Tony Kevin says Putin was desperate for something other than this lose-lose outcome for both East and West.
Barbara Tuchman’s March of Folly Wins Again
By Tony Kevin
Pearls and Irritations
The dramatic declarations on Monday of independence by Donbass city-states Donetsk and Lugansk, and Russia’s accompanying military guarantee to protect them against further heavy artillery attack by Kiev forces, illustrate yet again Barbara Tuchman’s classic March of Folly thesis – how often intelligent governments can act foolishly and against their best interest: in this case, illustrated by Washington and Kiev.
This analysis will be unpalatable to many in the West. It is hard for us to see beyond the all-enveloping narrative that surrounds us of Western good intentions with occasional mistakes in implementation, versus our horror comic negative mental images of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.
The latter images are far from the truth but very compelling. The people who create and sustain our mental furniture are top professionals at what they do. They condition our thinking and emotions, through powerful images and memes as well as words. Highly intelligent people hate to admit they have fallen for such propaganda, and often get angry when it is suggested to them that they have.
What Putin Wants From Ukraine
The fact is that there have been many speeches over the years by Putin acknowledging full Ukrainian sovereignty since the 1991 breakup of the former Soviet Union, an authoritarian state in which Ukrainian Communists had played a major leadership role. Putin consistently has asked for two things of Ukraine.
First, decent good-neighborly relations based on mutual respect and mutual security, as between the U.S. and Canada. And second, as in Canada, respect for the full human rights of Ukraine’s numerous “French Canadians” – the 50-percent-plus of Ukrainians who share Russian native language and culture. This importantly includes a right to share in the formation of Ukraine’s national security policies and priorities. But the U.S. has at least since 2013 used Ukraine’s Nazis, and there are plenty of those, as the spearhead of its determination to make Ukraine monocultural, militarized and permanently hostile to Russia.
Just because Putin asserts these things does not mean they are not true. I believe they are true.
Putin, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany (as with Angela Merkel before him) in recent years and weeks did their best to find pathways through the growing confrontation, but in the end they could not halt the determination of Washington and Kiev foolishly to provoke the Russian bear.
Over months, Putin had warned the West to step backwards from the militarization of Ukraine, and to work with Russia towards a wider European settlement, reversing NATO’s dangerous expansion towards Russia’s borders since 1996. (See my two recent essays on Russian settlement proposals.)
As usual, the West cherry-picked, they prevaricated and – the biggest Western blunder of all – Washington’s Joe Biden supplied powerful city-destroying heavy weapons to the ill-disciplined and Nazi-infected Ukrainian army. The temptation to start using them was irresistible.
We saw from Feb. 17 onwards a determined, very threatening, but foolish attempt by Kiev’s armed forces along the line of contact, including the notorious Azov Battalion, to advance into and occupy Donbass, under the noses of the 130,000 Russian troops waiting for orders in nearby Russia.
The Ukrainian government of President Volodymyr Zelensky and his American advisers like Victoria Nuland had convinced themselves that Putin would not now dare to invade Ukraine after all the Western warnings of wider retribution. How wrong they were: right that he would not try to occupy Kiev, but wrong that he would let Donbass fall, creating unacceptable high risks of brutal ethnic cleansing of up to 4 million Russian Ukrainians forced to flee Donbass into Russia. And what a political humiliation this would have been for Putin.
By Feb. 18 it was already clear from Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reporting that a sharp escalation in Kiev’s shelling of Donbass was taking place. Donetsk suburbs were being shelled. A Ukrainian special forces commando raid into neighbouring Rostov province in Russia was discovered and neutralized. The Donbass leaders wisely ordered evacuations, not to leave civilian hostages in place in cities at imminent risk of carpet-bombing, if they did not surrender. Aleppo was the stark example of what could have happened.
Now Russia has given the green light to Donbass independence, protected by Russian military might, as was the case in Crimea.
It cannot have been an easy decision for Putin and his National Security Council, urged on by the Duma as they were to do something. Donbass does not have the many strategic and economic attractions and assets of Crimea. Reconstruction will be huge and expensive and the diplomatic costs to Russia very high.
