Jeffrey Sachs: NATO Expansion & Ukraine’s Destruction

Ukraine is being destroyed by U.S. arrogance, proving again Henry Kissinger’s adage that to be America’s enemy is dangerous, while to be its friend is fatal.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the European Parliament on Sept. 7. (NATO, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Jeffrey D. Sachs
Common Dreams

During the disastrous Vietnam War, it was said that the U.S. government treated the public like a mushroom farm: keeping it in the dark and feeding it with manure. The heroic Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers documenting the unrelenting U.S. government lying about the war in order to protect politicians who would be embarrassed by the truth. A half century later, during the Ukraine War, the manure is piled even higher. 

According to the U.S. government and the ever-obsequious New York Times, the Ukraine war was “unprovoked,” the Times’ favorite adjective to describe the war. Putin, allegedly mistaking himself for Peter the Great, invaded Ukraine to recreate the Russian Empire. Yet last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg committed a Washington gaffe, meaning that he accidentally blurted out the truth. 

[Related: NATO Chief: NATO Expansion Caused Russian Invasion]

In testimony to the European Union Parliament, Stoltenberg made clear that it was America’s relentless push to enlarge NATO to Ukraine that was the real cause of the war and why it continues today. Here are Stoltenberg’s revealing words: 

“The background was that President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition to not invade Ukraine. Of course, we didn’t sign that.

The opposite happened. He wanted us to sign that promise, never to enlarge NATO. He wanted us to remove our military infrastructure in all Allies that have joined NATO since 1997, meaning half of NATO, all the Central and Eastern Europe, we should remove NATO from that part of our Alliance, introducing some kind of B, or second-class membership. We rejected that. 

So, he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite.” 

To repeat, he [Putin] went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. 

When Prof. John Mearsheimer, I, and others have said the same, we’ve been attacked as Putin apologists. The same critics also choose to hide or flatly ignore the dire warnings against NATO enlargement to Ukraine, long articulated by many of America’s leading diplomats, including the great scholar-statesman George Kennan, and the former U.S. ambassadors to Russia Jack Matlock and William Burns. 

[Related: Ukraine Crisis Should Have Been Avoided]

Burns, now C.I.A. director, was U.S. ambassador to Russia in 2008, and author of a memo entitled “Nyet means Nyet.” In that memo, Burns explained to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the entire Russian political class, not just Putin, was dead-set against NATO enlargement. We know about the memo only because it was leaked. Otherwise, we’d be in the dark about it. 

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Why does Russia oppose NATO enlargement? For the simple reason that Russia does not accept the U.S. military on its 2,300 km border with Ukraine in the Black Sea region. Russia does not appreciate the U.S. placement of Aegis missiles in Poland and Romania after the U.S. unilaterally abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. 

Russia’s Reasons

Russia also does not welcome the fact that the U.S. engaged in no fewer than 70 regime change operations during the Cold War (1947-1989), and countless more since, including in Serbia, Afghanistan, Georgia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Venezuela, and Ukraine. Nor does Russia like the fact that many leading U.S. politicians actively advocate the destruction of Russia under the banner of “Decolonizing Russia.” That would be like Russia calling for the removal of Texas, California, Hawaii, the conquered Indian lands, and much else, from the United States. 

[Related: Why Americans Are Never Told Why]

Even Zelensky’s team knew that the quest for NATO enlargement meant imminent war with Russia. Oleksiy Arestovych, former adviser to the Office of the President of Ukraine under Zelensky, declared that “with a 99.9 percent probability, our price for joining NATO is a big war with Russia.” 

Arestovych in February 2022. (, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

Arestovych claimed that even without NATO enlargement, Russia would eventually try to take Ukraine, just many years later. Yet history belies that. Russia respected Finland’s and Austria’s neutrality for decades, with no dire threats, much less invasions. Moreover, from Ukraine’s independence in 1991 until the U.S.-backed overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government in 2014, Russia didn’t show any interest in taking Ukrainian territory.

It was only when the U.S. installed a staunchly anti-Russian, pro-NATO regime in February 2014 that Russia took back Crimea, concerned that its Black Sea naval base in Crimea (since 1783) would fall into NATO’s hands. 

Even then, Russia didn’t demand other territory from Ukraine, only fulfillment of the U.N.-backed Minsk II Agreement, which called for autonomy of the ethnic-Russian Donbass, not a Russian claim on the territory. Yet instead of diplomacy, the U.S. armed, trained and helped to organize a huge Ukrainian army to make NATO enlargement a fait accompli. 

Putin made one last attempt at diplomacy at the end of 2021, tabling a draft U.S.-NATO Security Agreement to forestall war. The core of the draft agreement was an end of NATO enlargement and removal of U.S. missiles near Russia. Russia’s security concerns were valid and the basis for negotiations. Yet Biden flatly rejected negotiations out of a combination of arrogance, hawkishness and profound miscalculation. NATO maintained its position that NATO would not negotiate with Russia regarding NATO enlargement, that in effect, NATO enlargement was none of Russia’s business. 

