The ongoing war in Ukraine is a humanitarian disaster with tremendous geopolitical, economic, social, and climate-related repercussions that are being felt throughout the world. How have these horrific events come to pass? What will the short-term and long-term effects be on the people of Ukraine, the people of Russia, and on the global political order? And what does a principled, internationalist, anti-imperialist left response to the war in Ukraine look like?In this special discussion, world-renowned linguist and analyst Noam Chomsky speaks with legendary activist and socialist Bill Fletcher, Jr. about the roots of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the background to the conflict, the US role, and how the Left can respond.
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Bill Fletcher Jr.: Greetings. My name is Bill Fletcher, and I want to welcome you to what I know is going to be a fantastic discussion. We’re going to have a discussion, an exchange with Dr. Noam Chomsky about the Ukraine war, the impact on the left in the United States, and where do we go from here? And I want to thank you for taking the time to join us for this program.
This program is brought to you by Liberation Road. Additional sponsors include the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing in Seattle, the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, the Center for Global Justice, the International Marxist-Humanist Organization, Global Studies Association of North America, Communist Party USA, LeftRoots, the Working Families Party, Grassroots Global Justice, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Canadian Socialist Project, and the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. And a special thanks to Convergence magazine and The Real News Network, without whom this would not be possible. And we’re very, very gratified for their involvement.
We wanted to have a discussion with Noam Chomsky, an internationally known iconic figure, and someone who has brought great wisdom and analysis in looking at the international situation, and has been outspoken on the Ukraine crisis and the Russian invasion. But we want to probe a little bit deeply this evening and look at some issues that go beyond what’s often covered in the media.
So let me just start with a few stipulations that Noam Chomsky and I came to, in the interest of time. One is that we stipulate that NATO is not a defensive alliance. We further stipulate that when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, NATO should have itself been dissolved. And we finally stipulate that the expansion of NATO, particularly with Bill Clinton and George W Bush, was wrong and provocative. Those are the three important stipulations in the interest of getting right into some central questions that many of us on the left seem to be avoiding. With no further ado I want to welcome you, Noam, to this discussion. Thank you very much for doing this.
Noam Chomsky: Well, I think these stipulations are correct, and I would like to add another which I think is also beyond discussion. Whatever the explanation for the Russian invasion, an important, crucial question, the invasion itself was a criminal act, a criminal act of aggression, a supreme international crime on par with other such horrific violations of international law and fundamental human rights like the US invasion of Iraq, the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland, and all too many other examples.
So why did it happen? Well, there is a background. The background is what you’d begun to discuss. If we go back to the early 1990s when the current issue begins to develop, the Soviet Union collapsed, President George HW Bush, his secretary of state James Bakker, and negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev, Russian leader. In the background were the major German political figures: Hans Genscher, Helmut Kohl. Germany was directly involved in this. And they reached an agreement. The agreement was, it was a firm, explicit agreement. There’s been a lot of provocation about this. So if you want the details, I’d simply suggest looking at the authoritative National Security Archive, which has the original documents easily accessible.
The agreement was that Russia would agree to allowing Germany to be unified and to join NATO, which is quite a commitment on the part of Russia if you look back to the history of the 20th century. But they agreed on the condition, the explicit formal condition, that NATO would not expand one inch to the east. That commitment was adhered to by President Bush. Bush number one. The early years of Clinton followed for a couple of years, he kept to it too. By 1994, he was already talking from two sides of his mouth. I’m now quoting and paraphrasing Ambassador Chas Freeman, one of the most astute, highly respected American diplomats who was directly involved in all of these issues at the time and has been since.
As Freeman points out, Clinton started talking out both sides of his mouth. To Russia, he was saying we’ll live up to the agreement. In the United States domestically, addressing ethnic minorities like the Polish population and with an eye on domestic votes, he was saying we’ll do something to bring frontline states like Poland, Hungary, Slovenia into NATO. He was getting harsh condemnation of this from his close friend, supposedly Boris Yeltsin, who he helped keep in power by direct interference in Russian elections. Yeltsin was strongly objecting, objected again in 1996, 1997. Clinton went ahead anyway and broke the agreement to Gorbachev.