But Putin had no alternative: in the end, he had to defend Russians at grave risk abroad, with real threats to their lives as reported by OSCE and Russian intelligence. The Minsk Accords are now dead. These steps already seem irreversible.
Sooner or later these temporarily independent statelets will merge into Russia. The irony is that France and Germany, the guarantor powers, had for years since 2015 been urging Kiev to accept the federal solutions proposed by the Minsk Accords. But then, Kiev nationalists, quietly backed by NATO, had reneged on Minsk, confident that in the end they could achieve the unitary Ukraine they wanted by letting the Minsk Accords be forgotten. Now, ironically, Kiev pleads in the UNSC for a return to the Minsk Accords. But this train has already left the station.
Downside for East & West
There will be downside consequences for both East and West. There will be immediate major losses of French and German sovereignty. They will be sucked back into U.S. alliance hegemony. There will be immediate setbacks to Russia-France and Russia-Germany possibilities for detente. These two major states now will be, albeit reluctantly, more firmly locked into U.S.-led NATO military operations.
It is hard to see the Nord Stream pipeline opening now, which will be a great economic and humanitarian loss to Europe. There will be greater sanctions intensity, hurting both sides economically, and a huge setback to detente generally. The new Cold War will be more firmly lodged in place.
Will Russia advance further into Ukraine? I would predict almost certainly not, though we will hear Western propaganda for weeks that Russia will do so. The present line of contact will become the frontier, as it has de facto been the frontier since 2015 after former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s failed attempt to overwhelm Donbass.
How will China and the nonaligned world react? These are the most important questions now. Will they see through this latest Anglo-American false narrative of unprovoked Russian aggression , or will they be fooled yet again by the information warriors ? I would like to think the former, but I fear the sedulous power of the Western false narrative. I believe that China, and more quietly India , will stand by Russia. Others– we shall see.
It did not have to be this lose-lose outcome. A Canadian solution was possible, if there had been a modicum of goodwill from Kiev: a federal Ukrainian state with real sovereignty rights for Russian Ukrainians, including importantly a real say in Ukraine foreign policy choices.
Putin was desperate for this outcome and he waited as long as he could. But Washington and Kiev wanted confrontation and permanent East-West hostility, whipped up by Victoria Nuland and her ilk. They now have this. Ukraine will remain poor, depopulated, illiberal and militarized. It is a tragedy, but the threatened genocide and ethnic cleansing of Donbass Russians would have been intolerable for the majority of Russians. As it was personally, for an obviously angry and distressed Putin. This outcome will bring him and his key advisers no great joy, but it was the right decision to take.
This article is from Pearls and Irritations and is republished with the author’s permission.
Tony Kevin is a former Australian senior diplomat, having served as ambassador to Cambodia and Poland, as well as being posted to Australia’s embassy in Moscow. He is the author of six published books on public policy and international relations.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
I would like to add this recent interview with Bruce Gagnon, a seasoned antiwar activist from Maine.
Gagnon challenges those peace activists who support Ukraine in this confrontation:
Rand Report – Overextend and Destabilize Russia
Betsie Weil, Chicago
It’s like a country run by teenage “mean girls”
But I think their objective is to foment a color revolution in Russia, which will undoubtedly backfire, and to get Germany in line, which may also backfire for that country in particular. If those people windup with no heat, no one will have to invent a color revolution.
The western media is absolutely scary. The lies are so enormous, there is no point reading what they say or listening to them. Pure propaganda, going even so far as to use crisis actors in the Ukraine and video games to show the war. It’s shocking how many people are falling for it all. The way they talk bout the Ukraine, it is as if the country were in complete unity – that all Unkrainians were being persecuted by the Russians, and nothing has been going on in the Russian regions these last 8 years. . Really sick stuff. I can’t get on RT anymore. Apparently someone did not like my comments and now I can’t get on. I’m completely blocked. I supposed this is the kind of democracy the US wants to bring to the rest of the world.
“It is hard to see the Nord Stream pipeline opening now, which will be a great economic and humanitarian loss to Europe.”
