“We are carrying out NATO’s mission.” As Ukraine’s defense minister acknowledges the proxy war, NATO proxy warriors disregard the toll.
By Aaron Maté
Source: Aaron Maté Substack
Unveiling its latest military assistance package to Ukraine – at $3.75 billion, the largest to date — the White House declared that US weapons are intended “to help the Ukrainians resist Russian aggression.”
For their part, Ukrainians on the receiving end see it differently.
“We are carrying out NATO’s mission,” Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said in an interview. “They aren’t shedding their blood. We’re shedding ours. That’s why they’re required to supply us with weapons.” Repeating a rationale offered by his US sponsors in previous wars, including the invasion of Iraq, Reznikov added that Ukraine “is defending the entire civilized world.”
Receiving an endless supply of weapons from NATO countries that shed no blood of their own — all to fulfill their “mission” — is an apt description of Ukraine’s role in the US-led proxy war against Russia. And as one of its staunchest champions, Sen. Lindsey Graham, cheerfully predicted in July, that mission is using Ukraine to “fight to the last person.”
For Ukraine, the costs of fulfilling NATO’s mission are spelled out by former US cabinet secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates. Today, the pair write, Ukraine’s “economy is in a shambles, millions of its people have fled, its infrastructure is being destroyed, and much of its mineral wealth, industrial capacity and considerable agricultural land are under Russian control. Ukraine’s military capability and economy are now dependent almost entirely on lifelines from the West — primarily, the United States.”
Rather than seeing Ukraine’s war-ravaged, Russian-occupied, Western-dependent condition as a reason to seek a negotiated end, Rice and Gates in fact regard diplomacy as an outcome to avoid.
“Absent another major Ukrainian breakthrough and success against Russian forces, Western pressures on Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire will grow as months of military stalemate pass,” they warn. This result would be “unacceptable”, Rice and Gates conclude, because “any negotiated cease-fire would leave Russian forces in a strong position to resume their invasion whenever they are ready.” That is one possibility. Another possibility, unmentioned by the authors, is that a negotiated cease-fire leads to a permanent one. This would entail finally addressing the grievances of Ukraine’s ethnic Russian population – the proximate cause of the post-2014 Donbas war that preceded Russia’s invasion — as well as addressing Russia’s longstanding security concerns about NATO expansion and advanced weaponry on its borders.
On the latter issue, the Kremlin is far from the only advocate. “One of the essential points we must address — as President Putin has always said — is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors, and the deployment of weapons that could threaten Russia,” French President Emmanuel Macron said last month.
Macron’s comments “appeared to go beyond anything the United States has offered” Russia, the New York Times noted. Unstated by the Times is why such an offer has yet to materialize: as defined by multiple senior US officials right up to President Biden, “NATO’s mission” is not to defend Ukraine, but to use it as a proxy to “weaken” or even cause regime change in neighboring Russia.
Accordingly, the prospect of a negotiated cease-fire must be negated. The US and its allies, Rice and Gates argue, must “urgently provide Ukraine with a dramatic increase in military supplies and capability.” A failure to do so, they warn, could lead to a scenario where “more is demanded of the United States and NATO.” For now, this can thankfully be avoided, because the US enjoys “a determined partner in Ukraine that is willing to bear the consequences of war so that we do not have to do so ourselves in the future.” For proxy warriors, there is indeed no better “partner” than one “willing to bear the consequences of war” fueled from afar.
As a gage of their commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and well-being, consider the merits of Rice and Gates’ attempts to appeal to international law. The US, they write, “has learned the hard way — in 1914, 1941 and 2001 — that unprovoked aggression and attacks on the rule of law and the international order cannot be ignored.” Apparently, the US did not learn the same lesson from invading dozens of countries since 1914 – including under the Bush administration, where the authors played instrumental roles in multiple acts of unprovoked aggression, such as the invasion of Iraq. Gates, who carried on as Defense Secretary under President Obama, continued this legacy by overseeing the US bombing campaign that helped topple Libya’s government.