He invited Poland, Hungary, Slovenia into NATO. The Russians objected, but didn’t do much about it. 1999, it’s a complicated story, can’t go into the details, but the Clinton administration decided to bomb Serbia, a close Russian ally, didn’t even bother informing the Russians. There was a pretext. The pretext was to stop Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. A slight problem with that pretext. It requires inverting the chronology. It wasn’t a pleasant place, but the atrocities were the predicted and anticipated consequence of the bombing. There is no ambiguity about that. There’s been a lot of lying about it, inverting the chronology, but it’s very firmly established. Well, that was, first of all, a crime in itself, but also it instigated huge atrocities exactly as was predicted by the Commanding General, Wesley Clark, but also was undertaken in a way to humiliate Russia. The same was true later under Obama with the bombing of Libya, and of course the Iraq War in 2003. Russia didn’t like it, but accepted it.
George W Bush, he just opened the doors, invited, frankly, everybody and all the former Russian satellites into NATO. Also in 2008, W Bush, the second Bush, invited Ukraine to join NATO. That was vetoed by France and Germany, but it was kept open on the table in deference to the United States. Just about every high-level US diplomat who had any familiarity with the situation, including the current head of the CIA and others, warned once again that this is extremely reckless and dangerous. These are Russia’s red lines, the heart of their geostrategic concerns. The US went ahead.
It continued. The US backed, some say helped instigate the 2014 Maidan Uprising, which led immediately to almost direct efforts by what’s called NATO, meaning the United States, to help integrate Ukraine more or less within some kind of native style framework, sending weapons, training and so on. The most significant current information that we have is an important document of the Biden administration, September 1, 2021, you can read it on the White House webpage. I’ve quoted it a number of times in material. You can find the truth out and it’s worth paying attention to. It’s been silenced by the US press, I haven’t seen a single reference to it. But we can be certain that Russian intelligence was reading it. What it says, it calls for, I’m quoting it, “Providing Ukraine with advanced anti-tank weapons, with a robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO-enhanced opportunities partner.” Basically opens the door wider for Ukraine to join NATO.
I’ll quote it again, “Finalized a strategic defense framework that creates a foundation for enhancement of US-Ukraine strategic defense and security cooperation with advanced weapons training and so on, again in keeping with Ukraine status as a NATO-enhanced opportunities partner.” Well, that’s last September. That’s the latest, most recent official statement that we have about US policy to go back.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Noam, so you’ve laid out important background on the US side of this equation. What I want to try to get at right now, then, is how do you analyze the Putin regime? Let me just cut to the chase. On the night that the invasion was launched, Putin did something that I thought was highly unusual. Instead of harping on NATO, which probably would’ve scored him a lot of brownie points, he ended up denouncing the national existence of Ukraine, calling it national fiction. And elaborating things that he had started talking about in the summer of 2021 himself that claimed that Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus were all the same people.
And it was a very weird thing for Putin to be saying at that point, when he’s trying to justify an invasion. He was basically saying, you have no reason to exist, we’re coming in. And so I want to know from you, how do you analyze the Putin regime? It’s so curious, Noam, it’s like the Russians are very tied in with transnational capital, yet you have a regime that has a nationalist expansionist agenda. What do you make of that?
Noam Chomsky: Well, that was indeed the announcement on the eve of the invasion. And I presume he was stating what he has already always believed. As he stated publicly many times along with many other Russians, the decision of Gorbachev to break up the Russian, the Soviet system, which was in fact an imperial system in which Russia had non-Russian satellites that it controlled, breaking up. The Soviet Union, he said, was a great tragedy and strategic error. This is often quoted. He also said something else which is rarely quoted. He said that anyone who wants to reestablish the Soviet Union and its former borders is out of his mind. And in fact, that’s true.