For while I agree that it may be hard to “see” such a thing happening RIGHT NOW, when the US has whipped all of its client states, including Germany, into a virtual orgy of rabid Russophobia, “this time too shall pass,” as the ancient Chinese sages liked to remind the emperor. In fact, so short is the historical memory of the public in the Western, pro-American nations today, that it is highly probable that within only a few months, or at most a couple of years, they will have been presented with enough similar mass-media hyped “great crises” that they will have forgotten all about the now supposedly so monumental situation in Ukraine. When that happens, and it WILL happen, you can bet that more rational voices from the heads of German industries as well as from a shivering civilian population will prevail upon the government to quietly allow the gas already in the pipeline to flow to those who sorely need it to carry on.
>>”Will Russia advance further into Ukraine? I would predict almost certainly not, though we will hear Western propaganda for weeks that Russia will do so. The present line of contact will become the frontier…”<<
This seems to've already been rendered moot: Putin is attacking not merely the Donbas area, but also the Kyiv area and elsewhere. It's rather hard to see this as anything other than naked-&-presumptuous aggression on a nationwide scale. Just sayin'…
The explosions today outside of Donbass were said to be Ukraine air force targets.
Nor have I heard any statements of Russian officials about a genocide in Donbass.
They have claimed 96,000 Donbass civilian refugees in Russia.
Apparently you have not read much about this.
I very much appreciate this article, and will be sharing it onto my FB Wall. But, many people may be skeptical (or at least _de facto_ ignorant, anyway) of alleged “threatened genocide and ethnic cleansing of Donbass Russians.” To the extent that this is Putin’s primary [purported] predication for his invasion, it’s important to provide as credible & thorough evidence of this looming “genocide” as is feasible. In that spirit, can anyone provide us with some link(s) to credible sources that corroborate this allegation? That’d be very helpful! Thanks again for the article!
Washington et l’OTAN n’ont plus aucune crédibilité. Cette alliance militaire existe strictement pour imposer par la force brute (militaire) la dictature bourgeoise affairiste cléricale libérale nombriliste inféodante économico-politique, c’est-à-dire la BÊTE IMPÉRIALISTE OCCIDENTALE WASHINGTONIENNE: le monde occidental ne s’est construit que sur le fascisme militariste.
Actuellement, la BÊTE a tout simplement repris et poursuivi le même scénario qu’en 1939-45: l’Ukraine NAZI remplace l’Allemagne NAZI; Washington et l’OTAN (ses vassaux de guerre) fournissent toute la logistique militaire nécessaire, et l’Ukraine, la chair à canon, tout cela dans dans l’unique but de guerroyer contre la Russie.
N’oubliez pas que c’est Washington et l’OTAN qui ont placé cette organisation NAZI à la tête de l’Ukraine lors du coup d’État de 2014.
Depuis, les bombardements n’ont pas cessé sur le Donbass bien que l’accord de Minsk soit accepté et signé par tous.
La Russie a choisi l’action la plus HUMANISTE pour faire cesser la destruction HUMAINE par la BÊTE IMPÉRIALISTE OCCIDENTALE WASHINGTONIENNE et ses vassaux de l’OTAN.
Thank you for an itelligent assesment of the current situation. While there immediate effect will be a temporary reigning in of Germany, France and Italy, the boomeranging economic effects of the NATO sanctions will soon be felt in Europe as well as the United States. Over time, perhaps within months, the hysteria will die down, and talks will begin.
Tuchman’s other book, the Guns of August, had a profound effect on President Kennedy. It helped influence his thinking during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
An “active” Cold War is the “blob’s” (the modern, expanded and comprehensive version of the “military-industrial-complex”) preferred environment.
Thus humanity must continue to live with the Sword of Damocles hanging over it’s head on an ever more slender thread (No peace, No way!), with all the misery that that brings, so the blob can be important. And, of course, with that importance comes real money, power and influence. What’s not to like (if you’re a blobber)?
The Biden administration was the vehicle to bring the Cold War back to the fore. This is all he was ever going to do. What a guy… The youth that voted for him in hopes of a rational climate change mitigation response were punked and discarded. Your future is gone. No doubt, in a short while it will be required by “patriotic law” for schools to display a photo of the “dear new father of duck and cover.”
