Russia invaded Ukraine two weeks ago after years of tensions. It follows from the 2014 civil war in the country’s east between Kremlin-backed separatists and pro-Western Ukrainian forces.
Accusations, conspiracies and varying reports are flying around the world as the war rages on, civilians suffer and families are torn apart.
The EU and US say this is entirely Russia’s fault, but prominent political philosopher and author Noam Chomsky says this all could have been avoided.
In fact, he said so way back in 2015.
Noam Chomsky’s warning from 2015 on Ukraine joining NATO
In a 2015 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Chomsky issued a clear warning about Ukraine.
Speaking shortly after the murder of Putin critic and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, Chomsky said that the Obama Administration at the time was not considering the background of the Ukraine conflict and was behaving myopically and imperialistically.
According to Chomsky, the Western push to get Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was a big mistake that could lead to war with Russia.
‘What happens to NATO?’
“The background begins with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989,” Chomsky explained in the 2015 interview.
“In 1990 there were negotiations between President Bush, James Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev about how to deal with the issues that arose at the time. A crucial question is what happens to NATO?”
As Chomsky explains, the entire reason for setting up the Western alliance of NATO was to stop Russia from taking over Western Europe after defeating the Nazis in World War Two. When Gorbachev said yes to allowing Germany to reunite, it was a concession to the West as part of the Warsaw Pact.
The Warsaw Pact gave the Soviets collective defense provisions and a treaty with the West to protect their interests in the Baltic, Central Europe and eastern Europe.
Chomsky notes that Gorbachev’s permission was a “quid pro quo” verbal agreement that succeeding American administrations and European countries flagrantly violated, leading to weapons right on Russia’s border near Kaliningrad and the Baltic states.
The 2014 Maidan color revolution which overthrew pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovych overlapped with the civil war in Ukraine’s east, which Chomsky said all added to the tension.
The final straw for Moscow, however, came when Ukraine then made real steps to talk about joining the EU and NATO.
“I mean we can imagine for example how the US would have reacted, say during the Cold War, if the Warsaw Pact had extended to Latin America, and Mexico and Canada were now planning to join the Warsaw Pact.”
The 2022 Cuban Missile Crisis
Let’s be clear:
The last time the world was this close to nuclear war was in the fall of 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This occurred when the Soviet Union tried to stage nuclear weapons close to the continental United States on the socialist island of Cuba.
The tense two week crisis almost led to the end of humanity as we know it, with a showdown between US President and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Nuclear war was only narrowly averted after the US agreed not to invade pro-Soviet Cuba and to remove powerful weapons systems from Turkey.
That brings us to today when we are in something close to the 2022 version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, except this time it’s the Ukrainian Missile Crisis.
Chomsky says that the crisis which intensified in Ukraine in 2014 comes as a result of a Western mindset that basically believes we own the world and can tell other countries what to do.
“This is a part of the concept that we basically own the world and we have a right to do anything any way we like and nobody is a right to stand up to it,” Chomsky said, adding:
“In the case of the Ukraine – again whatever you think about Putin or think he’s the worst monster since Hitler – they [Russia] still have a case and it’s a case that no Russian leaders want to back down from that they cannot accept the Ukrainian move of the current government to join NATO even probably the European community.”
Chomsky: we could have prevented war
According to Chomsky’s words in 2015, the solution to stopping the Ukraine crisis in its tracks at that time was simple: promise that they absolutely would not be considered as a future NATO member state and part of a Western power bloc.
To put it simply: Russia wants US weapons systems and military aid out of central and eastern Europe and it wants that enough to stage a brutal invasion and shell Russian-speaking cities in Ukraine.
There’s no doubt Vladimir Putin is a corrupt authoritarian who has ordered the murder of political rivals, plundered his nation for his own benefit and engaged in belligerent rhetoric. There is also no excuse for war crimes against civilians and the assault on Ukraine.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no explanation or that it came out of nowhere. Failure to consider Russia’s position here, however bad Putin may be, could end all of our lives in the near future.
