Russia’s war in Ukraine is producing an earthquake in international affairs. The war in Ukraine has raised new questions about Europe’s security and is shaking up the energy geopolitics. In addition, the war seems like it is creating new divisions between Global North and Global South while Russia & China strengthen their strategic relations.
In the interview that follows, world-renowned scholar and leading dissident Noam Chomsky addresses some of the new developments taking place in the world system on account of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. Chomsky also considers whether Vladimir Putin could be charged with war crimes, given the mounting evidence that recalls the atrocities committed during World War II by the Nazis. Recent evidenceIt is also evident that Ukrainian forces also committed war crimes by killing Russian soldiers.
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. The war in Ukraine made Russia a pariah in Europe and North America. But, Russia continues receiving support from many countries of the Global South. The strategic relationship between Russia and China seems to be getting stronger, although both countries had identified each other as major factors for maintaining order and stability in an “emerging polycentric world” long before Putin and Xi Jinping. In fact, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said following a recent meeting with his Chinese counterpart that the two countries are working together to advance a vision of a new world order, a new “democratic world order.” Is the new world order one that pits Global North and Global South countries against each other? And what do you make of the statement of Russia and China working together to promote a new “democratic world order?” To me, the idea of two autocratic states working together to promote democracy across the world sounds like a crude joke.
Noam Chomsky The idea that Russia and China will be working together to promote a “democratic world order” is, of course, ludicrous. They will be doing so in much the way that the U.S. was laboring to “promote democracy” in Iraq, the goal of the invasion as President Bush announced when it became clear that the “single question” — Will Saddam stop developing nuclear weapons? — had been answered the wrong way. Rarely, the intellectual class and most scholarship jumped to attention and vigorously promoted the new doctrine. This is, I believe, also true today in Russia or China.
As U.S.-run polls showed, Americans enthralled by the “noble” goals belatedly proclaimed were even joined by some Iraqis: 1 percent of those polled. Four percent believed that the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to help the Iraqis. The rest concluded that if Iraq’s exports had been asparagus and pickles, and the center of global petroleum production was in the South Pacific, the U.S. wouldn’t have invaded.
I don’t pretend to have any expert knowledge, but from my own experience in past weeks with the Global South — press, many interviews and meetings, much personal discussion — it doesn’t seem to me quite accurate to say that it is supporting Moscow, except in the sense that Moscow is getting support from the Western powers that keep paying it for petroleum products and food (probably by now the source of Russia’s main export earnings).
My impression is that the Global South has sharply condemned the Russian invasion, but has asked: “What’s new?” The general reaction to President Biden’s harsh condemnation of Putin as a war criminal seems to be something like this: To be a good friend, you must first know yourself.We agree that he’s a war criminal. As Enlightenment-born creatures, we adopt the Kantian principle that universality is not subject to contempt. Sometimes, the West will even accuse us of whataboutism.
It is, after all, not easy for people in the Global North — and, increasingly, the Global South — to be impressed by the “moral outrage” of Western intellectuals who just a few years ago, when all the horrific facts were in, were enthusiastically applauding the success of the invasion of Iraq, spouting pietiesIt was about noble intentions that would have embarrased even the most abject apparatchik. And we can only imagine their reactions when they read the pious invocation of the Nuremberg judgmentBy the editors of The New York Times, who are just now coming to recognize that, “To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime: it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” The accumulated evil includes the instigation of ethnic conflict that has torn apart not only Iraq but the whole region, the horrors of ISIS, and much more.
This is not what editors intend. The Nuremberg sentence was somehow evaded by the supreme international crime they have supported for 60-years.
Global South has expressed appreciation for the realization by Western intellectuals, the political class, that aggressors can do horrible crimes. But they feel that it is a little late and curiously distorted. They have ample experience and this is something they appreciate. They are also able to perceive that Westerners consumed with moral outrage over the crimes of enemies are still able to maintain their usual silence while their own leaders carry out terrible crimes right now — in Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine, Western Sahara, and all too many other places where they could act at once, and expeditiously, to mitigate or end these crimes.
