"The War in Ukraine and the Collapsing World Order"
Panel Discussion with Scott Ritter, Alastair Crooke, and Max Blumenthal moderated by Seyed Mohammad Marandi
Hosted by the Institute for North American & European Studies (INAES) (April 15, 2022)
[3:42] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "... Let's steer away from Ukraine for the moment. What is going to happen? What implications is this going to [have] for the whole of Europe and the world?. I want to go back to Ukraine. I want to discuss Ukraine. But what do you think this is going to lead to? And I'd like to begin with Alastair."
[4:04] Alastair Crooke: "Well, that's a very big question that you put for us. Let's just go back very clearly and say what's happening, because it's important just to state it. As you rightly say, Ukraine tends to sort of occupy everything, the space, and push out the wider picture which is that Russia and China, jointly as a single team, have decided. And they decided this perhaps a year ago, but at least some time ago that they were going to challenge and change the global order, the U.S. hegemonic global order by which the U.S. sets the rules and sets the cultural context for the world. And Ukraine was sort of the first step in this process. "
"But let's make it absolutely clear, this was just a first step. An important one because it would actually define the one key issue which was pushing back the whole of NATO's expansion from 1991 right up to the borders and to begin a sort of stealth NATO-ization of Ukraine which has been going on during this period. "
. . .
[9:32] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "My question was that . . ."
. . .
[10:58] Alastair Crooke: " ...
[12:04] ... the psyche of the west. I think this is the greatest danger to it all because: Can the West cope and accept its implied demise as the sort of global leader? Psychologically it's going to be extremely difficult for the West to cope with that. And I believe that is going to cause a lot of problems. I'll just give you a quick example. After the second european war, everyone could see that Britain was completely weakened financially, economically. It lost all its gold reserves, they were on their way to America. And I remember the man who was [one of] the cabinet secretaries said to me at the time. 'You know, we have cabinet meeting after cabinet meeting after cabinet meeting and there's just one item on the agenda. It never changes. Same agenda. And we spend the whole day talking about it. And what was on that agenda? How not to look weak when all the world can see.'Because the world has changed dramatically and you are a lot weaker. And that I think is the great danger facing us. How is the Western psyche capable of making this transition to get away from the idea that they have a sort of messianic right to lead and guide the rest of the world and the rest of the world's people by them. I don't know. That is something that others might care to have a comment on. "
[13:43] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "OK, Scott. How about, do you agree, disagree, what would you like to add. . . ."
[13:51] Scott Ritter: "First of all, I agree 100 percent. And I think Alastair has done a very good job of framing the global geopolitical new reality that the world is facing. And I would also reiterate the point he's made when we say the world is facing, there's a lot of denial. A lot of denial in the United States. A lot of denial in Europe. And the I would also say that there is in the rest of the world a guarded optimism. Meaning they haven't quite accepted the reality that this is in fact going to happen. They heard Putin. They heard President Xi jinping speak. They've read the statement put out. But translating these actions into reality is something that I think that a good part of the world is a little skeptical whether or not this can happen. So, even though I think this is a fait accompli, I think it's going to happen, I think Russia and China are serious about this, there's a lot of denial and a lot of skepticism out there. So, there's going to be some struggle ahead to get people to come on board and whether they come on board kicking and screaming, or have to be pushed, or a helping hand put out to drag them in, we'll see."
"What I'd like to do is move away from that because there's literally no daylight between Alastair and I on this. And I'll talk about what I call the middle aspect of this, and Alistair touched on that, the European Security Framework. And I think that when people focus on Ukraine they miss the picture. Ukraine is not the end. Ukraine is a means. It is a means of initiating a process of change in Europe that realigns the European security framework in a manner that is acceptable to Russia. No, that doesn’t represent Russian dominance of Europe. Anything but. What it does, however, represent is Russian security. And, you know, Russia gave Europe and the United States every opportunity to resolve this issue diplomatically. I’m not talking about the seven years that Russia was pushed into a corner. I’m talking about the treaties that Russia put on the table in December of last year. These were serious documents, serious treaties. And the “west” dismissed them. Guess what, those treaties have not gone away. They still exist. Those are the official Russian position. Read them and you’ll understand what must happen before Russia stops doing what it is doing.”
