Ukraine: Winner Takes All? Not this Time

Americans love competition, particularly in sports, in business generally, and apparently in war.

This appears to be true in Ukraine. At this point we should move beyond the question of who is more at fault for the Ukrainian war, the West for its provocations or Russia for the actual invasion? It is time to address the next question: what is next?

Putin and his colleagues are threatening nuclear war. Putin should be taken at his word when he states: “this [nuclear response] is not a bluff”. More recently, former Russian president and current Deputy Chairman of the Russian Federation Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, threatened the use of nuclear weapons in defense of Russia’s territories. He repeated words similar to Putin’s when he stated: this “certainly is not a bluff”.

In response, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on “60 Minutes” stated “It’s very important that Moscow hear from us and know from us that the consequences [of the use of nuclear weapons] would be horrific, and we’ve made that very clear.”

Are Blinken’s words a bluff? Probably not. The recent destruction of the Nord Stream pipelines 1 and 2 may provide evidence for this. While it is too early to state who is responsible for the destruction of the pipelines, some evidence points to the U.S. President Biden, during a February 7 press conference a few weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, stated: “If Russia invades Ukraine . . . then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.” When asked how the U.S. would do this, Biden responded: “I promise you, we will be able to do that.” During January of this year, the month before Biden’s statement, Victoria Nuland, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, stated: “If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward.”

Is the destruction of the pipelines a signal to Russia that the U.S. follows through on its threats? Seems plausible. The seriousness of the attack on the pipelines would be difficult to overestimate. It is reported that once saltwater enters the pipelines, the corrosive effect of the saltwater will render those sections of the pipelines useless. This will slow economic recovery in both Europe and Russia in a post war world. If the U.S. is responsible for the attacks, this sends a powerful signal to Russia that the U.S. means what it says. Clearly, nuclear war is a real possibility.

Complicating matters is Russia’s current move to annex four regions in east and southeastern Ukraine: Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Lugansk and Donetsk. Once fully annexed, an attack by the Western proxy Ukrainian forces on the disputed territories will be considered by the Russians as an attack on its territory which Russia has indicated would justify its use of nuclear weapons. The West has refused to recognize this annexation process and will continue to support Ukraine’s efforts to recover these territories. Complete annexation by Russia of these territories must go through a Russian legal process. This legal process will allow Russia to control the time frame before the Russian annexation is complete, thereby controlling the time frame before potential nuclear war. What starts out as a tactical nuclear strike could quickly escalate into a full-blown nuclear war.

When the Russian leadership states that an attack on its territory could result in nuclear war, we should believe them. For years, the Russians have stated clearly and forcefully that there were “red lines” beyond which western expansion should not venture. It seems clear that the Russian red lines included the border states of Georgia, Ukraine, and probably Belarus had Belarus gone firmly in the Western direction–it has not. The Russians followed through on their warnings.

Three and a half months after the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit during which NATO stated that Ukraine and Georgia would someday become NATO members, Russia invaded Georgia. Georgia provided a pretext for the invasion by its bombardment of the breakaway region of South Ossetia; although who initiated the conflict is a matter of dispute. South Ossetia claimed independence from Georgia during 1991; North Ossetia is part of the Russian Federation and South Ossetia wished to join North Ossetia in the Federation. One cannot dismiss the contribution of the NATO Bucharest statement on eventual Georgian membership in NATO on the Russian decision to counter the Georgian attack. As a matter of policy, nations with border disputes generally are not admitted to NATO. NATO’S plans for Georgia clearly crossed a Russian red line.

During the 2013-2014 Ukrainian Euromaidan revolution, U.S. Senator John McCain cheered on protesting crowds and Victoria Nuland, yes, the same Victoria Nuland mentioned above, then as U.S. Under Secretary of State for European and Eurasion Affairs, was seen passing out food to the protestors. The protests against the democratically elected and Russian supported President Viktor Yanukovych were due to his last minute withdrawal from a proposed European economic association. The protests resulted in the overthrow of the Yanukovych regime. He was replaced with an interim president before Western friendly Petro Poroshenko was elected as new president during May and inaugurated into power during June of 2014. Poroshenko would pursue greater integration with the West.

Within a month of the February 2014 overthrow of the Russian supported Yanukovych, Russia annexed the largely Russian populated Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea. A red line crossed, a Russian threat carried out. The West had been warned about these encroachments, but, like now, chose to ignore Russia’s warnings.

Regardless of who is at fault for the war, the West, once again, has decided to test Russia’s resolve. This, despite the catastrophic potential of nuclear war. Has our competitive drive blinded us to the potential consequences of nuclear war? Or are we merely willing to bear these consequences? A Washington Post Opinion piece recently stated “The only thing worse than failing to prepare for Mr. Putin to carry out his [nuclear] threats would be to be cowed by them.” Read that real slowly. Seriously?! It would be better to fight a nuclear war than to seek a negotiated end to the war? Insanity prevails!

It is an unreasonable argument to state that appeasement of Russia in Ukraine will lead to future Russian aggression. Russia’s red lines were quite clear, these included Georgia, Ukraine, and probably Belarus. Russia has not been happy with NATO expansion but drew no red lines around NATO expansion into the former Soviet republic, satellite, and Balkin states. Russian expansion further west, with the exception of Moldova–a tiny neutral state, would take Russia into NATO territory. It would make no sense, once a negotiated settlement has been achieved, for Russia to take on the NATO behemoth. The NATO nation’s combined military budgets total roughly $1.2 trillion. Pre-Ukrainian war, the Russian military budget was less than $70 billion.

The political “leadership”, the press, the establishment, generally seem willing to fight a nuclear war. Those of us without bunkers or the means to flee the likely targeted urban centers, not so much. The West could end this war now. It can dictate Ukrainian actions through the provision or non provision of Western arms, training, and financial assistance.

If we are to avoid a potential cataclysmic end to this war, it is going to be us, the regular people, who must demand otherwise. Write your Congresspeople, rant on social media, take to the streets, call for a negotiated settlement to the war. Where the people lead, the “leaders’ ‘ will follow. There is no winner takes all in nuclear war. Now is the time to act!

#peoplesagainstwar #christiansagainstwar