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Russia, Ukraine And The US: The Background They’re Not Telling You

Above photo: U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland passes out food to EuroMaidan protesters on Independence Square, as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt looks on nearby. AFP.

In the winter of 2022, the news is dominated by growing tensions  between Russia and Ukraine. Reports that Russia has amassed some  100,000 troops on its border with neighboring Ukraine have brought  charges from the United States and NATO that Russia is planning to  invade its neighbor, with whom it has had increasingly tense relations.

Will Russia invade Ukraine? And if it does, how will the United  States and NATO react? Already, the U.S. and its allies are threatening new sanctions against Russia, sending massive amounts of military  equipment to Ukraine and beefing up their military presence in bordering countries.

How close are we to war in the region? And how would the U.S. be  involved?

Background to the current crisis

It’s impossible to understand anything about present Russian-Ukrainian relations without going back at least to late 2013, when mass demonstrations broke out against then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine was trying to decide if it wanted closer economic relations with Russia, its traditional major trading partner, or with the wealthier  European Union. The country’s parliament, or Rada, was pro-EU, while  Yanukovych favored Russia. At the time – as now – many of the country’s politicians were corrupt, including Yanukovych, so there already  was popular resentment against him. When he decided to oppose the Rada over trade agreements, mass protests took place in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in the capital city of Kiev. But what began as peaceful, even celebratory gatherings were quickly taken over by right-wing paramilitary organizations modeled after WWII-era Ukrainian militias allied with the Nazi occupiers. Violence  followed and Yanukovych fled the country. He was replaced by acting  president Oleksandr Turchynov, and then the pro-U.S., pro-EU, pro-NATO Petro Poroshenko.

The movement that came to be known as Maidan was an illegal,  unconstitutional, violent coup – and it was backed to the hilt by the U.S.  government and many countries in the European Union.

Then-Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, who personally cheered on the Maidan protesters in  Independence Square, later bragged about the role the U.S. had played  in laying the groundwork for 2014. This is how she described that effort  in a December 2013 speech to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, a non-governmental organization:

“Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has sup- ported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as  they promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are  preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over $5 billion to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will  ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine.”

Translation: The U.S. spent $5 billion intervening in the internal affairs of Ukraine to help steer it away from Russia and toward an alliance with the West, an alliance that would financially benefit the West, while further isolating Russia.

Neo-liberal George Soros’ Open Society Foundation also played a  major role, as it explains on its website:

“The International Renaissance Foundation, part of the Open Society  family of foundations, has supported  civil  society  in  Ukraine since 1990.

For 25 years, the International Renaissance Foundation has worked with  civil society organizations … helping to facilitate Ukraine’s European  integration. The International Renaissance Foundation played an important role supporting civil society during the Euromaidan protests.”

Aftermath of the coup

The coup split the country along the lines of ethnicity and politics  and had devastating consequences for Ukraine, a fragile nation that  has only been an independent country since 1991. Before that it was  part of the Soviet Union, and before that it was long a contested region  dominated by a series of other forces: Vikings, Mongols, Lithuanians,  Russians, Poles, Austrians and more. The name Ukraine itself means  “borderland.”

Today 17.3 percent of Ukraine’s population is made up of ethnic  Russians, who live mainly in the eastern part of the country, which borders Russia. Many more speak Russian as their primary language. And  they tend to identify with the Soviet victory over the Nazi occupation of  Ukraine.

During Soviet times, both Russian and Ukrainian were official state  languages. One of the first acts of the new coup government was to declare that the only official language would be Ukrainian. It also quickly  went about banning symbols of the Soviet era, replacing them with memorials to Nazi collaborators. Meanwhile, the neo-Nazi organizations  active in the Maidan coup grew in membership and aggressiveness.

Shortly after the coup, fears of domination by an anti-Russian, pro fascist central government led the people of Crimea to hold a referendum in which the majority voted to reunite with Russia. (Crimea had  been part of Soviet Russia until 1954, when it was administratively  transferred to Soviet Ukraine.) Russia agreed, and annexed the region.  This was the “invasion” denounced by Kiev and the West. Curiously, no  one died in that “invasion.”

Meanwhile, fighting broke out in Donbass, a heavily industrialized  and largely ethnic Russian region of southeastern Ukraine that borders  Russia, with local leftists declaring independence from Ukraine. This  sparked a fierce Ukrainian opposition and fighting that to date has cost  some 14,000 lives.

And in the historically Russian-oriented city of Odessa, a movement  emerged that demanded a federal system in which local governors would  be locally elected, not appointed by the central government as they are  now. On May 2, 2014, at least 42 activists promoting this view were  massacred at the House of Trade Unions when a fascist-led mob set it on  fire. (See

All this would make the national situation difficult enough, but these crises took place within the international context of rising tensions between the U.S.-led West and Russia.

What does Russia want?

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the U.S.-led North Atlantic  Treaty Organization, or NATO, has been recruiting the former Soviet  republics into its anti-Russian alliance.

Ukraine is not yet a NATO member, but it operates as such in all but name. The U.S. and other Western countries train and supply its soldiers, help build its bases and conduct regular massive land, sea and air military exercises with Ukraine, which has a 1,200-mile land border with Russia and with which it shares the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. From Russia’s point of view, it’s NATO that is the aggressor. President Vladimir Putin has demanded a guarantee that NATO will not recruit Ukraine into its military alliance; an end to deploying NATO weapons near Russian borders; and an end to U.S.-NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe; all of which Russia views as serious threats to its  security.

Let’s look at the history: When NATO was founded on April 4, 1949,  it had 12 members: the U.S., Canada and 10 Western European countries.  By then the wartime cooperation with the Soviet Union was long over  and NATO was essentially an anti-Soviet military/political alliance.

