The separatist rebels of eastern Ukraine and the government in Kiev that controls the Ukrainian army have reached a cease-fire in place that leaves the separatists largely in control of the Russian-majority regions of the eastern part of that country.
The agreement to stop the fighting was reached at negotiations organized and led by Russia and held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. It was reached at the same time that the US was pressing leaders of the NATO countries, at a meeting in Wales, to boost their military spending and to set up more offensive military positions in countries bordering Russia.
The one thing that did not happen as a result of the cease-fire, and that in fact never even got addressed in the Minsk talks, was a withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine.
There was no withdrawal or even mention of those troops — said to number about 1000 by the US and the Kiev government — because there never were Russian troops invading Ukraine.
As both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have, quite logically, pointed out, if Russia had invaded eastern Ukraine, it would not have done so by just secretly slipping in 1000 troops. It would have gone in with all 20,000 of the heavily armed troops it has reportedly massed on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, and with its overwhelming air power, and by now would be threatening Ukraine’s capital of Kiev.
The Pentagon knows this. The CIA knows it. The State Department knows it. Anyone who’s watched the Russians in prior military actions (Afghanistan, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, etc.) knows it. Never mind, President Obama continues talking ominously and speciously about a Russian invasion. But as I learned when I wrote a spoof piece  about that “invasion” a few days ago and tried to find some photos of Russian soldiers or Russian weapons in Ukraine on-line to go with it, there is absolutely no photographic evidence of such an attack.
Oh, there were some alleged satellite photos of perfectly lined up heavy mobile artillery which the US claimed were Russian arms inside Ukraine aiming westward, allegedly targeting Ukrainian forces. But these photos, which looked suspiciously like screen shots of video game images, and not like the crisp photos we have grown accustomed to seeing provided by military and even commercial satellites, didn’t even include GPS coordinates. The weapons were also far too perfectly lined up to be actually in operation in the field under wartime conditions. There was no effort to camouflage them from aerial attack, no effort to put them in protected positions, for example in a forest. Rather they were out in what appeared to be a plowed field (one which, significantly, didn’t show any piled up ammunition around the weapons, either).
There were also those nine Russian paratroopers who were captured in Ukraine, and subsequently paraded before the media in Kiev, but they claimed they had gotten lost and had crossed the border by mistake — a thoroughly credible explanation given that a large number of Ukrainian forces have done the same thing in reverse, crossing inadvertently over into Russia, which has been letting them return home.
Where there were articles in the media about an alleged Russian invasion, it always turned out that the accompanying photos of Russian troops or Russian tanks, instead of being of invading forces, either were of Russian troops on the Russian side of the border, or were old stock photos from Crimea, where Russian troops have long been stationed under the terms of a long-term lease agreement between Russia and Ukraine. (This was another earlier lie pushed by the US — that Russian troops had swept into Crimea like Nazi stormtroopers in the Anschluss — when in fact the troops that supported Crimeans’ desire to leave Ukraine and seek to rejoin Russia, were already there legally under a treaty agreement with Ukraine. Actually, there was no way for a Russian army to “cross the border” into Crimea, given that the only way to get from Russia to Crimea, at least back then, was a small ferry across the Kerch Strait that links the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea and that separates Crimea from Russia.)
Surely if there had been a real invasion of the Donbass region by Russian troops and their equipment over the past two weeks, the US would have had plenty of incriminating photos, including really impressive satellite images, to spread around. (US spy satellites can pick out license plate numbers from space!)
The claim of a Russian invasion was so weak, that Michael Gordon, the ethically compromised and politically tainted reporter at the New York Times who, back in 2002, brought us the bogus “aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment centrifuges” story and other war-mongering lies about Iraq, and to whom the Times, either in spite or, or because of that sorry record, handed the job of ginning up a new war hysteria, this time about Russia, was stumped. In the end, he was reduced to claiming Moscow was involved in a “stealth” invasion — one which you cannot see but just know is happening.