Let’s turn to the “strategic relationship between Russia and China.” It does indeed seem to be strengthening, though it is not much of a partnership. The corrupt Russian kleptocracy is able to provide raw materials as well as advanced weapons for the economic system Beijing is systematically establishing across mainland Asia. It also reaches to Africa and the Middle East and, by now, to U.S. domains throughout Latin America. But that’s not all. Russia’s role in this highly unequal relationship is, I think, likely to diminish further, much as Europe’s international role is likely to diminish after Putin has handed Europe on a golden platter to the U.S.-run “Atlanticist” system, a gift of substantial significance, as we’ve discussed before.
Can China help to end the war in Ukraine If yes, what’s stopping Beijing from using its influence over Moscow for a peace agreement to be reached in Ukraine?
China could help to improve the prospects of a peaceful, negotiated settlement in Ukraine. It seems that the Chinese leadership doesn’t see any benefit in doing so.
China’s “information system” appears to be pretty much conformingThe Russian propaganda line. But more generally, it doesn’t seem to diverge much from a fairly common stance in the Global South, illustrated graphically by the sanctions map. The Anglosphere and Europe are home to the states that have joined sanctions against Russia. They also include Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. The invasion has been condemned by the rest, but the world is mostly silent.
This should not be a surprise. This is not a new phenomenon. We all remember well that there was virtually no international support for the invasion of Iraq. We are less familiar with the fact that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after 9/11. A few weeks later, an international Gallup poll asked the question: “Once the identity of the [9/11] terrorists is known, should the American government launch a military attack on the country or countries where the terrorists are based or should the American government seek to extradite the terrorists to stand trial?”
This reflects the fact that they were not known by their identities. Eight months later, FBI Director Robert Mueller couldn’t confirm that al-Qaeda was responsible for the crime in his first major press conference. The very limited support for U.S. policies would have been even lower if the poll had been conducted.
The overwhelming majority of world opinion favors diplomatic-judicial actions over military action. Latin America was especially opposed to invasion, as it has had very limited experience with U.S. intervention.
Americans were not informed of international opinion by the free press. It was therefore able proclaim that “the opposition [to the U.S. invasion] was mostly limited to the people who are reflexively against the American use of power.”
It seems that quite a few people suffer from this condition. It should not be surprising that the world views today are so divided.
China’s unwillingness to devote its efforts to a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine conflict deserves criticism, but it is hard to see how such criticism can properly come from Americans. China is following the official U.S. policy. Simply put, the policy is to “fight to the last Ukrainian for Ukrainian independence” while offering no way to save Ukraine from further tragedy. Even worse, current policy undermines such hopes by informing Putin that he has no way out: it’s The Hague or proceed to destroy Ukraine.
The paraphrased quote and the opinions are those of one the most eminent and respected U.S diplomats. Ambassador Chas FreemanHe continues to explain the options and to remind us about the history.
Like anyone who cares in the least about the fate of Ukrainians, Ambassador Freeman recognizes that the only alternative to Russian destruction of Ukraine — which, with their backs to the wall, Putin and his narrow circle of siloviki can implement — is a negotiated settlement that will be ugly, offering the aggressors an escape. He also has a deeper understanding of the history than we did in our earlier discussions. He can trace it back to the Congress of Vienna of 1814 that occurred after the Napoleonic Wars. Metternich and other European leaders, he observes, “had the good sense to reincorporate [defeated] France into the governing councils of Europe,” overlooking its virtual conquest of Europe. It led to a century with substantial peace in Europe which had been for centuries the most violent area of the world. There were some conflicts, but nothing as severe as the ones that preceded them. With World War I, the century of peace came to an end.
Freeman goes on to remind us that the victors in the war did not have the good sense of their predecessors: “the victors — the United States and Britain and France — insisted on excluding Germany from a role in the affairs of Europe, as well as this newly formed Soviet Union, the result was World War II and the Cold War.”
