The war in Ukraine is now at an all-time low. Putting to rest his own ludicrous claim that the invasion of Ukraine constitutes a “special military operation,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a military call-up. Staged “referendums” — votes to join Russia — have been conducted in the occupied territories. There are calls for more weapons and demands that Russia be removed form the United Nations Security Council. Noam Chomsky, an exclusive interviewee, said that these developments have profoundly troubling political and military implications. Truthout. They indicate “a plan for a long-drawn-out war of attrition.” Chomsky urges that the U.S. join the rest of the world in calling for negotiations, not because Putin can be trusted, but because negotiations are our best hope for averting disaster. There’s no certainty as to whether this process would result in peace, but as Chomsky says, “There is one and only one way to find out: Try.”
Chomsky is a professor emeritus in MIT’s department of linguistics and philosophy. He is also a laureate professor of linguistics and the Agnese Nelms Haury chair in the 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 are 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. Polychroniou: Seven months after Putin’s criminal invasion of Ukraine, the war has reached a turning point. It has come home to Russia with Putin’s call for “partial mobilization,” and annexation referendums have been staged. What does the Russian bolstering in Ukraine of its forces mean for Russia and Ukraine? Are Putin’s orders for military call-up an admission that Russia is no longer conducting a “special military operation” in Ukraine?
Noam ChomskyIt is not clear what has happened to Russia. There are reports of protests, forced conscription, and appeals to protect Mother Russia from another Western invasion. These appeals will be crushed, just like those that were made back to Napoleon. These appeals may be resonant. The past may hold deep memories. We can only guess what the outcome will be.
From the first day, it was a criminal invasion, never a “special military operation,” but the pretense in the Kremlin is still maintained. The mobilization won’t have much impact on the war for some years, and it is not clear what kind of effect it will have. Many analysts have been surprised at the incompetence and failures that the Russian military has shown. This may extend to mobilization, training and supply of equipment. These efforts will likely be far ahead of any meaningful bolstering Russian forces, most likely after the winter months. I suppose Russia could move forces from other regions, but whether the leadership has the capability or will to do that, I don’t know.
The referenda and mobilization seem to indicate a plan of a long-term war of attrition. If the mobilization succeeds in turning the tide of war, it increases the risk of the West introducing more advanced weapons to the conflict, possibly reaching Russia as President Zelenskyy requested, but has been rebuffed. It’s not hard to envision scenarios that lead on to catastrophic consequences.
That’s just the beginning. The war’s impact is far more than that. It has affected millions of people who are now facing starvation due to the curtailing grain and fertilizer exports. However, there is not enough information to determine how much. And, most importantly, it has resulted in the abrupt reversal international efforts to address the climate crisis. This is a terrible crime against humanity.
While enormous resources are being used in destruction, and the fossil fuel industries are celebrating the opening of new fields for exploitation to further poison the atmosphere, scientists are constantly reminding us that their dire warnings are far too conservative. We have just learned that the Middle East region, which is not far from Ukraine’s embattled country, is heating. almost twice as fast as the rest of the world, with an estimated 9ºF rise by the end of the century, and that sea levelsThe Eastern Mediterranean will see an expected rise in population by one meter by mid-century, and by 2100 by 2.5 meters. Of course it doesn’t stop there. It is almost impossible to imagine the consequences.
The region continues to be the global centre for heating the world to near the edge of survival, and soon beyond. While Israel and Lebanon may soon sink into the sea, they are arguing about who will have the honor to virtually destroy them both by producing fossil fuels at their maritime borders. This is lunacy that has been repeated around the globe. In the face of these realities, it is difficult to describe the level of incompetence that has led to the escalation of the war in Ukraine.
Russia wants to annexe four of the Ukraine’s occupied regions through staged referendums. Russia used this tactic in 2014 to annexe four occupied regions of Ukraine. However, the circumstances may be different. The Russian-held Donetsk region, Luhansk Zaporizhzhia, Kherson and Zaporizhia regions of Ukraine were held for voting. However, this is clearly against international law. This doesn’t matter to a country that has launched a criminal invasion against an independent country. What does Russia hope to achieve with the “referendums”? What will happen next, especially given Russia’s difficulty in establishing order on the occupied territory?
This case’s referenda lack credibility. It was different for the Crimea referendum of 2014. For one thing, the Russian takeover of Crimea didn’t happen in a vacuum. For another, there’s reason to suppose that Crimeans looked to Russia more than to Ukraine. Although the referenda were not accepted internationally, many people recognized that the results weren’t surprising. That’s not the case with the current referenda.
As with the mobilization, the Russian plans to long-term occupation as well as a war of attrition through the staging of referenda. Although they are clearly a hindrance to negotiations over the fates of the regions they take place in, they may not completely close that window, Anatol Lilien suggests discusses.
