In close relations with Ukraine, US officials have always seen promise and danger 2022-04-28 04:00:06


As the war in Ukraine continues amid a renewed Russian offensive in the eastern Donbass region, US and other Western officials have doubled down on their material and diplomatic support for Kiev, with the White House announcing a new $1.3 billion aid package. last week.

The Biden administration and its allies sought to present a united front against the Russian invasion, funnel billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and stifle the Russian economy with punitive sanctions.

But the full support for Kiev — and the unanimous condemnation of Moscow — by the United States and other NATO members contrasts with the deep historical contradiction within the alliance, and the United States itself, about how close Ukraine is to joining the West’s orbit.

Joe Biden

President Biden talks about the situation in Ukraine from the White House last week. (Wayne McNamee/Getty Images)

Historically, US policymakers have been torn between their support for Ukraine’s right as an independent, sovereign nation to determine its foreign policy and its national future. the need to manage sensitive relations with Russia, the nuclear superpower; and a desire to reassure anxious European allies that Washington will deter expansionist aggression from Moscow.

Indeed, the potential fallout from Ukraine’s potential bid for NATO membership has been hanging over the alliance for decades.

In the late 1990s, “When I would go to meetings with representatives of NATO member states, people would laugh and say, ‘Oh my God, here’s Mrs. Ukraine’…because I was in contact with the government all the time,” recalled Samantha de Bender, the political official. Previous in NATO, in a BBC last interview.

“And they were saying to me, ‘Oh, my God, let’s pray that Ukraine never asks to join NATO, because what in the world are we going to do? This is going to really upset Russia. Let’s just hope they never formally apply.’ “NATO has always been very, very cautious” about Ukraine’s sporadic attempt to forge closer ties, she said.

Over the years, the controversy over NATO expansion – and concerns about Russia’s reaction to it – have stirred up the highest levels of US government. During the Clinton administration, Secretary of Defense Bill Perry almost resigned in the face of administration plans to support expansion, Perry said in his diary. (Perry strongly supported eventual NATO expansion, but wanted it delayed until the United States’ relationship with Russia solidified after the Cold War.)

George W Bush with Vladimir Putin

President George W. Bush with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, in 2008 (Artyom Korotayev/Epsilon/Getty Images)

Waves of new members joined the alliance in 1999 and 2004. Then, in April 2008, at the request of the George W. Bush administration, NATO, in a statement known as Bucharest DeclarationHe asserted that Ukraine and Georgia will “become members” of the alliance one day, but has not embarked on the formal accession process, known as the Membership Action Plan (MAP), for either country.

At the time, the US intelligence community assessed that Russia might launch a preemptive strike against Ukraine or Georgia if either country attempted to continue its shift toward the West, According to Fiona Hilla prominent Russian expert on the Trump administration’s National Security Council, who was then a prominent US intelligence analyst.

Hill has he said thatIn an Oval Office meeting, she even warned Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney that Moscow would respond harshly to any official attempt to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance.

A few months after the Bucharest Declaration—which represented a compromise, as America’s European NATO allies opposed offering an immediate path to membership for either country— Russia invaded Georgia.

The path for Georgia or Ukraine to join NATO, which has always been narrow, is becoming increasingly treacherous. Moscow viewed any further Ukraine tilt toward the West as a threat, with Russia’s 2014 invasion, annexation of Crimea and the occupation of parts of Donbass, a direct response to a pro-Western revolt that forced the Moscow-allied president of Ukraine to do so. Resign and flee the country.

Pro-Russian protesters

Pro-Russian protesters storm a Ukrainian air base in the Crimean city of Novedorivka in March 2014 (Dmitry Serebryakov / AFP via Getty Images)

In the CIA, at least, Russia’s likely response if NATO were to provide Kif or Tbilisi a genuine path to membership was obvious. A former CIA official recalls, who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive agency deliberations and assessments.

“If we had taken a serious step towards accepting either country in NATO, we were 100% convinced that the Russians would find reason to declare war in the interval between our declaration that they would enter and that they would actually enter,” an official said. “There was not even a 1% shadow of doubt in the mind of any analyst about this assessment.”

During Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, agency analysts believed Ukraine was the only country where Russian President Vladimir Putin would risk a war with NATO or the United States, according to another former CIA official, who also asked not to be identified.

The former official said Ukraine was Putin’s “red line”. We have been telling policymakers for many years, Democrats, Republicans, that Russia is in fact OK with NATO expansion. They know that the Baltic states are over. They accepted it. They accepted the departure of Poland. They would never say it out loud,” the former official said, adding that Moscow reluctantly acknowledges the reality there.

But CIA analysts assessed that Moscow viewed Georgia — and even more Ukraine — as an entirely different matter, this former official said. However, the former official said, in 2014, the idea that Russia would launch an all-out war against Ukraine, of the scale and intensity we are seeing today, was out of the question.

People look at the exterior of a damaged apartment building that was hit by a missile strike in the early morning of February 25, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.  (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

An apartment building in Kyiv following an early morning missile attack by the Russians, February 25 (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

If the possibility of Ukraine’s membership in NATO declines after 2014, relations between the United States and Ukraine – including military and CIA trainingBeside intelligence sharing Steady increase.

Initially, military assistance to the Obama administration was severely restricted. The aid has been calibrated to avoid exacerbating Moscow, but some former officials believe it has put Kyiv in an impossible position, with US support putting Russia on edge while not enough to actually help Ukraine deter or fight the invasion.

And they’re not going to change things in the East,” said Jeffrey Edmonds, a Russian expert who served on the National Security Council from 2014 to 2017.

Edmunds said there was a “cognitive dissonance” about the policy. “Because I understand the moral argument, but I also understand the argument that, well, why would you want to give these things away if it would only increase the chances of Russia doing something?”

But, prompted in part by Congress, as well as the Trump administration, which has been more willing to be more aggressive about arms transfers to Kyiv, overt US military support for Ukraine has grown over time — and with it the risk of a deadly Russian response, some of the CIA. Officials believed at the time.

Anti-tank missile system used by Ukrainian soldiers

Anti-tank missile system used by Ukrainian soldiers. (Gael Gerbis/Getty Images)

Policy makers “will always say, ‘If we do something, if we give System X to the Ukrainians, how will the Russians react? And our answer would always be, ‘You can’t look at anything alone,’ recalls the first former CIA official. ‘And we could look and say, ‘Well, it’s just a few hundred MANPADS’. [man-portable air-defense systems] Or a few hundred Humvees, “but it misses the point that the Russians take all of these things in total, and they paint this picture of this ever-increasing relationship between the United States and Ukraine.”

By last summer, the former official said, the basic view of most US intelligence community analysts was that Russia had felt enough provocation about Ukraine that some unknown trigger could lead to an attack by Moscow. (The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.)

US military support for Ukraine was not the ultimate driver of Moscow’s decision to invade, according to Edmonds, a former employee of the Russian National Security Council. Putin’s desire to resettle “the largest security structure in Europe. Ukraine was just the direct reason for this.”

Firefighters work to put out a fire in a warehouse after it was hit by Russian shelling, March 28, in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Firefighters work to put out a warehouse fire in Kharkiv, Ukraine after it was hit by Russian bombing, March 28 (Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Edmunds argued that some kind of renewed Russian attack on Ukraine might have been inevitable.

“I will never underestimate President Putin’s willingness to take risks over Ukraine,” said CIA Director William Burns. at a public event last December.

But America’s bloated military support for Ukraine, no matter how well-meaning, or a reflection of the principles of American liberal democracy, has become self-fulfilling, “like a snowball rolling on a hill,” even as the threat of a Russian attack grows, or the former CIA official said this Politics in and of itself increased this risk.

“We gave all the warnings, all the warnings” about Ukraine to policymakers, the former official said. And it was abundantly clear that U.S. foreign policy, regardless of the administration, was going to continue moving forward.

“It’s guts, but it is what it is.”


What happened last week in Ukraine? Check out this walkthrough from Yahoo Immersive to find out.