Russian Aggression in Ukraine?
By Michael S. Rozeff
All sorts of officials accuse Russia of aggression in Ukraine. Is this true? It is not. It is fiction. It is a big lie. It is a specious claim, an absurd claim, a ridiculous claim, an unreal claim. Russia and Russians have been involved in certain respects in Ukraine, but by no sensible stretch of the imagination can such involvements be termed aggression. If there were an actual war aggression, it could not be hidden because the scope of a typical war aggression is very large. The photographic evidence for it would be overwhelming. No such evidence has been provided by Russia’s accusers. Even more importantly, it would have to be shown that the attack was an unprovoked offensive attack, and not a defensive operation. This too has not been proven by Russia’s accusers.
My concern here is the fiction being propagated. It borders on madness. It plays into the hands of the worst kinds of warmongers. It blinds everyone concerned. It is irrational. It establishes an aura of public lies and myths that results in great mischief and worse. It is producing awful results that can become far worse. The lie happens to revolve around demonizing Russia but my purpose is not to choose sides in the Ukrainian-Russian problems but to keep the U.S. out of the matter. It is to defang the lie.
What do actual war aggressions look like? Below are some notable examples. It’s a quick brush treatment based on sources easy to find. I haven’t consulted military histories to get precise figures. We do not need pinpoint accuracy to get the main idea, which is that war aggressions are large affairs, and the role of Russia in Ukraine cannot possibly qualify. It will be immediately apparent to any rational observer that Russian involvement in Ukraine, whatever it is or has been, doesn’t even remotely resemble an attack on Ukraine or the kind of attack in force that defines real war aggressions.
It is not unknown to human herd behavior to find that wildly inaccurate myths and irrational beliefs can be widely propagated through a large population and acted upon. The myth of Russian aggression in Ukraine is a prime example.
North Korea attacked South Korea. On June 24, 1950, “…the North Koreans attacked with over 90,000 troops and 150 tanks.” Also, “By mid-1950, North Korean forces numbered between 150,000 and 200,000 troops, organized into 10 infantry divisions, one tank division, and one air force division, with 210 fighter planes and 280 tanks, who captured scheduled objectives and territory, among them Kaesong, Chuncheon, Uijeongbu, and Ongjin. Their forces included 274 T-34-85 tanks, some 150 Yak fighters, 110 attack bombers, 200 artillery pieces, 78 Yak trainers, and 35 reconnaissance aircraft.”
What has Russia done in Ukraine that compares to this?
Germany attacked Poland from the north, south and west in September, 1939. “On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. The Polish army was defeated within weeks of the invasion. From East Prussia and Germany in the north and Silesia and Slovakia in the south, German units, with more than 2,000 tanks and over 1,000 planes, broke through Polish defenses along the border and advanced on Warsaw in a massive encirclement attack.” Another source says that 2,315 planes were assigned to the operation: “Aircraft played a major role in the campaign. Bombers also attacked cities, causing huge losses amongst the civilian population through terror bombing and strafing. The Luftwaffe forces consisted of 1,180 fighters, 290 Ju 87 Stuka dive bombers, 1,100 conventional bombers (mainly Heinkel He 111s and Dornier Do 17s), and an assortment of 550 transport and 350 reconnaissance aircraft. In total, Germany had close to 4,000 aircraft, most of them modern. A force of 2,315 aircraft was assigned to [Operation Fall] Weiss.”
Germany’s attack was a genuine war aggression.
The United States attacked Iraq on March on March 19, 2003. Iraq made no armed attack on the U.S. This was a genuine U.S. war aggression. “Four countries participated with troops during the initial invasion phase, which lasted from 19 March to 9 April 2003. These were the United States (148,000), United Kingdom (45,000), Australia (2,000), and Poland (194).” Also, “A U.S. Central Command, Combined Forces Air Component Commander report, indicated that, as of 30 April 2003, there were a total of 466,985 U.S. personnel deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. This included USAF, 54,955; USAF Reserve, 2,084; Air National Guard, 7,207; USMC, 74,405; USMC Reserve, 9,501; USN, 61,296 (681 are members of the U.S. Coast Guard); USN Reserve, 2,056; and US Army, 233,342; US Army Reserve, 10,683; and Army National Guard, 8,866.”
