Rather than produce fake evidence to the U.N. Security Council, as Colin Powell had, Antony Blinken just produced nothing at all, though the U.S. has intelligence it can show, writes Scott Ritter.
By Scott Ritter
Special to Consortium News
While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried to distance himself from the ghosts of U.N. Security Council meetings past – namely the disastrous Feb. 5, 2003 performance of his predecessor Colin Powell peddling manufactured intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq — the world once again bore witness last week to a U.S. secretary of state presenting a supposedly intelligence-based case about a looming armed conflict.
“I am here today,” Blinken said, trying to remove himself from Powell, “not to start a war, but to prevent one.”
But like Powell, Blinken produced no evidence at all to the U.N. to back up his assertion that Russia is “preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days,” even though he could have. Rather than produce fake evidence, as Powell had, he just produced nothing at all.
Blinken only had words, blithely accusing Russia of seeking “to manufacture a pretext” for an invasion of Ukraine, whether by fabricating a terrorist bombing inside Russia; (a jab at Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been accused of false-flag attacks of Moscow apartment buildings to generate support for the Second Chechen War in 1999); the discovery of a mass grave; staging a drone strike against civilians or the use of chemical weapons.
After such a “false flag,” Russian would call for a military response “to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine” and would then invade Ukraine, Blinken said.
In the past, when the U.S. took to the floor of the U.N. Security Council to hurl accusations of malfeasance at Russia, American diplomats would present incontrovertible intelligence to back up its claims.
This was done in October 1962, when Adlai Stevenson showed the world U-2 photographs proving the Russians had deployed missiles in Cuba. Again, in September 1983, Jeane Kirkpatrick played audio tapes of intercepted communications which proved Russian military aircraft shot down Korean Airlines flight 007.
Blinken brought no such proof. His was just a verbal assurance that this was not a repeat of Colin Powell’s performance. This time, the U.S. should just be trusted to tell the truth.
What the US Can Produce
Blinken is likely telling the truth that unlike Powell, the U.S. this time does have evidence. There’s little doubt U.S. reconnaissance has accurately recorded the Russian military buildup in question, down to the last tank and truck. There may also be a plethora of “chatter” (a colloquialism for intercepted conversations) which could be interpreted to mean anything an analyst wants it to mean.
But the bottom line is the bulk of Blinken’s intelligence is likely drawn from speculation about how the Russians could proceed from the positions their military currently occupies if they were, in fact, to invade.
This same analysis fuels similar apocalyptic proclamations from U.S. President Joe Biden, who says he’s now convinced Putin has decided to invade, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, echoed by a compliant mainstream American media as absolute fact.
The U.S., together with its NATO and European allies, have embraced a narrative which, to quote former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, has Russian President Vladimir Putin about to embark on “a risky, irrational, unprovoked, preemptive invasion of Ukraine,” even though the Russian government has bent over backwards to assure the U.S. and the world it has no such intention.
Now, only a fool would take the Russians at face value. “Trust, but verify” isn’t an age-old Russian aphorism for nothing. The fact is Blinken et. al. are simply getting what they paid for. The Biden administration has a history of manufacturing perception for domestic political purpose, most recently in Afghanistan, where Biden told the Afghan president to assure the world that everything was ok, “even if it is not true.”
Much of the current intelligence used by Biden, Blinken, and company comes from Pentagon assessments of probable courses of action that might be taken by Russia should an invasion be conducted from positions currently maintained by Russian forces. What we haven’t seen, however, is any supporting intelligence regarding intent or viability.
The Biden administration has bought into seeing a Putin-centric universe where everything transpires based upon the whim of the Russian president. However, hard intelligence available to U.S. military analysts would show whether the buildup of Russian troops is related to military exercises announced by the Russian government well in advance – or an invasion.
Any military professional worth his or her salt knows that anytime a major exercise or operation takes place, there is an extremely detailed logistics support plan, referred to as a time-phased force and deployment list, or TPFDL, which tracks the movement of troops, equipment, and material (including ammunition and fuel) so that everything is in place and ready to go at the appointed time.
A TPFDL for a major military exercise is very different from a TPFDL supporting a major military operation. Exercises are finite events — they have a hard start and stop. Military operations, however, are open-ended affairs, and any affiliated TPFDL must consider the need to sustain the operation.
Any intelligence analyst knows the difference between an exercise-oriented TPFDL and one employed to sustain a war. For example, the TPFDL used to support U.S. military exercises in the Middle East is fundamentally different from that which was used to initiate and sustain Operation Desert Storm.
