Blinken’s certainty about an “invasion” is suspicious. He may know more than he’s saying: such as the date of the Kiev offensive, perhaps designed to provoke the invasion he is so sure will happen, writes Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
The United States and Russia again clashed at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, with the U.S. repeating its alarmist message that Russia is poised to invade Ukraine at any time.
The incessant U.S. accusation of Russian aggression against Ukraine was accompanied by reports Thursday by OSCE monitors of more than 500 explosions at the line of confrontation in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, who chaired the council meeting as this month’s president, said 122,000 Ukrainian military forces were lined up at the front with Donbass with the possible intention of launching an offensive against the two breakaway provinces there.
That figure was not mentioned by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who came to New York to again insist that up to 150,000 Russian troops “on the border” of Ukraine are still poised to invade.
What advantage an invasion would give Russia is unknown even to Blinken, who told MSNBC before the meeting, that he had no idea. “That’s an excellent question,” he said. “Ask Putin.”
Nevertheless, Blinken laid out a highly detailed scenario. It’s from a State Department speechwriter, not a Hollywood scriptwriter. Ignoring Vershinin’s plea not to abuse the dignity of the Security Council to further inflame tensions with empty war rhetoric, Blinken began:
“We must address what Russia is doing right now to Ukraine.
Over the past months, without provocation or justification, Russia has amassed more than 150,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders, in Russia, Belarus, occupied Crimea. Russia says it’s drawing down those forces. We do not see that happening on the ground. Our information indicates clearly that these forces – including ground troops, aircraft, ships – are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.
We don’t know precisely how things will play out, but here’s what the world can expect to see unfold. In fact, it’s unfolding right now, today, as Russia takes steps down the path to war and reissued the threat of military action.”
In fact, no Russian official has issued such a threat, at least not publicly, unlike the daily barrage of U.S. threats against Iraq before it launched a real, old world invasion and occupation. Blinken says the U.S. doesn’t “precisely” know “how things will play out,” but then he lays out precisely what the “world can expect to see.” So do they know or don’t they?
What follows is the same story the State Department tried to sell to the press, which was shot down when one reporter demanded evidence to back it up. There was no evidence presented at the Security Council on Thursday either. There was no Adlai Stevenson moment, when the American ambassador in 1962 showed the council satellite images of Soviet missiles in Cuba (which were really there.)
“First, Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack. This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian Government. We don’t know exactly the form it will take. It could be a fabricated so-called ‘terrorist’ bombing inside Russia, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians, or a fake – even a real – attack using chemical weapons. Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide, making a mockery of a concept that we in this chamber do not take lightly, nor do I do take lightly based on my family history. …
Second, in response to this manufactured provocation, the highest levels of the Russian Government may theatrically convene emergency meetings to address the so-called crisis. The government will issue proclamations declaring that Russia must respond to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
Next, the attack is planned to begin. Russian missiles and bombs will drop across Ukraine. Communications will be jammed. Cyberattacks will shut down key Ukrainian institutions. After that, Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans. We believe these targets include Russia’s capital –Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million people.”
The certainty with which Blinken and other U.S. officials speak when it comes to this “invasion” is highly suspicious — unless they know something they aren’t saying: such as the date of the Kiev government’s offensive, designed to provoke the invasion they are so certain will happen.
Start of ‘Invasion’ Story
The U.S. began in November to portray the Russian troop deployment as an invasion force and has since worked its message into a crescendo of daily warnings of an imminent attack.
In Spring 2021, Russia made a similar deployment near the Ukraine border and yet there were no Washington cries of invasion then. So what changed?
This time the Russian troop movement coincided with Moscow presenting draft treaty proposals to the U.S. and NATO drawing a deep redline after decades of objecting to the Western military alliance moving ever closer to Russia, a country that was invaded by and defeated the largest European powers of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The U.S. reacted to these bold proposals by changing the subject. They moved from the defensive to offense with a supreme distraction: the maniacal mantra of “the Russians are coming.”
NATO routinely carries out military deployments and exercises near Russia’s borders. Moscow never screams “invasion” when U.S. war planes practice cruise missile strikes at the Russian frontier.
Instead Russia presented proposals that would see:
- NATO roll back forward troop deployments from former Warsaw Pact states, now NATO members;
- NATO would not admit Ukraine and Georgia as members and
- The U.S. would remove long-range missiles in Romania and Poland and not deploy new ones in Ukraine.