“And if you think that Ukraine, which was defined as a military-technical operation represents the only mechanism of armed conflict in Europe, you don’t know what you are talking about. Finland is about to find out a harsh truth: that you don’t enter into a decades-long pact of guaranteed neutrality with Russia, formerly the Soviet Union, one which allows you to peacefully coexist in close proximity to St Petersburg, one that allows you to peacefully coexist in close proximity to the Kola peninsula and then suddenly back away from that without suffering serious ramifications. And what I meant by serious ramifications is, just like the NATO-ized Ukrainian army was deemed to be an existential threat to Russia, any Finnish military force that’s part of NATO, that is physically in the proximity of St Petersburg must be eliminated. Must be eliminated. There’s literally no debate about this. ANY Finnish force that can be seen as threatening the Kola peninsula WILL be eliminated. Russia cannot allow this to happen.”
“And again, I go back to a statement that Vladimir Putin said. He said, ‘We will accomplish every objective we have set out to accomplish.’ There is no flexibility here. There is no negotiating room. He didn’t go in high and willing to negotiate lower. This is the Russian position. And if Finland thinks it’s going to join NATO at the Madrid NATO summit this June, I believe we’re in for a very hot summer. One that involves the Russians destroying Finland as a modern nation state in the same way they have destroyed Ukraine as a modern nation state. It’s not something Russia wants to do, but it is the inevitable outcome of a European nation allowing itself to be used by NATO. And that’s what’s happening here: used by NATO to pose an existential threat to Russia. It’s part of this overall design of containing and weakening Russia. That game is over. It’s a whole new game called 'Russia is going to go to war.'And that’s just a reality. It’s a harsh reality. It’s a sad reality. But I don’t see Russia deviating from that at all.”
[18:56] “And it’s not just Russia. Understand that Putin and Xi jinping met in Beijing on February 4th where they issued this joint statement of 5000+ words. On January 28th or 29th, I can't remember which date, the Chinese ambassador to the United States gave an interview to national public radio where he said: if the United States doesn't basically tone down what it is doing in the Pacific, it is inevitable that China and the United States will go to war over Taiwan. Inevitable. That's a bold statement, one that an ambassador does not make on his own. That means he's reflecting Chinese official policy.
[19:42] "Now, that statement was made in an environment where war was still considered to be this abstract notion. You know, Russia had not yet invaded Ukraine. And many people believed that it was impossible for Russia to invade Ukraine because of what it would do to Europe and the European economic security and the European framework, all this. Well, guess what. Russia went to war with Ukraine and all that is shredded. It's gone. Finished. It's a whole new world and China looked at it and said maybe it's time that we take that step on Taiwan. Taiwan's days are numbered. And that's the other lesson that's coming out of this. I believe that China will make a move on Taiwan. Now, Taiwan can decide whether they want to take the pre-war Zelenski out from war, that is accepting what are non-negotiable demands. Or they can do the post-Zelenski scenario which is to be crushed and have demands dictated to you and lose your nation, lose your economy and lose tens- if not hundreds of thousands of people in the process. It's Taiwan's choice.
[20:52] But there is no getting around the fact that I believe Taiwan [China ?] has been emboldened by this, not just because of Russia's looming military success but because of the impotence of the west. Literally. The impotence of the West. The West barks loudly. It has no bite. There is no military capability in NATO. None. It's non-existent. It's a joke. That's why NATO's panicking right now. They're talking about spending hundreds of billions to build a military capability. Where are they going to get that money in a collapsing economy? Where are they going to get the political will? What happens on April 24th if Marine Le Pen wins the election in France and France says 'We're not playing the NATO game anymore'? And when France walks, all of NATO walks except Poland and the Baltics. Germany ain't sticking around. Italy ain't sticking around. Spain ain't sticking around. They may stick around as members but they're not going to be playing the military game."