The scope of this war aggression, like that of North Korea and Germany, was huge. Aggressive wars are big events. A state does not usually launch an aggression unless it intends to win and to win typically requires substantial forces unless the opponent is very much smaller. We will see that even against Panama, the U.S. used a lot of manpower.
In addition, the 2003 attack on Iraq was preceded by bombing against Iraq air defenses during 2001-2002 and by CIA special forces infiltration. “CIA Special Activities Division (SAD) Paramilitary teams entered Iraq in July 2002 before the 2003 invasion. Once on the ground they prepared for the subsequent arrival of US military forces. SAD teams then combined with US Army Special Forces to organize the Kurdish Peshmerga.”
In 2011, NATO attacked Libya. Libya had made no armed attack on NATO countries. This war aggression has been termed a “military intervention” in the wikipedia article. This war involved an air and missile campaign, naval forces and a naval blockade, CIA operatives and British and French special forces on the ground. “Nato aircraft – piloted by the US, France and UK – flew around 18,000 armed sorties during the brief campaign, firing 7,600 missiles. A tiny proportion of these armed missions – 250 in total – were flown by drones. US Predators flew 145 strike sorties, according to a Department of Defense briefing published in October 2011.”
The NATO forces that attacked Libya were substantial. Over 212 aircraft were involved from non-U.S. sources. The numbers of U.S. aircraft do not appear in the wikipedia article: “The United States deployed a naval force of 11 ships, including the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge, the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce, the guided-missile destroyers USS Barry and USS Stout, the nuclear attack submarines USS Providence and USS Scranton, the cruise missile submarine USS Florida and the amphibious command ship USS Mount Whitney. Additionally, A-10 ground-attack aircraft, B-2 stealth bombers, AV-8B Harrier II jump-jets, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, and both F-15E and F-16 fighters were involved in action over Libya. U-2 reconnaissance aircraft were stationed on Cyprus. On 18 March, two AC-130Us arrived at RAF Mildenhall as well as additional tanker aircraft. On 24 March 2 E-8Cs operated from Naval Station Rota Spain, which indicated an increase of ground attacks. An undisclosed number of CIA operatives were said to be in Libya to gather intelligence for airstrikes and make contacts with rebels. The US also used MQ-1 Predator UAVs to strike targets in Libya on 23 April.”
Other naval forces were also involved. Again, without researching exact numbers of bombs dropped, missiles launched, and so on, by no stretch of the imagination can Russian involvement in Ukraine be compared even to this Libyan “military intervention”.
Finally, there is one more recent U.S. invasion that is all but forgotten. The U.S. attacked Panama on December 20, 1989. Panama had not attacked the U.S. What was the scope of this aggression?
“The military incursion into Panama began on 20 December 1989, at 1:00 a.m. local time. The operation involved 27,684 U.S. troops and over 300 aircraft, including C-130 Hercules tactical transports flown by the 317th Tactical Airlift Wing (which was equipped with the Adverse Weather Aerial Delivery System or AWADS) and 314th Tactical Airlift Wing, AC-130 Spectre gunship, OA-37B Dragonfly observation and attack aircraft, C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy strategic transports, F-117A Nighthawk stealth aircraft flown by the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing, and AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.”
War aggressions involve unprovoked attacks with massed forces of substantial size. They are quite often preceded by political issues, demands and sometimes by military clashes. The attacks are clear and unambiguous. None of these characteristics occur with Ukraine and Russia. The ways in which the conflict arose is quite different. Russia hadn’t been making demands on Ukraine as Germany was making on Poland, or as the U.S. was making on Iraq.
