24 February 2022

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was met with a standing ovation at last week’s Munich Security Conference.  The U.S. delegation was manifestly bi-partisan.  Zelensky’s speech was sobering and demonstrated why he even risked the trip to Munich.

Although bi-partisan support for American support of Ukraine remains strong, bizarrely a growing number on the Republican Party’s far-right rejects it.  In the process, certain Republican members of Congress are stampeding from their party’s traditional opposition to Russian predation.  Madison Cawthorne (R-N.C.) “doesn’t give a damn about the border conflict [sic] in Ukraine.”  The U.S. “has no legal or moral authority to come to Ukraine’s aid.” (Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.))  And Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) is adamantly challenging any prospect for Ukraine’s NATO membership.

The GPS is set by  Fox News’  Tucker Carlson.  His antipathy toward Ukraine and empathy for Putin is palpable,  coddling Putin as “embattled” and condemning Ukraine’s President as the  “dictator.” Moreover, Ukraine is “strategically irrelevant.”  “Why shouldn’t I root for Russia, which I am?”  So extreme and consistent has been the messaging –- complete with only slightly less antipathy toward NATO —  that a Russian television host applauded, “Tucker Carlson is one of the brightest personalities of the American conservative television channel Fox News. Sometimes it seems that he attends advanced training courses at the Russian Foreign Ministry.”

The vituperative scorn for Ukraine and panegyrics on Putin cannot be dismissed as mere partisanship.  Fox News and like-minded Republican commentators and politicians join squarely with many progressive Democrats, who they purport to excoriate.  What was democratic President Obama’s position in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014? “We do very little trade with Ukraine and geopolitically what happens in Ukraine doesn’t pose a threat to us.” And it was Democratic President Clinton that shepherded Russia into the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the UN and a host of other international organizations.

Republicans who endorse such views are garroting the Republican Party’s more recent torchbearer, President Reagan.  It was he who had condemned the Kremlin’s necropolis as the “Evil Empire.” By bending their knee to Putin, they accept his caterwauling that the fall of the USSR was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. In the process, they become apostates from the historic consequence of Reagan’s recasting America’s petrified posture toward the Kremlin. He rejected the timorous defensive crouch that Washington’s containment policy had dictated for decades. It was a Pavlovian straitjacket, condemning us to perpetual response to Moscow’s diktat, choice of time and selection of place.

Richard Allen, Reagan’s national security advisor, wrote “One had never heard such words [of an affirmative offensive posture toward the USSR], from the lips of a major political figure. Until then, we had thought only in terms of ‘managing’ the relationship with the Soviet Union. Reagan went right to the heart of the matter . . . .He believed we could outdistance the Soviets and cause them to withdraw from the Cold War, or perhaps even collapse.”

Reagan was acutely aware that the USSR was not “Russia,” but a multi-national state, the last great empire. It was subject to the same centrifugal forces pressing for freedom as any empire. He wrote,  “We must keep alive the idea that the conquered nations—the captive nations—of the Soviet Union must regain their freedom.”  The linchpin was Ukraine, the very first victim of Moscow’s aggression a hundred years ago as it rehammered the Tsarist Empire into a “USSR.” Betrayed by the West after WWI, Ukraine fell to Russian re-occupation and control, ensuring the Soviet Union’s viability for generations, with all the consequences for the world.

Small wonder that Ukraine’s reclaiming its independence in 1991 meant the end of the Soviet Union.  That meant America’s strategic slide was stopped, as it recouped an uncontested global primacy that wasn’t seen since the end of WWII.  All logic dictates that Ukraine’s status as an independent democracy be preserved.  Why any objections?

With America’s global credibility in tatters, why would any American wish to make it worse? Ukraine is not Carlson’s dismissive “small country” like “Denmark or Senegal,” but the largest country in Europe, the size of England, Germany, Hungary and Israel, combined. Carlson’s angst about “going to war” with Russia over Ukraine is transparently specious.  Regardless, what of Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia or other NATO members whose entire populations are less than Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city with a population of nearly 3 million?

Independent Ukraine surrendered the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, larger than that of China, France and Great Britain combined. It was, at US insistence, transferred to Russia, of all places. That was under a Democratic President Clinton. This manifestly was not, as today in Iran, a matter of Washington seeking to forestall simply a prospective nuclear capability. Ukraine also imploded a massive nuclear industrial base and what was the USSR’s largest ICBM plant. Moscow used it to manufacture the missiles it placed in Cuba.  How much is all that worth to America . . . and the West?  What is America’s credibility, before friend and foe alike, if it walks away? Never again.

Ukraine has been America’s ally in the “war on terror” and its other missions around the world. Indeed, it is the only country that is challenging Russia as the progenitor of “Arab Nationalism”–now “Islamic Terrorism”–against the US and the rest of Europe. On 9/11, Putin celebrated the birthday of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, the KGB’s precursor.  On the fifth anniversary of 9/11, having annexed Crimea, Putin uncorked a $100,000 bottle of wine at its famous Masandra winery. It was vintage 1775. Apparently, a more in-your-face 1776, to coincide with the anniversary of America’s independence, was not available.  Who do you think poses as ISIS threatening to kill US military families?

Troops from 51 NATO and allied nations (including Ukraine) had assisted the U.S. in Afghanistan in what was essentially a civil war. In the midst of America’s shambolic capitulation, it was the Ukrainians who rescued Canadian bound refugees in a special ops action outside Kabul airport that Canadian, U.S. and other NATO troops would not or could not perform.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been defending against the invasion by the largest country in the world. Alone.  Since 2014, Ukraine has been facing down a colossus where only one of its sub-regions is larger than Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran (combined) or, if you prefer, larger than France, Spain, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Greece, Sweden and North Korea (also combined). Ukraine bears the highest military burden of any nation in Europe, even though it is not in NATO. Even when adjusted for the thirteen years difference in aid duration, Ukraine received less than one percent of the military aid we funnelled to Afghanistan.  Ukraine is not asking for U.S. boots on the ground. It needs weapons to survive.  Not blankets.

