’s leaders if they feel threatened? What did international law at that time say about the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba?

Cuba was a sovereign state and had the right to seek support for its independence from anywhere it chose. It had been threatened by the United States, even an attempt to invade, using anti-Castro Cubans. It asked the Soviet Union for support. Knowing that the United States had deployed nuclear weapons in Turkey, a U.S. ally actually bordering on the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, decided to station nuclear missiles in Cuba. How could the U.S. legitimately object if the Soviet Union was deploying weapons similar to those deployed against it?

Obviously, it was a mistake. A big mistake! (One is reminded of Talleyrand’s remark … “Worse than a crime …”) International relations, like it or not, are not determined by debating, interpreting and applying the finer points of “international law”—which in any case is not the same as municipal law, the law within countries. Kennedy had to react to remove the threat. The Joint Chiefs recommended taking out the missiles by bombing. Fortunately, Kennedy stopped short of that, declared a blockade and demanded the removal of the missiles.

At the end of the week of messages back and forth—I translated Khrushchev’s longest—it was agreed that Khrushchev would remove the nuclear missiles from Cuba. What was not announced was that Kennedy also agreed that he would remove the U.S. missiles from Turkey but that this commitment must not be made public.

We American diplomats in Embassy Moscow were delighted at the outcome, of course. We were not even informed of the agreement regarding missiles in Turkey. We had no idea that we had come close to a nuclear exchange. We knew the U.S. had military superiority in the Caribbean and we would have cheered if the U.S. Air Force had bombed the sites. We were wrong.

Cuban Missile Crisis

Executive Committee meeting of the National Security Council- Cuba Crisis. President Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. White House, Cabinet Room, Oct. 29, 1962.  (Kennedy Library)

In later meetings with Soviet diplomats and military officers, we learned that, if the sites had been bombed, the officers on the spot could have launched the missiles without orders from Moscow. We could have lost Miami, and then what? We also did not know that a Soviet submarine came close to launching a nuclear-armed torpedo against the destroyer that was preventing its coming up for air.

It was a close call. It is quite dangerous to get involved in military confrontations with countries with nuclear weapons. You don’t need an advanced degree in international law to understand that. You need only common sense.

OK—It was predictable. Was it predicted?

The most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War”

My words, and my voice was not the only one. In 1997, when the question of adding more members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), I was asked to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In my introductory remarks, I made the following statement:

“I consider the Administration’s recommendation to take new members into NATO at this time misguided. If it should be approved by the United States Senate, it may well go down in history as the most profound strategic blunder made since the end of the Cold War. Far from improving the security of the United States, its Allies, and the nations that wish to enter the Alliance, it could well encourage a chain of events that could produce the most serious security threat to this nation since the Soviet Union collapsed.”

The reason I cited was the presence in the Russian Federation of a nuclear arsenal that, in overall effectiveness, matched if not exceeded that of the United States. Either of our arsenals, if actually used in a hot war, was capable of ending the possibility of civilization on earth, possibly even causing the extinction of the human race and much other life on the planet. Though the United States and the Soviet Union had, as a result of arms control agreements concluded by the Reagan and first Bush administrations, negotiations for further reductions stalled during the Clinton Administration. There was not even an effort to negotiate the removal of short-range nuclear weapons from Europe.

That was not the only reason I cited for including, rather than excluding Russia from European security. I explained as follows:

“The plan to increase the membership of NATO fails to take account of the real international situation following the end of the Cold War, and proceeds in accord with a logic that made sense only during the Cold War. The division of Europe ended before there was any thought of taking new members into NATO. No one is threatening to re-divide Europe. It is therefore absurd to claim, as some have, that it is necessary to take new members into NATO to avoid a future division of Europe; if NATO is to be the principal instrument for unifying the continent, then logically the only way it can do so is by expanding to include all European countries. But that does not appear to be the aim of the Administration, and even if it is, the way to reach it is not by admitting new members piecemeal.”

