Zelensky: NATO to stop Donbas War

Since the February 2014 coup in Kyiv, and the outbreak of violence in the Donbas region, the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe or OSCE) have held meetings in the Belarusian capital of Minsk to try to contain the clashes if not resolve the dispute. These meetings have resulted in a “frozen conflict” situation, with the ethnic Russian region asserting de facto self-government. For years the general agreement has been to grant formal autonomy to the region (within Ukraine) and to demilitarize the political conflict. But the Ukrainian Parliament including its neo-fascist element has impeded the implementation of the agreement.

This is the parliament that in 2015 passed laws proclaiming two WWII paramilitaries—the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—”heroes of Ukraine” and making it a crime to argue otherwise. (These forces had cooperated with the Nazis in slaughtering over 70,000 Jews.) The U.S. media has never acknowledged the obvious—that the coup favored by Victoria Nuland in 2014 had a strong fascist element, indeed depended on its use of terrorist violence to topple the former democratically elected administration. In 2014 Nuland was the top State Department official dealing with Ukraine; she is returning now as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. (Recall she’s the one caught on tape in 2014 saying “Fuck the EU!” if the EU dared to contest Washington’s choices for Ukraine. And when asked at a House hearing about the role of neo-Nazis in the Maidan coup, Nuland acknowledged that “there were many colors of Ukraine involved including very ugly colors.” The problem is she’s comfortable with ugly colors.)

Over 13,000 people, including military and civilians have been killed in the conflict provoked by the putsch, over half on the Donbas side. But since 2016 fewer than 400 have died in the conflict. Two peace plans have been imperfectly implemented but at least staved off all-out war. Moscow has for its part refused requests for annexation by the Peoples Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and proposed a federal system in Ukraine.

Now Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has pulled out of the next round of the Minsk talks entirely, citing offensive “rhetoric” by the Belarus hosts. The advent of Biden has emboldened him to invoke NATO as Ukraine’s bulwark against Moscow.

“We are committed,” he declares, “to reforming our army and the defense sector, but reforms alone cannot stop Russia. NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas.” Referring to NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP), the final stage to full membership, he he adds, “The MAP will be a real signal for Russia.”

In other words: forget a negotiated solution to the complex ethnic issues. Kyiv emboldened by an aggressively pro-NATO administration will plea for NATO admission to recover “occupied” Donbas and even Crimea.

Repeat: “NATO is the only way to end the war in Donbas.” Zelensky’s prior job was as a comedian. But this is not funny.

Russia is (as you’d expect) conducting military exercises on the Ukrainian border. NATO officially denounces these as “aggressive.” You will observe that this makes exactly no sense. Russia is conducting exercises on Russian soil while the most terrifying military alliance in the history of the world steadily expands to encircle it. And Russia is being aggressive? Like George Floyd was threatening Officer Chauvin!

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has consistently championed NATO’s 2008 decision to admit both Ukraine and Georgia into the antiquated, unnecessary, anticommunist, expansionist imperialist alliance whose sole achievements to date have been the dismemberment of the once-proud neutral state of Yugoslavia, a failed 20-year long occupation of Afghanistan, and the destruction of modern Libya. There is no question in the Norwegian rightist’s mind (or Anthony Blinken’s) that NATO represents “democracy,” while Russia represents “autocracy.” (Just replace “communism” with “autocracy” in all those Cold War-era texts to grasp the full richness of contemporary imperialist thought. It’s back to kindergarten lessons in Freedom versus Slavery, Good versus Bad. NATO versus the people so bad as to NOT want NATO.)

Ukraine’s apparent withdrawal from “the Minsk Process” following renewed assurances of U.S. support, and unprecedented anti-Russian and anti-Putin rhetoric in Washington (suggesting either an eagerness to provoke, or an arrogant assumption that calling the Russian leader a “killer” is less problematic than calling the Saudi Crown Prince a murderer, or both), bodes no good for the immediate future.

Aleksey Arestovich, an advisor to the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk talks, now states: “A large-scale NATO exercise has began, called Defender Europe 2021, from the waters of the Baltic to the Black Sea, to put it bluntly, [for] armed confrontation with Russia.” It involves 37,000 troops from the U.S. and NATO member (and “partner”) nations and will be conducted in 12 nations.

Repeat: “To put it bluntly: armed confrontation with Russia.” Current Russian nuclear warheads: 6,375.

U.S. warheads, 5,800. U.K. and France, 505. NATO total: 6305.

U.S. capitalist imperialism survived the Trump years and under Biden is poised to produce some drama around the Black Sea. Those grateful for the normalcy Decent Joe brings, as he moves to use NATO to pacify Donbas, may look back nostalgically on the Trump years as the Membership Action Plan kicks in and Biden in accordance with first-term presidential tradition starts his own war-based-on-lies. In this case, the need to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression and restore Kyiv’s control over Donbas and Crimea to prevent Russia from invading all of Europe, replacing democracy with autocracy. People have been persuaded by stupider arguments.


What do I mean by first term wars-based-on-lies? A review:

Ronald Reagan: Grenada (Oct. 1983), to prevent the Soviet Union from establishing a beachhead, and to protect some U.S. medical students from Cuban-backed local officials who somehow threatened them.

G. H.W. Bush: Panama (Dec. 1989-Jan. 1990), to stop Manuel Noriega from controlling the Central American cocaine trade.

Bill Clinton: Bosnia (1992-1995), to destroy what was left of Yugoslavia, humiliate Serbia and establish the dysfunctional state of Bosnia-Herzegovina under U.S. hegemony.

G.W. Bush: Afghanistan (2001- ), to punish al-Qaeda, topple the Taliban, and transform Afghan society; Iraq (2003- ), to punish Saddam Hussein for alleged al-Qaeda ties and destroy his reported stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama: Libya (March 2011), to prevent Col. Gaddafy’s plans for genocide in Benghazi.

Trump: N/A

Biden: TBA

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: gleupp@tufts.edu