As a group of 30 former intelligence professionals in an organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) wrote in a memo delivered to German Chancellor Angela Merkel  just before the NATO summit:
“The accusations of a major Russian ‘invasion’ of Ukraine appear not to be supported by reliable intelligence. Rather, the ‘intelligence’ seems to be of the same dubious, politically ‘fixed’ kind used 12 years ago to ‘justify’ the U.S.-led attack on Iraq”.
Merkel appears to have taken the VIPS memo seriously, and has backed away from her earlier solid support for more economic sanctions against Russia. She even hedged her reference at the NATO gathering to an alleged Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling it a “supposed” invasion.
Indeed, while the US has dissed the new cease-fire agreement, huffing that there was no implementation plan included (cease-fire agreements, as opposed to peace treaties, are always works in progress, as the US surely knows, and as we saw recently in Gaza, and the important thing is just to stop the guns and bombs, so talks can take place), the NATO countries, led by Merkel, have refused to blindly cave in to US pressure to put added sanctions in place against Russia, preferring instead to approve tentative sanctions but hold them in reserve to give the cease fire a chance.
That hasn’t stopped US war-mongering. Although any sane observer knows that Russia’s support for the embattled Russian minority in eastern Ukraine, far from being a sign that Putin and the Russian government want to try and recapture the former satellite states of Eastern Europe, is rather a logical response to a US-led effort to turn Ukraine into an armed and threatening US/NATO outpost on Russia’s southern border. (Just recall how the US responded when the old Soviet Union tried to enlist Cuba in its NATO equivalent of the Warsaw Pact by installing missiles on the island!).
In any case, Russia’s support for the rebellion of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east (the same kind of moral, financial, tactical and military support the US has given to Chechnyan rebels, the Georgian military, Nicaraguan Contras and anti-Castro rebels) has been a smashing success. The US neo-con dream of pushing Russia out of its Crimean naval base, which would have left Russia with no navy in the Mediterranean region and scant access to the Atlantic, is gone with the annexation earlier this year of Crimea, following a plebiscite. Meanwhile, the cease-fire leaves ethnic Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in control of half of Ukraine’s Black Sea coastline, and, should the cease-fire collapse, within striking distance of the port cities of Mariupol and Odessa, which would leave western Ukraine an impoverished and landlocked nation.
The US, having seen its $5 billion plan for a NATO puppet state on Russia’s southern flank resoundingly crushed, is still pushing disconsolately for a more threatening NATO stance against Russia, with more weapons and troops posted near to Russia’s western border, for example in the Baltic states and in Poland, Rumania and Poland. But saner heads in Europe, particularly in Germany, are balking, noting that NATO and Russia have a treaty that bars the placing of permanent military bases in those countries. European NATO countries area also largely ignoring US calls for them to boost their military spending to bring it to 2% of GDP (US military spending is officially 3.8% of GDP, among the highest rates in the world, according to the World Bank, though adding in interest on war funding debt, veterans benefits and health care and the intelligence budget, it is really closer to 5%).
As a sop to Washington’s bruised ego, the NATO countries have approved a plan to pre-position weapons in the so-called “front-line” NATO states nearest to Russia, and to create a small “rapid action force” of several thousand NATO troops who could presumably gear up and go to those pre-positioned weapons within days in a crisis involving Russian aggression.
That plan, while a provocation, is unlikely to trouble Russia much, because a) Russia has no interest in trying to invade any of those countries like Estonia or the Czech Republic, and b) because if it did ever have such a plan, its 1-million-strong military would not be deterred by a few thousand NATO troops.
The Ukraine crisis is not over. The cease-fire is precarious, and the US is talking about providing arms to Ukrainian forces, and has announced plans for sending some US troops to Ukraine for “war games” with Ukrainian troops.
Hopefully, though, with its diplomatic nose already bloodied by the military successes of the separatist forces, Washington will decide not to risk having things get even worse, with Russia regaining full control of the Black Sea coast as it had under the old USSR, and Europe left with a rump “Novopoland” economic basket case to contend with.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).