George Orwell wrote in 1984 that "Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." Governments work relentlessly to distort public perceptions of the past.
Governments are not the only ones, of course, but they are certainly the greatest practitioners. The term of art is "active measures", a direct translation of the term used by the Cheka. The first active measures campaign was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a badly transliterated version of a diatribe against Napoleon III riven through with blood libel in order to gin up support for the pogroms.
Put a pin in that for a minute. I am 1/4 Belarusian Jew. My ancestors had means and had emigrated from The Pale to Moscow so experienced most of the second pogrom second hand, in the accounts and losses of their friends and relatives to antisemitic terrorism and genocide. They decamped for Boston in 1891 because they saw the proverbial writing on the wall; thanks to the work of the Okhrana, the active measures of the Cheka had a circulation of 900,000 a week thanks to Henry Ford. As a consequence, this discussion is academic to me? But also not academic. There are no more Belarusian jews. Prior to the pogroms, Jews were 15% of the population. There are now fewer than 20,000. American antisemitism and its propagation delayed American entry into WWII and objectively made the Holocaust worse.
There's a term coined and used by the Bolsheviks that is relevant to this discussion: fellow travelers, or those with similar goals but no formal alignment with the Communist Party. And there's a term coined and used against the Bolsheviks that is relevant to this discussion: useful idiots, or those who lack the intelligence to not serve the purposes of adversarial political forces. Donald Trump is a useful idiot. Jeffrey Sachs is a fellow traveler.
Thomas Rid, in his seminal work Active Measures, catalogs the distortions of public perceptions of the past and future from the Renaissance (when it wasn't practiced) through the 2016 election (where it was practiced extensively). Aside from one Japanese example (a false Soviet battle plan between wars) and two American examples (a CIA-published fashion and lifestyle magazine distributed in East Berlin and material support for an underground Ukrainian independence movement through 1991), all catalogued examples of active measures have been practiced by Russia under the Okrana, the Cheka, the nKVD, the KGB and the FSB. Rid goes one further by pointing out that democratic governments have a poor risk/reward ratio with active measures because if they are discovered, the democratically-elected government loses credibility and, therefore, power. Totalitarian governments suffer no such misfortune as their actions are not constrained by popular will. A democratic government operates with the permission of the populace and Watergate breaks the government. A totalitarian government can spread the rumor that AIDS was genetically engineered against the Africans to cover up systematic Soviet poisoning of Afghan wells to cripple the Mujahideen without experiencing a single hit to its agency.
Now that we've set the scene, let's continue:
Regarding the Ukraine War, the Biden administration has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the Ukraine War started with an unprovoked attack by Russia on Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
This is more a diplomatic measure by the United States than anything else because if they call it February 2014 then the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of Dutch tourists would arguably have triggered Article 5 and led to continental war. If you examine the conflict as a whole, the Russio-Ukrainian War is generally accepted to have commenced with the Russian invasion of Crimea In response to the Maidan on February 20, 2014.
In fact, the war was provoked by the U.S. in ways that leading U.S. diplomats anticipated for decades in the lead-up to the war, meaning that the war could have been avoided and should now be stopped through negotiations.
"Provocation" was the justification for the Munich Agreement, whereby Britain opted not to "provoke" Nazi Germany by defending Czechoslovakia against invasion. This was the basis for Nevill Chamberlain's "Peace for our time" speech, now widely considered to be the greatest diplomatic failure of the 20th century. The Tory government bargained that Hitler would be satisfied with annexation of Czechoslovakia and thus would not jeopardize the West-leaning Polish Republic. Poland, of course, was invaded less than a year later.
As outlined in The Gates of Europe, a history of Ukraine from the Scythians to the Maidan, "provocation" has been the fundamental justification of war in Ukraine, Poland and Belarus since the dawn of empire. The plain between the Urals and the Alps has always been considered a "buffer state" for whomever is more civilized at the time against whoever is less civilized and in general, the stretch of land between Armenia and Sweden is the first to betrayed and the first to get overrun. Despite this extensively bloody history, the only polity to routinely practice genocide against the Cossacks, Slavs and Tatars are the Russians, first under Ivan the Terrible, then under the First Pogroms, then under the Second Pogroms, then under the Russian Civil War, then under the Holodomor, then under the Deportation of the Crimean Tartars..
"Provocation", then, has historically meant "letting authoritarianism do what it wants when it wants where it wants" and any act that defies the authoritarian is seen as justification of authoritarian behavior. By the authoriarians, anyway. And the fellow travelers and useful idiots.
A far better approach for Russia might have been to step up diplomacy with Europe and with the non-Western world to explain and oppose U.S. militarism and unilateralism.
Note the careful use of the words "might have been" here - speculative passive voice. It's never worked before, but maybe this time would have been different.
The Biden team uses the word “unprovoked” incessantly, most recently in Biden’s major speech on the first-year anniversary of the war, in a recent NATO statement, and in the most recent G7 statement.
In no small part because the FSB has flooded the zone with the word "provoked."
There were in fact two main U.S. provocations. The first was the U.S. intention to expand NATO to Ukraine and Georgia in order to surround Russia in the Black Sea region by NATO countries (Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Georgia, in counterclockwise order).
Worthy of note: Russia was participating in NATO at the time.
The second was the U.S. role in installing a Russophobic regime in Ukraine by the violent overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014.
Right - the same Yanukovich who defied his own parliament and shot hundreds of the 800,000 protesters that demanded his resignation? Speaking as an American, "free elections and the defeat of tyranny" are big on my list of core values. If the price of freedom is "provoking" Putin, gimme the stick.
Biden and his foreign policy team refuse to discuss these roots of the war. To recognize them would undermine the administration in three ways. First, it would expose the fact that the war could have been avoided, or stopped early, sparing Ukraine its current devastation and the U.S. more than $100 billion in outlays to date.