It’s true that international law means as little to Russia as to the other great powers that launch criminal invasions against independent countries, the U.S. well in the lead. Its power has allowed it to live in impunity.
What does Russia aim to achieve? As we’ve discussed, there are two ways to approach this question.
One way is to explore the depths of Putin’s mind, as George W. Bush did when he looked into Putin’s eyes, saw his “soul,” and pronounced it good. As many amateur psychologists today, with great confidence.
The second option is to take a look at the statements of Putin and his associates. As with other leaders, their hidden intentions may be revealed. However, what matters is that they can use their words to establish a basis for negotiations if they are interested in ending the horrors before they become worse. That’s how diplomacy works.
The second way suggests that what Russia hopes to achieve is primarily neutralization of Ukraine and “demilitarization and denazification.” The former means cancellation of the programs of the past years to integrate Ukraine de facto within NATO. That approaches President Zelenskyy’s proposals as recently as last March for neutralization with security guarantees. This would be an area for serious negotiations. It could be described as an agreement not to place heavy weapons aimed at Russia or Ukraine, and no further joint military maneuvers. It is a status that looks a lot like Mexico.
Those are topics for negotiations — if, of course, there is a serious interest in ending the conflict.
You might recall that the majority of the world, including the vast majority of Germans, calls for negotiations now. However, the U.S. insists on Russia’s weakening as the priority and therefore no negotiations.
There are many other issues that need to be resolved, such as Crimea and Donbass. Referenda internationally sponsored on the various options would be the best solution. While this is unlikely to be possible right now, a serious effort in negotiations could improve the prospects. Remember that there is evidence that serious Ukraine-Russia negotiations were held under Turkish auspices as recently as April and that the U.S./U.K. opposed them.
What happens next will depend on the choices made by those involved. This includes Russia and Ukraine, but we cannot pretend to be observers from afar. See again Lieven’s commentary, just cited.
Lieven isn’t the only analyst who sees peaceful diplomatic settlement as a viable but declining option. Another is John Quigley, who has been deeply involved in these issues since the early ‘90s, when he was the U.S. State Department representative in the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe]His concern was the resolution of disputed issues in Ukraine following the collapse of the USSR. As of June 20,22, some of his current thoughts were already discussed.
Quigley recognizes that though negotiations are currently stalled, “At some point, however, hopefully sooner than later, there will be a negotiated settlement that will need to deal with the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine” as well as Crimea. On Crimea, he recommends pursuing Zelenskyy’s suggestion that perhaps “the two sides could arrange a process of discussion about Crimea, a process that he said could last 15 years.” On Donbass, Quigley writes that “if Ukraine does anything even close to implementing the Minsk agreement [the 2015 Ukraine-Russia agreement under French-German sponsorship which called for a degree of autonomy for Donbass within a federal Ukraine], Russia could say that the aim of its invasion has been accomplished,” and a settlement could be reached.
Emmanuel Macron, French President, expressed similar views just a few short days ago. He has been more closely involved with current negotiations efforts than any other figure. on CNN. In his opinion, at the time of Zelenskyy’s election in 2019, a settlement favorable to Ukraine could have been reached along the lines of the Minsk agreement. He also believes that diplomatic options remain open.
We do not know if these assessments are accurate. Only one way to find this out is to try. That won’t happen, Quigley concludes, if “the U.S. goal is less to force Russia out of Ukraine than to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian” — a “reasonable” assessment he reluctantly comments.
This is the only thing we can influence, something that cannot overemphasized.
President Zelenskyy called on the United Nations to punish Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and remove it from its security council veto vote. A few days ago, the EU president made similar calls. While, technically speaking, a country can be expelled from the UN for “persistent violation” of the principles of the Charter, isn’t this a misguided proposal? Isn’t it also true that the argument that Russia may not even be a member of the UN is invalid on account of the fact that the continuation of the USSR’s membership by the Russian Federation, which Ukraine itself accepted in 1991, is in line with long established procedures within the UN?
One can easily appreciate President Zelenskyy’s sentiments, but whatever the technicalities may be, the very fact that the proposal is being seriously considered is enlightening. Did anyone consider punishing the U.S. in this manner when it invaded Iraq, to take only one example of its “persistent violation” of the core principle of the Charter that bars “the threat or use of force” in international affairs (with exceptions irrelevant here)? These violations are not only persistent, but very serious. We don’t need to review them even though they are almost unheard of in the U.S. mainstream.
I believe we should keep our minds on the main issue: U.S. policies. Should we accept that the U.S. is fighting the war to weaken Russia and prevent diplomatic settlement? Or should we push the U.S. government into joining the rest of the world, including Germans, in trying to find a way out of these horrors before they continue to bring more tragedy to Ukraine and beyond?
This interview was lightly edited to improve clarity.