Then I added, “All of the purported goals of NATO enlargement are laudable. Of course the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are culturally part of Europe and should be guaranteed a place in European institutions. Of course we have a stake in the development of democracy and stable economies there. But membership in NATO is not the only way to achieve these ends. It is not even the best way in the absence of a clear and identifiable security threat.”

In fact, the decision to expand NATO piecemeal was a reversal of American policies that produced the end of the Cold War and the liberation of Eastern Europe. President George H.W. Bush had proclaimed a goal of a “Europe whole and free.” Soviet President Gorbachev had spoken of “our common European home,” had welcomed representatives of East European governments who threw off their Communist rulers and had ordered radical reductions in Soviet military forces by explaining that for one country to be secure, there must be security for all.

The first President Bush also assured Gorbachev during their meeting on Malta in December, 1989, that if the countries of Eastern Europe were allowed to choose their future orientation by democratic processes, the United States would not “take advantage” of that process. (Obviously, bringing countries into NATO that were then in the Warsaw Pact would be “taking advantage.”) The following year, Gorbachev was assured, though not in a formal treaty, that if a unified Germany was allowed to remain in NATO, there would be no movement of NATO jurisdiction to the east, “not one inch.”

These comments were made to President Gorbachev before the Soviet Union broke up. Once it did, the Russian Federation had less than half the population of the Soviet Union and a military establishment demoralized and in total disarray. While there was no reason to enlarge NATO after the Soviet Union recognized and respected the independence of the East European countries, there was even less reason to fear the Russian Federation as a threat.

Willfully Precipitated?

Putin and Bush sign the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty in Moscow, May 24, 2002. (White House)

Adding countries in Eastern Europe to NATO continued during the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009) but that was not the only thing that stimulated Russian objection. At the same time, the United States began withdrawing from the arms control treaties that had tempered, for a time, an irrational and dangerous arms race and were the foundation agreements for ending the Cold War.

The most significant was the decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) which had been the cornerstone treaty for the series of agreements that halted for a time the nuclear arms race. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, President Putin was the first foreign leader to call President Bush and offer support. He was as good as his word by facilitating the attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had harbored Osama ben Laden, the Al Qaeda leader who had inspired the attacks.

It was clear at that time that Putin aspired to a security partnership with the United States. The jihadist terrorists who were targeting the United States were also targeting Russia. Nevertheless, the U.S. continued its course of ignoring Russian–and also allied–interests by invading Iraq, an act of aggression which was opposed not only by Russia, but also by France and Germany.

As President Putin pulled Russia out of the bankruptcy that took place in the late 1990s, stabilized the economy, paid off Russia’s foreign debts, reduced the activity of organized crime, and even began building a financial nest egg to weather future financial storms, he was subjected to what he perceived as one insult after another to his perception of Russia’s dignity and security.

He enumerated them in a speech in Munich in 2007. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates responded that we didn’t need a new Cold War. Quite true, of course, but neither he, nor his superiors, nor his successors seemed to take Putin’s warning seriously. Then Senator Joseph Biden, during his candidacy for the presidential election in 2008, pledged to “stand up to Vladimir Putin!” Huh? What in the world had Putin done to him or to the United States?1

(Senator Biden, as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1997, had approved NATO expansion. Throughout his tenure in the Senate he opposed lifting the trade restrictions imposed by the Jackson-Vanik amendment even though they never should have applied to the Russian Federation.)

Although President Barack Obama initially promised policy changes, in fact his government continued to ignore the most serious Russian concerns and redoubled earlier American efforts to detach former Soviet republics from Russian influence and, indeed, to encourage “regime change” in Russia itself. American actions in Syria and Ukraine were seen by the Russian president, and most Russians, as indirect attacks on them.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was a brutal dictator but the only effective bulwark against the Islamic state, a movement that had blossomed in Iraq following the U.S. invasion and was spreading into Syria. Military aid to a supposed “democratic opposition” quickly fell into the hands of jihadists allied with the very Al Qaeda that had organized the 9/11 attacks on the United States!

