Ukraine: Ten Talking Points for Rational People

1. Ukraine is the largest nation in Europe, with a 1400 mile land border with Russia. The U.S. government under administrations since Bill Clinton’s has sought to integrate Ukraine into the anti-Russian NATO military alliance.

2. NATO is an artifact of the early Cold War and the Truman Doctrine, vowing any means necessary to stop the spread of Communism. Founded in 1949, when the U.S. ruled most of the world, it included most of the countries of Europe except for those liberated from Nazism by the Soviets, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, and Yugoslavia and Albania where anti-fascist partisans seized power.

3. After the dissolution of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact (a defense alliance formed in 1956 after West Germany was included in NATO) in 1990, and the full restoration of capitalism to the countries of the former Soviet Union, there was no ideological east-west conflict or another rationale to maintain the NATO alliance. It gradually redefined its mission as “maintaining stability” in the post-Soviet era, in the wake of ethnic conflicts across Eurasia, and “counter-terrorism.” Later “humanitarian” missions were added.

4. In 1989 President George HW Bush promised Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev that, following the reunification of Germany with Moscow’s assent, NATO would not “move one inch” eastwards. But while Bill Clinton was president in 1999, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia joined the alliance. Under Bush’s son, in 2004, the list grew: Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia all joined. NATO now bordered Russia itself. Obama added Albania and Croatia. Under Trump, Montenegro joined and North Macedonian entry is in the cards. The U.S. is obviously trying to incorporate every European nation possible into an anti-Russian coalition for future deployment.

5. NATO forces were never deployed against Soviet or Warsaw Pact forces during the Cold War. But Clinton (prompted by bellicose Hillary) used them to pound Serbian positions in Bosnia in the 1990s and to bomb Belgrade during the 1999 war to sever Kosovo from Serbia and convert it into a NATO base. (In both instances Clinton claimed “humanitarian” motives.) They were used too in Afghanistan and Libya, far away from the North Atlantic, at U.S. direction to topple the Taliban, thereby producing an ongoing insurgency, and to destroy Gadhafi’s modern state of Libya. They are not a force of good in the world.

6. Russia has responded, angrily but cautiously, to NATO’s incessant, inexplicable expansion. The three crucial moments have been in 1999, when Russian troops rushed to Pristina Airport in Kosovo to preserve some national pride following the expansion of NATO and the U.S. humiliation of the Serbs; in 2008 when Russia briefly invaded Georgia to punish it for attacks on South Ossetia (and its just announced pursuit of NATO membership); and in 2014 when in response to the U.S.-backed Kiev putsch Moscow moved to secure ongoing control of the Crimean Peninsula. These were obviously moves to discourage NATO expansion.

7. For NATO strategists and supporters, Ukraine is the ultimate prize. (Thereafter only Belarus and Georgia need absorption.) It is still slated for NATO membership; this year its Secretary General Jens Soltenberg reiterated this commitment in Kiev. It remains the position of the U.S. that both Ukraine and Georgia should join NATO. The German government on the other hand, far more sensitive to the historical issues involved, notes that Ukrainian or Georgian membership would “cross a red line” with Russia. The Ukrainian people are divided on the issue. It is good if the Germans and others can block bloc expansion.

8. From February 2010 to February 2014, Ukraine was headed by a democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, who opposed NATO membership. He had been elected despite routine U.S. election meddling. He has been depicted in the U.S. press as “pro-Russian” and opposed to Ukraine’s membership in the European Union. In fact, he sought entry into the EU, using his U.S. aide Paul Manafort towards that end, and backed out of an agreement after realizing the political costs of the austerity program required. He was “pro-Russian” in that he is ethnic Russian in a multi-ethnic country, and was while in power inclined to maintain good relations with the northern neighbor. He was targeted by Hillary Clinton appointee Victoria Nuland (wife of neocon warmonger Robert Kagan) for removal. He was charged with denying the Ukrainian people’s “European aspirations”—meaning, he was resisting an association with the EU (and NATO).