Six years later, as a counterbalance, the Soviet Union formed the  nine-member Warsaw Pact, formally the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance. That alliance was dismantled in 1991,  10 months before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. By then  the U.S. had assured the Soviets that NATO would not be expanding  eastward.

U.S. officials now deny that, but this is from the Los Angeles Times  of May 30, 2016:

“In early February 1990, U.S. leaders made the Soviets an offer. Ac- cording to transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9. then-Secretary  of State James Baker suggested that in exchange for cooperation  on  Germany, [the] U.S. could make ‘iron-clad guarantees’ that NATO would  not expand ‘one inch eastward.’ Less than a week later, Soviet President  Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to begin reunification talks. No formal deal  was struck, but from all the evidence, the quid pro quo was clear: Gorbachev acceded to Germany’s western alignment and the U.S. would  limit NATO’s expansion.”

But far from limiting NATO’s expansion, the U.S. vigorously promoted it.

In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland were admitted  into NATO. In 2004, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania,  Romania,  Slovakia and Slovenia all became NATO members, followed in 2009 by  Albania, Croatia and Montenegro, and then North Macedonia in March  2020.

So today NATO has expanded to 30 member countries, with 14 –  nearly half – either former members of the Soviet bloc or part of the  former socialist state of Yugoslavia.

All new members admitted into NATO since the collapse of the So- viet Union are in Central or Eastern Europe. From a North American  and Western European alliance, it has become a North American and  European force that has moved steadily eastward right up to Russia’s  borders.

In NATO, the United States, United Kingdom and France together  possess a total of 7,315 nuclear weapons. Russia is believed to have  about 7,000. But in terms of overall military power, Russia’s military  budget in 2016 was just over 8 percent of the combined total of all NATO  countries, and just over 11 percent of the U.S. alone.

This is important, because one of NATO’s founding principles is that  an attack on any one member country is to be considered an attack on  all NATO members.

Today Russia is faced with a massive military and political alliance  that includes Estonia and Latvia, two of the six countries on its western  and southern borders.

In the present crisis, the U.S. and NATO are accusing Russia of  plan ning to invade Ukraine, pointing to Russia’s mobilization of what it says  are 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, the U.S. and  its allies are sending massive amounts of military aid to Ukraine and are  preparing to send their own troops to neighboring countries, to “support”  Ukraine.

And ominously, Russia has accused Ukraine of deploying 125,000  troops to Donbass, raising fears that the government may be planning to  try and retake the break-away region, in effect daring Russia to militarily  intervene.

But as for a Russian invasion? Some key figures are expressing doubt. This is from a Jan. 26 report by the Associated Press:

“[Ukrainian] National Security and Defense Council Secretary  Oleksiy Danilov sounded a similar note, arguing that the wave of Rus- sian troops amassed at Ukraine’s border ‘is not news.’ ‘As of today, we  don’t see any grounds for statements about a full-scale offensive on our  country,’ Danilov added on Monday, according to the AP.”

And this is from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), on Jan.  23:

“The head of the German navy has resigned over controversial com- ments he made over Ukraine. Kay-Achim Schönbach said the idea that  Russia wanted to invade Ukraine was nonsense. He added that all Presi- dent Vladimir Putin wanted was respect. Mr Schönbach said on Saturday  that he had resigned from his role ‘with immediate effect’ in order to  ‘avert further damage’.

What Washington wants

Is war with Russia a real possibility? Yes. It could come to that, most likely as a result of miscalculations by one side or the other operating in  a high-tension, high-risk military situation.

But Washington’s real goal is not to destroy Russia, but to dominate  it – to turn it into another neo-colony whose role would be to supply the  Empire with raw materials, cheap labor and a captive consumer market,  just as it has done to Eastern European countries  like  Poland  and Hungary and for much longer in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Increasingly,  Ukraine is becoming a central battleground in this global campaign for  U.S. hegemony.

And what’s the strategy? In the late 1990s, the U.S. basically spent  the Soviet Union under the table by forcing it to spend its limited re- sources on matching the U.S. in what was called the Arms Race. The  result was growing demoralization among the Soviet people, who ultimately did not mount any mass resistance to the collapse of their country  and economic system. The present increasing Western military threat  and economic sanctions against Russia seems to be coming from the  same playbook.

Further threatening the goal of U.S. world hegemony is the growing alliance between Russia, with its 7,000 nuclear weapons, and China,  another nuclear power and the world’s largest economy, after the United  States. Breaking up that alliance by bringing Russia to heel  is  likely  another central goal of the propaganda campaign against Russia.

There’s also the matter of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 gas pipe line, which, if implemented, would double the amount of gas flowing  directly from Russia to Germany, bypassing the traditional route through  Ukraine, depriving it of billions in transit fees. The pipeline is most likely one reason Germany has so far refused to send military equipment to  Ukraine.

However the present crisis is resolved, we must remember that  working and oppressed people in the West have nothing to gain from  this dangerous situation, and everything to lose if war against Russia  were actually to break out.

The antiwar movement and its allies must speak out forcefully  against U.S. and NATO aggression. We must demand that the massive  amounts of tax dollars being spent on war and war preparations instead  be used for the good of the people here at home and reparations for the  crimes Washington and NATO have committed abroad.

Phil Wilayto is editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper ( and coordinator of the Odessa Solidarity Campaign (odessasoli In 2016 he organized a delegation of U.S. peace activists that traveled to Odessa, Ukraine, to stand in solidarity with the people of that city on the second anniversary of the Odessa Massacre. He can be reached at:

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