Russia has, whatever Putin may believe, they certainly haven’t even the minimal capacity to do anything like… Russia is a state with an economy roughly the size of Spain and Italy, a weak, kleptocratic, raw material exporting state. With a big army, huge army, and advanced weapons, nuclear weapons. But a declining kleptocracy based on raw materials export. It’s not about to conquer anybody. Inconceivable. Ukraine is indeed a special case, as it’s been for 30 years. Well, that was Putin’s statement. But there were also official Russian statements at the same time about what their precise goals were in Ukraine. They were coming from Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister, other leading officials. They stated that the main goals were neutralization and demilitarization of Ukraine. Secondarily, establishment of what they call security, meaning taking over the Donbas regions. Crimea is just off the table. You may not like it, but it’s a fact of life. Those were the official statements about the invasion.
What Putin has in the back of his mind is of interest to people concerned with his mind. I’m not. I’m interested in the policies. Well, those policies are basically within the framework of what everyone knows is the possible negotiated settlement. It’s been true for a long time before the invasion, it was quite clear, stated clearly, that any peaceful settlement of the Ukraine conflict will have to involve what Lavrov called the main goals: neutralization of Ukraine and what they call demilitarization, which means removing military weapons that threaten Russia. In other words, in status, they’re very much like Mexico.
It’s not written on paper, but everyone with a brain functioning knows that Mexico cannot join a Chinese run hostile military alliance within, to quote Biden’s position, within a Chinese regime enhanced opportunities partner with China, providing robust training and exercise programs with the Chinese army, and placing weapons on the Mexican border. All of that is just so far out of the question that you can’t even begin to discuss it. Well, that’s essentially what Lavrov, the official statement, was proposing for Ukraine. Whether it could have worked we don’t know, because the effort wasn’t made to try it and see if it could work. Maybe. Instead, what we had was Biden’s policy statement, which I quoted now.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: But here’s my concern, Noam. In 1994, the Ukrainians and Russians signed the Budapest accord in which, as you know, the Ukrainians gave up their nuclear weapons. And they had the third largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. But they gave it up on a condition that Russia would never attack them. And it would be interesting if they hadn’t signed that pact, what kind of discussion we’d be having today. But leaving that aside for a second, that was the agreement. There was very little interest in Ukraine joining NATO until 2014 when Crimea is seized and the Russians start supporting the secessionist movements. And so I’m concerned. When you’re talking about the issue of Russians warning security, it doesn’t sound like they want security, it sounds more like they wanted a satellite state.
Noam Chomsky: Is Mexico a satellite state of the United States?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: That’s a very interesting question. For much of the 20th century, it was [crosstalk] essentially a neo colony.
Noam Chomsky: Austria wasn’t anybody’s satellite. Finland wasn’t anybody’s satellite state. Unlike Mexico, they were neutral. Austria was neutral by treaty. Finland neutral by treaty. They could be as much part of the West as they liked. They became Western oriented and what we call capitalist democracies, integrated totally into the Western system. They had constraints. They could not enter into a hostile military alliance run by the United States which carried out military maneuvers on their territory and placed offensive weapons aiming at Russia. Is that an infringement of sovereignty? In some sense, but it certainly had no effect on the life and practice of Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Mexico, and so on. That’s the status that could have been, that might have been achieved for Ukraine if the United States had been willing. Well –
Bill Fletcher Jr.: But why the United States? When you place the responsibility on the United States, and I keep wondering about 2014. If the Budapest accord said Russia would not attack Ukraine in exchange for the nuclear weapons, and in 2014, the Russians, disenchanted with what was happening in Ukraine, seize Crimea and promote a secessionist movement in the East, how does that lead the Ukrainians to even believe that the Russians could stand by a treaty? If they broke one. They broke a major one. So I understand what you’re saying about Austria and Finland. I mean, it makes perfect sense when you have that kind of neutralization, but this was after Ukraine had been the subject of Russian abuse.
