LOOK BACK: The Pentagon Staved Off War With Russia

In March 2022 the Pentagon leaked stories to counter propaganda intended to drag NATO into the conflict, wrote Joe Lauria. The story has since changed.

The Pentagon. (Joe Lauria)

A month after Russia entered the civil war in Ukraine in February 2022, both President Joe Biden and the Pentagon were pushing back against aggressive, neocon voices in Congress and the State Dept. who were itching for direct military confrontation with Moscow. Biden and the brass were realists, warning that conflict with Russia could lead to a Third World War.

As a Caitlin Johnstone column published earlier today on Consortium News indicates, that caution has been dangerously tossed to the wind as the West widely acknowledges Ukraine is losing the war. It is an unacceptable outcome politically ruinous for European and American leaders. By allowing their Ukrainian proxies to use Western weapons to strike Russian territory Western politicians are threatening us all merely to save their political careers.

It “draws Biden even deeper into a war in which Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly raised the prospect of a nuclear strike,” said The Washington Post. 

CN Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria wrote the following piece in March 2022 explaining how the White House and the Pentagon were previously restraining recklessness in Washington. That was then and this is now.  It shows how unthinkably far we’ve come in this conflict. 

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News
March 23, 2022

The Pentagon has been engaged in a consequential battle with the U.S. State Department and the Congress to prevent a direct military confrontation with Russia, which could unleash the most unimaginable horror of war.

President Joe Biden is caught in the middle of the fray. So far he is siding with the Defense Department, saying there cannot be any kind of NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine fighting Russian aircraft because “that’s called World War III, okay? Let’s get it straight here, guys. We will not fight the third world war in Ukraine.” 

“President Biden’s been clear that U.S. troops won’t fight Russia in Ukraine, and if you establish a no-fly zone, certainly in order to enforce that no-fly zone, you’ll have to engage Russian aircraft. And again, that would put us at war with Russia,” said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this month. (The administration plan is to bring down the Russian government through a ground insurgency and economic war, not a direct military one.)

But pressure on the White House from some members of Congress and especially the press corps is unrelenting to recklessly bring NATO directly into the war.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken who initially said NATO had given a “green light” to send planes from Poland to Ukraine had to back down and now opposes any no-fly zone involving NATO.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also supported the Polish planes scheme, which was shot down by the Pentagon because it “could result in significant Russian reaction that might increase the prospects of a military escalation with NATO,” according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. 

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, hailed as a virtual superhero in Western media, has vacillated between openness to negotiating a peace settlement with Russia and calling for NATO, again on Friday, to “close the skies” above Ukraine. To save his country he appears willing to risk endangering the entire world. 

Meanwhile, Western corporate media, depending almost exclusively on Ukrainian sources, report that Russia is losing the war, with its military offensive “stalled,” and in frustration has deliberately targeted civilians and flattened cities.

Biden has bought into this part of the story, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” He has also said that Russia is planning a “false flag” chemical attack to pin on Ukraine. 

But on Tuesday, the Pentagon took the bold step of leaking two stories to reporters that contradict those tales. “Russia’s conduct in the brutal war tells a different story than the widely accepted view that Vladimir Putin is intent on demolishing Ukraine and inflicting maximum civilian damage—and it reveals the Russian leader’s strategic balancing act,” reported Newsweek in an article entitled, “Putin’s Bombers Could Devastate Ukraine But He’s Holding Back. Here’s Why.”

The piece quotes an unnamed analyst at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) saying, “The heart of Kyiv has barely been touched. And almost all of the long-range strikes have been aimed at military targets.”

A retired U.S. Air Force officer now working as an analyst for a Pentagon contractor, added: “We need to understand Russia’s actual conduct. If we merely convince ourselves that Russia is bombing indiscriminately, or [that] it is failing to inflict more harm because its personnel are not up to the task or because it is technically inept, then we are not seeing the real conflict.”

The article says:

“As of the past weekend, in 24 days of conflict, Russia has flown some 1,400 strike sorties and delivered almost 1,000 missiles (by contrast, the United States flew more sorties and delivered more weapons in the first day of the 2003 Iraq war). …

A proportion of those strikes have damaged and destroyed civilian structures and killed and injured innocent civilians, but the level of death and destruction is low compared to Russia’s capacity.

