Here in slightly abridged form is how Caitlin Johnstone begins her post today:
I am in awe at the US propaganda machine. The global north has been perfectly aligned with cold war agendas of securing US unipolar dominance by an unprecedented propaganda and censorship campaign.
There’s nothing intrinsic in the invasion of Ukraine which says Russia must be throttled by unheard-of levels of economic warfare from DC-loyal governments. A huge international consensus had to be manufactured, and the public dragged along. Absolutely incredible.
Controlling the global narratives via Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and plutocratic “news” outlets, 1 the US empire has supplanted international law and got the West moving in a certain way with the consent of the governed. The human species is led like a dog on a leash by a mind control system of unparalleled and unprecedented sophistication that hardly anyone even notices. Imperial propaganda is the single most overlooked and underappreciated aspect of our society.
I agree. I too am in awe of a propaganda machine which can paint black white, up down and arse elbow. More impressive yet, it can – like its twin sister, advertising – leave folk with the firm conviction that the views they hold of Russia, like their ‘choices’ in the market place, were arrived at through their own fiercely independent thought processes.
Maybe I’m just a contrarian – a trait which, like any other, has its dangers – but in respect of the propaganda blitz on Ukraine I find myself at odds with three broadly identifiable groups.
The largest by a landslide is that dog-on-a-leash depicted, accurately if unflatteringly, by Caitlin. For this group, Russia – its president in particular – is the devil incarnate. That has been so for decades but the animosity went into overdrive three weeks ago. Three weeks in which all media have carried searing images of the suffering which war by its very nature brings: in Ukraine as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and, though this too is airbrushed out, Donbass and Luhansk.
Like a good few other counter-voices, I do my tiny bit to broaden the perspective: to say, ‘hey, this didn’t come out of nowhere’. I needn’t repeat my arguments here. They have graced this site since early February. Some things I got wrong. I didn’t foresee – call it military ignorance – the invasion itself, and still say the Kremlin came to the decision with great reluctance. 2 But on all that led to it – decades of insults, broken promises and threats on post Yeltsin Russia … the Maidan Coup of 2014 and subsequent war on Donbass (whose harrowing images did not fill our TV screens) … the grip on Ukraine of its small but powerful Nazi tendency – these things I did get right. For the wider public, on the other hand, they scarcely registered. The media machine kept them out of sight hence out of mind.
There’s a second group though. One I see eye to eye with on most aspects of this. This group does acknowledge the US Empire’s evil role, and the Goebbelsian role of corporate media in getting most Westerners behind it. But they fold into their denunciations, often more forcefully eloquent than my own, a caveat damning of “Russian aggression”.
On this site and elsewhere I’ve asked those in this group, given the broader assessment they and I share, to set out the alternative course(s) of action Moscow could and should have taken.
So far I’ve gotten no reply. Believe me, I’m not of fixed mindset on this. If you know of some other way Moscow could have addressed a threat Washington would not for a second have tolerated, please do let me in on it.
The third group I also see eye to eye with on most aspects of this. This group, the smallest by far, is what I alternatively call the far Left, Marx-Leninist Left or Vanguardist Left. They do have an answer of sorts to the question I put to the second group. It is that workers of the world rise up and overthrow all forms of capitalism, including Russia’s and – overlooking the small fact of its having in a single generation raised 730 million people from dire poverty – China’s.
I’m all for international socialism – the only kind that makes any real sense – but I’m a tad more forgiving than this third group of men like Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov; men who appear to have concluded that the workers of the world will be sitting this one out.
Men who have concluded that in the face of this situation …
… and this one …
… Russia is on her own.
Nevertheless, I repeat, on most aspects of this terrifying situation I see eye to eye with both the second and third group. Do bear that in mind when you read this piece from WSWS – its hosts decidedly in Group 3 – just yesterday. I agree with all it says, bar one paragraph and a phrase or two elsewhere. No need for me to highlight these. You’ll know them when you get there.
The US arming of Ukraine and the preparations for war
On Wednesday, President Joe Biden gave a speech announcing the deployment of $1 billion in weapons to Ukraine, including combat drones and long-range anti-aircraft systems, for use in Ukraine’s war with Russia.
Making no mention of ongoing efforts to find a diplomatic settlement to the war, Biden warned that the United States should be prepared for “a long and difficult battle.”
Biden announced that Ukraine would receive 9,000 anti-armor systems, 800 anti-aircraft systems, 7,000 small arms and 20 million rounds in ammunition. US officials subsequently clarified that they would provide Ukraine with offensive drones and Soviet-era long-range anti-aircraft missiles.
But the most significant aspect of the speech was Biden’s statement regarding the background of the war, which exposes the extent to which the US had systematically prepared Ukraine for the conflict with Russia.
Biden presented a narrative of a years-long proxy conflict, in which the United States has been pumping billions of dollars in weapons into Ukraine. “In fact, we started our assistance to Ukraine before this war began,” Biden said.
We sent Ukraine more security assistance last year—$650 million in weapons, including anti-air and anti-armor equipment before the invasion—more than we had ever provided before. So when the invasion began, they already had in their hands the kinds of weapons they needed to counter Russian advances.