Noam Chomsky: Certainly Ukraine could not assume that Russia would abide by treaty anymore than dozens of countries around the world which have been subjected to US military intervention could have faith that the United States would observe a treaty. Remember what the Russians did in Ukraine is, of course, criminal. I have to applaud The New York Times editors a couple of days ago for quoting the Nuremberg principles and pointing out that Russia violated them by committing “the supreme international crime,” which differs from other war crimes in that it includes the accumulated evil of the whole, everything that follows.
Yes, good for the New York Times editors to recognize, to quote that, as far as I know for the first time in response to Russia’s violating it. But of course the US violates it routinely, just constantly. The US violated it when it invaded Iraq, when it bombed Serbia, when it overthrew the government of Chile, Guatemala, Iran, just go on. I don’t have to go on with this.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: No.
Noam Chomsky: It violates it constantly.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Correct.
Noam Chomsky: It constantly violates the UN charter, the supreme Law of the Land according to the Constitution, which bans the threat or use of force in international affairs. Can you think of a single US president who’s lived up to the US Constitution? Well, I can’t. Of course, they all violate the supreme Law of the Land and nobody trusts them. The question is, are the circumstances such that the great powers will live up to their commitments? Not because they’re nice guys, they aren’t, but because those are the circumstances.
So let’s suppose that the United States, since the 1990s, suppose it had abided by the warnings of a whole host of US senior statesmen: George Kennan, Ambassador Jack Matlock, Reagan’s ambassador to Russia, leading Russian specialist Chas Freeman, who I quoted, another ambassador. Directors of the CIA including the current director. Not a long list of other high-level diplomats and government advisors who had made it clear and explicit that though Russia would tolerate a violation of Bush’s commitment and regular humiliation up to a point, they did have a red line. The red line was, again, Georgia and Ukraine, which are deep within the Russian geostrategic heartland, as recognized on all sides. So that was the red line.
Well, suppose the United States had agreed with these high-level advisors and diplomats and world opinion, and Germany and France, for example, and had recognized the Russian red lines, and agreed to a status for Ukraine that was comparable to Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Mexico, and so on. Would Russia have invaded? We don’t know for sure, but I think there was a way to find out. That would be by withdrawing the September 2021 policy statement which I quoted, and agreeing to enter into negotiations to see if the general agreed guidelines could be met. Only one way to find out, to try. The US did the opposite. To quote Ambassador Freeman again, the US has chosen, quoting him, to “fight to the last Ukrainian.”
In other words, to abandon any hope for a peaceful settlement and to ensure that the worst will happen. Well, I think Ambassador Freeman is quite accurate. Now, would the Russians have committed the supreme international crime anyway? We don’t know. I don’t know. Nobody knows. But there were ways to try to avert it, and those ways were not taken and are not being taken now. If you take a look at the current situation, there are two major countries that could do something to try to alleviate the horrors in Ukraine. One of them is China. China could certainly do more to try to move towards alleviating the crisis, press towards negotiations. And I think China should be criticized for not doing that. But the criticisms cannot come from the United States without ridicule because China is following US official policy. [inaudible] on the US side, it’s fight to the last Ukrainian and block the prospects for peace.
When President Bush says to Putin, you’re a war criminal, we’re going to bring you to war crimes trials, that’s saying, you have no escape. The only choice for you with your back to the wall is either commit suicide or use the capacity that you have to destroy Ukraine and to move on to nuclear war. Again, I’m paraphrasing Ambassador Freeman and others who have any concern for the welfare of Ukrainians. Those are the options. With Ukraine we don’t know until you try.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: So I hear you. The part of my concern though is… So you’re attributing a lot to the role of the US, but every NATO country has a veto over the entry of another country into NATO. So despite what the United States was pushing, there were at least two NATO countries, Germany and France, that were against the introduction of Ukraine into NATO. Putin knew this. He knew this. How do I know he knew it? Because I know it. And if I know it, Putin knew it. So the question then is if Putin knew that there were vetos against Ukraine going into NATO, despite all of the hoopla from the United States, there’s something that’s missing here. And then you add onto this, the claims by Putin that this campaign is about denazifying Ukraine. I mean, it’s almost laughable when you look at the fascist character the Kremlin. I mean, maybe we disagree, or I’m not sure. But what am I missing?