[21:51] "And I want to remind everybody that Article 5 the 'attack against one is an attack against all' is a fantasy. Read it. Very carefully. It doesn't say that if you attack one NATO member they all automatically come rushing with everything they've got to defend you. It says they will consider it. They will consider it and they might respond militarily, they might not. And if NATO structures itself so that it is allowing a handful of nations like Poland and the Baltics to position them for the destruction of Europe, the rest of Europe's not going to follow.
"And China's looking at this, looking at the sanctions -- because everybody is afraid of the big sanctions -- what happens when they impose total sanctions? Well, Russia has shown what happens. And I'll tell you who is smarter about the global economy than Vladimir Putin. That's Xi jinping. The Chinese are the global economy. And if the United States wants to try and sanction that, the pushback will be even greater. So I think China has been emboldened by what Russia is doing and I think that we're goinng to -- as Alastaire said -- in this restructuring that's taking place, the military-technical option is becoming the option of choice because the west doesn't take diplomacy seriously."
[23:12] "Now, if the West were serious diplomatic counterparts who would sit down at the table and negotiate in good faith, I don't think either China or Russia would seek war, because war is destructive, war is harmful. It's hurting Russia badly. But because the United States and Europe have proven to be not only bad negotiators but they just refused to negotiate, this was the only option. And in the Pacific, I think China is confronted by the same thing. The United States is not a faithful negotiating partner. The United States lies. The United States changes its mind every presidential election. It's inconsistent. And the allies they bring to it are weak. And the problem with weak allies is they can't act on their own. They therefore take their lead from the nation they perceive to be strong, which is the United States who isn't strong, either militarily or economically. So that's what I would add to Alastair. I think there is going to be significant regional realignment designed to remake the security framework in Europe and in Asia and that Russia and China will both be using military-technical means, meaning war, as a means of pursuing their objectives. Because the West won't give them any other alternative."
[24:27] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "So, Max ... "
[26:00] Max Blumenthal: "Well, I'll address that, briefly. I actually wanted to go back to your first question, Mohammad, but just to that point, I think the foreign policy establishment in Washington is delusional and those delusions were expressed by President Joe Biden during his speech in Poland where he was said to have gone off script and was overly candid when he said this man must not stay in power, referring to Vladimir Putin and essentially called for regime change in Moscow. And the Maidan coup in 2014 and everything that precipitated that coup and everything that has happened since -- which has been guided by the United States in Ukraine -- has been done with the fantasy of regime-change in mind.
"This fantasy was expressed in the Washington Post and in 2015 by Carl Gershman, the head of the National Endowment for Democracy, which is the regime-change arm of the U.S. government funded, I believe, through the State Department. And this fantasy has been entertained by the political director, or political advisor to the State Department, Victoria Nuland, who is the wife of Robert Kagan the arch neoconservative who spelled out the blueprint for the American domination of the globe, total domination, what he and his neo-con co-author William Krystol called benevolent hegemony that the U.S. will be the benevolent world dictator. And that document formed the basis of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) which represented a series of open letters signed on by bigwigs in the Washington foreign policy establishment, particularly on the neo-con side calling for regime change in Iran, Iraq, all across the middle east, anywhere an independent government existed."
[27:57] "So, this is still present. This thinking is still present in Washington despite the reality on the ground. And when it comes to Ukraine, the thinking goes that Ukraine, if it becomes NATO-ized will force Russia to concentrate so much of its military and security resources on its own frontiers that it will begin to weaken Russia internally and that the U.S. can kind of create this pressure cooker effect through this kind of new containment doctrine to spawn regime change through a color revolution, that the citizenry in Russia will become deeply frustrated and will begin protesting against Putin."