What choice did the youth in America have? Corporate media and the two parties put forth Trump and Biden. They sidelined Bernie (both in 2016 and 2020) from the get go even though he was the most popular candidate.
The new cold war. This is an interesting phrase. So the first so called cold war is generally thought to be the period from 1947 to 1991. Then with the Soviet Union’s failure in Afghanistan and falling into shambles , the US went looking for trouble in during the Iraq Iran war 1980-1988, selling weapons to both sides. The Soviets licking their wounds were not looking for trouble parleyed with the US and with the dissolution of the soviet Union Dec 26, 1991 SHAZAM the cold war was over.
Or was it. During those times talk of moving away from nuclear weapons occurred. A ideas of peace and prosperity the benefits of this so-called great event never materialized as the U.S. hopped around the globe building one military base after another because the brain dead American public was blind to what was taking place. Effectively the with the U.S.leading the way the Cold War was pushed into the Deep Freeze. Out of sight out of mind. Except for Israel’s occasional illegal interference with other countries efforts to build nuclear whatevers. No mention of any cold war implications but still Russia was a persistent threat to intervene, such as in the case of Russia backing Iran. The U.S. could have intervened in N Korea early on but those troublesome Chinese might not have appreciated heavy handed intervention by the U.S. there for sure. The Chinese had their own nukes by then. So what makes for a cold war, nuclear armed countries whe are perceived as a threat?
Why be concerned about those hot spots? Because if the wrong thing happened the cold war might get dragged from the deep freeze. So was the cold war really over? Am I arguing semantics? I don’t think so.
As soon as any serious confrontation between nuclear powers occur that “old bugaboo” the threat of some country using those nuclear weapons came to my mind. and I’m betting it occurs to many other to numerous to mention. Being born in early 1949 would encourage everyone to pay attention to the fools looking for “shinny cities on hills”, those leaders who controlled the use of these gro-tesque world ending monsters. The events, those near misses I won’t list here for the sake of time and efficiency. I hope you get the idea. There were several near close call events.
Google the topic.
So was the cold war really over? Nope , I think not, it was propaganda by power hungry pols on all sides. Everyone continued to build nuclear this and nuclear that for their militaries . Especially the dangerous nuclear subs loaded with nuclear missiles. More chance for accidental launch. One that could occur from any ocean on the planet. What could go wrong.
So was the cold war over? Not for me I can see through the B.S. too clearly.
Which brings us to the present. For the last 70 years the U.S. and Russia have probed countries around the world looking for those tender areas. But as soon as the U.S. falls on hard times almost all of which have been of the countries leadership making bone heads decisions for the sake of disrupting 3rd world countries for fun and profit, U.S. leadership gets hot and bothered about a problem the same leadership created. Say Ukraine
The dreaded fear by the masses is not of conventional war, unless of course you live in a third world country and are a “have not”, to “the haves” the fear is of a hot nuclear war. A war that gets everyone death rather quickly. No on gets another chance. Interesting how those “haves ” turn white knuckled and reach for the sleeping pills and antacid then.
The “Cold War was never “over” it was put on ice in the deep freeze so those MIC mega corporations could continue to cash in. Under Bush 41 the U.S. aided in proliferation just as they illegally did with Israel during the 1960’s. One simply needs to read that history.
One must agree that all it takes to “thaw” a nuclear missile is to push that little red button.
The cold war will be over when all nuclear armed countries dismantle their nukes, each and every one.
Sleep well for the Air Force is protecting you tonight. No really just ask them!
“the brain dead American public was blind to what was taking place.”
What? If they weren’t told what was going on, how were they to know? They weren’t “blind”, they were misled and lied to. If they didn’t know, how does that make them brain dead?
Maybe, just maybe a very significant number of Americans might be encouraged by their peers to to be proactive in the gathering of information on their own. And that doesn’t means watching CNN or Fox!
If everyone sets back an simply says “Well no one told what was going on . . . .” nothing will ever change. Regardless it takes motivated individuals to dig for the truth. It’s like having a second job at times.