Noam Chomsky: You’re missing the nature of international affairs. In international affairs, the fact of the matter is that the United States has overwhelming power. Other countries exist, they can do something, but when the United States lays down the law, they follow it. We know that, Russia certainly knows it. Take our actions. Take for example, our 60-year war against Cuba, including Kennedy’s terrorist war. Brutal, harsh, destructive sanctions, the entire world opposes them. Europe opposes them. Take a look at the United Nations vote. Last vote was 184 to two against them. United States and Israel. Israel’s a satellite, it has to vote with the United States.
So universal opposition, but universal adherence to them because they’re terrified of the United States. Other countries won’t violate US sanctions, even though they oppose them and hate them, because they understand international affairs. They understand that the United States is a violent, rogue state, we should do what it wants. Do I have to run through the history on that?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: No, you obviously don’t. But Germany had substantial business dealings with Russia.
Noam Chomsky: Right.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: France was not interested in some sort of European conflagration. All I’m saying is that it’s one thing to go along with US policy when it’s far afield. What we’re dealing with Ukraine, though, was right in the face of the Germans, the French, and other Europeans. And the NATO countries, at least two of them, bigger ones, were saying they did not want Ukraine in.
Noam Chomsky: And they’re saying other things too. They hate the Cuba sanctions. They hate the Iran sanctions. They hate lots of other things that the United States does, but they adhere to them because they’re terrified of our violent rogue state. They adhere to them. So they oppose them.
Now to get back to your question, if there had been anyone in the Kremlin with any resemblance to being a statesman, what they would’ve done is quite different from what Putin and the hard men around him decided to do. They would’ve exploited the opportunity to bring France and Germany into an agreement, pretty much along the line of Gorbachev’s common European home, without military alliances. France and Germany, as you mentioned, have very good reasons to want to pursue this possibility. President Macron of France, actually, in a very limited way tried to pursue it with his abortive interchanges with Putin.
Would’ve been a very sensible thing to try to do. That requires statesmanship. Okay. Would it have worked? We don’t know. Putin and his circle didn’t try. They reached for the guns right away, the way other great powers do, like the United States. It was a criminal decision. And from their point of view, an utterly stupid decision. What Putin did was provide the United States, on a silver platter, the greatest gift it could imagine. It handed Germany and France over to the United States. Placed them deep in the US’s pocket, now totally subordinate to the United States, when Russia’s interest, including his interest, would’ve been to try to draw them out of the US orbit and into a framework of the kind that Gorbachev outlined. Which was not new, incidentally.
A major issue right through the Cold War since the Second World War has been, what will be the status of Europe? Will Europe be subordinate to the United States within the NATO framework, so-called Atlanticist framework? Or will Europe become an independent force in world affairs along the lines that the goal outlined, as he put it, Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals with no military blocks? Basically Gorbachev’s vision. And that’s been on the table for 75 years. Major issue. The United States, of course, approves the NATO Atlanticist framework. Again, if there was a statesman in the Kremlin, they would’ve explored the goal list, Gorbachev’s vision of a European common home with no military alliances.
Instead, what they did is reach for the revolver, carry out criminal aggression, severely harming themselves, giving the United States the greatest gift it could imagine. Going back to China and the United States, you can imagine a reason why neither of them, why they’re both essentially following the same line, fight to the last Ukrainian and don’t do anything to enhance the possibilities of peaceful settlement. In fact, undermine them, in the case of the United States, by backing Putin to the wall with no escape hatch. A plausible explanation for this joint stand of China and the United States is that they both see the evolving situation as pretty much to their advantage. In the Chinese case, it’s driving Russia into becoming a subordinate to the Chinese growing system.
China is developing a huge system of development loans extending through central Asia, incorporating South Asia, moving to Turkey soon, probably to central Europe, moving to Africa, to Southeast Asia, even to US domains in Latin America. If they can draw – Russia’s already part of it, but if Russia can become a subordinate member of it, providing raw materials, heavy weapons – Its specialty – But nothing else as it declines, that’s to China’s advantage.