"And just being in the United States, you can turn on CNN, turn on MSNBC, particularly those channels. Also FOX News which represents the Republican establishment and you'll see these rented generals and various security figures who all have ties to the arms industry entertaining these fantasies that Putin will be overthrown imminently. One figure, Jeremy Bash, he is the former CIA chief of staff to Barack Obama and he is now a contributor on the MSNBC network which speaks for the democratic party, he said he wants to see a new Charlie Wilson's War in Ukraine. And that refers to the CIA-backed proxy war in Afghanistan to support the mujahideen through Operation Cyclone which at the time was the most expensive covert operation in CIA. And the idea is Russian helicopters will start falling out of the sky; this proxy war will bleed Russia from its soft underbelly; the Ukrainians will emerge as the heroic mujahideen -- actually the neo-nazi Azov Battalion will be our white supremacist mujahideen -- and Putin's regime will collapse."
[30:05] "So the fantasy is not a direct military confrontation but fighting this war down to the last Ukrainian. And the U.S. mainstream media has been entertaining, or actually marketing this idea within the domestic population, particularly those who read the papers who represent, kind of, the intelligentsia, people who are older, that the Russian military is suffering one devastating defeat after another in Ukraine and that its withdrawal from the Kiev oblast represents a major blow to Putin domestically; that Putin is paranoid and surrounded by a small coterie of advisors; that he's shouting at everyone; that he has lost his resolve. And so they think that they are that they are achieving some of their goals.
"I don't think that it really reflects the reality on the ground. And this goes to your first question, Mohammad, about how this war is affecting the West. Scott could actually speak to this, but as we all know, and your audience should know, Scott was removed from I think the main social media platform in the United States where policy is discussed and influenced. It is a central arena for hybrid warfare and that is Twitter. It's not the most popular social media platform but it's where all the policy specialists, experts, pundits and the people who follow them go to debate. And Scott was removed for challenging the official narrative arond the photographs of deaths in a city, a small city in the Kiev oblast called Bucha where we have been fed a steady diet of atrocity exhibition here in the United States, from this city in order to justify removing Russia from the UN human rights council to justify new sanctions and to justify the charge of genocide against Russia which was just issued by Joseph Biden echoing Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
"And Scott's removal from Twitter has been a part with the removal of many, many popular accounts that were challenging the official narrative around Russia-Ukraine and that represents a new policy in which Twitter is essentially allowing one side to openly lie. You have Ukrainian officials openly lying on Twitter and suppressing those who question the lies or who offer a different version of events on the grounds that it is disinformation. Twitter has aligned itself first with the Democratic Party in the United States but it is also being guided and influenced by the security services, the Five-Eye security services and specifically in the United States the state department and the U.S. intelligence. It is an American platform, a platform for Washington and that really shows where we are going in the West when it comes to speech. We are experiencing a decoupling, not just economically from Russia and China but a media and information decoupling. The United States seeks to establish a great American firewall and prevent the free flow of informatrion from countries, and even from dissident people inside its own realm to its population from countries that are independent or that don't exist within the U.S. sphere of influence."
[34:02] "Why is that? It's because the U.S. government, and specificallythat part of the government that is not elected but which carries power from administration to administration has lost the consent of the governed. This country is more polarized than ever, and an entire sector of the population has lost faith in the establishment. And therefore that segment of the American public represents a much greater threat to the establishment than Russia or China. And they are afraid that more of the public will simply begin to see that the U.S. empire is no longer what it once was, that the war is not goiing the way that they would like them to believe; that Ukraine is not actually this wonderful democracy. It's a deeply repressive state. That their tax dollars are paying for weapons for neo-nazis, and so on.
[35:11] "So, We are now losing, I think, the most important component of American exceptionalism right before our eyes. We're watching it dissolve. And that is freedom of speech and our constitutional rights. And so many people here know that. And when the United States freely gives up these qualities that it would use to portray itself as a shining city on a hill, it loses the power that it once had to lecture countries around the globe and to market itself, for example, to eastern european former Soviet satellites as they were brought into the NATO fold and offered NATO membership. And so I think this will prompt a deeper kind of cultural and political crisis within Europe as Europe is forced to decide if it wants to continue along the path into an American future as the United States descends into infighting, polarization, and authoritarianism under the Democratic Party."