As we’ve discussed earlier, a leading theme throughout the Cold War was the status of Europe: should it subordinate itself to the U.S. within the Atlanticist-NATO framework, the U.S. preference? Or should it become an independent “third force” along Gaullist lines, accommodating Russia within a Europe without military alliances from the Atlantic to the Urals?
The question arose starkly when the USSR collapsed, and Mikhail Gorbachev outlined the vision of a “common European home” with no military alliances from Lisbon to Vladivostok. In a limited version, the idea was revived by Emmanuel Macron (French President) in his recent tense exchanges with Putin.
If there was anyone in the Kremlin that resembled a stateman, they would have jumped at the chance to explore something like Gorbachev’s vision. Europe has strong reasons, from security to commerce, to establish close relations to Russia. We don’t know if such efforts would have prevented the Ukraine tragedy. Only by trying could we have found the answer. Instead, the Moscow hard men turned to violence, adding to their criminal aggression by self-destructive foolishness.
The Gorbachev concept received some U.S. support in the framework of the Partnership for Peace. This U.S. initiative was intended to create a cooperative security system that is not directly related to NATO. Ambassador Freeman, who played a significant part in establishing it in words that are worth considering.
Interesting was what happened in 1994 (a midterm election years) and 1996 (a presidential election years). In 1994, Clinton spoke from both sides of his mouth. He was telling the Russians we weren’t in a hurry to add NATO members and that the Partnership for Peace was our preferred path. The same time he was hinting to the ethnic diasporas of Russophobic countries in Eastern Europe — and, by the way, it’s easy to understand their Russophobia given their history — that, no, no, we were going to get these countries into NATO as fast as possible. He made that promise explicit in 1996. [In]1994: He exploded from [Boris]Yeltsin was the President of the Russian Federation at the time. [In] 1996 he got another one, and as time went on, when Mr. Putin came in, he regularly protested the enlargement of NATO in ways that disregarded Russia’s self-defense interests. This should not have been surprising. Russia has warned for 28 year that it would break down, and it has. This has been a devastating move, both in Russia’s own interests and for the greater prospects of peace in Europe.
None of this provides any excuse for Putin’s invasion, Freeman emphasizes. But it is important to understand that, “There were those people in the United States who were triumphalist about the end of the Cold War…. This allowed the United States to incorporate all the countries right up to Russia’s borders and beyond them, beyond those borders in the Baltics, into an American sphere of influence. In essence, they proposed a global sphere to influence for the United States that was modeled after the Monroe Doctrine. And that’s pretty much what we have.”
Russian leadership tolerated Clinton’s violation of the firm U.S. commitment to Gorbachev not to extend NATO beyond East Germany. They even tolerated George W. Bush’s further provocations, and U.S. military actions that struck directly at Russian interests, undertaken in such a way as to humiliate Russia. But Ukraine, Georgia and Georgia were red lines. Washington understood this clearly. As Freeman continues, no Russian leader was likely to tolerate the NATO expansion into Ukraine that began after the 2014 “coup, [carried out] to prevent neutrality or a pro-Russian government in Kiev, and to replace it with a pro-American government that would bring Ukraine into our sphere… So, since about 2015 the United States has been arming, training Ukrainians against Russia,” effectively treating Ukraine “as an extension of NATO.”
As we’ve discussed, that stance became explicit policy in Biden’s September 2021 official statement, possibly a factor in Russia’s decision to escalate to direct aggression a few months later.
Crucially, to repeat, current U.S. policy is to “fight to the last Ukrainian” while offering no way to save Ukraine from further tragedy and in fact undermining such hopes by informing Putin that he has no way out: it’s The Hague or proceed to destroy Ukraine.
China seems to be satisfied with the current course of events. Washington is likely to be in the same boat. Both have gained from this tragedy. Both have gained from the tragedy. reportApril 4.
Turkey’s position over the war in Ukraine is to maintain neutrality while acting as a mediator in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis. Can Turkey continue to balance such a delicate act when it is known that Turkey has been providing military support to Ukraine since 2019?