What about the United States? Putin, in his criminal foolishness, gave the United States everything that American strategists could want, put Europe deep in the US’s pocket, now they do whatever the United States says. In fact, they’re going quite wild. Like in Italy, canceling lectures on Dostoevsky, kicking Russian cats out of an international cat conference. US hawks couldn’t want anything more.
Also, increasing their military expenses. There’s joy in the Lockheed Martin headquarters, you can be certain. Also, there’s joy in the ExxonMobil headquarters because what’s happening, one of the most important things that’s happening, is that the slim chances of escaping disaster, catastrophe by destroying the environment, those slim chances are being reduced, may be eliminated. The offices of ExxonMobil, the joy is overflowing, not concealed. They’ve got these annoying environmentalists out of their hair. They now want to be loved, or as they put it, they want to be hugged for their work because now they’re saving civilization by increasing the production of fossil fuels and driving the world to total catastrophe. They want to be hugged for it. So there’s plenty of joy in august strategic circles and military production, fossil fuel circles. So why do anything to try to save Ukrainians? Why not continue to fight to the last Ukrainian?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: So Noam, you are placing a lot of emphasis on what the role of the United States has been in laying the foundation for this crisis. And I want to better understand what’s going on in the Putin regime. You have talked quite eloquently about the criminality of the Putin regime. I’m thinking about what Putin did to the Chechnyans. I’m thinking about what was done with the Russian intervention in the Syrian uprising and the brutal bombings that the Russians were engaged in, and other kinds of activities. And in that sense, I see a line that goes from Chechnya to Ukraine that is not just about the role of the United States, except and insofar as perhaps competition. How do you look at that?
Noam Chomsky: Chechnya was ugly, vicious, destructive, but it is within the Russian Federation. Ugly, we’ve got plenty of examples. Take Syria. Syria, what was happening, it was criminal and murderous and destructive. But if we want to know the reasons, they’re not obscure. The United States, France, Germany were supporting opposition forces, which by 2013, 2014 were mostly Jihadi forces, which were fighting against the recognized government of Syria. The government that has a seat in the United Nations and is internationally recognized, they were trying to overthrow it. That’s a Russian ally. The CIA was providing advanced weapons to the opposition forces, advanced anti-tank weapons, which did stop the Assad armies. Quite predictably, it didn’t take a genius to predict it. I did, many other people did. The Russians reacted.
They came into the war, really for the first time, moved in to destroy the CIA-supplied anti-tank weapons. Then they went on to continue to support Assad’s brutal, vicious effort to reconquer Syria, horrible atrocities and so on. Technically it’s not criminal, certainly not illegal, but it’s criminal in the moral sense, not in the legal sense. Well, that’s [crosstalk] Syria. That’s what happened in Syria.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Yeah. Well, I mean, if we had more time, I’d like to go more into Syria, in part because I think that one of the things that you’re discounting is that there was a real uprising in Syria.
Noam Chomsky: In Syria –
Bill Fletcher Jr.: In Syria, there was a real uprising, and the US was very ambivalent about that uprising for a while. But I wanted to get… That could be for our next interview Noam, but for this one –
Noam Chomsky: You have to understand in Syria there was an uprising that was part of the Arab Spring.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Right.
Noam Chomsky: A democratic reformist uprising. Assad crushed it with extreme violence led on to the civil war –
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Correct. Yeah.
Noam Chomsky: …In which gradually the Jihadi forces pretty much took over. You can debate the details. But by 2013, 2014, according to the most informed observers that I know, there was a largely Jihadi based opposition. Which the US was supporting, attempting to overthrow the government, a brutal, murderous government, responsible for most of the crimes, but happened to be the internationally recognized government, which is a Russian ally. So when it got to the point that the CIA was providing advanced weapons by 2015, not surprisingly, predictably the Russians move in to destroy them. Then it went on to the rest of the destruction of Syria. Is it pretty? No, it’s very ugly. Nobody believes that the Russians are saints, but they are an imperial power, minor in comparison with the United States. As I said before as an economy, they’re on a par with Italy and Spain. They have advanced weapons. We don’t have to recall that Russia was invaded, virtually destroyed, twice in the 20th century by Germany alone.
