Seven months later, the war in Ukraine is entering a new phase. While Ukraine is waging a counteroffensive to Russia in the south and east regions of the country, Russia continues to pursue its annexation plans. The West, with the U.S. leading the charge, continues with its operations. explicitly stated strategyRussia to the point that it is unable to withstand any negotiations. All of these developments suggest that Ukraine remains far from peace and that the war may be intensifying. Worse, Noam Chhotsky below speaks in an exclusive interview. TruthoutWith the Taiwan Policy Act 2022, which was approved by Congress’ Foreign Relations Committee, congressional hawks are increasing risk of war. This Act appears to be based upon programs from before the Russian attack, which were making Ukraine a NATO de facto member.
Chomsky is a professor emeritus in MIT’s philosophy and linguistics departments. He is also a laureate in linguistics and the Agnese Nelms Haury Chair in University of Arizona’s Program in Environment and Social Justice. One of the world’s most-cited scholars and a public intellectual regarded by millions of people as a national and international treasure, Chomsky has published more than 150 books in linguistics, political and social thought, political economy, media studies, U.S. foreign policy and world affairs. His most recent books include The Secrets of Words(with Andrea Moro; MIT Press 2022); The Withdrawal: Iraq and Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility Of U.S. Power(with Vijay Prashad; The New Press 2022); The Precipice: Neoliberalism, The Pandemic and the Urgent need for Social Change (with C. J. Polychroniou, Haymarket Books, 2021).
C.J. C.J. Polychroniou Russia is suffering huge losses. A recent Ukrainian counteroffensive has retaken dozens of villages and towns in the northeast. It seems that neither side is willing to reach a peaceful settlement in these circumstances. Firstly, are you surprised by Russia’s problems on the battlefield, and, secondly, do you agree with the statement made recently by the minister in charge of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office that Moscow still has a major advantage over Kyiv and that it can declare victory whenever it wants?
Noam Chomsky: Let me first say that I don’t have anything to add about the military situation and do not have any expert knowledge. What I know is what’s reported, almost entirely from Western sources.
The overall picture is that Russia suffered a devastating defeat. This is a result of the incompetence of Russia’s military and the extraordinary capabilities of the Ukrainian Army, which was equipped with advanced U.S. weapons and detailed intelligence about the dispositions of Russian forces. This is a tribute to the courage and organization of the Ukrainian army by the U.S. for almost a decade.
There’s plenty of evidence to support this interpretation, which is close to exceptionless apart from detail. It is a good rule of thumb to ask if something has been omitted when there is almost unanimous agreement on complex and murky topics. We can find more information that is relevant to the West if we stick to the main sources.
Reuters reports a “western official” whose assessment is that:
There’s an ongoing debate about the nature of the Russian drawdown, however it’s likely that in strict military terms, this was a withdrawal, ordered and sanctioned by the general staff, rather than an outright collapse…. It is quite dramatic. It’s a vast area of land. We must also consider that the Russians made some excellent decisions regarding reducing their lines and making them more defendable. They even sacrificed territory to do this.
There are many interpretations of the Russian withdrawal/flight equipment loss. It is not necessary to re-examine the familiar picture. A more nuanced versionIt is given by Washington Post Journalists who are on the scene and report on scattered and ambiguous evidence. They also reviewed satellite imagery and online video, which indicated that the abandoned and destroyed military vehicles could have been at an equipment center. Examining the videos, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. Army Europe, concludes that the destruction was mostly at a staging area where “Russian forces stopped for fuel or were waiting for a mission when they fled,” the total amounting to a tank company that typically has about 10 or 11 tanks.
As one would expect from a war zone, there’s a lot of ambiguity. But, it was a significant victory for Ukraine and its U.S. NATO backers. I don’t think that Putin could simply “declare victory” after this humiliating setback, as the Hungarian prime minister suggests. The prospects for a peaceful settlement are not well-reported or discussed. There is little to be said.
There is little, but not everything. In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the major establishment journal, Fiona Hill and Angela Stent — highly regarded policy analysts with close government connections — report that:
Multiple former US officials we spoke to said that in April 2022 Russian and Ukrainian negotiators appeared tentatively to have agreed on the outline for a negotiated interim agreement. The terms of the settlement would have called for Russia to revert to the positions it had before the invasion on February 24. Ukraine would be required to agree not to apply for NATO membership, and instead receive security guarantees by a number countries.
On dubious evidence, Hill and Stent blame the failure of these efforts on the Russians, but do not mention that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at once flew to Kyiv with the message that Ukraine’s Western backers would not support the diplomatic initiative, followed by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who reiterated the official U.S. position that Washington’s goal in the war is to “weaken” Russia, meaning that negotiations are off the table.
We don’t know if such initiatives will continue. If they do, they would not lack popular support, not only in the Global South but even in Europe, where “77 percent of Germans believe that the West should initiate negotiations to end the Ukraine war.” Surprisingly, more than half of Slovaks are reported to favor a Russian victory.