But the threat to nearby Russia was much greater since many of the jihadists hailed from areas of the former Soviet Union including Russia itself. Syria is also Russia’s close neighbor; the U.S. was seen strengthening enemies of both the United States and Russia with its misguided attempt to decapitate the Syrian government.

So far as Ukraine is concerned, U.S. intrusion into its domestic politics was deep—to the point of seeming to select a prime minister. It also, in effect, supported an illegal coup d’etat that changed the Ukrainian government in 2014, a procedure not normally considered consistent with the rule of law or democratic governance. The violence that still simmers in Ukraine started in the “pro-Western” west, not in the Donbass where it was a reaction to what was viewed as the threat of violence against Ukrainians who are ethnic Russian.

During President Obama’s second term, his rhetoric became more personal, joining a rising chorus in the American and British media vilifying the Russian president. Obama spoke of economic sanctions against Russians as “costing” Putin for his “misbehavior” in Ukraine, conveniently forgetting that Putin’s action had been popular in Russia and that Obama’s own predecessor could be credibly accused of being a war criminal.

Obama then began to hurl insults at the Russian nation as a whole, with allegations like “Russia makes nothing anybody wants,” conveniently ignoring the fact that the only way we could get American astronauts to the international space station at that time was with Russian rockets and that his government was trying its best to prevent Iran and Turkey from buying Russian anti-aircraft missiles.

I am sure some will say, “What’s the big deal? Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire, but then negotiated an end of the Cold War.” Right! Reagan condemned the Soviet empire of old—and subsequently gave Gorbachev credit for changing it—but he never publicly castigated the Soviet leaders personally. He treated them with personal respect, and as equals, even treating Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko to formal dinners usually reserved for chiefs of state or government. His first words in private meetings was usually something like, “We hold the peace of the world in our hands. We must act responsibly so the world can live in peace.”

Things got worse during the four years of Donald Trump’s tenure. Accused, without evidence, of being a Russian dupe, Trump made sure he embraced every anti-Russian measure that came along, while at the same time flattered Putin as a great leader.

Reciprocal expulsions of diplomats, started by the United States in the final days of Obama’s tenure continued in a grim vicious circle that has resulted in a diplomatic presence so emaciated that for months the United States did not have enough staff in Moscow to issue visas for Russians to visit the United States.

As so many of the other recent developments, the mutual strangulation of diplomatic missions reverses one of the proudest achievements of American diplomacy in latter Cold War years when we worked diligently and successfully to open up the closed society of the Soviet Union, to bring down the iron curtain that separated “East” and “West.” We succeeded, with the cooperation of a Soviet leader who understood that his country desperately needed to join the world.

All right, I rest my case that today’s crisis was “willfully precipitated.” But if that is so, how can I say that it can be easily resolved by the application of common sense?

The short answer is because it can be. What President Putin is demanding, an end to NATO expansion and creation of a security structure in Europe that insures Russia’s security along with that of others is eminently reasonable. He is not demanding the exit of any NATO member and he is threatening none.

By any pragmatic, common sense standard it is in the interest of the United States to promote peace, not conflict. To try to detach Ukraine from Russian influence—the avowed aim of those who agitated for the “color revolutions”—was a fool’s errand, and a dangerous one. Have we so soon forgotten the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Now, to say that approving Putin’s demands is in the objective interest of the United States does not mean that it will be easy to do. The leaders of both the Democratic and Republican parties have developed such a Russophobic stance (a story requiring a separate study) that it will take great political skill to navigate the treacherous political waters and achieve a rational outcome.

President Biden has made it clear that the United States will not intervene with its own troops if Russia invades Ukraine. So why move them into Eastern Europe? Just to show hawks in Congress that he is standing firm? For what? Nobody is threatening Poland or Bulgaria except waves of refugees fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and the desiccated areas of the African savannah. So what is the 82nd Airborne supposed to do?