Now the idea of an advanced, a hostile military alliance run by the world’s most powerful and indeed most aggressive state, which is providing in last September, enhancing its strategic and defense cooperation with Ukraine with a robust and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO enhanced opportunities partner, serious threat to Russia translate [crosstalk].
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Is it really –
Noam Chomsky: …China and Mexico.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Is it really a threat? I mean, we’re talking about 2022. It’s not 1941.
Noam Chomsky: I’m talking about 2021.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Right. Okay. Right. So 2021. But is it really a threat? I mean, there’s the likelihood of a massive land assault on Russia is about as likely as my going to the moon tomorrow. This is the 21st century, we’re not talking about Operation Barbarossa of 1941. And Russia has the most nuclear weapons on this planet.
I mean, one of the concerns, Noam, is that when we talk about security and this concern for Russian security, I start wondering, well, who’s concerned about Ukrainian security? And who’s concerned about the security of the countries that are bordering on Russia that seem to have been in a complete panic after the Soviet Union collapse. Where does that fit in terms of some sort of more comprehensive approach to security?
Noam Chomsky: Let’s take a look. There was no threat whatsoever to the security of Austria, Finland, the Baltic countries, Germany. The West is now euphoric about the fact that the Russian military is incapable of capturing cities 30 kilometers from its border. There was no threat to those countries expressed or conceivable. If you want to, there is a threat from the United States. Why do you think world opinion regards the United States as the most dangerous country in the world? The world opinion, overwhelmingly, nobody else is [crosstalk]. Okay.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Right.
Noam Chomsky: There’s a reason for that. The United States does what it wants. Invaded Iraq, destroyed the country, killed hundreds of thousands of people, laid the basis for ethnic conflicts that are tearing the region apart, the basis for ISIS. Remember the Nuremberg tribunal. That’s not foreign, back in history. Invasion of Afghanistan, not far back in history. The United States remains a violent power.
We don’t talk about it, but in the Global South, they can see that the United States right now, right at this moment is purposely, consciously enhancing some of the major criminal acts in the world right now. Right now, millions of Afghans, after 20 years of US invasion and destruction, right now millions of Afghans are facing literal starvation. There’s food in the markets, there are people who have some money, but they have to watch their children starve because they can’t go to the bank to get a little bit of money to buy food in the market. Why? Because the United States has stolen their money.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: But Noam, see, I hear you and I’m not here.
Noam Chomsky: That’s just the very beginning.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: I understand, but I’m not here to defend the United States, as you well know. But what I am saying is that there are multiple imperial powers on this planet.
Noam Chomsky: Right.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Right. And one of the things about the alleged Russian fear of what was happening in the Ukraine is that up until 2014, Ukraine was not interested in getting into NATO. But when the Russians intervened in the internal affairs of Ukraine, grabbing Crimea, promoting the secessionist movements, those things changed. So all of a sudden you have, then, a growing sympathy, which is completely logical because the country is being torn apart.
Noam Chomsky: It’s not pretty, but it’s very logical. You’re skipping what happened in 2014. In 2014, there was an uprising or coup, call it what you want, which threw out the elected government, parliamentary government, refused the offer of the president to have a referendum or a vote and caused him to flee the country and return to the country with direct US involvement. Do I have to repeat to you the leaked material about Victoria Nuland? Now our point person on Ukraine discussing secretly who we are going to work to bring to be the next president. Should it be Yats? Should it be somebody else? Direct US involvement to establish a government that would be pro US instead of the former pro Russian government.