Let’s say that negotiations fail, or are not even considered. What happens next? The consensus of experts seems to be that there will likely be a prolonged war with all its tragic consequences. General Austin and other U.S. officials believed that Ukraine could drive Russia out of Ukraine, which would include Crimea. Let’s say the possibility arises.
Then comes the crucial question: Will Putin pack his bags and disappear into obscurity, or worse? Or will he use conventional weapons to escalate the attack against Ukraine? The U.S. gambles on the latter but isn’t aware of the nature of this gamble with lives of Ukrainians and many others. The New York Times reports that:
Some American officials expressed concern that the most dangerous times are yet to arrive, even though Mr. Putin has not escalated the war in ways which have sometimes baffled Western officials. He has not attempted to target government buildings or destroy critical infrastructure. He has not attacked supply hubs in Ukraine. He has directed low-level cyberattacks on Ukrainian targets every week, but they have been relatively simple, especially in comparison to Russia’s capabilities. This includes the SolarWinds attack upon American government systems and commercial systems just before Mr. Biden was elected.
The same report cites Putin’s warning that, “If the situation continues to develop in this way — referring to U.S. participation in the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive — the answer will be more serious.” To illustrate, Putin “described recent Russian cruise missile attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure as ‘warning strikes.’”
The warning is well understood by the Ukrainian military. Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Gen. Valery Zaluzhny had written that Russian cruise missiles “could strike across the country with ‘impunity,’” adding that “limited nuclear war cannot be ruled out.”
As we all know the escalation ladder to limited to final nuclear war is very easy to climb.
Simply put, the U.S. position on Russia’s war must be continued to severely weaken Russia and block negotiations is based upon a remarkable assumption: Putin will abandon his country in the face of defeat and flee to a bitter end. He will not do what he easily can: strike across Ukraine with impunity using Russia’s conventional weapons, destroying critical infrastructure and Ukrainian government buildings, attacking the supply hubs outside Ukraine, moving on to sophisticated cyberattacks against Ukrainian targets. All of this is easily within Russia’s conventional capacity, as U.S. government and the Ukrainian military command acknowledge — with the possibility of escalation to nuclear war in the not remote background.
It is worth considering. It is too easily evaded.
Also worth contemplating is the fact that “Mr. Putin has avoided escalating the war in ways that have, at times, baffled Western officials.” The same puzzlement has been expressed before. The Russian offensive left the U.S., UK and other countries baffled. They also underestimated its magnitude from the beginning. “We assumed they would invade a country the way we would have invaded a country,” as one British official put it.
The U.S. and U.K. invade countries to destroy communication, transportation, energy systems, or anything that could be used to keep them going. To the surprise of the U.S.-U.K. planners, Putin didn’t do that. The press reports that, “In Kyiv and much of the western part of the country, prewar life has largely returned for civilians. People eat in restaurants, drink in bars, dance and enjoy lazy summer days in parks.”
Far from the U.S./U.K. style war.
Western military analysts offer reasons why “Putin’s Bombers Could Devastate Ukraine But He’s Holding Back.” Whatever the reasons, the fact remains.
The gamble with lives of Ukrainians and others, is still very relevant, but it gets little attention. Another thing that is worth contemplation.
It’s also useful finally to reiterate a familiar word of warning. Propaganda is never static and can reach its peak intensity in times of crisis. Triumphant claims are always worth examining. To take one example, much has been made of India’s alleged break with Russia over the war, based on a few words by Prime Minister Modi at a Samarkand meeting with Putin. The quoted words are “I know that today’s era is not of war.” Omitted is that Modi went on to stress that, “The relationship between India and Russia has deepened manifold. We also value this relationship because we have been such friends who have been with each other every moment for the last several decades and the whole world also knows how Russia’s relationship with India has been and how India’s relationship with Russia has been and therefore the world also knows that it is an unbreakable friendship.”
According to some reports the Ukrainian government is engaging in backroom negotiations for the delivery advanced American-made weaponry. In addition, President Zelenskyy and his government have put forward a document of long-term security guarantees from the West which would link Ukraine’s future security directly to the presence of NATO forces in the country. Unexpectedly enough, Moscow immediately shut down the proposal and the vice president of the Russian Security Council called it “a prologue to the third world war.” Is the so-called Kyiv Security Treaty a path toward a peace settlement or a sure way not only to keep the conflict going on indefinitely but also to escalate it to a higher level?
It is difficult to imagine any Russian government allowing NATO forces to enter Ukraine. That has been understood for 30 years by high-level U.S. officials who have any knowledge of the region, and it’s even more unlikely now. What Russia might tolerate is a weakened version of this demand: long-term security guarantees with what’s called in diplomacy “strategic ambiguity,” coupled with termination of the plans for NATO membership for Ukraine. Zelenskyy suggested something similar in the past. We don’t know if this option is still available until we make an effort to reach a diplomatic solution, as it appears that it was by Russia and Ukraine as recently as April.
The Biden administration, the Pentagon particularly, has been careful not to escalate its participation in the war so rapidly as to elicit the Russian reaction that hasn’t occurred, baffling Washington and London. Congress is another matter. It seems determined to lead us to disaster. The Pentagon has blocked calls for no-fly zones, and other very risky initiatives. However, there is still plenty of saber-rattling. That extends to China, or to keep to the rules, what we should call the “Indo-Pacific area of the North Atlantic” in the light of the decisions at the recent NATO summit.
Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan was reckless enough, but congressional hawks, a bipartisan collective, are determined to raise the possibility of terminal nuclear war even higher.
A major step in this directionThis was taken on September 14th, when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved it. Taiwan Policy Act of 2022The event was cosponsored by Robert Menendez (D–NJ) and Lindsey Graham, (R–SC), as Committee Chairman.
The act calls for Taiwan to be designated as a “major non-NATO ally.” Taiwan is to be provided with $4.5 billion in security assistance over the next four years, part of establishing “a comprehensive training program with the Government of Taiwan.” The act also seeks “more interoperability between the US and Taiwanese militaries [along with] joint US-Taiwan contingency tabletop exercises, war games and what the bill calls ‘robust, operationally relevant, or full-scale’ military exercises,” Asia Times reports.
Furthermore, the act declares U.S. government policy to be “to provide the people of Taiwan with de facto diplomatic treatment equivalent to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities” and to remove “any undue restrictions” on the ability of U.S. officials at any level “to interact directly and routinely with their counterparts in the Government of Taiwan.”
Mike Scrafton, an ex-defense official from Australia, was formerly observes that “The Chinese cannot but regard this as a provocative de facto recognition of Taiwan’s independence.” Under international law, which regards Taiwan as part of China, it is “a patent infringement of China’s sovereignty and a fundamental weakening of the one-China policy.” Once again, the U.S. “rules-based order,” in defiance of international law, is seen to be nothing other “than preservation of US hegemony.” If passed, “The Act would be a game-changer and reflects the American preparedness to engage in a war that would be disastrous for the region and the world.” It should lead Australia to rethink its commitment to the U.S.-dominated regional system.
The wording of the act seems to be modelled on the programs prior to the Russian invasion that were turning Ukraine into a “de facto NATO member,” in the words of the U.S. military, matters we have discussed elsewhere.
The Biden administration opposes the measure, as it did Pelosi’s action. Even more than that exercise in self-promotion, the Menendez-Graham measure would be a serious blow to the “strategic ambiguity” of the One-China policy that has kept the peace in a volatile region for half a century.
China and India are being pressured by the European Union to support the idea for a price limit on Russian oil. Russia, of course, has said that it will not sell oil to countries that impose a price limit, so the question here is twofold: first, how likely is it that China and India will go along with the EU’s suggestion, especially since both countries have not only increased their Russian oil purchases since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine but are buying at discounted prices, and, second, what would be the political ramifications in the event that they succumbed to pressure and did go along?
All of this is part of the reconfiguration of global order that has been going on for some time and was spurred onward by Putin’s criminal aggression. A side consequence was to deliver Europe into Washington’s hands. Vladimir Putin gave this most welcome gift free of charge when he was elected. rejected French President Macron’s last-minute efforts to avert an invasion, at the end with undisguised contempt, a major contribution to Washington’s Atlanticist project of global hegemony.
The core issue at stake, I think, is unipolarity-multipolarity. Since the U.S. took over the reins from Britain 80 years ago, reaching far beyond Britain’s dreams, it has sought a unipolar world, and to a substantial extent it has realized that goal, in ways we need not review. There has always been resistance.
Former colonies’ efforts to find a place within the international order has been, in many ways, the most significant and least discussed form of resistance. These were often crushed by imperial power, sometimes to the point of assassination (the case of Patrice Lumumba was a very important one). Some elements survive, like BRICS [the economic alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa]. Most importantly, China’s rise is a sign of a multipolar world.
The long-term conflict is currently manifested in many concrete forms. One is the intense U.S. effort to impede China’s technological development and to “encircle” it with a ring of heavily armed U.S. satellites. Another is the NATO-based U.S.-run Atlanticist project, now given a shot in the arm by Putin’s criminality, and recently extended formally to the Indo-Pacific region. The major competing element is China’s huge development and investment project, the Belt and Road initiative backed by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, encompassing Central Asia and by now reaching well beyond. The confrontation is ideologically based and pits the UN-based international system against the rules-based international system (with the U.S. setting these rules). The U.S. does not notice or raise any objection to the adoption of the latter.
These are the important issues that the question raises. The outcome of their resolution will depend on the progress of the larger process of reorganization. This is a highly uncertain subject, but one of great significance.
There is a more fundamental issue that cannot be ignored, and it is not in the distant background. Unless the great powers find ways to accommodate to confront the most important threats that have arisen in human history — environmental destruction and nuclear war — nothing else will matter.
Time is precious.