You Tube (January 26, 2022)

[2:45] JOHN MEARSHEIMER: “Let me talk about the origins and the history of this crisis, and then talk about why it’s on the front burner today. And then let me say a few words in conclusion about where we’re headed.

“The conventional wisdom in the West – this is certainly true in a place like Britain and the United States – is that Putin is responsible for this crisis. It’s the Russians. There are good guys and there are bad guys. We are the good guys and the Russians are the bad guys. This is simply wrong. The United States, mainly, but the United States and its allies are responsible for this crisis. Not Putin and Russia. Now why do I say that?

“It’s very important to understand that what the West has been trying to do since 2008 is to turn Ukraine into a Western bulwark on Russia’s border. And that policy had three dimensions to it. The first and most important is NATO expansion. The idea was that we were going to expand NATO eastward to include Ukraine. The second element of the strategy was EU expansion. In other words it was not just NATO expansion that was going to include Ukraine. It was also EU expansion. And the third element of the strategy was the color revolution. And in the case of Ukraine, that was the orange revolution. And the idea was to turn Ukraine into a liberal democracy – like Britain, like the United States – and not just a liberal democracy, but a liberal democracy that was allied with the United States. Because, again, this is all part and parcel of a strategy that is designed to make Ukraine a western bulwark on Russia’s border.”

[4:59] “Now as I said to you, the most important element of the strategy is NATO expansion. And that is why the April 2008 Bucharest NATO summit is of immense importance. At the end of that April 2008 Bucharest summit, NATO announced that Georgia and Ukraine would become part of NATO. They said ‘This is going to happen.’ Period. The Russians made it unequivocally clear at that point that that is NOT going to happen. They drew a line in the sand.”

“As you all know, there were two big tranches of NATO expansion before that 2008 meeting. The first tranche of NATO expansion was in 1999. That included Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Then there was a second tranche in 2004 which included countries like Romania and the Baltic states and so forth and so on. The Russians swallowed those two NATO expansions. They intensely disliked both of them, but they swallowed them. When NATO said in 2008 that expansion would now include Georgia and Ukraine, the Russians drew a line in the sand. It’s very important to understand that. They said ‘This is not happening. It is no accident that in August of 2008 a few months after the 2008 Bucharest summit, you had a war between Russia and Georgia. Remember that Georgia is the other country besides Ukraine that was going to be brought into NATO. The Russians said ‘That ain’t happening.’ And you had a war in August 2008.”

[7:09] “In February – February 22nd to be exact – February 22 2014, the crisis broke out over Ukraine. And it was mainly precipitated by a coup in Ukraine that overthrew a pro-Russian leader and installed a pro-American leader. The United States was involved in that coup. The Russians went ballistic. This is hardly surprising. They went ballistic. And they did two things. The first is they took Crimea from Ukraine. Why did they do that? You understand that there is a very important naval base called Sevastopol on Crimea. And there’s no way the Russians are going to let Sevastopol become a NATO naval base. This is not going to happen. That’s the principal reason the Russians took Crimea. The second thing they did is that the Russians took advantage of a civil war that broke out in Eastern Ukraine immediately after the February 22, 2014 crisis. And what the Russians have done is they have fueled that civil war and they have made sure that their allies – who were Russian-speakers and in many cases Russian – in East Ukraine are not defeated by the Ukrainian government.”

They, in effect, are wrecking Ukraine. The Russians are basically saying ‘We will wreck Ukraine before we allow Ukraine to become a member of NATO. So the Russian response – it is very important to understand this – in 2014, when the crisis first broke out into the open in response to what had happened in Bucharest in 2008, the Russian response was twofold. Number One, they took Crimea. And you should all understand, Crimea is gone. It is never going back to Ukraine, one. And Number Two, they have said implicitly that we will destroy Ukraine; we will wreck it, before we let it to become a member of NATO>.

[9:56] “Now, the question you want to ask yourself is: ‘Why are the Russians doing this?” This is Real Politic 101. And the fact that people in the West, especially in places like Britain and the United States, don’t understand this boggles my mind. I just don’t understand it.