Well, Russia could have just stood by and clapped, as we could have stood by and clapped if a pro Chinese government was established in Mexico calling for a military alliance with China. I rather doubt that we would’ve done that. You can decide. But Russia didn’t do it. They moved in and supported the Eastern sections, mostly Russia oriented population, mixed population, and they moved to take Crimea for reasons that every strategic analyst understands. You want to go back to Chas Freeman? Yeah. He just described it. Every Western analyst understands it. Crimea, which incidentally is very pro Russian and accepted the annexation, Crimea is the base for the only Russian warm water port. They’re not like the United States.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: But it was Ukrainian territory, Noam.
Noam Chomsky: Is what?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: It was Ukrainian territory.
Noam Chomsky: What?
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Crimea, it was Ukrainian territory from 1954 on.
Noam Chomsky: Had been recently handed over to Ukraine, traditionally it had been Russian territory.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Right.
Noam Chomsky: It was the home… I’m not justifying it, I’m giving the explanation that’s given by every US strategic analyst and high-level diplomat. Russia had its only warm water ports, including Naval bases, in Crimea. They were being immediately threatened by the pro US government that took power with direct US involvement and was beginning to move towards joining, slowly, into preliminary moves towards NATO. So yes, Russia moved in for, you can say it was wrong, fine, but don’t say it was not understandable.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: No, I hear you loud and clear. But as a leftist, I’m not thinking about power politics or great power politics, I’m thinking about issues of sovereignty, self-determination. Just like when Reagan claimed that the Sandinista victory put the Sandinistas within driving distance of the Texas border, we just ridiculed that position.
But let me just say this, Noam, because we have five minutes and I know you have another interview and I wanted to give you a minute before you went to your other interview. And so I wanted to thank you. I wanted to ask you a final quick question, which is that there are many people in the US left that seem to feel that there’s nothing that we can do about Putin’s influence one way or another, and that we should not even try. Do you have recommendations on how we in the United States, particularly the left and progressives, should be looking at what to do?
Noam Chomsky: First of all, as leftists, we should be opposed to all imperialism, should be opposed to overthrowing governments, to aggression and violence. And as human beings who are sensible and moral, we should concentrate our attention, energy, and activism on what we can do. Happens overwhelmingly to be the actions of our own government, which happens to be the leader in the world. World champion by far in opposing sovereignty, in aggression, in violence, and interference, in terrorism and so on. We should oppose Russian imitation of our actions. What can we do about it? Well, I think it’s very clear. There are two options. The ones I mentioned before.
One option is one we’re adopting. Fight to the last Ukrainian, to quote Ambassador Freeman again. And ensure that the Russians out there, that Putin and his circle are backed up against the wall, no exit, no way out, therefore they’ll have the basic option of destroying Ukraine and moving towards global war. That’s one option, which happens to be the one we’re following. There is another option. Abandon the policies, our official policies, those I quoted. Move towards accepting a status for Ukraine which is similar to Mexico, Austria, Finland for decades, move towards establishing that, withdraw the threats to Russia that are explicit in the policy statement I mentioned. Move towards some kind of Minsk II style arrangement for a high level of autonomy for the Eastern region, maybe within a federal settlement. Recognize the reality that, like it or not, Crimea is off the table, it’s not a negotiating option now.
That’s ugly, but the alternative is to continue our efforts to destroy Ukraine and to move towards an international war. Those are the choices. World is not a pretty place. You don’t have the choice of electing Martin Luther King as the head of every government.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Dr. Noam Chomsky, thank you very, very much for joining us. This has been delightful. Really appreciate you taking this time.
Noam Chomsky: Sorry, got to move off the way –
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Understand.
Noam Chomsky: …For the next one.
Bill Fletcher Jr.: Take care. Thank you very much.
And I want to thank all of you for joining us this evening. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. And it’s one of those things where I had at least another hour of questions and discussions and comments that I wanted to offer, but this was a good taste. This was good. And I’m hoping you enjoy it. I’m hoping that you will provide support to The Real News Network, that you will provide support to Convergence Magazine, get a subscription. That you will access different organizations that have sponsored this program. That you’ll engage in discussions and activism against the various imperialist powers out there that bring us closer and closer to extinction. I want to thank you very much again. My name is Bill Fletcher, and goodnight to you.