By Philip Giraldi
The war between Ukraine and Russia with Ukraine being supported increasingly both logistically and sometimes directly on the ground continues to defy analysis even after the completion of the recent NATO summit in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.
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At the meeting, a petulant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky both pleaded for immediate NATO membership as well as something like unlimited financial and military aid. He complained bitterly, and, according to one observer, threw a tantrum when he was not satisfied with what was on offer, calling it “absurd” and “weak” publicly on social media. The British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace admonished Zelensky, saying to reporters on the following morning that he had warned the Ukrainian president that, “whether we like it or not, people want to see gratitude.”
“You’re persuading countries to give up their stock of weapons and ammunition,” Wallace told reporters, referring to an increasingly unhinged Zelensky. “We’re not Amazon!”
Zelensky’s whining was reported in detail by the international media, together with photos of him in his green battle fatigues attending a diplomatic reception where the other well-dressed guests clearly had their backs turned to him. He stands alone. The focus on Zelensky’s performance detracted from news of the war itself, where partisan journalists and “experts” offered enormously differing assessments of what was taking place surrounding the fighting, to include clashing judgements regarding who was actually “winning.”
Though some of the political leaders representing the gathered 31 NATO countries, most particularly Poland and the Baltic States, were all for allying with Ukraine consequences be damned, most of the participants recognized that membership would activate Article 5 of the alliance’s founding document, which would mandate immediate coordinated “defensive” military action against the “aggressor”—in this case Russia.
Russia has for its part suggested strongly that such a scenario would likely very quickly escalate into a nuclear exchange and a majority of the Western leaders clearly understood that and wished to avoid it by delaying or even blocking Ukraine’s entry into the alliance. U.S. President Joe Biden, in one of his more sentient moments, actually warned prior to the meeting that Ukraine was not “ready” to join NATO, a sentiment shared by other participants to a greater or lesser degree, most particularly by key player Olaf Scholz of Germany.
Biden inevitably reverted to his usual gaffe riddled speaking style when he later addressed the summit, placing all the blame on Vladimir Putin and saying that “Russia could end this war tomorrow by … ceasing its inhumane attacks on Russia!”
“I mean by Russia on Ukraine,” the doddering Biden embarrassingly clarified moments later.
The decision not to jump into bed with a desperate Zelensky recognized in part that he was and is reckless and would do anything he could to provoke escalation of the war if given the ability to do so. Beyond that, most of the heads of state gathered in Vilnius recognized that their respective fellow countrymen have become increasingly weary of the war as it grinds on and brings with it negative economic consequences.
So, what did NATO decide to do about Ukraine and Russia? And that matter aside, what about the increasingly strident confrontation with China, a development that stretches one’s credulity as NATO once upon a time was conceived as a Euro-Atlantic defensive alliance to resist the expansion of the Soviet led Warsaw Pact. At least that was so before it became involved in North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.
Zelensky did obtain some new commitments from the gathering. He was virtually guaranteed NATO membership after the organization felt that he was “ready,” to quote Biden, which will include some intermediate steps that will be considered. Significantly, however, the summit’s final communique did not say how or when that would take place.
The communique addressed the issue as follows:
In line with the 1997 Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine and the 2009 Complement, Allies will continue to support and review Ukraine’s progress on interoperability as well as additional democratic and security sector reforms that are required. NATO Foreign Ministers will regularly assess progress through the adapted Annual National Program. The Alliance will support Ukraine in making these reforms on its path towards future membership. We will be in a position to extend an invitation to Ukraine to join the Alliance when Allies agree and conditions are met.
Also, the Group of Seven Nations issued a statement regarding what were described as “security guarantees” that would be extended to Ukraine, to include supplying Kiev with a steady flow of weapons, though they were similarly fuzzy when it comes to details and timing. Observers believe that the consensus among participants at the meeting was to throw some scraps to Zelensky while also avoiding any commitments that would heighten the risk of a nuclear war.