[36:19] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "Well, OK. That sounds dangerous. But I want to actually get to Bucha a bit later because I read the New York Times version of the story. And one thing that definitely doesn't fit for me who has experienced war and I've seen a lot of war. And that is that the claim that the bodies were there for a long period of time, I think, maybe 10 days, two weeks, that's just simply not possible at this time of year. The bodies have to be buried within hours. Otherwise they's be a big problem. But I'll get to that later especially because I think that Scott was removed from Twitter was because of this particular atrocity and his belief about who carried it out. But Alastair, one thing I remember about Alistair is that we were in Beirut in late 2011. I recalll he said to me that the war on Syria is a dirty war and that it's a sort of regime change war. And I said why do you think so? And Alastair said that 'All the people who I knew in Pakistan and Afghanistan are now in Istanbul.' I always remember him saying that but also you know a thing or two about Afghanistan to say the least. Why wouldn't this work? I mean: Why can’t Ukraine be an Afghanistan for Russia?”
[38:05] Alastair Crooke: “Because Afghanistan was not “Afghanistan” for Russia in the first place. Because I was, I suppose, one of the implementers of Charlie Wilson’s War. And I just want to make it very clear, the Soviet Union was not defeated by the introduction of stingers. It was not defeated by the Mujahadin. In fact, the Mujahadin were in a deep crisis in the year before the eventual implosion. And what we saw, and I mean people, American diplomats, the famous American diplomat many years ago suggested that the Soviet Union could implode under the weight of its own inherent flaws. That’s what happened. So it wasn’t, if you like, a quagmire in Afghanistan. In fact, the Soviets had really just introduced new measures in Afghanistan that were very effective. The Spetsnaz were going in. They were easy. You measured. It was the internal flaws which caused the Soviet Union [to dissolve itself] which don’t exist today."
“So, I don’t think that the quagmire thing is necessarily the right example. I mean, they are using it mistakenly. Secondly, because, you know, Ukraine is very different. You had the material within, if you like, Afghanistan for insurgency. But you don’t really have that [in Ukraine]. The insurgencies that have taken place, and I think I recall that Scott has said this quite loudly – and people have had to listen to this – actually, most of the insurgencies have failed that were attempted in Ukraine at various times and that they haven’t been successful.”
[39:59] “But I want to go back just a little bit because of something that Max said about this and about Twitter and how sad it was that no one, you know, wasn’t on Twitter anymore. You know, I’m not on Twitter, but I think there’s a fundamental thing that was implicit in what he was saying. It's as if there could be a debate in the U.S. And if Twitter wasn't there and other things, then that debate wouldn't happen. And I challenge that because I spent years, I mean I even started back in Afghanistan. You remember in 2006 I remember one of the neocon people saying very explicitly, and explicitly to me: 'Listen. When it comes to tweaking the humanitarian, the heartstrings, we write the script. We hire the film makers. We hire the team that is going to produce the film. We direct the film. We distribute the film. And the other side just has to sit quietly in silence and fume with anger. Because they can do nothing about it.'"
"And when we see, I mean, these things are intended for that purpose, there's not supposed to be a debate about all of these claimed atrocities coming one after another. Of course they're going to shut it down. They're not intended. This is part of an imaginary war that is being a psyops war. It is totally divorced from the real world and intended to be a vehicle for undermining Russian morale, sense of confidence. In fact it has been a great mistake because it's had exactly the opposite effect in Russia against Russians. The outpouring of hatred and loathing for Russia itself and Russians, let alone for Putin, has absolutely united even the parts of Russia that were sort of proto-atlanticists, shall we say. All of those, you know, certain academic circles now fully behind Putin. Putin enjoys 83% support for it. There's no sign of it lacking in fact. The more that Russia is denigrated, the greater the sort insults that hit Russia, the stronger the determination to go on and crush any opposition in Ukraine."