But Richard your point is well taken. I got lazy and lost my discipline here. We should demand our government tell us although had it not been for the Penetagon Papers we might still be in Vietnam. We don’t!
Perhaps Professor Jessica Matthews will see this article and add her own synopsis of Barbara W. Tuchman’s The March of Folly to the authors point of view .
Thank you for sharing your views on this critical topic. Would that the US had diplomats as thoughtful as Tony Kevin. Which prompts this question: where is CIA head Wm. Burns on all this? I think he’s on record in the past when ambassador to Russia as stating that continued NATO expansion was unwise. Where does he stand now? It seems our Neo-cons like Nuland are driving foreign policy –right off the edge.
Where is the downside for the US (& UK)? US hegemony over Europe has been significantly reinforced, NATO has been justified, its arms sales to its European clients will also significantly increase as will its sale of oil and shale gas due to suspensjon of Nordstream 2. Moreover, it is probably only a question of time before attempts are made to shutdown the existing Nordstream gas pipeline. Finally, given the inevitable damage to European economies, especially Germany, they will be far weaker competitors to the US.
Overall, at this point, the US & UK appear to be major winners and all others losers, especially the Ukrainians. Whether one likes it or not, one has to acknowledge the Anglo-Americans have out played everyone else.
Perhaps the French and Germans can double their diplomatic efforts and persuade Ukraine & Russia to agree on reviving and quickly implementing the Minsk agreement within a new federal Ukrainian constitution. If so, the situation could be reversed. But this is probably an impossible task to achieve.
The Minsk Accords were dead in the water as long as the Ukrainian Nazis held so much power and influence over the government and its policies.
It is notable that one of the goals of Russia is not only protecting the people of the Donbas from the Ukrainian Army but includes the de-nazification of Ukraine, which would transform in to essentially a neutral country.
So well said.
Biden stated when asked if Putin would invade Ukraine, “My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.”
In saying Putin would have to do something, Biden was revealing that US/NATO/Nazi forces would continue to prevent Minsk fulfillment and continue to increase violent attacks on Donbas, both of which they did, in order to force Putin to defend the people of the breakaway republics.
It is to Putin’s credit, and to the credit of the Russian people and their representatives, that he chose to do this, the least horrible of the choices created for him by our rabid monstrous foreign policy.
Much of this is absolutely correct. I have two comments. One. I don’t think that the rest of the world will be fooled by the US’s crap. One of the things I find amusing is that when we have the situation in the Donbass, you don’t hear the cries of R2P that the US always trots out when it wants to attack someone without cause. But, in fact, that’s what Putin faced. And Two, I’m not so sure that Minsk is dead. Mr. Putin doesn’t want parts of the Ukraine. He wants NATO dead. If Zelensky has two brains to rub together (something, I admit, he hasn’t shown any sign of so far), he’ll offer to go back to the Minsk accords, dispense with his American “friends” and start to talk turkey and realize that Crimea is gone forever. Maybe making a treaty with Russia to disavow any thoughts of accession to NATO. I think that Putin, like his ally in China, prefers win-win solutions but that can only happen if Zelensky decides to play ball. If he doesn’t want to, I suspect Mr Putin will have no compunction about dismembering the Ukraine as it currently exists.
I’m also not so sure that the US has succeeded in the real purpose behind this little bit of Noh theater – firmly locking France and Germany in the US’s orbit. I suspect that Mr. Putin’s comment that Germany was just an occupied country didn’t help their self esteem any. The Europeans are dumb as dirt (albeit brighter than the Ukrainians) but after the embarrassment of the Iran agreement sabotaged by Donnie Murdo, I’m not sure they’ll sign up to sell their souls to the devil again.
Reviving Minisk would mean Russia reversing its recognition of Donbass independence.
Yes, indeed it would. They could do that but the Ukraine would have to do things to demonstrate that they took seriously the directions of Minsk II. The Ukrainians refused to act on Minsk II for 8 years. That’s not Russia’s fault. They continued aggression against the Donbass when, in fact, they had one of two choices – (a) provide a degree of autonomy to the Donbass so that the ethnic Russians could, for example, speak Russian or (b) try to crush the Donbass. They chose (b) which was a really stupid choice. The Ukrainian’s masters in “The West” are just as stupid for egging them on. Ukraine will be NATOs Waterloo.