Well, as I have suggested earlier, maybe this is just an expensive charade. Maybe the subsequent negotiations between the Biden and Putin governments will find a way to meet the Russian concerns. If so, maybe the charade will have served its purpose. And maybe then members of congress will start dealing with the growing problems Americans have at home instead of making them worse.

One can dream, can’t one?

Jack F. Matlock served as U.S. ambassador to the U.S.S.R. (1987-1991). A member of the board of directors of the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord (ACURA), he writes from Singer Island, Florida.

Republished with permission from the author. The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

30 comments for “Ukraine Crisis Should Have Been Avoided

  1. Ian Stevenson
    February 18, 2022 at 15:34

    My observation from the UK is that the US does have well informed analysts . The problem seems to be that they are not listened to at the highest level. The political leadership seems to prefer self serving stories to sell to the electorate.
    Robert Draper’s book To Start a War, which dealt with the decision to invade Iraq , showed that intelligence was ignored or distorted by Cheney and Rumsfeld who, it seems, were determined on a war.
    I do believe in democracy but we do need well informed and capable people in charge. It is an uneasy feeling that the Chinese will select capable people who have less need to have a story to sell to the lowest common denominator.

  2. Johnny Rock
    February 17, 2022 at 17:56

    Thanks for the context and the history from someone who was there. It is difficult to find nuance — or even real, on the ground, sourced reporting — in the MSM.

    I do have a question: The operating assumption of this piece is that “Russian interests” deserve as much respect as our own. Fair enough, but if “Russian interests” are really Putin and his oligarch’s interests, do they deserve that respect?

    Is it wrong to characterize Putin’s Russia as a kleptocracy? He has certainly consolidated power, decimated the free press, and has established an elite, beholden to him, that has absconded with billions of dollars worth of state resources. If the “Russia hoax” was indeed a hoax, does that mean it was OK for our former president to (allegedly I guess?) launder some of that Russian money flipping real estate in FLA?

    Is it not also true that the majority of Ukrainians wanted to be part of the EU because it promotes rule of law? That they wanted to root out the corrupt leaders that Putin favored? That the Maidan protests really erupted when Putin’s guy tried to withdraw from the West and join a trade pact with Russia, instead?

    Or is all of that overblown, MSM propaganda?

    Should it be fine by us that Putin can pressure Ukraine into a relationship that most of its people don’t want? Or is the idea of the US promoting democracy and self-determination just a sad joke now, something we used to do before one of our political parties decided to do mortal damage to our own democracy in order to keep power — something that Putin would surely understand?

    • Dennis S Nilsson
      February 18, 2022 at 18:30

      If you want to know if it is excessive or not, if it is “follow the money”, it is recommended to read “Wall Street on Parade” and the links they present. After that, one can draw conclusions about why certain things happen,

    • Erik
      February 19, 2022 at 09:00

      The factional conflict in Ukraine is too intense for democracy to work properly, probably even with semi-autonomous provinces in the East, because the majority will abuse central power over the provinces, as shown by Kiev’s militant refusal to abide by the Minsk Accords for autonomy, or to permit secession. The East is now safest as part of the RF.

      So this is not a case of Russia pressuring Ukraine into “a relationship that most of its people don’t want.”
      Most of them also don’t want the economic tyranny or war confrontation into which the US pressures them.
      The solution cannot be the happiest for all, but can respect the essential interests of the two major factions.

      On the Russia disparagement tactic, we in the West have little or no information about authoritarianism or kleptocracy there, but plenty of proof of the organized crime that has displaced democracy in all three branches of the USG. So a critique of Russia alone is not valid in comparisons, and such comparisons do not help solve the conflict in Ukraine.