The idea that you could take a military alliance run by the United States, the most powerful state in the world and run it up to Russia’s borders and the Russians wouldn’t be bothered by it, is simply unthinkable.

“We in the United States have the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine says that no distant great power is allowed to form a military alliance with a country in the Western hemisphere and is certainly not allowed to move military forces into the Western hemisphere. I remember the Cuban missile crisis very well. What happened there is the Soviets put nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba. The United States said this is categorically unacceptable. Military forces from afar are not allowed in the Western hemisphere. And we had the Cuban missile crisis and the end result is those missiles were removed. When the Soviets were talking about building a naval base ad Cienfuegos, the United States told them in no uncertain terms: ‘You are not building a naval base at Cienfuegos. Just not going to happen. The United States views the Western hemisphere as its backyard and it prohibits distant great powers from coming into its backyard.”

"Well, don’t you think the Russians are going to be deeply disturbed by the United States turning the Ukraine into a bulwark right on its borders? Of course they are. And the Russians told us that immediately after the Bucharest summit. The Russians made it categorically clear that Ukraine was not going to become a part of NATO. But, of course, the Americans and their allies did not listen because we believe that we’re the good guys. We’re a benign hegemon here in the United States and we can do pretty much anything we want in the world. And for a while it looked like we could get away with that."

[12:37] “As I said, the Russians accepted the first NATO expansion, the 1999 one and they accepted the second NATO expansion [in 2004]. But after Bucharest they said, this is not happening. So, you had this major crisis. It broke out in February, 2014. The crisis tamped down quite a bit after 2014. But in the Fall of last year it began to ramp up. And, of course, early this year, talking about early 2022, it became a full-blown crisis. And the question that we want to ask ourselves is: ‘What happened here?’ Why all of a sudden did this crisis go from the back burner to the front burner? And the answer is that the United States and its allies were effectively turning Ukraine into a de-facto member of NATO. You’ll hear lots of rhetoric today that the Russians had nothing to worry about because nobody is talking about making Ukraine a member of NATO – today. I think that’s true. But if you look at what we were actually doing, it’s a different story.”

“First of all, going back to the Trump administration and continuing into the Biden administration, we are now arming Ukraine. We were not arming Ukraine during the Obama administration. In February 2014 when the crisis broke out and in the first few years after that crisis when the Obama administration was in power, we refused to arm the Ukrainians because we knew it would enrage the Russians. It would scare the Russians. You have to understand that the Russians view Ukraine becoming a part of NATO as an existential threat. That’s what’s going on here. The Russians are sending a very clear message to the West: We take this threat seriously, and we’re willing to use military force to eliminate this threat. The Russians are not fooling around here. So what you had happening in 2021 – of course it started before that under the Trump administration – is we were arming the Ukrainians. And when you start talking about arming the Ukrainians, those forces that can fight against Russia’s allies in Eastern Ukraine.”

[15:40] “One thing that really spooked the Russians, was that the Turks gave the Ukrainians drones. And drones have become a very effective weapon on the battlefield, as the Azerbaijanis proved against the Armenians last year. And the Azerbaijanis were using Turkish drones. So the Turks are giving drones. The Americans and the British are giving all sorts of other weapons to the Ukrainians. You know, of course, that we define these weapons as ‘defensive’ weapons but, of course, as sophisticated IR theorists, you all know that there is no such thing as a meaningful distinction between defensive weapons and offensive weapons. As we all know from the security dilemma, what looks defensive to us looks offensive to them. You give drones to the Ukrainians, do you think the Russians are going to view those as defensive weapons? I don’t think so. You start training the Ukrainian forces the way the British and Americans do, you don’t think the Russians are going to see that as a threat? I can guarantee you they are.”

[16:51] So, what’s happening here? We’re arming, we’re training the Ukrainians, and if you look at how we’re dealing with Ukraine diplomatically, we’re basically talking about Ukraine as if it were an ally or a partner. That’s the kind of rhetoric we use when we talk about Ukraine. So, it looks like diplomatically and militarily, the bonds between the West – especially the United States are tightening. At the same time, we’re doing a number of provocative things outside of Ukraine that really bother the Russians enormously. The British, foolishly, run a destroyer through Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea this past summer, June 2021. The Americans take a bomber and they drive it right up against the Russian coastline in the Black Sea. This really bothers the Russians, unsurprisingly.