Everyone apparently understood that Ukraine has to first win the war before being allowed to join the alliance. Zelensky, for his part, acted in the belief that he could somehow shame the alliance into offering him fast-track membership. He was wrong in that and only succeeded in embarrassing himself. The outcome of the meeting has to be regarded as a major disappointment for the Ukrainians as well as for the neocons and other war hawks in Washington and in some of the European capitals.
In other developments, Turkey dropped its veto on Sweden joining the alliance, which will not materially significantly shift the balance of forces in Europe though it does complete the strategic surrounding of Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg in Russia by NATO in the Baltic, which has become a de-facto NATO lake. The aggressive move was welcomed by everyone who saw it as a setback for Russia.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also unpleasantly surprised President Vladimir Putin by releasing five Ukrainian Azov Brigade commanders that he had been holding after a prisoner exchange with Moscow. Erdogan, as a politician, is adept at playing both ends against the middle to gain advantage for himself personally and the issues that matter to him. That is where his loyalty lies. It is to be presumed that he will retain a functional relationship with the Kremlin while also obtaining favors from the NATO allies, including F-16 fighter aircraft from the United States, IMF loans, and even possible entry into the European Union.
And then there was China. Beijing reacted strongly to NATO’s odd claim that China challenges the alliance’s vital interests. In a communique issued halfway through the two-day summit, NATO claimed that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) threatened its interests, security, and “values” with its “ambitions and coercive policies.” It elaborated that the “PRC employs a broad range of political, economic, and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up. The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg subsequently told reporters at the summit that while China was not a NATO “adversary,” it was increasingly challenging the status quo through its “coercive behavior.”
“China is increasingly challenging the rules-based international order, refusing to condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, threatening Taiwan, and carrying out a substantial military build-up,” Stoltenberg noted, demonstrating the outrageous hypocrisy always on vivid display when Western leaders speak. China responded that the communique “disregarded basic facts, distorted China’s position and policies, and deliberately discredited China.”
The turn against China is inexplicable in terms of actual national security, but then again so was U.S. involvement in what led up to the Ukraine war. One has to conclude that the reorientation of NATO to convert it into an offensive weapon to be used to maintain American domination of much of the world is what it is really all about as both Russia and China are undeniably major powers and serious competitors. As is nearly always the case, the actual interests of the people who live in the countries that get willy-nilly thrust into war after war to show who is on top are completely ignored.
Biden claims that Russia could end the war in a day by ceasing its “inhumane attacks” is surely hyperbole as there is a lot that has to be undone and negotiated to come to an acceptable conclusion, particularly as Biden also promises Zelensky that Washington will support him as needed until Ukraine “wins.”
Calling Russia “inhumane” is also hypocritical as the White House is now sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, an indiscriminate weapon that scatters bomblets that kill many civilians, and which is banned by most countries in the world. The Biden White House is also calling up 3,000 military reservists to bolster forces already in Europe and moving B-52 bombers to Alaska to bases closer to Russia.
Washington’s aggressive moves to arm Ukraine follow on Britain’s equally bellicose decision to supply Kiev with depleted uranium shells that contaminate surrounding areas with a radioactive dust during and after use. Evidence from areas such as Fallujah in Iraq, where the U.S. and Britain fired massive numbers of these shells, suggests the contamination can include a decades-long spike in cancer and birth defects. (See page 16.)
To be sure, Biden conveniently avoids the issue of how the United States and some of its allies took steps over a number of years that made the Ukraine war happen in a deliberate attempt to provoke and weaken Russia in expectation that Putin’s government would be severely damaged as a consequence. Well, it hasn’t happened yet, and the Ukrainian counterattack appears to have been a dud, so where do you go now U.S. and NATO?
Philip Giraldi is a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer and a columnist and television commentator. He is also the executive director of the Council for the National Interest. Other articles by Giraldi can be found on the website of the Unz Review.