The continuing U.S. obsession with NATO enlargement is profoundly irresponsible and hypocritical. The U.S. would object — by means of war, if needed — to being encircled by Russian or Chinese military bases in the Western Hemisphere, a point the U.S. has made since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Yet the U.S. is blind and deaf to the legitimate security concerns of other countries. 

So, yes, Putin went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to Russia’s border. Ukraine is being destroyed by U.S. arrogance, proving again Henry Kissinger’s adage that to be America’s enemy is dangerous, while to be its friend is fatal.

The Ukraine War will end when the U.S. acknowledges a simple truth: NATO enlargement to Ukraine means perpetual war and Ukraine’s destruction. Ukraine’s neutrality could have avoided the war, and remains the key to peace. The deeper truth is that European security depends on collective security as called for by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), not one-sided NATO demands.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a university professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, where he directed The Earth Institute from 2002 until 2016. He is also president of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network and a commissioner of the U.N. Broadband Commission for Development. He has been adviser to three United Nations secretaries-general, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Sachs is the author, most recently, of A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism (2020). Other books include: Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable (2017) and The Age of Sustainable Development, (2015) with Ban Ki-moon.

This article is from  Common Dreams.

Views expressed in this article and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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22 comments for “Jeffrey Sachs: NATO Expansion & Ukraine’s Destruction

  1. RWilson
    September 23, 2023 at 20:50

    How about an article on the Neocons? What is their ideology and its origins? How did they come to have such power over both Republican and Democratic administrations?

  2. wildthange
    September 22, 2023 at 20:27

    It is the same western civilization taking over in an international sense a religious empire arising out to the Roman empire for god granted domination of all world culture. Both the Russian orthodoxy and the Asian culture in general is an existential threat to our world dominance with comparable technological development. Development able to defend from us snatching mandates and colonies of the past like Taiwan today.
    The Roman Empire might have even created a religion weaponized for occupation of the Middle East to begin with which later became a weapon allied with many different ascendant empires ever since..

  3. nwwoods
    September 22, 2023 at 12:34

    As impressive as Prof. Sachs credentials may be, and they certainly are, I personally know people who would just put there hands over their ears and shout la la la la can’t hear you Putin is a Nazi dictator psychopath who single handedly controls Russia with an iron fist and is determined to violently overthrow all of Europe.
    In some cases these are not only highly educated people, but retired educators themselves. Testament to how effective a generation of concerted brainwashing has proven to be, particularly among the boomer generation, of which I am one myself.
    In retrospect, my first exposure to anti-communist propaganda harks back to the early sixties when first saw the 1944 cartoon “Russian Rhapsody” on TV at the age of 4 or 5, which left an indelible impression as it was expressly designed to do, forever implanting the term “Kremlin” in my young mind as a nebulous symbol of something indescribably nefarious.
    I urge readers to look it up on Youtube.

  4. Jan
    September 22, 2023 at 11:35

    “That would be like Russia calling for the removal of Texas, California, Hawaii, the conquered Indian lands, and much else, from the United States.” Not such a bad idea. A diminished United States would be a gift to the rest of the world. In reality, Hawai’i is not legally a part of the US. Because it was a recognized nation when it was invaded by US troops, established international law dictates that it be considered under military occupation.

  5. James P McFadden
    September 22, 2023 at 11:09

    NATO is a marketing strategy for the US arms industry.
    Institutions like NATO cling to life even when their purpose for being is gone.
    NATO is to Europe what the Monroe Doctrine is to Latin America, tools of US Empire.
    Apostasy: The sin of any who question the US/NATO/ war profits and endless wars.
    “NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence.” Richard Sakwa
    The rest of the world is funding the US-NATO attacks on the rest of the world.
    US allies are held hostage by NATO, forcing them to remain in the US economic sphere
    NATO is not defensive – it attacked Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya

  6. Lewis
    September 22, 2023 at 04:47

    Remarkable to see the battle flag that flew over Berlin in this year’s Victory Day parade in Moscow. There’s a message there that our pols seem to have missed. Not that subtle if you’ve read some history.

  7. September 22, 2023 at 04:42

    Jeffrey is stellar! No wonder his warnings are no longer published in the NYT as Biden and the nutcons prepare to move on from their killing fields of Europe to once again “deal with China,” as their Sturmbannführer announced at the CFR:

    “So if the United States is concerned about China and wants to pivot towards Asia, then you have to ensure that Putin doesn’t win in Ukraine. Because if Ukraine wins, then you will have the second-biggest army in Europe, the Ukrainian army, battle-hardened on our side, and we have a weakened Russian army, and we have also now a Europe really stepping up for defense spending. That will make it easier for you to focus also on China and not only or be less concerned about the situation in Europe. And opposite if Putin wins. So it is in the security interest of the United States to ensure that Ukraine wins and make it easier to deal with China.”

