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Russia-Ukraine crisis exposes West’s hypocrisy

Op-Ed 2022-03-02, 11:54pm


Anis Chowdhury

Anis Chowdhury

Russia is accused of violating international norms, and President Putin is accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine, while the West claims a high moral ground. No one should condone war and the loss of innocent lives or the destruction of civilian infrastructure. 

However, it is the Western colonial powers that have been committing crimes against humanity.

Conflicts - French President Emmanuel Macron holding talks Russian President Vladimit Putin. AP Photo

Before exposing the West’s hypocrisy, let me first provide a brief background as to how we have ended up where we are now.

NATO’s eastward expansion

The popular view in the West, particularly in the United States, is that Russia is and has always been an expansionist State; and Vladimir Putin, is the embodiment of Russian ambition: to build a new Russian empire. President Joe Biden said on 24 February 2022, “This was … always about naked aggression, about Putin’s desire for empire by any means necessary”.

However, Biden’s CIA director, William Burns, has been warning about the provocative effect of NATO eastward expansion on Russia since 1995. According to Burns, the Clinton Administration’s move to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO was “premature at best, and needlessly provocative at worst.”

Fifty prominent foreign policy experts signed an open letter to Clinton in June 1997, saying, “We believe that the current US led effort to expand NATO … is a policy error of historic proportions” that would “unsettle European stability”. In 2008, Burns, then the American ambassador to Moscow, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin)”.

Even the West’s stooge, Boris Yeltsin, who helped bring down the Soviet Union, told reporters at a 1997 news conference with Bill Clinton in Helsinki, where the two signed a statement on arms control, “We believe that the eastward expansion of NATO is a mistake and a serious one at that”.

About NATO’s eastward expansion, a US State Department memorandum in 1990 observed, “In the current environment, it is not in the best interest of NATO or the US that [Eastern European] states be granted full NATO membership and its security guarantees. 

[We] do not, in any case, wish to organize an anti-Soviet coalition whose frontier is the Soviet border. Such a coalition would be perceived very negatively by the Soviets”. 

Russians’ security concerns are in fact genuine, especially when former members of the Soviet Union-led Warsaw Pact, a Soviet version of NATO, were brought into NATO, along with three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The expanded NATO even conducted war games replete with American tanks in nearby Baltic States and stationed rockets in Poland and Romania, the US claiming that they are aimed at Iran.

President Putin has been clear for many years that if continued, NATO’s eastward expansion would likely be met with serious resistance, even with military action. American diplomat George Kennan, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine, warned in 1998 against NATO’s eastward expansion, doubting that it would increase the security of European states, instead making them more vulnerable.

Yet, the US and its NATO allies have continued to ignore Russia’s concerns and warnings from their own security and foreign policy experts. 

Historical precedence

We may recall that the US had similar security concerns in 1962 when Cuba and the Soviet Union agreed to station Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba after the US’ failed Bay of Pigs Invasion against Cuba in 1961 to deter such future invasions. The USSR-Cuba decision triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis, often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

However, a cool-headed President won the day over the hawks. Against the hawkish Executive Committee of the National Security Council’s advice of an air strike followed by an invasion of the Cuban mainland, President Kennedy chose a less aggressive course of action. After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to not invade Cuba again. Secretly, the US also agreed to dismantle all of the US nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union.

Thus, the crisis ended peacefully in 1 month and 4 days, and the world was brought back from the brink of a nuclear war.

Unfortunately, this time is different – with neo-con hawks prevailing over a democratic President, the world is edging towards a catastrophic disaster.

Crying foul

Under-estimating Russia’s resolve, the US and its allies are now accusing Russia of aggression and Putin of war crimes. They conveniently forget that not long ago the US-led “alliance of the willing” invaded Iraq breaching the UN Charter. The UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called it an illegal war, which killed at least half a million innocent Iraqi men, women and children.

Saudi Arabia and its allies are bombing Yemen indiscriminately, killing innocent people with US, British and French weaponries. Israel is using sophisticated US weapons to illegally occupy Palestinian lands, evict Palestinians and demolish their homes, enabled by US vetoes at the UN. Since 1972 the US vetoed 53 times the UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel.

The US has been trying to make Cuba cower with its illegal sanctions for more than six decades. The US has illegally seized poor Afghanistan’s close to US$9 billion after its humiliating defeat. The US and its allies killed more innocent Afghanis than the Talibans; and now they are choking this poor nation into a slow death. If these are not crimes against humanity then what are?

Clinton, Blair, Australia’s Howard, Israel’s Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad Bin Salman should be tried before Putin at the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity.

Of course, Henry Kissinger of the US – one of the worst perpetrators of crimes against humanity – is still at large. Christopher Hitchens’ 2001 book – The Trial of Henry Kissinger – documents Kissinger’s involvement in war crimes in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus and East Timor.

Hounding the West

Today, the US and its allies are desperate to use the UN to condemn and contain Russia. But ironically, it is the US which has been systematically undermining the UN, an institution it established for a rule-based peaceful world. It has cut and withheld its contributions to the UN, accusing the UN of bias for acting for the universal good.

As of February 2022, the Western powers have exercised their veto powers 127 times (US 82, UK 29, France 16) and USSR/Russia has done so 120 times while China vetoed only 16 times.

Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former UN representative and veteran diplomat, once warned that the US and the West’s undermining of the UN would one day come to hound them when they would need the UN the most. Perhaps, it is now.

Anis Chowdhury, Adjunct Professor, Western Sydney University and former senior United Nations official.