Ukraine Negotiation Kabuki
Though they are not given much of a voice in the mainstream media, many people oppose US/NATO sending more arms to Ukraine and oppose direct Western military intervention, because they see that such actions would only prolong an inevitably lost fight “to the last Ukrainian” and/or they do not think it’s worth risking World War III in order to refuse Ukraine neutrality, Russia’s absorption of Crimea, and the independence of the Donbass republics (LDPR).
Good for all of them.
Among many of those, from left anti-imperialists to paleo-conservative realists, the discourse hinges on forgoing war for diplomacy. Let’s not send more weapons; let’s instead encourage negotiations! Negotiate, don’t escalate.
“Every war ends in negotiations,” they will say, and “we”—the US government and NATO—have to encourage Ukraine to compromise.
This attitude is well summed up in Aaron Maté’s citation of former diplomat Charles Freeman regarding US/NATO’s “disregard for diplomacy”: “Everything we are doing, rather than accelerate an end to the fighting and some compromise, seems to be aimed at prolonging the fighting." This is echoed in Noam Chomsky’s insistence that “the prime focus” should be on “moving towards a possible negotiated settlement that will save Ukrainians from further disaster.”
Here’s the thing, however, that is very important to be clear about in this situation: There is no possibility of “negotiations” or “compromise” in the optimistic sense implied—i.e., talks leading to a deal in which, in some mutually satisfactory way, each side gets and gives up something important to it.
There is no possibility of such “negotiations” or “compromise” because that already happened.
Negotiations and compromise were made when the United States promised not to move NATO one inch to the east in exchange for absorbing East Germany. Negotiations were made, successfully, with the Minsk agreement, which—at Putin’s insistence, against the independence urgings of Donbass and its Russian supporters—would have granted the Donbass regions limited autonomy within the framework of a unified Ukrainian state. That was the compromise. And again, with Minsk 2, negotiated after Kiev broke the agreement, attacked Donbass, and almost had its army wiped out, but for Putin holding LDPR back. And again, with the “Normandy Format,” after Kiev spent seven years continuing to attack Donbass and repeatedly and explicitly stating its refusal to abide by the former negotiated compromises.
Russia initiated its offensive because all the possibilities for a negotiated peace with Kiev (and its U.S. handler) under any conditions other than Russia is now demanding have been used up. Everyone must understand that, and how dangerous it makes this moment. Compromise agreements were successfully made—at least three times!—and then continually destroyed by U.S. and national fascist intransigence and aggression, with attacks on Donbass over eight years that took 14,000 lives. And no one in the U.S.’s “international community” cared a whit.
Russia undertook this action because, as The Saker wrote and I commented on in 2017, Russia has concluded that “the Americans were ‘недоговороспособны.’ What that word means is literally ‘not-agreement-capable’ or “unable to make and then abide by an agreement.” Their experience with the not-one-inch-east, ABM, INF, Minsk 1, 2, and Normandy negotiations and compromises has confirmed this repeatedly.
Russia is doing what it’s doing because it is convinced—and the evidence makes it hard to refute—that protecting itself from vulnerability to a first-strike attack by the military alliance that’s been encircling it for 30 years, and protecting the people of Donbass from these guys can only be achieved by force:
“They must be slaughtered”
“Superfluous people” who “must be exterminated”
There will be no Minsk 3. It’s an illusion to think—as most “negotiate don’t escalate” advocates seem to—that Russia and Kiev can reach any such “compromise.” No resurrecting that carcass this cruel Easter
It's disingenuous to say, “all wars end in negotiations,” without recognizing it’s not always that kind of “negotiation.” In this situation, as in many previous instances, the only negotiations are over terms of surrender. Of one side or the other. After a decisive military defeat.
Russia’s terms, which would have avoided the conflict and would likely be the result of any negotiation not controlled by US imperialism, are clear: The Kiev government must explicitly and unambiguously—no deferrals, no implications—renounce NATO and its threatening military infrastructure, embrace neutrality, and accept the loss of Crimea and the Donbass republics. If Russia were to accept anything else, some kind of Minsk 3, it would be a defeat, and a fatal submission to American hegemony. The Russians understand it this way, and they are correct. No shrewd compromise formulation is going to convince them otherwise.
Similarly, if Zelensky’s or any Kiev government were to accept these conditions, it would be a decisive defeat for the post-Soviet Ukrainian state as crystallized since 2014. It would be a surrender of territory that all Ukrainian nationalists—and certainly the fascists—would correctly understand as a humiliating defeat. It would also be the reversal of a core NATO advance that the U.S./NATO would correctly understand as the beginning of an inexorable global retreat. No shrewd compromise formulation is going to convince them otherwise.
This is a fight that will be settled by force, not a negotiation that will be settled by words. And, despite his ridiculous promotion to celebrity status in the West, it is certainly not anything that will be settled between Russia and Volodymyr Zelensky, or even between Russia and “Ukraine.” The parties to this conflict, those who control the outcome, are Russia on the one hand, and the U.S., allied with Ukrainian fascist militants, on the other.