  8. cookie out west
    September 21, 2023 at 21:55

    Thank you, Jeffrey Sachs, for your comprehensive, clear history regarding this terrible proxy war of U.S. vs. Russia in Ukraine. If only somehow you could get an article published in the NY Times. But it’s in the pocket of this Dem administration. So sad. I listen to you wherever a YouTube search has you, as with Judging Freedom and The Real News network, or via Glenn Greenwald. It’s impossible for me to summarize what you write. All of it is what the American people (and Europeans) need to hear/read. A bow of thanks for your on-going peace work.
    Carolyn Grassi
    poet in California

  9. James White
    September 21, 2023 at 20:38

    The France 24 Debate tonight was about Zelensky’s latest photo-op adventure to the U.S. and U.N. speech. A related topic was Poland’s opposition to Ukraine grain dumping in Europe and the ‘drowning man’ metaphor about Ukraine’s war. Is that grain heavily discounted where it contains depleted uranium? F24 broke for once from the usual pro-Ukraine propaganda and admitted for the very first time that Ukraine is losing war. This must have come as a shock to anyone who watches F24 and actually believed the constant cheerleading for Ukraine over the past 2 years. There were two ‘think’ tank women who are rabidly pro-Ukraine. One of them said that ATACMS or F16’s would be a ‘game-changer.’ The same claim was previously made about Leopard tanks, then Abrams tanks, long range missiles, HIMARS, etc. But the systematic destruction of Ukraine’s armed forces as always, continues unabated. Both were indignant about the U.S. not arming Ukraine adequately and quickly enough to suit them. So cavalier were they about tempting WW3. If you advocate war in Ukraine while not being willing to pick up a rifle yourself and head for the front, then you are a gutless coward. I’m talking to you Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Michael McCaul. And Biden, with his 3 stooges of war mongering, Blinken, Sullivan and Nuland.

  10. Nick
    September 21, 2023 at 20:15

    When the doctor who ordered shock therapy for Russia is saying things like this, people should listen.

    • Paul
      September 23, 2023 at 05:11

      Thanks Nick

  11. alley cat
    September 21, 2023 at 19:02

    “The Ukraine War will end when the U.S. acknowledges a simple truth: NATO enlargement to Ukraine means perpetual war and Ukraine’s destruction.”

    Great post by Jeffrey Sachs. Far worse than the specter of perpetual war and Ukraine’s destruction is the very real possibility of nuclear war and all mankind’s destruction.

    The Russians are just bluffing, say delusional U.S. neocons, who would serenely bet all our lives on that belief. This is an article of faith with them, because otherwise they would have to acknowledge that their project for world domination is a plan for mass murder/suicide.

  12. September 21, 2023 at 17:46

    I previously heard professor Sachs mention and was surprised by the 70 US regime change operations since 1947, so I hit the link to read some of the source material, from the book “Covert Regime Change – America’s Secret Cold War” BY LINDSEY A. O’ROURKE

    Google provides excerpts, so in reading Chapter one, O’Rourke outlines three reason (models for) regime change. The third “to keep target states politically subordinate” is the most important, in my view. I would add to that perhaps a fourth, “to prevent the emergence of a viable socialist alternative” (which O’Rourke tangentially and vaguely refers to).

    But O’Rourke pulls his punches and ends up actually legitimizing regime change in his third alternative. Check this absurd statement out:

    “Regime change allows a state to install a foreign government that shares the intervening state’s preferences and interests. In theory, such a move is mutually beneficial to both parties and has the potential to fundamentally transform the relationship between the two states. If the operation is successful, the new government will share mutual interests with the intervenor, meaning that it will act in the intervenor state’s interests without having to be bribed or coerced into doing so. This, in turn, should reduce tensions between the two states. The stage is set of cooperation as a foe becomes a friend. In the best-case scenario, the new regime will become a reliable client state and pursue the intervenors interests at home and abroad.”

    Covert regime change is in theory “mutually beneficial”? A “reliable client state” is mutual in theory? What BS. Professor Sachs, did you read that?