‘I know it’s hard … to swallow that the carnage and destruction could be much worse than it is,’ says the DIA analyst. ‘But that’s what the facts show. This suggests to me, at least, that Putin is not intentionally attacking civilians, that perhaps he is mindful that he needs to limit damage in order to leave an out for negotiations.'”

A second retired U.S. Air Force officer says:

“I’m frustrated by the current narrative—that Russia is intentionally targeting civilians, that it is demolishing cities, and that Putin doesn’t care. Such a distorted view stands in the way of finding an end before true disaster hits or the war spreads to the rest of Europe. I know that the news keeps repeating that Putin is targeting civilians, but there is no evidence that Russia is intentionally doing so. In fact, I’d say that Russian could be killing thousands more civilians if it wanted to.”

These Pentagon sources confirm what Putin and the Russian Ministry of Defense have been saying all along: that instead of being “stalled,” Russia is executing a methodical war plan to encircle cities, opening humanitarian corridors for civilians, leaving civilian infrastructure like water, electricity, telephony and internet intact, and trying to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible.

Until these Pentagon leaks it was difficult to confirm that Russia was entirely telling the truth and that corporate media were publishing fables cooked up by Ukraine’s publicity machine. 

No Evidence of Chemicals

The Pentagon’s mettle will be tested if there is a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine. Biden has said Russia would pay a “severe price” but who the perpetrator would be might be murky. Whoever might be behind such an attack, the calls for direct military action are sure to increase in the U.S. media, the Congress and perhaps internally at the State Dept.

The second mainstream article directly undermines Biden’s dramatic warning.  Reuters reported: “The United States has not yet seen any concrete indications of an imminent Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine but is closely monitoring streams of intelligence for them, a senior U.S. defense official said.”

It quoted the Pentagon official as saying, “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now.” Neither The New York Times nor The Washington Post published the Reuters article, which appeared in the more obscure U.S. News and World Report. 

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story — even if it could lead to the most devastating consequences in history.

UPDATED to add details of Blinken and Pelosi’s support for NATO jets from Poland entering the war and the Pentagon’s move to stop it; additional quotes from a second retired Air Force officer in the Newsweek story and the challenge to the Pentagon to keep NATO out of the war if there is a chemical weapons attack. 

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, including The Montreal Gazette and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News 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  

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7 comments for “LOOK BACK: The Pentagon Staved Off War With Russia

  1. Francis (Frank) Lee
    June 8, 2024 at 12:08

    1962. First time around, Trafalgar Square in the Heart of London: there I was all of 16 years old and waiting beneath Nelson’s column for what was going to be the nuclear flash: It didn’t happen, since wiser heads – Kennedy and Kruschev – stopped it happening, I am now 79 years of age and have managed to come through life reasonably well and one piece. But I feel for those poor souls who are being ‘ruled’ (sic) over by the frankly insane and who don’t even realise that they are insane. Where are they? Where are those may lead us out of the darkness into the light? We can but hope.

  2. Jeff Harrison
    June 6, 2024 at 21:32

    Some very astute comments here. If the US keeps pushing, Russia will, without warning, respond. If that happens, there will be a lot of unhappy people (however briefly). However, the US has zero experience with devastation wreaked on CONUS. And, they aren’t thinking (that it can happen here). I greatly fear that the imbeciles in DC will need to get a very bloody nose before that start actually thinking.

  3. Drew Hunkins
    June 6, 2024 at 18:55

    People must wake up, fast.

    As most astute CN readers know, Washington has handed the Ukrainian forces ATACMS with a range arc of 300 miles. The Ukrainians are now using them to strike locations inside Russia. Some of Russia’s crucial strategic command and control centers are within range.

    The Kremlin cannot allow any of this whatsoever. Within the range arc are Russian command and control centers, radars, missile silos and nuclear weapons facilities.

    If the Ukrainians succeed in destroying a major piece of Russian military infrastructure, Putin’s indicated there’s a high likelihood Russia will launch missile strikes (possibly nuclear) against all the Western nations that have been funding and arming the Russophobic and neo-fascist Ukrainian forces.