The Russian military operates in a similar fashion. The logistical support plan being implemented in support of the current military deployment near Ukraine is a knowable fact. So, too, would be any massive deviation from previously established patterns of behavior observed in a prior military exercise.
Like any exercise, aspects of Russia’s war-fighting plan would be made functional. For instance, Russia may well have moved combat medical support capability to the forward area to better train the involved forces. But in an exercise, this would be a limited-scope exercise of that capability, not the full-scale mobilization necessary for war.
The Pentagon knows this. The decision to turn assessments of possible theoretical courses of action available to the Russian military based upon inference into de facto statements of current intent is a deliberate one, without producing evidence for it, is done for purely political reasons. That’s what happened with the manufactured events for Powell’s 2003 Security Council performance.
Managing Public Opinion
Biden and Blinken are playing a silly game. Confronted with the reality that the U.S. and NATO lack the ability to deter Russia from mobilizing a sizable military force in the vicinity of the Russian-Ukraine border, either through the deployment of military power or the threat of “massive” economic sanctions, the Biden administration is seeking to manage public opinion by creating the perception of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, without coming up with evidence to prove that such a threat exists at the moment.
Eventually this subterfuge will be exposed, but even then, the Biden administration will seek to take credit for playing some sort of Vulcan mind game on Vladimir Putin, confronting him with assertions of his nefarious plans, thereby compelling him to back down in confusion. This is childish thinking and, in the end, is purely self-delusional.
Russia has said it will withdraw its forces from their current forward positions and return them to their respective permanent bases once the military exercises are finished; this is most likely what will happen (there is the possibility that Russia and Belarus are contemplating a permanent deployment of elements of the First Guards Tank Army to Belarus.)
This doesn’t mean Russia will not invade Ukraine at some point, but there’s no evidence it will do so now. Even Ukrainian intelligence came to that conclusion after studying U.S. satellite images of the Russian troop formations.
What Biden and Blinken fail to understand is that Russia is in total control of the narrative and timeline of the current crisis.
Blinken already gave Russia a major concession, declaring on behalf of Ukraine (an act which underscores the reality of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship) that Kiev is prepared to act now on implementation of the Minsk Agreements through the Normandy Format. Though there is much to doubt about its sincerity, such a statement was unthinkable a month ago. Advantage Russia.
But the Minsk Agreement, while important, is peripheral to Russia’s strategic objectives for legally binding security guarantees regarding NATO expansion as set forth in a pair of draft treaties turned over to the U.S. and NATO in December.
The U.S. and NATO provided written responses last month which failed to address Russia’s core concerns. On the same day Blinken addressed the Security Council, the Russian Foreign Ministry provided a written reply to the U.S. response. In short, the Russians reiterated the seriousness they attached to their demands for security guarantees, noted that the U.S. continues to ignore these, and that if this situation remains the same, Russia will have no choice but to use “military-technical means” to resolve the crisis.
Russia is not bluffing. This does not mean that Russia is going to invade Ukraine tomorrow, this week, or even next month — far from it. The confusion caused by the U.S. Chicken Little routine is generating far too much political capital for Russia, emphasizing as it does U.S. and NATO impotence and incompetence. Moreover, Russia does not appear to have properly prepared itself for a war with Ukraine, especially given the fact that any such conflict would bring with it a protracted political confrontation with the U.S. and its European allies.
Russia will continue to reiterate its demands regarding security guarantees in order to exhaust all possible diplomatic channels for resolving the Ukraine crisis. But Russia will also continue to up the ante.
Putin is scheduled to deliver his annual Message to the Federal Assembly sometime early this year. This address is used by the president to lay out his priorities in terms of Russia’s main directions of development. Normally a venue to discuss major economic questions, Putin is said to be meeting with his ministers to prepare a very different presentation, one that prepares the Russian people and government for the real possibility of war.
Putin will have two major issues to consider. The first is a resolution passed on Tuesday by the Russian Parliament to declare the breakaway provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk independent of Ukraine. The second is the reality of the impact western sanctions will have on the Russian economy, and what measures the Russian government has planned to deal with these consequences.
This will be a major speech which, while most likely stopping short of an outright declaration of war, will finally put political intent behind the notion of military action. While Putin most likely will offer the U.S. and NATO a diplomatic offramp, the bottom line is that unless Russia is given the security guarantees it is demanding, war might be inevitable.
Biden and Blinken will once again cry “wolf.” But it won’t matter; the die will have already been cast, and everyone involved will have to deal with the consequences of human folly.
Scott Ritter is a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, and in Iraq overseeing the disarmament of WMD.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.