He was indeed overthrown, succeeded by an new regime that provoked revolt among the ethnic Russians in the east from the outset. The U.S. attempt to install a regime that could quickly align with the west, joining the EU and NATO as the usual package, resulted in civil conflict and the Russian re-annexation of Crimea. Finally, the NATO effort to dominate Eurasia met a snag when the Russians said: No way we’ll concede to you the base port of the Black Sea Fleet since Empress Catherine’s time, in 1785.

9. After the coup of February 18-21, 2014, Aseniy Yatsenyuk, handpicked by Nuland, became prime minister. Russia refused to recognize the government he headed, stacked with NATO supporters. Only when Ukraine held a presidential election, and a candidate acceptable to Moscow,
Petro Poroshenko, was elected, did the Russians actively engage in diplomacy with Kiev. The result is the Minsk Accords and an ongoing process of negotiations between Kiev, the Donbas separatists, Moscow, Germany and France. The key issue of Donbas autonomy as a precondition for peace has met with opposition in the parliament but since the election of Volodomir Zelensky, there have been concrete moves towards peace. Not that there has been much heavy fighting since 2015. Russia and Ukraine are working with Europe to find a solution. It would be good for the U.S. to avoid interfering.

10. After the February 2014 coup (depicted in the western press as a “revolution” toppling a “pro-Russian” leader), Ukraine informally joined the U.S. imperialist camp. There is, in fact, no formal alliance, but Ukraine is now depicted as an ally, indeed one in desperate need of U.S. arms to resist the Russian invasion. But there has been no real Russian invasion, just lots of hype; nowadays the talking heads refer to “Russian-backed” forces in Ukraine, referring to ethnic Russian-Ukrainians; they exploit the general ignorance of people in this country about history and geography and fudge Russians with Russian-Ukrainians (or sometimes any Slavs). And the annexation of Crimea was bloodless and popularly supported. The provision of $ 380 million in Javelin anti-tank missiles and other weaponry to the Kiev government is unlikely to contribute to a settlement of the Donbas problem.


Amidst all the attention to detail, to phone calls and transcripts and secret visits, those pressing for Trump’s impeachment (on bribery grounds) never discuss the context of this little scandal. The fact that Ukraine has been hopelessly corrupt since it became independent with the dissolution of the USSR in 1991; the fact that the U.S. underwrote the 2014 coup; the fact that Hunter Biden was hired by Burisma Holdings two months after the coup (while his father was the Obama team’s point man on Ukrainian corruption) and served to April 2019; and most of all, the fact that the U.S. wants to get Ukraine into NATO, surrounding European Russia and grabbing Crimea for itself.

Trying to acquire dirt on the Bidens by strong-arming a foreign leader, threatening an arms supply cut-off, is bad I suppose, by definition. But providing arms to stoke a conflict ignited by U.S. interference in Ukraine is worse. Had the U.S. not spent $ 5 billion (Nuland’s figure) to “support the Ukrainian people’s European aspirations;” had John McCain and Lesley Graham not passed out cookies with Nuland in Maidan; had NATO not declared its intention to include Kiev in the alliance, the east would be quiet as usual. The coup and immediate rescinding of the law respecting Russian speakers’ linguistic rights provoked rebellion.

The Ukraine scandal could be a teaching opportunity: this is where U.S. aggression leads. You provoke Russia again and again, with each new admission into NATO. At some point, Russia has to take action. It cannot let a Texas-size country on its southern flank join a military alliance directed at itself. Especially it cannot accept loss of control of the Crimean Peninsula.

That Nuland in the days before the planned coup did not anticipate this Russian reaction is puzzling. Did she really think the conquest of Ukraine would be so easy? Or did she expect the Russian counter-moves, thinking that once Ukraine was in NATO Russia would have to back off?
Is that still the dominant assumption in the State Department?

Now a president with zero concern about Ukraine and its people is accused of a shocking reluctance to deliver weapons to a country invaded by Russia, “our greatest adversary” according to cable anchors. May he be impeached, of course! But if he falls, replaced by leadership more bent on provoking Russia by NATO expansion, the world will be more dangerous than it is now under Trump.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: