Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an utter disaster for Ukraine, and the war is not going well for the Russian forces who are experiencing heavy losses and may be running low on both supplies and morale. Perhaps this is why Volodymyr Zeleskyy, the Ukrainian President, claimed a few weeks ago on the Greek state-run broadcaster. He was also encouraged by the Western support Ukraine has received. ERT that “the war will end when Ukraine wins.”
In this exclusive interview, world-renowned scholar and leading dissident Noam Chomsky considers the implications of Ukraine’s heroic stance to fight the Russian invaders till the end, and why the U.S. is not eager to see an end to the conflict.
Chomsky, who is internationally recognized as one of the most important intellectuals alive, is the author of some 150 books and the recipient of scores of highly prestigious awards, including the Sydney Peace Prize and the Kyoto Prize (Japan’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize), and of dozens of honorary doctorate degrees from the world’s most renowned universities. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus of MIT and currently Laureate professor at the University of Arizona.
C.J. Polychroniou: After months of fighting, it’s obvious that the invasion is not going according to the Kremlin’s plans, hopes and expectations. NATO figures have claimed that Russian forces have already suffered as many deaths as they did during the entire duration of the Afghan war, and the position of the Zelenskyy government now seems to be “peace with victory.” Obviously, the West’s support for Ukraine is key to what’s happening on the ground, both militarily and in terms of diplomatic solutions. Indeed, there is no clear path to peace, and the Kremlin has stated that it is not seeking to end the war by May 9 (known as Victory Day, which marks the Soviets’ role in defeating Nazi Germany). Don’t Ukrainians have the right to fight to death before surrendering any territory to Russia, if they choose to do so?
Noam Chomsky: To my knowledge, no one has suggested that Ukrainians don’t have that right. The abstract right of Islamic Jihad to fight to death before transferring any territory to Israel is also available. I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s their right.
Do Ukrainians want this? Maybe now in the midst war but not in the past.
With a clear mandate for peace, President Zelenskyy won election in 2019. He was a great leader and took the initiative to bring it about. He had to face violent right-wing militias, who threatened to kill his attempts to reach a peaceful settlement in accordance with the Minsk II method. Stephen Cohen, a historian of Russia, points to the fact that Zelenskyy would have been able to persist if he had been backed the U.S., and perhaps solved the problem with no terrible invasion. The U.S. refused and chose to integrate Ukraine within NATO. Washington continued to dismiss Russia’s red lines and the warnings of a host of top-level U.S. diplomats and government advisers as it has been doing since Clinton’s abrogation of Bush’s firm and unambiguous promise to Gorbachev that in return for German reunification within NATO, NATO would not expand one inch beyond Germany.
Zelenskyy also suggested that the very different Crimea issue be put on the back burner. This would be addressed after the war is over.
Minsk II would have been a federal arrangement with a lot of autonomy for the Donbass, best in a manner that can be determined by an internationally supervised vote. After the Russian invasion, prospects have been shattered. How much we don’t know. Only one way to find out is to agree that diplomacy should be facilitated, not undermined, as the U.S. continues.
It’s true that “the West’s support for Ukraine is key into what’s happening on the ground, both militarily and in terms of diplomatic solutions,” though I would suggest a slight rephrasing: The West’s support for Ukraine is key into what’s happening on the ground, both militarily and in terms of Facilitating rather than underminingThere are diplomatic solutions that could end the horror.
Congress, including congressional Democrats, are acting as if they prefer the exhortation by Democratic Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee of Intelligence Adam Schiff that we have to aid Ukraine “so that we can fight Russia over there, and we don’t have to fight Russia here.”
Schiff’s warning is nothing new. It is reminiscent of Reagan’s calling a national emergency because the Nicaraguan army is only two days marching time from Harlingen, Texas, about to overwhelm us. Or LBJ’s plaintive plea that we have to stop them in Vietnam or they will “sweep over the United States and take what we have.”
That’s been the permanent plight of the U.S., constantly threatened with annihilation. It is best to stop They Over there.
Since 2014, the U.S. has been a key provider of security aid to Ukraine. Last week, President Biden asked Congress for $33 billion in security assistance to Ukraine. This is more than twice what Washington has already pledged since the beginning of the war. Isn’t it therefore safe to conclude that Washington has a lot riding on the way the war ends in Ukraine?
Since the relevant facts are virtually unspeakable here, it’s worth reviewing them.
Since the Maidan uprising in 2014, NATO (meaning basically the U.S.) has “provided significant support with equipment, with training, 10s of 1000s of Ukrainian soldiers have been trained, and then when we saw the intelligence indicating a highly likely invasion Allies stepped up last autumn and this winter,” before the invasion, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg).
I’ve already mentioned Washington’s refusal to back newly elected President Zelenskyy when his courageous effort to implement his mandate to pursue peace was blocked by right-wing militias, and the U.S. refused to back him, preferring to continue its policy of integrating Ukraine into NATO, dismissing Russia’s red lines.
As we’ve discussed earlier, that commitment was stepped up with the official U.S. policy statement of September 2021 calling for sending more advanced military equipment to Ukraine while continuing “our robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.” The policy was given further formal status in the November 10 U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership signed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The State Department acknowledged that “prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the United States made no effort to address one of Vladimir Putin’s most often stated top security concerns — the possibility of Ukraine’s membership into NATO.”
So matters continued after Putin’s criminal aggression. Anatol Lilieven has once again reviewed exactly what happened:
The U.S. strategy that uses the war in Ukraine in order to weaken Russia would be completely incompatible both with the search for a ceasefire, or even a provisional agreement. Washington would have to oppose any such settlement in order to keep the war afloat. Indeed, in late March, the Ukrainian government offered a very reasonable set peace proposalsIt was quite striking to see the U.S. not supporting them in public.
Apart from anything else, a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality (as proposed by President Zelensky) is an absolutely inescapable part of any settlement — but weakening Russia involves maintaining Ukraine as a de facto U.S. ally. U.S. strategy, as indicated by [Defense Secretary]Washington might be influenced by Lloyd Austin’s support for Ukrainian nationalist hardliners, as would President Zelensky.
We can now turn our attention to the question. The answer seems plain: judging by U.S. actions and formal pronouncements, it is “safe to conclude that Washington has a lot riding on the way the war ends in Ukraine.” More specifically, it is fair to conclude that in order to “weaken Russia,” the U.S. is dedicated to the grotesque experiment that we have discussed earlier; avoid any way of ending the conflict through diplomacy and see whether Putin will slink away quietly in defeat or will use the capacity, which of course he has, to destroy Ukraine and set the stage for terminal war.
We learn a lot from the dominant culture by the fact that the grotesque experiments are highly praiseworthy and that any attempt to question them is either ignored or bitterly castigated with an impressive stream of lies and deceit.