Zelensky is a puppet of the latter bloc who will not be allowed by his controllers—the USG and Ukrainian fascists—to make the necessary peace deal with Russia.
Please note how central the fascists are in this charming threesome. Both the U.S. and the Ukraine fascists do not want the war to end, and Zelensky is right now happy enough or forced to go along with that. If he were to attempt the necessary peace deal, even with permission of the U.S., the fascists would kill him and install an embarrassingly obvious fascist government, which the U.S. would then, embarrassingly, have to overthrow. If it could. Fascism has a tenacious grip on this triple alliance.
As Aaron Maté demonstrates in his excellent article, Zelensky lost his chance to be the independent peacemaker he campaigned as, and the U.S. forewent its chance—actually never had any intention—to ally with him in such a project. They both—Zelensky under U.S. pressure—chose the instrumental alliance with the adamantly anti-Russian fascist fighters. It’s all about—it was always all about—the U.S./NATO plan of aggression against Russia, nothing about a peaceful Ukraine. As Chomsky says, the “explicit” policy of the United States has been “rejection of any form of negotiations.”
Russia knows this, and knows that “negotiations” with Zelensky are Kabuki theater that will be replaced by a table laid with terms of surrender when the decisive fighting behind the stage is resolved. One way or the other.
If it sounds like I’m denying the agency of Ukraine and of Zelensky in this situation, that’s because I am. Since Ukraine’s democratically elected leader was overthrown and Victoria Nuland decided who would be the new Prime Minister, and a U.S. citizen and venture capitalist became Ukraine’s Finance Minister (quickly granted Ukrainian citizenship by presidential decree;, and since Vice President Joe Biden coerced the firing of the Ukrainian state prosecutor who was investigating the company that was paying his son a handsome sum that Joe was taking half of; and since the U.S./NATO started sending military officers and arming and training and organizing military exercises, and things like that, Ukraine has been a dependent, compliant client state, and tool, of the U.S.
Right now, you would have to be very naïve not to understand that Zelensky is, every day, in contact U.S. political, military, and intelligence officers—personally in Kiev, and on the Zoom with Washington—who are, effectively, telling him what to do. I promise you Vladimir Putin knows it. Just as he knows what came as a surprise to this French reporter, that “the Americans are in charge”:
I really hate to say it, but the question in this battle between Russia and the U.S. is not “What compromise can we negotiate?” but “Who is going to accept defeat?”
I hate to say it because it is hard to imagine what would make either party do that.
It’s worth remarking the difference between this situation and the most dangerous previous standoff between the nuclear superpowers, the U.S. and Russia/the Soviet Union. In the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was a compromise solution: In exchange for Khrushchev removing Soviet missiles from Cuba, John Kennedy the agreed to remove the American missiles he had previously placed in Turkey, right on Russia’s border. Part of that deal was that Khrushchev kept quiet about Kennedy’s concession, allowing the U.S. to claim a “win.” In other words, the United States acknowledged and reversed its provocative action, sotto voce.
In today’s case, there is, first of all, nothing to exchange. Russia has no military presence on America’s borders. In exchange for what is Russia going to leave Ukraine as a NATO military base? Sanctions relief? Ha. The U.S. is never going to stop sanctioning Russia and Russia knows it. That’s been going on since long before Ukraine, at least since the ridiculous Magnitsky Act sanctions imposed by Obama on the back of an utterly fraudulent pretext by the con-man, Bill Browder.
Neither the military threats nor sanctions on Russia will ever stop, until and unless—the neocons’ fevered dream—some kind of neo-Yeltsin-ish U.S.-compliant regime is resurrected in Moscow. Which there will not be. Behind Vladimir Putin are politicians and a populace more disgusted and angry with American arrogance, contempt, and hypocrisy.
Second of all, and perhaps even harder for U.S. n-dimensional think-tankers to accept, there will be no secret or implicit deals that hide what really happened. No more: We’’ll let you look like the winner. No more: Not one inch further. Pinky swear. Russia has put its terms on the table in writing to the U.S., which ignored them. It will insist on a resolution with Ukraine and its controllers that is written, explicitly agreed to by all involved parties, with some mechanism of verification and enforcement satisfactory to Russia, all terms of which are known to the entire, real international community. Can U.S. foreign policy wonks even fathom such a thing?
Most important, Kennedy and Khrushchev were working in a mutually-accepted balance-of-power framework in which each accepted the power and interests of the other. Their compromise avoided a disruption of that status quo arrangement. In today’s case, the United States has been working for thirty years in a self-defined framework where it is the sole superpower, whose “first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” The expansion of NATO and politico-military capture of Ukraine is precisely part of that project, which the U.S. considers the “normal” status quo. It is that status quo which Russia is fighting to disrupt and which the U.S. will fight to preserve—because the arrogant clowns running U.S. foreign policy cannot recognize that it’s already gone to ghost. They’re still partying like it’s 1999. (A more deeply delusive moment than 1962.)