  13. September 21, 2023 at 17:36

    Bless your heart Dr. Sachs for your continuous attempt to help the American people understand how badly our government and main stream media have gulled us into thinking that it is Russia who is the monster here, and not the greedy violent CIA, Pentagon and the billionaire oligarchs who run this country with the acquiescence of the people we elect who go along with it instead of speaking out.
    I note with utter dismay that not one Democrat Senator or Representative (including Bernie Sanders, AOC, Sheldon Whitehouse and numerous others I could name ) has spoken out strongly against our government’s lies and the continuous lies of our mainstream media – particularly the N.Y. Times- about our continued push to call the Ukraine war “unprovoked”. I look up to Bernie, and Whitehouse and others and am saddened that they have been silent on this particular subject. If they have said anything against the US and the Biden administration’s behavior it has been so muted that I have not seen or heard of it, yet I’m pretty sure that none of them are ignorant of the true facts in this case, but they continue to keep silent and allow the lies to daily flow over this once democratic land.
    I sincerely hope you will continue to try to help us understand what is really going on and I thank CN for publishing your article, along with Common Dreams which also published it.

  14. Selina Sweet
    September 21, 2023 at 16:23

    The fact that the designers of Biden and his administration didn’t and don’t have the guts
    – even intellectual integrity – to include points of view opposite to the neoconservative hawkish conformists vitiates
    any iota of wisdom in foreign policy and domestic discussions that could lend balance
    to decisions that are completely one-sided and in case of Ukraine – terribly wrong-at the costs
    of an entire country and its citizens. Biden was schooled in the cold war and propagandistic
    imperialist generalizations about Russians and their leadership. That and having to prove
    his macho metal against Obama and other predecessor boys likely helped put the twist into his

    As other observers have noted – notably Michael Brenner ( – the quality of our governmental
    leadership has been steadily worsening. Nuland, Sullivan and Blincken are examples of the Peter Principal,
    par excellence. Kamala Harris, too. She sank her integrity when she let Mnuchin off the hook. Dreaded
    is the self-satisfied Democratic Establishment of Obama, Clintons et al likely choice to vaunt
    Mr. Check-Which-Way-the-Wind-is-Blowing Pete Buttegeig into the Presidential vacuum. Who – until The Lever News
    nailed him full on for his lacadaisical non response to Norfolk Southern’s crappy safety record – made an
    attempt to look something like a leader. Is there any way for the Democratic Party to force their corporate
    Establishment to resign?

    • Meza Viro
      September 23, 2023 at 16:15

      They are all in Washington, in our government, to get rich. All those at the top are so opposed to unions; but they all belong to unions. They all went to the same schools, attended the same elite oligarch training, they all belong to the same secret societies, and they all pay themselves massively and vote for themselves pay raises. But, they do not want the lower classes in unions. The US should be “regime changed”.

  15. Caliman
    September 21, 2023 at 15:20

    I so appreciate Dr. Sachs’s ability to talk in the same narrative language as the western regimists but show that their arguments, even on their own basis, lack any merit. However, there’s danger in this, because it obscures the reality and scale of the issue:

    “Yet Biden flatly rejected negotiations out of a combination of arrogance, hawkishness and profound miscalculation.”

    No, the US did not reject negotiation due to mistakes; they rejected diplomacy simply because this war is exactly what they wanted and have been angling for and pushing Russia towards all along.

    They wanted war always first and always foremost to serve the interest of MICIMATT; but also: to split Russia off Europe, especially Germany; to patch up and expand NATO, to weaken Russia, especially prior to moving on to China; etc. …

    Why would you settle for sanity and peace when insanity and chaos is what pays the bills?

    • Gregory Herr
      September 21, 2023 at 19:41

      Yes…exactly what they wanted, pushing the most provocative buttons that could be pushed. Russian restraint is to be admired amidst the circumstances. Brutal invaders indeed…the true “invasion” was the 2014 coup and subsequent capture of “Ukrainian” policy, replete with terrorism (14.000 dead civilians) and Nazism.

  16. Bob Martin
    September 21, 2023 at 15:16

    Thank you, Jeffrey Sachs, for this clear-headed review of the Ukraine situation. Of course, forget about it appearing in corporate media stenography outlets.

  17. rosemerry
    September 21, 2023 at 15:08

    NATO is obsolete and making Russia an enemy was a stupid, dangerous and obviously very foolish decision. NATO could easily have been abolished as no longer needed if the USA and its “friends” wanted peace as Russia did.

  18. Chris N
    September 21, 2023 at 14:01

    It’s troubling how many people buy into the “unprovoked” narrative. Such apathy will be our downfall

    • robert e williamson jr
      September 22, 2023 at 19:04

      Chris, “Such apathy will, strike that “will” my friend and replace it with “has been” our downfall.

      Exceptional Americans are The problem here. “Exceptional America” is a concept based in the American misunderstanding of what it means to be all powerful nation and steeped in unfounded arrogance, derived from being the most powerful military power on the planet.

      Since WWII this country has been on a power trip that has resulted from being feed a steady diet of bull shit from CIA and NSA being allowed to squat in the middle of foreign policy.

      What is troubling about Americans is how willing they are to buy into this Authoritarian propaganda spewed from these agencies. These Americans who suffer from the delusional belief they are superior in some skewed understanding of reality.

      Move along there is really nothing new here to see.

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