Beyond noting the size and scope of actual war aggressions such as the sample provided above, the moral element needs to be considered in order to show that an invasion is an aggression and not done in self-defense. The U.S. justifications in the Panama case are every bit as flimsy as those in the Iraq and Libya cases.
“The official U.S. justification for the invasion was articulated by President George H. W. Bush on the morning of 20 December 1989, a few hours after the start of the operation. Bush listed four reasons for the invasion:
“Safeguarding the lives of U.S. citizens in Panama. In his statement, Bush claimed that Noriega had declared that a state of war existed between the U.S. and Panama and that he threatened the lives of the approximately 35,000 U.S. citizens living there. There had been numerous clashes between U.S. and Panamanian forces; one U.S. Marine had been killed a few days earlier.
“Defending democracy and human rights in Panama.
“Combating drug trafficking. Panama had become a center for drug money laundering and a transit point for drug trafficking to the U.S. and Europe.
“Protecting the integrity of the Torrijos–Carter Treaties. Members of Congress and others in the U.S. political establishment claimed that Noriega threatened the neutrality of the Panama Canal and that the U.S. had the right under the treaties to intervene militarily to protect the canal.
But, if some defender of the U.S. chooses to accept one or more of these justifications in order to say that the U.S. invasion of Panama was not an aggression, then by the same token, that defender cannot say that Russian activity in eastern Ukraine is aggression. Russia can say with some justification that it is defending the lives of ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine from the bombardments and attacks by Ukrainian forces from the west. Russia is providing a sanctuary for many thousands of refugees. Russia can claim that it is defending democracy, self-determination and human rights in eastern Ukraine.
This entire discussion of aggression and its characteristics has made no mention of the U.S. meddling in Ukraine that helped bring down a government and then helped a new and aggressive government to take office. The U.S. engaged in subversion. Russia has likewise been accused of subversion in Ukraine. Subversion is not aggression. Subversion doesn’t involve armed attacks. It uses different methods to transform, alter or replace the social-political system. Subversion is a different matter and more difficult to assess, especially when two major states like the U.S. and Russia are involved. It is beyond the scope of this blog.
My main concern is the idea that Russia has engaged in aggression. My concern is with documents like this one titled “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do.” This report calls for substantial U.S. intervention in Ukraine. It is put out by 8 men and women with all sorts of Washington and official connections:
Ivo Daalder, President, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and former U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO
Michele Flournoy, Chair, Center for a New American Security, and former Under Secretary of Defense
John Herbst, Director, Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center, the Atlantic Council, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
Jan Lodal, Distinguished Fellow and former President, the Atlantic Council, and former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense
Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution, and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine
James Stavridis, Member of the Board, the Atlantic Council, Dean, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe
Strobe Talbott, President, the Brookings Institution, and former Deputy Secretary of State
Charles Wald, Member of the Board, the Atlantic Council, and former Deputy Commander, U.S.European Command
They have no problem in recommending that the U.S. and NATO arm the Ukrainian forces and become heavily involved in attempting to rescue its economy. They have no problem in pointing the finger of guilt at Russia, and no problem in speaking of Russian aggression. Their presumption of Russian aggression leads them to call for “military support to deter further aggression”.
The U.S. government should no more involve America in Ukraine over Russia’s role than the Kremlin should have hypothetically involved Russia in Panama over the role of the U.S. Big nuclear powers shouldn’t be confronting one another in the backyard of the other. That is no way to face the world’s more serious problems.
Russian aggression is a pretext for increased U.S. involvement in Ukraine, which is a foolish policy that should be avoided no matter what justifications for meddling are concocted. Russian aggression is an imaginary pretext. The learned and experienced men and women who are relying on this argument and making recommendations based on this fiction are not thinking clearly about the meaning of aggression and about supposed Russian aggression. There is no Russian aggression and there hasn’t been any Russian aggression.