[17:54] So, what you see happening here is the Russians have a very powerful sense that NATO is moving eastward. NATO is moving right up to the Russian border, mainly by turning Ukraine into a de facto member of the alliance. But also with provocative measures like this British destroyer and this American bomber. The Russians, as Sergei Lavrov the Russian Foreign Minister said, reached the boiling point. They’ve had it. They’re not interested in negotiating anymore. They’re interested in altering the status quo. And the end result, is that you’ve had this massive military buildup which is doing enormous damage to the Ukrainian economy, which was already a basket case before the crisis.

So the Ukraine situation is getting worse and worse. And the Russians have sent a very clear signal to the West, that if they up the ante, then they – meaning the West – that if the West ups the ante, the Russians will up the ante. Ukraine is not becoming a part of NATO. So, that’s where we are today. We have this major crisis which goes back to 2008. That’s the genesis: the decision to make Ukraine part of NATO. Then you have the crisis break out 22 February 2014. And over time it was ameliorated somewhat, pushed to the back burner, one could say. And then, all of a sudden, it broke out again.

Now, is there any hope that we could settle this crisis?” I’ll tell you what I think the best solution is. I think it’s an obvious solution. But I think it’s politically unacceptable at this point in time. The obvious solution is to turn Ukraine into a neutral state. More or less a buffer between Russia on one side and NATO on the other. This is effectively what you had up until February 2014. Ukraine got its independence when the Soviet Union broke apart in December 1991. And from December 1991 until roughly early 2014 there was no real problem with Ukraine. The United States and its allies were not fighting with the Russians over Ukraine. There was a verbal dispute going back to the 2008 Bucharest summit. But there was no crisis. Because Ukraine, from 1991 to 2013 was effectively a neutral state. It was a buffer. It was NATO that changed the situation.

[21:21] You understand, we now have changed the rhetoric to make the Russians the bad guys. You hear all this talk that Russia is bent on creating the second coming of the Soviet Union. Russia is bent on creating a greater Russia. The Russians are the bad guys. This is a story that was invented after February 22, 2014. Nobody was making this argument before February 22nd 2014. Nobody was arguing that we had to expand NATO to contain Russia before February 22nd, 2014. What happened on February 22nd, 2014 is this cockamamie strategy that we had invented to make Ukraine a part of NATO blew up in our face. And when it blew up in our face because of our flawed policies, we were not going to admit that we had screwed up. No, we had to blame the Russians. So we said that they were bent all along on dominating eastern Europe.

[22:31] Of course, you hear the same argument made today. It’s ‘the Russians are the bad guys. Putin is really dangerous. We can’t negotiate with him. This is the equivalent of Munich,’ which is another way of saying ‘he’s the second coming of Adolf Hitler. And making a deal on Ukraine is like making a deal on Czechoslovakia in October 1938’. This is all pure, unadulterated nonsense. Again, there was no threat from Russia before February 22nd, 2014. There just wasn’t. We invented that story.

[23:03] “But anyway, what the ideal situation would be, would be to create a neutral Ukraine, a lot like the Ukraine that existed between 1991 and 2014. But we can’t do that. And we can’t do that because the Americans are unwilling to make any sorts of concessions on NATO expansion. And furthermore, to make neutrality work, to create a neutral Ukraine, it’s very important that the Ukrainian government in Kiev reach some sort of modus vivendi with the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass. This is the famous Minsk accords. It is imperative that the Kiev government implement the Minsk accords so that the civil war between the people in Donbass and the people in Western Ukraine has to be settled before this problem can be solved. But the politics inside of Ukraine at this point in time make that impossible. And again, as I said, it’s impossible to envision President Biden at this point saying that he’s going to give up on NATO expansion. So the end result is that this crisis is going to go on and on. That’s the sad truth in my humble opinion.”