It will not be so easy to revoke recognition of independence.
Agreed. There is no going back now. The Minsk agreements were never adhered to by the Ukro-nazis, and since that was the case the Russians decided to dispose of that ‘option’ entirely in order to prevent possible planned genocide in the Donbas. Which even way it really is, whatever is done is now done and sealed.
True, but the independence of those was not needed earlier because Putin and Russia accepted Ukrainian “territorial integrity” as long as Russians and other minorities had rights. Once the coup government and takeover occurred (Nuland, cookies, f*** the EU) in 2014, the situation changed. Russia does NOT want to take over Ukraine!! Who would?! The Russian UN Rep has left open the possibility of return to Minsk plan, which Kiev has steadfastly refused while speaking of diplomacy!!
It is good to hear another perspective, different from the shrill bleating of the Western media. Time will tell, I suppose, who is more correct.
The only thing I saw that was unpalatable to me, a ‘westerner’, is the characterization of our governments as being ‘intelligent’. If you measure intelligence by the stock prices of defense and intelligence contractors, ok. But, by no other measure I can imagine.
Nice concise summation of this tragic folly. One feels like weeping for the world that could be. And there is the almost unbearable alienation and isolation for those of us living in the rotted heart of the empire. Most of the good people I know cannot hear or see having been made blind and deaf by propaganda and the ego-driven need to think well of themselves and their country. Not even aware they live in an empire.
It is a lose lose for the West but what else could one expect from a project lost in the mists and myths of the 20th century. Russia and Eurasia has a future, a very bright one indeed, the West further degradation and collapse. The bright take away was that, yet again when confronted by Russia, the West ran away, deserted their ‘ally’ and resorted to sanctions that will destroy the EU as a going concern. Sad in many ways. Ukraine now will rightly question what on earth they got themselves involved with the CIA and the Nuland/Blinken/Kagan gang for, they can finally have the roses wiped from their eyes and see that their only meaning to the West was that of permanent distraction for Moscow. Its sad for Russia as yet again their flowering as a nation is interupted but no matter they will recover, the West will not (being a terminal case)
As always, Pepe Escobar cuts to the chase. hxxps://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2022/02/22/the-birth-of-the-baby-twins-russias-strategic-swing-drives-natostan-nuts/
Not that I’m anxious for a further militarization of the planet, but Washington is totally to blame for whatever happens next.
HOw about PUTIN WITHDRAWING FROM UKRAINE? lat time I checked, it’s AGAINST International LAw to INVADE other countries. In fact, Putin has committed an ACT OF WAR.
This is quite an enlightening article. I just wish the western public could access and read such articles. I am absolutely sick of the Western media spin. I have personally spent years visiting and living in Ukraine. It is a very Slavic country just like Russia and i see very little differences between both countries but huge differences to Western countries. The Western media go on about the “Russian Speaking” eastern region of Ukraine. But from my experience in Ukraine, almost everyone speaks the Russian language. I personally feel NATO and countries from other continents should keep their noses out of the region. Let Ukraine be an independent nation friendly to all and not a pawn in Western expansionism.
Very well stated. Putin’s request for “decent good-neighborly relations” and “respect for the full human rights” of a minority could not be more reasonable. The constant “lose-lose” policies of the US are due to corruption of all branches of US government by the campaign bribes of economic power, due to an economy that elevates its lowest scammers to money and power, and calls that proof of virtue.
Thank you. I come to consortium news for the truth about Ukraine
Putin and Lavrov looked to be the adults in the room.
This is outrageous. Doesn’t Putin realise only the exceptional US is entitled to dispose of other people’s real estate? Golan Heights, Jerusalem, West Bank, Kurdistan, Kosovo, Tibet, Taiwan.
The March of Folly goes hand-in-hand with false assumptions and errors of fact. We saw it in Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and now in Ukraine. American exceptionalism will soon meet an ignominious end.