Turkey has been in a confusing position in global affairs for many decades. Although Turkey is a NATO member, the EU has rejected its requests for membership on human rights grounds. Turkey was responsible for some of the most horrific crimes committed in the 1990s. Its massive state terror against the Kurdish population left tens of thousand dead, 3500 villages and towns destroyed, and a flood of hundreds, if not thousands of people from the Kurdish areas to the miserable slums of Istanbul. The crimes were mostly concealed by the “Free Press,” perhaps because Clinton was pouring arms into Turkey, the flow escalating as atrocities mounted. Turkey became the most important recipient of U.S. Military Aid (apart from Israel Egypt, which is a separate category), thus establishing a very close correlation with human rights abuses and U.S. assistance that goes back far but does not diminish its much-lauded nobility.
By 2000, Turkish state crimes were abating, and in the following years the situation greatly improved — something I was able to witness personally, with much appreciation. By 2005, under President Recep Erdoğan’s increasingly harsh rule, the progress ended, and reversed. That might have been in part a reaction to the continued refusal of the European Union to accept Turkish membership, ignoring the great steps forward in recent years and fortifying the sense that Europeans simply won’t accept Turks into their club.
Since then, Erdoğan’s rule has become far more brutal, again targeting Kurds but also attacking civil and human rights on a broad front. Erdogan has been trying hard to make Turkey a major regional actor, hinting at an Ottoman caliphate. He accepts Russian weapons over strong U.S. objections but remains a central part of the NATO system of regional — by now global — dominance. The “balancing act” with regard to Ukraine is a case in point.
Turkey should facilitate negotiations to end the horrors in Ukraine. This will be a welcome development and something to be praised. We can only speculate about what the chances are while the U.S. insists on perpetuating the conflict “to the last Ukrainian” while blocking an ugly negotiated settlement that is the alternative to destruction of Ukraine and perhaps even nuclear war.
Russian gas continues to flow towards Europe, even though Putin demanded that the Russian government pay in rubles for it. What would happen to the geostrategic relations between Russia and Europe if Russia became independent from Russian gas.
It doesn’t look likely in the near future. Europe could eliminate the use of Russian oil and coal. But gas is a completely different matter. This would require pipelines, which would take years to construct, or transport facilities that can transport liquified gas, which are scarcely available. But I believe the question we should ask is different. Can we aspire to the wisdom of reactionary tyrants, who gave Europe a century of peace in Vienna 1814? Can we move towards the Gorbachev vision for a European common home without military alliances, which is not too far from President Clinton’s U.S-initiated Partnership for Peace? Can some resemblance to statesmanship appear in today’s Russia? These questions should be at the forefront of our thinking and our active engagement in trying influence policy choices and discussion.
There is increasing evidence of Russian war crimes. Are there any chances that Putin could be charged with war crimes in Ukraine
Prosecution for war crimes, in the real world, is “victor’s justice.” That was clear from the Nuremberg Tribunal and was not even concealed in the accompanying Tokyo Tribunal. Because it was a specialty for the Allies, Nuremberg excluded saturation bombing densely populated urban areas. If the German war criminals could prove that the Allies committed the same crimes, they were exonerated. The Nuremberg principles were discredited in subsequent years. They were discovered recently as a tool to defeat official enemies.
It is impossible to imagine the U.S. being tried for its horrendous crimes. One attempt was made to bring the U.S. justice for its war on Nicaragua. The U.S. responded to the International Court of Justice orders to end the crimes by sharply escalating them while the press dismissed the court as a “hostile forum” as shown by its daring to convict the U.S. (per The New York Times’Editors), following abundant precedent.
Putin could be charged with crimes if he is thrown out of power in Russia. Russia can then be considered a defeated country. That is what the record suggests.
Imagine a world in which international law can be respected rather than being used against specific targets. That is what we must never stop trying to achieve. We should not give in to the temptations of global doctrinal systems.