  3. Jorge E Macías Jaramillo
    February 17, 2022 at 16:23


    Pacifista Dr. Jorge Macías Jaramillo. Ciudadano Panameño y del Mundo.
    Como Ciudadano Panameño, de Abya Yala y del Mundo Hago un llamado para que construyamos la muy necesaria Paz Mundial Duradera.
    Es injusto que con tantos problemas por resolver se gasten billones de Euros, dólares cada año en armas defensa las guerras los que no aseguran la paz, porque las guerras con su secuela de destrucción, muertes y millones de dólares gastados en agresiones-defensa solo favorecen al lobby de armas mundial.
    En aras de la Paz Mundial cada país tiene que respetar a todos los demás países.
    Las potencias bélicas tienen que dejar de intervenir en política la economía y en la vida cotidiana de los demás países.
    Fuera lejos de las fronteras de Ucrania todos los despliegues militares de Rusia, Estados Unidos la OTAN. Ucrania no es la cereza del pastel que ambicionan o quieren acaparar o repartiese las potencias del planeta.
    Vasta del intervencionismo y bloqueo económico de Estados Unidos hacia Cuba.
    Vasta del Intervencionismo y falsas noticias de Estados Unidos contra el régimen de Nicolás maduro en Venezuela.
    Los Gobiernos de cada País respetarán y cumplirán los postulados de la Democracia.
    Fomentar y lograr el Respeto sin imposición de alguna de las religiones el politeísmo ni el ateísmo. Tolerancia Religiosa total.
    Cultivar la Libertad y respeto Religioso en el que trabajo Hans Kung.
    Vasta del intento de intervencionismo de Rusia, Los Estados Unidos la OTAN en Ucrania
    Vasta del apartheid que impone Israel a los Palestinos.
    Vasta del apartheid contra el pueblo Saharaui.
    Vasta de todos los apartheid en todos los puntos del planeta donde se impone.
    Las potencias mundiales tienen que Respetar la Autodeterminación de los países.
    Tienen que respetar y cumplir las Normas de la ONU, tienen que acatar respetar los Derechos Humanos de todos los pueblos y países.
    Tienen que respetar el sistema Económico Político Filosófico de cada País.
    Todos tendrán mucho cuidado de respetar la Religión, Las tradiciones, costumbres la autodeterminación de todos los pueblos y países.
    Que toda diferencia inconformidad y malestar sea resuelto con justicia y a la luz de las normas del Derecho Internacional Público en la mesa de negociaciones en la ONU.
    Que se abandone la guerra como estrategia con la que complican los conflictos para el control. sometimiento y explotación de los países aunque piensen diferente o en casos extremos sean adversarios.
    Es urgente el desarme nuclear de todos los países que tienen armas nucleares-
    Es muy urgente el desarme bacteriológico y químico para evitar la guerra bacteriológica y química.
    Vasta de que los países son llevados a las guerras “que tiene fines lucrativos y de negocio” para que compren: armamentos equipos, naves municiones para la guerra lo que conviene a la industria armamentista mundial TRAFICANTES DE LA MUERTE.
    Exigir a todos los países políticas públicas con cero tolerancia a la corrupción e Impunidad para asegurar la equidad, justicia social, disminuir la brecha entre pobres y ricos y fomentar el veredero desarrollo humano.
    La guerra dejará de ser recurso o alternativa para dirimir conflictos.
    Las políticas económicas cuidarán de la salud del medioambiente y sus ecosistemas
    Todos los ecosistemas serás declarados Territorios protegidos de toda destrucción y contaminación.
    Con toda seguridad si todos los gobiernos en este planeta y todos los ciudadanos del mundo le apostamos de una vez por todas y trabajamos para construir a la Paz Verdadera, Duradera, por supuesto que la lograremos y disfrutaremos de Paz, armonía Respeto Tolerancia Solidaridad y Amor Humano Sin miedos ni odios.
    Hermanos Humanos Gracias por participar trabajar en el logro de la Paz Mundial y por compartir este documento.
    Jorge E. Macías Jaramillo.
    15 de Febrero de 2022
    Ciudadano Pacifista Panameño y del mundo.