Predictably, Ukrainian soldiers that “bear the consequences of war” are facing heavy losses. Speaking to Newsweek, retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Andrew Milburn, who has trained and led Ukrainian forces for the private mercenary firm Mozart Group, reports that in the battle for Bakhmut, Ukraine has been “taking extraordinarily high casualties. The numbers you are reading in the media about 70 percent and above casualties being routine are not exaggerated.”
Ukraine is now “taking high casualties on the Bakhmut-Soledar front, quickly depleting the strength of several brigades sent there as reinforcements in the past month,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Western—and some Ukrainian—officials, soldiers and analysts increasingly worry that Kyiv has allowed itself to be sucked into the battle for Bakhmut on Russian terms, losing the forces it needs for a planned spring offensive as it stubbornly clings to a town of limited strategic relevance.” According to one battlefield Ukrainian commander, “the exchange rate of trading our lives for theirs favors the Russians. If this goes on like this, we could run out.”
The prevailing indifference to Ukraine’s death toll was recently underscored when Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, made the mistake of acknowledging it. In a speech, von der Leyen noted that Ukraine has lost 20,000 civilians and 100,000 troops since Russia’s February invasion. The Ukrainian military responded by complaining that this was “classified information,” prompting von der Leyen’s office to edit out the figure from video of her remarks.
Meanwhile, the prevailing rejection of diplomacy has even led one of its staunchest European advocates to effectively renounce it. In an interview with Germany’s Die Zeit, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that the 2015 Minsk II accords – the internationally backed framework for ending the post-2014 Donbas civil war, premised on granting limited autonomy to Russia-allied eastern Ukrainians – was a ruse.
Minsk, Merkel explained, “was an attempt to give Ukraine time.” And it did so successfully: Ukraine “used this time to get stronger, as you can see today. The Ukraine of 2014/15 is not the Ukraine of today… And I very much doubt that the NATO countries could have done as much then as they do now to help Ukraine.”
Merkel, whose government helped broker Minsk, was one of the few NATO leaders to develop a cooperative relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her comments follow a similar admission from the Ukrainian leader who signed Minsk, Petro Porosenko. “We had achieved everything we wanted,” Poroshenko said in May 2022. “Our goal was to, first, stop the threat, or at least to delay the war – to secure eight years to restore economic growth and create powerful armed forces.” (emphasis added)
The claim by Merkel that Minsk was not intended to make peace, but “to give Ukraine” time to “get stronger” for war has been greeted by Putin and his supporters as confirmation that NATO cannot be trusted to uphold its agreements. (A takeaway newly bolstered by Joe Biden’s recent admission that, despite his campaign promises, the Iran nuclear deal is “dead”).
An alternative explanation is that Merkel is disingenuously attempting to appease pro-war hawks in Germany and beyond, as Moon of Alabama argues. Nicolai Petro, author of the indispensable new book “The Tragedy of Ukraine,” concurs with that interpretation, as he told me in a recent interview. The German and France-brokered Minsk process, Petro argues, were “good faith efforts to bring the hostilities to an end, at least to accomplish a ceasefire from which then further negotiations could be pursued.” The main obstacle, in Petro’s view, came from Ukraine’s far-right Ukrainian nationalists and their allies in Washington, “who basically dismissed the Minsk accords as a non-starter,” and unrealistically sought Ukraine’s complete recapture not only of the Donbas but Crimea as well.
Whether Merkel was being sincere or not, her comments reflect the fact that the aims of the Ukrainian far-right and their DC allies now dominate the NATO states, with voices for peace marginalized and diplomacy shunned.
And now, nearly one year into Russia’s invasion, the proxy war’s NATO cheerleaders have no interest in stopping the bloodshed, despite the open recognition that their mission is helping destroy the country that they claim to defend.