    The world’s never been closer to nuclear war than we are today. This isn’t scaremongering or hyperbole, it’s the stark reality.
    Putin has addressed the Russian people informing them that when the time comes after the Washington empire’s proxy attacks a major piece of Russian military infrastructure, there’ll be no phone calls, the Russian response will happen instantaneously. They realize Washington will then respond with nuclear weapons; the Russian view is they’ll go to heaven as martyrs while the leaders of NATO countries will burn in hell for starting a nuclear war.

  4. Sam F
    June 6, 2024 at 11:26

    Thank you very much, Joe Lauria, for this update and analysis.

    The library discussion groups I run here all have members who can see the facts or entertain alternate views.
    But the private venue discussion groups all have some boob tubers who feign shock and dismay that anyone would disagree with the TV. Even after distributing a list of good sources with CN at the top, the boob tubers accuse me of listening only to Russia. They do not provide evidence or argument, just insults and distractions: for them, the tube is the sole acceptable authority.

  5. James White
    June 6, 2024 at 09:16

    ‘Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, hailed as a virtual superhero in Western media, has vacillated between openness to negotiating a peace settlement with Russia and calling for NATO, again on Friday, to “close the skies” above Ukraine. To save his country he appears willing to risk endangering the entire world.’ Some superhero. To save his blundering ass, Zelensky is willing to sacrifice all of humanity in a nuclear showdown. While Biden and all of the lickspittle vassal heads of Europe are wearing, ‘I’m with stupid’ blue and yellow t-shirts.

  6. Robert
    June 6, 2024 at 04:20

    When the history of this war is finally written, people will have the opportunity to recognize Blinken, Sullivan, and Nuland as the monsters they truly are. And psychopath is probably a more accurate description. However, history ultimately recorded the truth about Bush Jr., Cheney, and Powell and it had very little negative impact on their lives. Powell buried with honors and very little said about his direct involvement in the death of 500,000 Iraqi children. And so it will be with Blinken, Sullivan, and Nuland. Washington D.C.has become a haven for all manner of deviants, and there is no turn around in sight.

  7. AG
    June 6, 2024 at 00:37

    Thank you very much.

    So far the only source citing US personnel stating that RU conduct of war was restrained (and still is I think) had been Noam Chomsky in “truthout” quoting too, above NEWSWEEK, and WaPo and NYT in the fall of 2022.

    However if you look into the hyperlinked NEWSWEEK item above:
    “As of the past weekend, in 24 days of conflict, Russia has flown some 1,400 strike sorties and delivered almost 1,000 missiles (by contrast, the United States flew more sorties and delivered more weapons in the first day of the 2003 Iraq war). …”

    You will find how incredibly dumb, stupid and incompetent US analysts appear to be.

    Just 2 examples from the original NEWSWEEK piece:

    -“I believe that at the heart of Russian military thinking is how Marshall Zhukov marched across Eastern Europe to Berlin,” a former high-level CIA official told Newsweek in an interview. Zhukov’s orders were to “line up the artillery and … flatten everything ahead of you,” he says. “‘Then send in the peasant Army to kill or rape anyone left alive.’ Subtle the Russians are not.”

    -“No dictator or authoritarian who wants to maintain power ever wants to instill too much skill in subordinate military leaders,” the retired Army general wrote to Newsweek. Whether it be Saddam Hussein or Vladimir Putin, the officer says, too much skill on the part of military subordinates is seen as increasing the likelihood of a coup.”

    This corresponds with the prejudice towards Russia and the total lack of expertise and the in fact pitiful inferiority of US military strategic skill as has been amply proven by the demise of three Ukrainian armies after the country had been advised by NATO for 8 years!
    Pumping into the AFU more money than the entire RU defense budget.

    I mean, how is it possible these clowns in the Pentagon are still running around with this supremacist grin on their face after the Ukraine Armed Forces might have suffered losses between 300.000 and 500.000 men? Who is responsible for that? Or was that some genius secret NATO plan??? WTF. These people should be ashamed. Professionally and morally.

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