  4. Robert Emmett
    February 17, 2022 at 12:27

    from article: “Maybe I am wrong—tragically wrong—but I cannot dismiss the suspicion that we are witnessing an elaborate charade, grossly magnified by prominent elements of the American media, to serve a domestic political end.”

    Certainly agree that suspicion is warranted. But, if wrong, why tragically wrong? To have such a suspicion in the first place?

    Wrong because the PTB may indeed be embarked on a noble cause to settle their own & their European satellite nations’ (now to include Ukraine’s) most pressing security concerns? And, if so, then tragically because such wrong-headed thinking may raise doubts to blunt that purported nobility? If anything, it seems to me you convincingly make the opposite case that the U.S./NATO is just picking another fight.

    We have a foremost example of the perfidiousness of the nation’s political actors at the highest levels a mere 21 years ago (many of their displays in continuing production) when the U.S. responded to real tragedy by removing its iron fists from their cowhide gloves and pounding its way (deeper) into the dark side. Even the Brits caught on pretty quick as to how “facts” were fixed around policies.

    Is that not fact enough to doubt them now as anything but performers of Kubuki set pieces for public consumption, until proven otherwise? Albeit their players care not a fig if their charades are perfumed with real blood, as long as it happens over there.

    A fascinating peek behind the curtain nonetheless. As for Ambassador Matlock’s resolution, from another well known dreamer, “… ‘tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.”

  5. Sam F
    February 17, 2022 at 10:54

    Certainly “to take new members into NATO at this time [was] the most profound strategic blunder” and Putin is right to ask “why do you refuse us the security you insist for yourself?”

    Yes, the Ukraine crisis is an “elaborate charade… to serve a domestic political end.” But the “Russophobic stance” of the DemReps is in fact dependency upon bribes, which prevents a rational outcome. The bribes are from the MIC, the anti-socialist rich, and Israeli tyrants, as is clear in all US foreign policy. Ask who wins by the “willfully precipitated” US attacks and threats in Ukraine and Syria. Only the MIC and Israel.

    Not true that “the United States did not support, much less cause the break-up of the Soviet Union.”
    That was the purpose of Brzezinski’s creation of AlQaeda to attack the USSR-supported govt of Afghanistan.

    • Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
      February 18, 2022 at 22:47

      Ditto, I love your response, you are absolutely right here. No one could doubt that Matlock was then an insider but still he was not insider enough to know ALL the critical facts, as he himself has confessed here, as he was on another episode : i.e.: the American decision to remove nukes from Turkey while he was handling sensitive material in US embassy in Moscow !

  6. Soloview
    February 17, 2022 at 09:56

    It is truly sad that the U.S. would not listen to its outstanding diplomats, George F. Kennan and Jack F. Matlock, when laying grounds to its post-Soviet policy in Eastern Europe.

  7. Zim
    February 17, 2022 at 09:36

    Thanks for this great article. Common sense & nuance are nowhere to be found in so many issues these days especially US foreign policy. All of this is manufactured crisis. Just remember: “Yatz is the guy….F*ck Europe” – Victoria Nuland orchestrator of the coup in 2014 and currently one of Biden’s advisors on Ukraine.

  8. Jeff Harrison
    February 17, 2022 at 00:31

    I wish we had more clear eyed, non-ideological candidates for US ambassador.

    • Ian Stevenson
      February 18, 2022 at 15:26

      Our media prefer simple binary choices. It’s better than complexity and relieves them of the burden of thinking.

    • robert e williamson jr
      February 18, 2022 at 15:40

      I wish we had paid more attention to GHW Bush 41while he moved about in and out of the shadows in DC.

      Evidence suggests GHW Bush worked with CIA assisting with safe havens for Cuban rebels and their CIA handlers on oil rigs located close by Cuba. The guy just couldn’t stay away from CIA.