“Otherwise we’re moving towards a very dangerous situation. I mentioned before that the Doomsday Clock, the famous clock of the American Atomic Scientists has just been advanced to three minutes before midnight. That’s very close. Midnight means were finished,” Chomsky warned in 2015.
Chomsky said that the anti-Russia rhetoric at the time reminded him of attending university in the 1950s during the height of the Red Scare when many American intellectuals and public figures were accused of being in bed with the USSR.
This was being done in our day and age to once again shut down dissent and push us into an unnecessary confrontation with Moscow.
You can watch Chomsky’s prophetic warning here.
Was Chomsky right?
Considering the record, Chomsky was at least mostly correct about his future prediction. It turns out that Putin’s rationale for the assault on Ukraine was motivated quite significantly by Western expansionism and the Maidan events of 2014.
In citing his reasons for invading Ukraine in late February of 2022, Russian leader Vladimir Putin listed this as one of his principal reasons, elaborating that Western promises not to expand NATO eastward of Germany after World War Two had been an outright lie.
Putin also demanded that 12 other central and eastern European nations which joined NATO after May of 1997 such as Poland and the Baltic states should not be staging grounds for any Western weaponry, missile launching or defense systems.
It’s worth noting that Putin reiterated this demand to Western leaders and the Biden administration as recently as December of 2021.
Putin also went on a prolonged rant about his belief that Ukraine is not a real country and was merely a creation of the Bolsheviks which was used to weaken and fracture Russian national power.
This was similar to the argument Putin used in 2014 during his annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
This brought up disturbing memories of Russian imperialism and starvation policies used by Joseph Stalin to murder millions of Ukrainians during the Holodomor.
But the belief that Ukraine is more or less Russia is very common and is not only shared by genocidal maniacs or ideologues, so dismissing it as ethnic hatred or Russophilic superstition is certainly shortsighted on the part of Western leaders and politicians.
Putin has also used the breakaway regions of Donbas in Donetsk and Lugansk as cases for Ukrainian abuses and murder of civilians to justify his attack. There have certainly been refugees who have streamed into Russia from eastern Ukraine due to Ukrainian aggression, and the idea their complaints are only fictional or drummed up for propaganda value is incorrect.
The bottom line is this:
None of us know for certain that Putin would not have still invaded Ukraine last month as part of a broader plan to reestablish Russia’s grip on eastern and central Europe and solidify his hold on eastern Ukraine.
What we do know for certain is that Chomsky was correct that dangling NATO membership in front of NATO and staging weapons systems on its territory was one of the casus belli cited by Putin for his war and made things worse.
This is particularly true given that Putin has threatened nuclear war if the West directly intervenes to help Ukraine. Thousands of foreign fighters from many countries are now fighting in Ukraine’s International Legion against Russia, and American jets are being shipped to Poland and then to Ukraine, but so far a Russia-NATO clash has not occurred.
Ukrainian President Zelensky’s demands for a no-fly zone over Ukraine, however, would inevitably lead to Russia-NATO clashes and likely a nuclear conflict, which is why NATO has not committed to this yet.
Rethinking foreign policy
Whatever you think of Vladimir Putin, the idea that he’s just nuts is far too easy. He’s a manifestation of Russian foreign policy, anger and anxieties which have been simmering for decades as Chomsky points out.
Recent statements by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken bring into question whether the US and NATO are truly trying to avoid war. It’s looking more and more like Ukraine was used by the West as a human shield to antagonize Russia and draw it into economic collapse.
Blinken remarked about the death of Putin’s baby brother Viktor during the insanely horrific siege of Leningrad in 1942-43, a subject which Putin is infamously sensitive about and deeply personal for him.
Why would Blinken do this?
Does the US want war? And if it does, why does it expect Ukraine to fight that war on its behalf as a proxy power?
Chomsky’s warning is looking more and more prescient as we slide into the abyss.