The U.S. and NATO have so far rejected the Russian draft treaties out of hand, except on the missile issue, which Washington is ready to negotiate (Joe Biden has promised not to deploy missiles in Ukraine.)
The New York Times could not, however, stop itself from mocking Russia on Thursday with a story, which it seems to have just discovered, headlined, “On the Edge of a Polish Forest, Where Some of Putin’s Darkest Fears Lurk: A U.S. missile facility in Poland is at the heart of an issue animating the Kremlin’s calculations over whether to go to war against Ukraine.”
Instead of withdrawing forward NATO deployments from Eastern Europe, the U.S. delivered a slap in the face by sending more NATO troops to the east.
This was supposed to be in response to the alleged Russian threat to Ukraine, where no U.S. or NATO troops are being deployed. Instead hundreds of millions of dollars in NATO lethal aid is being sent, supposedly for defense, but which Vershinin said could be intended instead for an offensive that could potentially set a trap for Russia.
In Blinken’s scenario, “The government will issue proclamations declaring that Russia must respond to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine. Next, the attack is planned to begin.”
If Russian regular units enter Donbass to protect ethnic Russians and Russian citizens there from the offensive, that would be the invasion the U.S. is screaming about. It would unleash the “mother of all sanctions,” as a U.S. Senate sanctions bill against Russia has been called.
A New Architecture
The Russian treaty proposals are Moscow’s demands to no longer put up with the expansion of a military alliance that post-Cold War had become an offensive arm of the Pentagon, already used against Russian allies in Belgrade and Tripoli.
Russia is seeking a new security architecture in Europe that would include Russian interests, an idea that was discussed at the end of the Cold War but which never came to be.
Only China and France joined Russia at the Security Council in referring to the overall European security issue.
Blinken said last month NATO had never been so united. Blinken may never have been so untruthful. As military analyst Scott Ritter laid out in Consortium News, the divisions within NATO are deep and deepening over the Ukraine question.
The U.S. must surely be nervous about France and Germany speaking so often with Moscow with a view to possibly pursuing their own interests, which are different from Washington’s.
Nicolas de Riviere, Paris’ U.N. Envoy, told the council:
“France is convinced that de-escalation is possible, through dialogue and diplomacy. This is the sense of the efforts led by President Macron, in coordination with the German Chancellor. We are ready to engage in this dialogue. Not only with regard to the conflict in Donbass – that is the work we are doing in the Normandy format – but also on issues of security and stability in Europe, in accordance with the fundamental principles laid down in the United Nations Charter and in the founding documents of the OSCE, namely the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe.”
As a basis for its draft treaties, Russia cited the Helsinki Final Act, which says that one country cannot secure its security interests at the expense of another’s.
The U.S. still does not, or can not, see that its behavior is bringing forth its worst nightmare: driving Moscow and Beijing together. Until this month, China had never gotten involved publicly with European disputes.
But Zhang Jun, China’s U.N. Envoy, told the Security Council:
“China supports all efforts conducive to easing the tensions, and notes the recent diplomatic engagement between the Russian Federation with France, Germany and other European countries at the leaders level. A negotiated, balanced, effective and sustainable European security mechanism will serve as a solid foundation for lasting peace and stability across Europe.”
Zhang also criticized NATO expansion and condemned the U.S. for continuing a “Cold War mentality”:
“Everything happens for a reason. NATO enlargement is an issue that cannot be overlooked when dealing with the current tensions related to the Ukraine. NATO’s continuous expansion in the wake of the Cold War runs counter to the trend of our times, that is to maintain common security. One country’s security cannot be at the expense of the security of others. By the same token, regional security should not rely on muscling up or even expanding military blocs. This applies as much to the European region as to other regions of the world. There is one country that refuses to renounce the Cold War mentality.”
High Drama for Western Media
The high point scripted by Blinken for his media allies was when he challenged Vershinin to declare that Russia had no intention of invading. Since Blinken thinks the Russians are lying no matter what they say, it was a pure piece of political theater, which he had earlier accused Russia of. Blinken said:
“So let me make this simple. The Russian Government can announce today – with no qualification, equivocation, or deflection – that Russia will not invade Ukraine. State it clearly. State it plainly to the world. And then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes back to their barracks and hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table. In the coming days, the world will remember that commitment – or the refusal to make it. I yield the floor.”