      1/3/67–1/3/71; US Rep US house 7th district Texas
      3/1/71–1/18/73; 10th US ambassador UN
      1/19/73– 9/16/74 RNC Chair
      9/26/74–12/7/75 2nd Chief US Liaison Peoples Republic of China
      1/30/76–1/20/77 11th Director CIA
      1/20/81–1/20/89 VP under Reagan
      1/20/89–1/20/93 41st President of US

      Bush is gone from DC for a brief period 1/20/77–1/20/81 during which time he was chairman of First National Bank of Houston.

      BCCI was founded 1972 and soon became known at the bank of crooks and criminals, the Bank ran afoul of the US Government banking laws among a large list of other transgressions. Bill Barr ultimately slapped their hands and let them off a very sharp hook, making the entire scandal go away. Barr is said to have advised Bill Clinton to “let it go away”. Just as he pardons those caught up in the Iran Contra scandal.

      1976 the ” Safari Club ” was formed in 1976, was a covert alliance of intelligence services that I believe were coordinated by US CIA and most likely GHW Bush. SEE the wiki and one can go from there.

      If and when CIA gets it just deserts hopefully this info comes to see the light of day. I’m not really sure why no seems to make the connections here.

      What we see in Ukraine today is in part the result of CIA’s oil man being personally vested in areas where the ouil and gas business flourished.

      And nothing but crickets from the public sheepeople, while genuflecting for the king. I’m betting someone else has filled his shoes or is trying. Not a good look for 2022 at all.

      Thanks CN

  9. Carolyn M. Grassi
    February 16, 2022 at 22:20

    Thank you for this outstanding article. If only the U.S. mass media displayed a portion of the history related here. I’ll forward this to friends. Ah, how is it possible to ignore/forget Russian literature, music, dance, theater as of great meaning to the West’s arts. And as the late Stephen F. Cohen wrote and spoke many times that we Americans need to realize that Russia lost more people during WW II than any other country. … were it not for Russians holding on to Moscow during the Nazi attacks (even trying to starve the people!), Hitler might have won the war. Thank you Consortiumnews for this comprehensive amazing essay by Ambassador Matlock, as if a graduate seminar in International Relations. (Carolyn Grassi, retired Political Science teacher, California community colleges / active poet!

  10. Anonymotron
    February 16, 2022 at 21:05

    Tnx Jack… Ultimately Credible Spokesman!

  11. FredFromDredd
    February 16, 2022 at 17:40

    May I also draw attention to the famous “Nyet means Nyet” cable – from US Ambassador William J. Burns, in February 2008.

    Summary. Following a muted first reaction to
    Ukraine’s intent to seek a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP)
    at the Bucharest summit (ref A), Foreign Minister Lavrov and
    other senior officials have reiterated strong opposition,
    stressing that Russia would view further eastward expansion
    as a potential military threat. NATO enlargement,
    particularly to Ukraine, remains “an emotional and neuralgic”
    issue for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also
    underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and
    Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue
    could potentially split the country in two, leading to
    violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force
    Russia to decide whether to intervene. Additionally, the GOR
    and experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership
    would have a major impact on Russia’s defense industry,
    Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations
    generally. In Georgia, the GOR fears continued instability
    and “provocative acts” in the separatist regions.

    In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue could potentially split the country in two, leading to violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene.

    How prophetic.
    The US – under Bush – went ahead anyway.

    The cable is available via wikileaks:

  12. John Puma
    February 16, 2022 at 15:32

    How does one avoid that which one purposefully manufactured?

  13. Moi
    February 16, 2022 at 15:24

    “… we are witnessing an elaborate charade, grossly magnified by prominent elements of the American media, to serve a domestic political end. Facing rising inflation …”

    On this one point, Biden is facing a rather severe time constraint. The longer he hypes a possible invasion of Ukraine, the higher fuel prices go with higher inflation following.