The imminent Russian offensive to destroy the bulk of the Ukrainian army that’s effectively encircled in the east will be a decisive turning point. One can never be certain about such things, but, absent a transformative military intervention by the U.S., it is highly likely that Russia will prevail in that action.
In light of both the persistent suggestion in the Western narrative that, because it withdrew from some cities, Russia has been losing this battle, and the new rumblings about the possible use of nuclear weapons, there’s another historical moment worth remembering. In the dominant popular history of WWII, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender. But, as many historians have pointed out, per Peter Kuznick: “The US had firebombed more than 100 Japanese cities. Destruction reached as high as 99.5 percent of the city of Toyama. Japanese leaders accepted that the US could wipe out their cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were two more cities that had to be sacrificed. What changed the equation for them was the Soviet invasion that started at midnight on August 8th.”
It was not the threat to Japan’s cities but the Soviet mauling of the Japanese army in Manchuria, in an offensive that “ruptured Japanese lines immediately, and rapidly penetrated deep into the rear,” which had “a devastating effect on Japanese calculations of the prospects for home island defense.” For years, the U.S. Navy Museum exhibit said “The vast destruction reached by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made little impact on the Japanese military. However, the Soviet invasion of Manchuria changed their minds.”
Armies don’t surrender because civilians are killed; they surrender when the army itself can no longer fight. That’s been the basis of Russian strategy in Ukraine: to methodically degrade the fighting power of the Ukrainian military in preparation for destroying the bulk of its forces in the east. It has fought hard for crucial cities that were part of the Donbass republics and redoubts of major fascist forces, and it will attack any source of fire or command and control as necessary, but Russia was never seeking to take and occupy cities throughout Ukraine. If Russia succeeds in eliminating the Ukrainian army in the east, and therefore Kiev’s ability to re-take the Donbass republics and Crimea or to initiate further aggression, then maybe Kiev would accept the terms of
surrender negotiation that Russia proposed to begin with.
Of course, the United States, Russia’s real protagonist here, knows this, and I am afraid it's becoming increasingly likely that the U.S. will either a) intervene militarily to prevent the defeat of the Ukrainian army in the east, or b) insist that Kiev never surrender and promise to re-build its army for an ongoing offensive against Donbass and Russia, which would effectively challenge Russia to prolong and extend its offensive throughout Ukrainian territory. The U.S. does not want the war to stop.
There is already a lot of pressure for direct American military involvement. Among neocons, cable news pundits, and Hollywood Bad Boys there persists the notion that the U.S. can inflict some kind of “bloody nose”—nuclear, if necessary—that will make Russia back down. It’s the continuing assumption of American omnipotence and Russian weakness. This, in a country whose entire chain of leadership—Biden, Harris, Pelosi—consists of people who can’t string together two coherent sentences. (Who is running the show? Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, and Victoria Nuland? Or do they have Hillary or Barack calling plays on the phone? Maybe Sean Penn can tell us.)
All of this makes the current conjuncture more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many more loose variables, and many more profoundly stupid actors. Ironically, the thin reed of hope this time around is that there are cooler heads in the Pentagon who might put on a brake. Very thin.
What is it good for?
Kid yourself not: Any direct American military intervention, including via game-changing weapons supplies, will result in a wider war that is virtually certain to go nuclear very quickly—and that decision is not going to be determined by the U.S. alone. Russia will not submit to U.S. escalation dominance, and will not fight a war in which its enemy’s territory is exempt from destruction. No house will be passed over. Blinken, Sullivan, Penn, Europe (which will burn first and most), and the rest of us better be prepared to lose it all—for, don’t forget, NATO’s right of infinite expansion. ‘Cause that’s something Russia is willing to go to the mat about.
I’ll post this clip again, because everyone has to understand there is no bluffing:
“If the fight is inevitable, strike first.”
I sincerely hope The Saker is wrong:
It is now becoming almost certain that a real, much larger, war to crush the Ukrainian military will be needed, and it will have to be fought with much larger forces and means.
The Empire of Hate and Lies has decided to “go max” and is acting exactly as it would be in preparations for a much larger war in Europe.
But he’s not.
Want to plead for negotiation rather than escalation? Go right ahead, but do not allow such language to wishfully avoid the single, hard, determinative question in this conflict: Who will accept defeat?
Related articles: Stop Believing: Be Skeptical of the Civilian-casualty Narrative, The Battle of Ukraine and the War It’s Part Of, Path to War, New World Order. The US Lost. From 2014: Charge of the Right Brigade: Ukraine and the Dynamics of Capitalist Insurrection, Good for the Gander: Ukraine's Demise Accelerates. From 2018: The Warm War: Russiamania At The Boiling Point.
Originally published with broken links. I fixed them all ( I think). Please leave a comment if you find a link that does not work.