Adlai Stevenson he is not. (Blinken left his satellite images home as Ukrainian intelligence itself said they showed no proof of an imminent Russian invasion.)
Eventually Vershinin gave himself a right to reply, saying Russian officials at various levels had given such assurances.
Mocking ‘Invasion Day’
Russian officials and media have been having a grand time mocking the changing dates, even hours, of when “U.S. intelligence” has told the media the Russian invasion would begin. (Reuters has a 24/7 video stream from the Maidan in Kiev – in case something happens.)
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “15 February 2022 will go down in history as the day Western war propaganda failed,” insisting that the West has been “shamed and destroyed without firing a single shot.” Zakharova then asked for updates so that she could plan her vacation.
Blinken is keenly aware of such ridicule:
“Now, I am mindful that some have called into question our information, recalling previous instances where intelligence ultimately did not bear out. But let me be clear: I am here today, not to start a war, but to prevent one. The information I’ve presented here is validated by what we’ve seen unfolding in plain sight before our eyes for months.
And remember that while Russia has repeatedly derided our warnings and alarms as melodrama and nonsense, they have been steadily amassing more than 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, as well as the capabilities to conduct a massive military assault.
It isn’t just us seeing this: Allies and partners see the same thing. And Russia hasn’t only been hearing from us. The international chorus has grown louder and louder. If Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine, then we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong. That would be a far better outcome than the course we’re currently on. And we will gladly accept any criticism that anyone directs at us.”
Russia called the meeting Thursday to mark the seventh anniversary of the Security Council’s endorsement of the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015.
The agreements would bring an end to the war that began in 2014 with the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev that (with the help of neo-nazis) toppled the democratically-elected president. His election had been certified by the OSCE. The Kiev government and the U.S. calls this the Maidan Revolution. The American, French, Russian, Egyptian, Iranian, German and a host of other revolutions overthrew monarchies and dictators, not elected officials. That’s an unconstitutional change of government — a coup.
The largely ethnic Russian enclaves of Luhansk and Donetsk on the Russian border declared independence from Ukraine as a defense of their democratic right to have voted for a president. They did not want to be ruled by U.S.-installed leaders who were trying to outlaw the Russian language and who had allied with far-right, anti-Russian extremists.
Crimea held a referendum and rejoined Russia rather than live under an illegal government. But Luhansk and Donetsk, though some asked for it, were not accepted into Russia. Instead Moscow backed the Minsk agreements, which Kiev also signed. They would give autonomy to those two provinces while remaining part of Ukraine. Russia has been complaining since then that Kiev has never been serious about implementing the agreements and instead plan to take back the provinces by force.
??President Zelensky speaking to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine:
“We have learned to contain external threats. It is time we begin offensive actions aimed at securing our national interests. Our citizens are united in wanting their territory returned” pic.twitter.com/iumwOKNEZ5
— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) January 24, 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadfastly stuck with Minsk and refused entreaties from the Donbass provinces to join Russia. Sensing that an offensive may be close, the Duma passed a resolution on Tuesday calling on Russia to recognize the province’s independence from Ukraine, which would kill Minsk.
Vershinin pushed back against several U.S.-allied council members who tried to make something of this resolution, saying it was only a recommendation to Putin. “It is important to prevent such issues from becoming the subject of consideration in the Security Council, otherwise we will react to all decisions by all parliaments of the world,” he said.
The OSCE officials who addressed the Security Council on Thursday said there had been 530 explosions at the line of confrontation between the government and the breakaway provinces. On the previous day the OSCE monitoring teams’ daily report cited 128 ceasefire violations.
The report on Thursday’s incidents won’t be out until Friday. It may indicate that the offensive has begun. Most important will be how much the report indicates on which side of the confrontation line the most violations occurred.
If most came from the non-government controlled areas the U.S. will try to frame it as a provocation to draw return fire and prompt a Russian intervention. If most violations came from the government side, it could be indication of an offensive beginning, perhaps meant to draw Russia in.
Russians may mock the moveable invasion dates now. But if a major offensive begins, a larger war may be unavoidable.
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe