Opinion

OPINION | ART HOBSON: Invasion wrong, but claim Russia was “unprovoked” doesn’t hold up

Where will Russia-NATO stalemate end?

Pro-war propaganda has been bellicose and omnipresent since Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Although Russia should not have invaded, the incessant U.S. refrain that the invasion was "unprovoked" is ludicrously inaccurate.

What if the shoe was on the other foot? Suppose a Russian-organized nuclear-armed military alliance developed in South America and expanded northward toward Mexico.

No Russian declaration of peaceful intent would dissuade America from attacking that alliance. America's Monroe Doctrine declares that no other great power shall form a military alliance with a North or South American nation. When Russia threatened to place nuclear-capable missiles in just one nearby nation, Cuba, President John F. Kennedy nearly went to full-scale nuclear war to prevent it.

When the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact alliance disbanded in 1991, it was natural to expect NATO would also disband. After all, NATO's reason for existence was the threat from the Soviet Union, which no longer existed. The U.S. and German governments repeatedly promised the Soviet transition president, Mikhail Gorbachev, that NATO would not move "one inch eastward" when the USSR disbanded in 1991.

Nevertheless, the West shoved NATO down Russia's throat three times, when it expanded eastward in 1999 (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic), 2004 (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia), and 2009 (Albania, Croatia).

U.S. diplomats knew NATO expansion could lead to war. America's leading Cold War statesman, George F. Kennan, writing in the New York Times, called NATO enlargement a "fateful error" that would "inflame the nationalistic, anti-Western and militaristic tendencies in Russian opinion, ...restore the atmosphere of the cold war, ...and impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking." Prescient words.

Ukraine's leaders knew that pressing for NATO membership would mean war. Oleksy Arestovych, a former advisor to President Volodymyr Zelensky, declared in 2019 that "our price for joining NATO is a big war with Russia."

When NATO declared in 2008 that Ukraine should join the Western alliance, Russia responded that this would pose an existential threat to them. At that point, according to University of Chicago foreign policy analyst John Mearsheimer, America and NATO should have backed off and negotiated. Instead, we pressed on.

In 2021, Russia sent a letter to President Biden demanding that Ukraine not join NATO. But we said nothing will change, and continued working to bring Ukraine into NATO.

To prevent having yet another NATO-armed nation on its border, Russia threatened to invade. When it became clear that the West would not settle for neutrality and would insist on Ukrainian membership in NATO, Russia invaded. This was a political mistake and a moral catastrophe, but it was not unprovoked.

The issues now at stake are: (1) Will Ukraine join NATO? And (2) what is the future of the Donbas region? These issues are not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Russia will continue destroying Ukraine's infrastructure and economy in order to render it dysfunctional in the future. The war continues escalating and will probably continue indefinitely.

There is what Mearsheimer calls a "nontrivial chance" that Russia will use tactical nuclear weapons either to break the logjam or because it is backed into a corner. The great paradox is that the more the West does to guarantee Ukraine's victory, the more likely it is that Russia will resort to tactical nuclear weapons. Russia's reasoning is that Ukraine has no nuclear weapons, so Russia's nuclear use could not be answered in kind by Ukraine.

On May 25, Russia announced it is moving tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, outside the homeland for the first time since 1991. They could be launched by missiles or dropped from airplanes. The U.S. has 100 tactical B61 nuclear gravity bombs stored in five European nations. Their variable yield can be set anywhere from 0.3 kilotons (10 times the largest conventional bomb) to 340 kilotons (20 times the nuclear bomb that destroyed Hiroshima).

If Russia uses tactical nuclear weapons, I hope the Western response will be a military freeze in place and the beginning of serious peace negotiations. But Biden could instead up the ante by sending NATO troops into the Ukraine War, making it NATO versus Russia.

It wouldn't take much for this to escalate into an all-out strategic nuclear war. As I have described in several previous op-eds, this would doom Europe, America, Russia, and perhaps civilization. The living will envy the dead.

America must awaken to the dark situation we helped create. We must stop giving Ukraine unlimited assistance and press it to engage Russia in serious negotiations.