(By allowing a pro-Putin despot to take over a nascent European democracy)
Second, it would expose President Biden’s personal role in the war as a participant in the overthrow of Yanukovych, and before that as a staunch backer of the military-industrial complex and very early advocate of NATO enlargement.
Just so we're clear: the argument here is that if the US had allowed the FSB to overthrow Ukraine unimpeded, there'd be no war in Europe. Let's not look away from that.
Third, it would push Biden to the negotiating table, undermining the administration’s continued push for NATO expansion.
And just so we're crystal clear: It is my firmly held opinion, as an avid scholar of The Deep State, that the 2016 election cemented and prioritized the destruction of Russia by Western intelligence services. An uneasy detente has existed between Russia and the USA since Yeltsin but the benefits of this relationship have diminished yearly while maintaining the fiction of diplomatic alignment has grown ever costlier. Once the Russians attempted to provoke the collapse of American democracy, American operatives dusted off their operational plans and set about to negate Putin. The CIA holds a grudge. The Iranian regime will never be allowed to thrive until the CIA feels satisfied that justice has been served for the barracks bombing and Bill Buckley. There is a straight, bright line between Vladimir Putin and January 6 and whenever Russian mouthpieces talk about American plans for the destruction of Russia, the only thing I can say is "damn right."
But that's not about Ukraine. That's about a criminal organization that thinks nothing of murder, torture and genocide.
The archives show irrefutably that the U.S. and German governments repeatedly promised to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not move “one inch eastward” when the Soviet Union disbanded the Warsaw Pact military alliance.
Yeah and they show a mutual defense pact between Ukraine and Russia in exchange for Ukraine giving up their nuclear weapons, too. That didn't exactly work out.
The great US scholar-statesman George Kennan called NATO enlargement a “fateful error,” writing in the New York Times that, “Such a decision may be expected to inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion; to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, and to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking.”
Worthy of note: Kennan basically established The Cold War by arguing that The Russians were too crazy to be reasoned with. Furthermore, Ukraine in 1997 sure as shit wasn't Ukraine after two Democratic revolutions. Kennan is two decades dead; considering how he felt about democracy I suspect his opinion would be different but Sachs doesn't get into that.
President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense William Perry considered resigning in protest against NATO enlargement. In reminiscing about this crucial moment in the mid-1990s, Perry said the following in 2016: “Our first action that really set us off in a bad direction was when NATO started to expand, bringing in eastern European nations, some of them bordering Russia. At that time, we were working closely with Russia and they were beginning to get used to the idea that NATO could be a friend rather than an enemy ... but they were very uncomfortable about having NATO right up on their border and they made a strong appeal for us not to go ahead with that.”
He's still saying it. His primary concern, however, is Russia's nukes:
The bitterness that emerged from dismissing Russia as irrelevant created a climate ripe for the rise of an autocratic leader who would instead demand respect and power through force. And there is no force greater than possessing a nuclear arsenal capable of bringing about the end of humanity. For those who had asked, “what could this defeated nation do to us?” the newly installed President Vladimir Putin would soon have an answer.
Perry, of course, has exactly fuckall to say about his engineering of the Budapest Memorandum which saw Ukraine disarmed, or about the fact that a document he wrote obligates the United States to defend Ukraine against Russia ("Seek immediate Security Council action to provide assistance to the signatory if they "should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used").
Former Zelensky advisor Oleksiy Arestovych declared in a 2019 interview “that our price for joining NATO is a big war with Russia.”
Arestoyvich was merely parroting Wallerstein, Kaplan, Zeihan, John McCain and others. For reasons of demography, the geopolitical rationalists have been predicting a Russian invasion of Ukraine before 2025 since the early 2000s.
During 2010-2013, Yanukovych pushed neutrality, in line with Ukrainian public opinion.
During 2010-2013, Yanukovich acted as an agent of Russia and suppressed anti-Putin dissent. This is why 800,000 protesters took to the streets to depose him.
After Yanukovych’s overthrow, the war broke out in the Donbas, while Russia claimed Crimea.
"The war broke out." Not "Russian special forces stripped of insignia or flags invaded Donbas in order to kidnap and murder elected Ukrainian officials in furtherance of the future annexation of a sovereign nation."
The new Ukrainian government appealed for NATO membership, and the U.S. armed and helped restructure the Ukrainian army to make it interoperable with NATO.
Under the terms of the Budapest Memorandum - see above.
Russia’s leaders put NATO enlargement as the cause of war in Russia’s National Security Council meeting on February 21, 2022.
It's worth watching that meeting:
...and it's worth watching the template for that meeting:
Historian Geoffrey Roberts recently wrote: “Could war have been prevented by a Russian-Western deal that halted NATO expansion and neutralised Ukraine in return for solid guarantees of Ukrainian independence and sovereignty? Quite possibly.”
"Peace for our time" where "our time" turned out to be exactly 334 days.
By recognizing that the question of NATO enlargement is at the center of this war, we understand why U.S. weaponry will not end this war.
This is historically inaccurate. For over two thousand years, peace in the geographic area we call "Ukraine" has occurred only after the destruction of the invading empire. As a territorial buffer between regions more easily defended, the invasion of Ukraine has been the first step in over a dozen wars of territorial expansion. For over a hundred years, peace in Ukraine has come at the cost of genocide. There will be no peace in Ukraine until Putin is out of power and Russia is under a new regime. Full stop.
The above is two hours I didn't have to spend. If you were not a friend, I would have responded with a simple "lol eat shit tankie." As it is, I see you neither as a "useful idiot" nor as a "fellow traveler."
So I implore you to think a little, investigate easily disproved allegations and exercise caution before putting the words of fellow travelers on your lips.