And once the war started, we immediately rushed $350 million in additional aid to further address their needs: hundreds of anti-air systems, thousands of anti-tank weapons, transport helicopters, armed patrol boats, and other high-mobility vehicles, radar systems that help track incoming artillery and unmanned drones, secure communications equipment and tactical gear, satellite imagery and—and analysis capacity. And it’s clearly helped Ukraine inflict dramatic losses on Russian forces.
These statements refute the media’s presentation of Ukraine as a small and hapless nation suddenly set upon by a ruthless larger power.
The Ukrainian military, assisted by US advisers working within the country, was ready for war, which the Biden administration instigated. Ukrainian civilians caught in the crossfire were written off as the expendable losses of US imperialism’s anti-Russia strategy. The very fact that Ukraine is not a member of NATO has allowed it to be used as a proxy, armed to the teeth and used to bait the Russian government into its disastrous and deadly invasion.
Understanding the background of the war is not the same as condoning the Russian invasion, which is as strategically imbecilic as it is politically reactionary. It was the desperate response of the bankrupt regime that emerged from the dissolution of the USSR.
But it is necessary to refute the lying narrative within which this war—which has cost thousands of lives and can still escalate into a nuclear war—has been framed by the propaganda organs of the US and NATO powers.
In 2013, then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland reported that the United States had spent $5 billion to help Ukraine “achieve its European aspirations and other goals.”
The outcome of this influx of cash and more direct forms of intervention by the imperialist powers was the 2014 US-backed coup, led by fascist forces like Svoboda and the Right Sector.
Within months, the Ukrainian parliament renounced its country’s non-aligned status and announced plans to deepen its cooperation with NATO “in order to achieve the criteria which are required for membership in the alliance.”
The 2014 coup triggered the secession of Donetsk and Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine, as well as Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a mostly Russian-speaking region, following a referendum.
In an effort to contain the war raging in Eastern Ukraine, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics signed a ceasefire known as the Minsk agreements, which have been systematically under siege in subsequent years.
Despite the ceasefire, the United States continued to pump billions of dollars in weapons into Ukraine and to actively train its military.
A critical inflection point in this process was the first impeachment of Donald Trump, which centered around allegations that Trump predicated the disbursement of US weapons to Ukraine on Zelensky ordering an investigation of Biden’s son, Hunter, who received approximately $1 million per year for sitting on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company.
During the impeachment, it became clear just how central Ukraine was to US geopolitical strategy. In her testimony, former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovich declared that Ukraine, “with an enormous land mass and a large population, has the potential to be a significant… force multiplier on the security side… And now Ukraine is a battleground for great power competition with a hot war for the control of territory and a hybrid war to control Ukraine’s leadership.”
As the impeachment was taking place, the United States was withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and developing medium-range nuclear weapons that could reach Russia’s borders from Eastern Europe or even Ukraine. The withdrawal from the INF treaty was a critical element of the US preparations for “great-power competition,” which the 2018 national security strategy document deemed the “primary concern in US national security.”
Biden’s comments clearly indicate that last year saw a major escalation in military assistance to Ukraine, with the US giving Ukraine, according to Biden, more military aid “than we had ever provided before.”
A key turning point that year was the US-Ukraine Strategic Partnership, announced on September 1, 2021, which declared that the US would “never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea” and “intends to support Ukraine’s effort to counter armed aggression.” The strategic partnership effectively endorsed the doctrine, codified in a Ukrainian state strategy document in March 2021, for Ukraine to “recover” Crimea and the Donbas, by force if necessary.
In announcing the “strategic partnership,” the White House noted that “The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since 2014, including more than $400 million this year alone.”
As the US continued pumping billions of dollars in arms sales into Ukraine, Russia published a set of demands for security guarantees last December, including that Ukraine would not become a member of NATO. In subsequent interviews, Russian President Vladimir Putin explained that Ukraine’s admission to NATO would make war inevitable.
The Biden administration refused to accept Russia’s demands for security guarantees, goading Russia to take this action. As Biden declared in December, “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines.”
This antecedent history explains the confidence with which the White House predicted Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Biden put it on January 20, “My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.” If Biden was able to predict this situation so directly, it was because his administration worked to bring about this outcome.
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- As I argue repeatedly, plutocratic ownership is only half the story. Dependency on advertising is the other half of news media’s systemic inability to prioritise serving truth over serving power.
- On Kremlin reluctance to invade Ukraine there’s a striking parallel with the Soviet invasion of another country on its border, Afghanistan. (In both cases the West was setting a trap, hoping to give first the USSR, and now a Russia refusing to submit to US hegemony, what Zbigniew Brzezinski would brag of as its very own Vietnam. In both cases the leadership in Moscow saw the trap. And in both cases, seeing the trap did not (as per my question to the second and third groups) afford the luxury of a less perilous course of action.) The accelerated supply of arms into Ukraine is not to help that country’s people – on the contrary, besides risking WW3 it will prolong the agony – but to bog down a DC-defiant state which, unlike the other DC-defiant states of this century, is too powerful to be broken by “shock and awe” – in a bloody quagmire.