[42:38] "And I put this, you know, because we're talking about war now. And the psychology of war is different from the psychology of diplomacy. I mean, people have shifted in Russia. When there was a sense that there might be some negotiated sentiment, there was a great pushback in Russia. People said 'No! We want capitulation. We don't want a nice little tidy agreement that is done by the negotiating team in Istanbul. We want capitulation.' Why? Because they’ve seen all those videos that you don’t see in the West of Russian prisoners of war bound on the ground while someone fires a bullet through their kneecap, [groin], or their hipbone, and they writhe in agony until the pain almost kills them from that and leaving. Those things have gone all around Russia. So those are the atrocities that have rarely, if you like, had effect. Whereas these imaginary one are so obviously fake. I mean, some of them are just badly done, it seems to me. Someone joked the other day, you know, with the new chemical weapons and Mariupol, you know, people were complaining that they were coughing and had a headache. Perhaps they hadn't had the third vaccination for Covid."
[44:11] They brought in -- let's not call them the White Helmets per se -- but they brought in the white helmets. We know from Syria what this is about. It's not about discussions. It's just about creating a sense of horror among the western audience. Of outrage. Of a demand for punishment on Russia. A demand for Putin to stand trial. And to make Putin so toxic. And this is where there's a sort of mythical idea in the west, still, that if everyone in Russia understands that Putin is never going to be acceptable. He's the one who kills people. The butcher of Ukraine. That some oligarchs will come and push him aside and they'll have a Yeltsin-like figure to come in. They're just living in the wrong world. It's not the 70s and 80s in Russia any longer. Those oligarchs are not there. There are oligarchs but they're different oligarchs and most of them support Putin completely. And the people don't, they just don't buy it.
[45:27] Actually what it does, toxifying Putin, OK, you do that, but you cut off the ability to any diplomatic or political solution by doing it. I saw the same thing when I was dealing with the Middle East, with the Palestinian thing and the West was always trying to demonize Arafat ..."
[46:43] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "Scott, I'd like to get to Bucha because in Syria, I went to Douma. I've been there a few times and regardless of the fact that the chemical attack in Douma was staged and Max could probably explain that better than I. One thing that I did notice was that as soon as there were accusations of a chemical attack, the western governments immediately blamed the Syrian government. And the Syrian government had absolutely no reason to carry out the attacks because they were winning the battle. Why would you carrry out a stupid attack when you're the winning side? But in any case, as soon as the Syrans saw that this attack had taken place we saw the Americans and the Europeans react, blame the Syrian government and they began to plan to strike Syria and Syrian government targets. And of course the targets that were strcuk, if they were actually chemical weapons they would create a catastrophe in themselves. So they knew quite well that they were not striking chemical weapons
"But for me this is very similar to what happened in Bucha. Immediately after the bodies were found, the Russians were blamed. By everyone. New sanctions were imposed. The Russians were demonized. And not just the Russian government, but Russians in general. I think we all, as Alastair was pointing out, its not just about Putin. The narrative is very rascist and hostile. What do you think about Bucha?"
[48:46] Scott Ritter: "To understand Bucha, we have to understand the..."
"... congratulations, America. You claim to be a democracy and yet you stifle the very debate, discussion, and dialogue necessary to inform an audience so they can hold people to account for what they do in their name. That's what a democracy is about, and Twitter just killed it."
[1:06:33] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "..."
[1:09:18] Max Blumenthal: "I forgot about the time zone... [Iranian Oil and the JCPOA] but does the Iranian Administration even have any interest in this anymore? And is Venezuela going to offer the U.S. any of the terms it's seeking? The west seems like it's in a very weak negotiating position here."
[1:19:39] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "Yes. I agree. I think the U.S. is in a very weak negotiating position and that's perhaps one reason ..."
[1:25:01] Alastair Crooke: "I want to go back ... French election and what we're seeing that's happening in Europe. They are the totalitarians. They're the ones who won't accept documents. They're the ones suppressing political parties in Europe. They're the ones that claim to be democratic and are absolutely the reverse from democratic."
[1:37:20] Seyed Mohammad Marandi: "..."
Scott Ritter: "I always enjoy coming after Alastaire because I can just sit here and nod by head ..."
[1:48:24] Max Blumenthal: "It's a hard act to follow..."