by Gene Berkman
On February 24, 2022, under orders from President Vladimir Putin, Russian military forces undertook a violent invasion of independent Ukraine.
Another invasion. More people killed. There are lots of parallels with many previous invasions. Many times over many years, many countries have violently invaded their neighbors, or even countries far removed. Still some specific parallels come to mind.
In 2003, US military forces undertook a violent attack on Iraq, based on claims that the Hussein regime had or was developing atomic, chemical or biological weapons. Iraq, they claimed, posed a future threat to the US, despite no evidence of Iraqi nukes or poison gas.
To head off a future threat, President Bush announced a preemptive military strike on Iraq, called an “operation” not a war. Yet the announced goal of the “operation” went beyond disarmament. The goal was regime change.
When President Putin announced the Russian “operation” in Ukraine, the stated reasons include a charge that Ukraine might in the future join NATO – a move Putin considered a threat. To deal with this threat – still much in the future – Putin ordered a preemptive strike.
The US preemptive strike on Iraq began with a barrage of Tomahawk missiles and thousands of precision guided weapons. The Russian preemptive strike has relied on barrages of rockets that lack precision guidance. These Soviet era weapons cannot be precisely targeted, and some have blamed this lack of guidance for the many hits on civilian targets. Still, so many civilian targets have been hit by Russian rockets and artillery that such targeting cannot be dismissed as accidental.
Claiming that hits on hospitals or neighborhoods are “accidental” is no defense. If the actions of the Russians consistently result in new civilian casualties, the Russians are morally obligated to stop their murderous activity. If you accidentally kill someone because your car has faulty brakes, you don’t get to keep driving the faulty car. They do take your drivers license away from you.
Of course there is no license to kill civilians. It was wrong when the US military used precision guided weapons to destroy neighborhoods. It is wrong when the Russian military makes attacks on civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure the main tactic of its invasion.
Russian forces have targeted civilians in past military actions – in Ukraine, in Georgia, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan and in Syria. In Russian military strategy, killing civilians is a feature, not a bug.
WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
The US government sent teams of inspectors to many parts of Iraq from 2003 to 2005, searching for weapons of mass destruction, or programs to develop WMD. No nukes were found. No chemical weapons were found – just fertilizer and pesticides.
When Russia began its invasion on February 24, WMD were not mentioned. When Ukraine gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were Soviet missiles located at bases in Ukraine. These missiles were believed to have nuclear warheads. Ukraine contacted international agencies and asked to have the nuclear tipped missiles removed from its territory. The missiles were returned to Russia, the successor state of the USSR.
The USA and Russia agreed to guarantee the security of Ukraine. Russia is clearly in violation of that agreeement.
Ukraine is the only country that has had possession of nuclear weapons and given them up. The only country to implement nuclear disarmament.
Putin and the Russian general staff know that Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons. So they felt safe invading with superior conventional forces. President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew that Iraq did not possess nukes -or poison gas. They felt an invasion – excuse me, an “operation” in Iraq with superior conventional forces would prevail.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, mass popular resistance continues against Russian forces. Russian attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have increased as the Russian advance has stalled. And now, the Russian foreign minister and other Russian spokesmen have made claims about WMD in Ukraine. They claim that Ukraine has petitioned international authorities for permission to weaponize plutonium produced in its nuclear power plants. No Russian spokesman has presented evidence to support this claim.
Russian spokesmen have also made claims that Ukraine has a research program for developing biological weapons. It does appear that Ukraine is engaging in medical research on viruses – as many institutes throughout the world are. There is no evidence that Ukraine has developed or is developing biological or chemical weapons, or has any program to do so. Russia’s claims are war propaganda, intended to convince the rest of the world that Russia’s brutal incursion in Ukraine is justified.
Russia does have nuclear weapons, and Putin has made statements that imply a willingness to use them. He has threatened any country that would help Ukraine defend itself. Putin has repeated his threats on more than one occasion in recent weeks. The USA has had nuclear weapons since 1945, and used them on Japan. The USA did not make threats to use nuclear weapons in Iraq, in Yugoslavia or in Afghanistan, so that parallel breaks down.
Russia has chemical weapons, which it has used against Chechen rebels, and in Syria against opponents of the Assad regime. The USA does appear to have chemical weapons, which many Americans oppose. The US military has not used chemical weapons in any conflict since World War II.
PEOPLES WAR IN FINLAND AND UKRAINE
In other specifics, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has different parallels. The resistances of the Ukrainian people has prevented a Russian victory for 3 weeks. The people’s war carried on by Ukraine has parallels to Finland’s defiance of Soviet Russia in 1940. Finland too faced long odds, going against the Soviet Red Army which was bigger and had many tanks, more artillery and more planes than did Finland. In 3 months, the Finns convinced Stalin he should end his intervention. Stalin relied on the intimidating power of Russian military strength to force Finland to give up its independent foreign policy, which seems to be the most minimal of Putin’s goals for Ukraine.
The Finns put on a mighty struggle against a stronger power, and did better than anyone expected. Ukraine has advantages that Finland did not have:
(1) International sanctions on Russian state enterprises and state banks, along with voluntary boycotts and withdrawal from the Russian market by numerous American and European companies.
(2) Other countries are providing defensive weapons to Ukraine. When American B-52s were raining destruction on Hanoi and the countryside of Vietnam – north & south – the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was able to obtain surface to air missiles from East Europe, to defend itself from bombardment. Now Ukraine is being supplied with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to enable its defense against air attack, and with Javelin anti-tank missiles to deal with Russian armor.
(3) Ukraine has something going for it that Finland also had -the Russian army is dispirited, soldiers are badly treated by their government, and they are equipped with inferior Russian made equipment.
It is clear that Russia cannot conquer Ukraine, cannot impose a new state on the people of Ukraine. The main question is how many innocent Ukrainians will die, how many Russian conscripts will die in a war they don’t understand, and how much of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure will be destroyed by the invading Russian army.
The related question: how many Americans who claim to oppose war will jettison the non-aggression principle to become defenders of and apologists for Putin’s War of Choice?