In 1932-33, Moscow broke the back of Ukrainians resistance by starving millions, dehumanizing them as mere “ethnographic mass.”  Rafael Lemkin, the father of the UN Genocide Convention, condemned it as “classic genocide.” Today, Russian calls to kill all Ukrainians are vitriolic.  “The genocide of these cretins [Ukrainians who resist] is due and inevitable.”  State-run Russian TV host, complete with vulgar gesturing: “We will invade Ukraine. We will take your Constitution and burn it and we’ll burn you [Ukrainians] too.”

But there’s more to it. Recently, Russian TV intoned, “The existence of Ukraine harms peace and security in Europe even more than American imperialism.”  Raising Ukraine beyond America’s level, alone, should have stopped, cold, Russia’s cheerleaders here.  “Peace and security in Europe” are codes for maintaining Putin’s chokehold on its own population.  That frees him for his self-assured assault against America.

Ukraine is the fount of one of Europe’s oldest democratic traditions, having written a democratic constitution 77 years before our own.  Today, Ukraine is a democracy in action, with a vibrant civil society that Russia never had.   Securing Ukraine as the democratic anchor in that part of the world will stymie Putin’s ambitions and deflect him inward to address Russia’s looming fault lines.  This would allow America to more fully deal with China.  Indeed, Ukraine is the tripwire for China invading  Taiwan, its continued marauding in the South China Sea, its threat to Japan and more.

The entirety of the 20th century was the battle for a “rule-based international order.” National sovereignty and borders must not be invaded, and foreign lands must not be occupied or annexed.  America was not invaded during those wars. We fought them to make sure that we were not.

There is nothing if not execrable paradox in the cost of that “order,” paid for by Ukraine yet without its benefit. In a lecture to the German Bundestag in June 2017, Yale’s Timothy Snyder taught the German parliament members their history in the bloodiest war of the last century:

“The purpose  of the Second World War from Hitler’s point of view was the conquest of Ukraine.” “And it was a question for Hitler: who will the racial inferiors be? Who will the slaves be in the German Eastern empire? And the answer that he gave, both in Mein Kampf, and in the second book, and in practice in the invasion of 1941, the answer was: the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians were to be at the center of a project of colonization and enslavement. The Ukrainians were to be treated as Afrikaner, as Neger, the word was very often used, as those of you who read German documents from the war will know, by analogy with the United States. The idea was to create a slavery-driven, exterminatory regime in Eastern Europe with the center in Ukraine.”

Both Snyder and Oxford’s  Norman Davies wrote that no nation suffered greater losses than Ukraine.  Ukraine lost more than 9 million of its population, exceeding the military losses of the United States, the British Commonwealth, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy, combined. More than half of Ukraine’s losses, over five million, were civilians, approximately 1.5 million of them Jews. With a population a fraction of America’s, twice the number of Ukrainians served in the Red Army than the US Army in Europe, and proportionately more than any other nation in the Soviet Union. Another 2.2 million were deported as slave labour to Germany.

The Ukrainian underground that fought the Nazis then the Soviet Union until the 1950s warned the U.S., in post-war Europe that Stalin was going to assassinate General George Patton.  Washington instead issued an arrest warrant for the Ukrainian informers. After WWII, “Operation Keelhaul” was the moniker for the forced and deadly repatriation by the U.S. of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees back to the Evil Empire.

How, then, to explain today the enormity of the omissions and distortions about Ukraine that both feed America’s extreme right, and that it itself advertises?  What is the purpose served by the paroxysmal zeal of Tucker Carlson et al.? From whence the animus? Why the adamancy in not informing his audience?  What does it take to judo Carlson and his coterie to embrace, in haec verba, some of their ideological opposites on the political spectrum?

Destruction of Ukraine’s sovereignty is a core postulate in Russia’s total warfare doctrine against the West, and most specifically the U.S., going back at least to 1997. Defense Minister Shoigu is clear: “Russia can’t afford to lose the information war.” How do you win? He spelled it out long ago: by “undermining the political, economic and social system, mass indoctrination of the population for destabilizing society and the state, and forcing the state to take decisions in the interests of the opposing party.”

The target: fact>information>knowledge>understanding>judgement>decision>action/inaction.

The rules: deny, dismiss, distort, distract, dismay, divide, demoralize, disorient. Above all else, attack and accuse. Relentlessly.

The toolsprovokatsia, kompromat, dezinformatsia, agitatsia, maskirovka.

The result: an altered consciousness, reflexive control, reality reversal.

Foot soldiers are needed.


Featured Photo: “Ukrainian GUR MO operators in Kabul airport” – Wikimedia Commons, 2022

By Victor Rud

In addition to Defence Report, Victor Rud's commentary on US/Russia/Ukraine affairs has been carried by, among others, Forbes, the Atlantic Council, Foreign Policy Association, Centre for Global Studies, and the Kyiv Post. He has been practicing international law for 35 years, and among other matters served as special counsel to a member of the US delegation to the Helsinki Accords Review Process. He was the Past Chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and now Chair of its Committee on Foreign Affairs. Mr. Rud is also the Senior Advisor to Open Court, an NGO in Ukraine, and a graduate of Harvard College and Duke University School of Law.