    I’m certain that the vast majority of the US public care far more about the day to day cost of living than they do about Ukraine. The Democrats will be judged accordingly.

  14. GBC
    February 16, 2022 at 15:00

    Thank you, thank you, Ambassador Matlock, for this eminently reasonable and sensible essay. That the US is playing a risky and elaborate charade to shore up the administration’s support makes sense. Were the US to simply agree to Putin’s demands after years of Russophobia, the cries of “Who lost Ukraine!” and “Impeach Biden!” would ring loud and clear. That’s how far the foreign policy/defense blob has sunk rational discussion of foreign policy here. “Looking tough” while “doing stupid” has been the strategy of the US since the Clinton presidency. As an aside: I believe Blinken, Nuland, Hill, and Vindeman all have ancestral ties to Ukraine. I’m sure there is an interesting story to be found in following their rise through the ranks of the blob, and their evident willingness to support the MICIMATT at all costs–even at the risk of nuclear war. These people have no business driving foreign policy, or rather have shown themselves incapable (just like Congre$$) of standing up to the arms merchants of death racket that constitutes our only value-added export today. “Such a parcel of rogues….”

  15. Lois Gagnon
    February 16, 2022 at 13:49

    No revelation here, but the corporate establishment media are a huge part of the problem. They operate as any state owned media system would. They simply repeat everything state actors tell them to down to the key phrase of the day. What it all comes down to as always is who benefits? Follow the money.

  16. rosemerry
    February 16, 2022 at 12:46

    A great article from someone worth hearing from. One point, why do people keep claiming Russia wants/intends to invade Ukraine, even take over the government in Kiev? Russia wants neutrality, not a huge burden added to its already difficult situation , being regarded wrongly as an enemy.

  17. mgr
    February 16, 2022 at 10:56

    Thank you for a lucid, comprehensive summary.

      February 16, 2022 at 11:40

      This piece is way more than a “summary.”

      • mgr
        February 17, 2022 at 05:05

        CN: Yes, you are correct. History and analysis would have been a better words. In any case, it certainly demonstrates the poisonous thinking that arises from American exceptionalism.

  18. ks
    February 16, 2022 at 10:34

    Excellent synopsis/analysis by Ambassador Matlock. I can only hope that career Foreign Service Officers like him still exist.

  19. February 16, 2022 at 10:30

    With all the US/ UK Propaganda about Russia Invading the Ukraine; I thought I could Place a Bet with a UK Bookie on Russia invading the Ukraine ,like Boris Johnson and Joe Biden Promised. But All UK Bookies are being Blocked on this Question; even those with
    ” Politics” Headings ,

  20. February 16, 2022 at 10:27

    I am sending this article to my children. They need to understand what is going on and has gone on and I haven’t seen a better article than this one by a credible former ambassador. One of the points, among so many, is his reference to our leaders and their degradation of civility in dealing with Russia and all on their foreign enemies list. I guess we could include the civility of our political class toward each other ”

    My wife told me about a remark made by one of her prayer group some time ago. The remark by a former teacher: “Putin is the devil.” She is not alone.

    • rosemerry
      February 16, 2022 at 12:50

      I really find that the evidence of twenty years and the thousands of hours of videos anyone can view, that Pres. Putin is much more of a real Christian than Joseph Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Boris Johnson and others in important positions in the USA/UK.

  21. February 16, 2022 at 10:12

    Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda. But who wants to avoid a pretty little war – especially when it’s so good for business?

    It keeps coming back to me that we should make those who beat the war drums bear the full cost of the wars they seek and leave the rest of us out of it.

    • Michael Hoefler
      February 16, 2022 at 18:02

      Well said! Bearing the full cost of the wars they seek should also have to put themselves and/or their loved ones in harms way instead of those who are there to protect the US and doing their job.

      Nice piece of work by the former ambassador. Our world would be so much happier were we all to get along and apply the Golden Rule.

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