US goal is to ‘bait and bleed’ Russia, not defend Ukraine’s people

March 25, 2022
Bombed-out apartment block in Kyiv, Ukraine
A bombed-out apartment block in Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: Ales Uscinau/Pexels

It has become obvious that Washington provoked Russia into the war in Ukraine — a completely reactionary invasion that must be roundly condemned — but left Ukraine to fight it.

While the Ukrainian people have the right to defend themselves by any means necessary, the government’s alliance with the United States and Western imperialist powers undermines their defense. Many inside Ukraine are for “neutrality” and against aligning solely with US world domination.

The facts show that the US does not care about workers and farmers in Ukraine. It rejects an all-out direct military intervention against Russia, not because it could lead to World War III, but because its main objective is to significantly, if not completely, remove an international rival, Russia, from the world stage.

In addition, the restrictions on allowing Ukrainian refugees to enter the US remains, even though President Joe Biden says Ukrainians who arrive will have temporary protective status for 18 months. It hasn’t happened yet.

US policy revealed

Dan Glazebrook documented the US “bait and bleed” policy towards Russia in a recent Counterpunch article.

“The term bait and bleed’,” wrote Glazebrook, “was defined by international relations theorist John Mearsheimer in 2001 as a military strategy that involves causing two rivals to engage in a protracted war, so that they bleed each other white, while the baiter remains on the sideline, its military strength intact’”.

Glazebrook revealed that the current US National Defense Strategy (NDS) “explicitly endorses such a strategy”, and “makes no bones about who it is aimed at”.

The NDS was authored by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, under former president Donald Trump’s administration and sets out “a clear road map … to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” wrote Glazebrook.

It identifies “interstate strategic competition” rather than “terrorism” as “the primary concern in US national security” today.

According to Glazebrook, “the NDS vows that ‘with our allies and partners, we will challenge competitors by maneuvering them into unfavorable positions, frustrating their efforts, precluding their options while expanding our own, and forcing them to confront conflict under adverse conditions’.

“There it is, in black and white: it is official US policy to bait Russia into conflict,” he wrote.

Mearsheimer noted in a 2015 lecture that “If you really want to wreck Russia, what you really want to do is encourage Russia to conquer Ukraine”.

“The US and the UK – the latter in particular – appear to have been taking this advice very seriously,” wrote Glazebrook.

US meddling in Afghanistan

Referring to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, Glazebrook wrote: “Until 1998, the mainstream view of US support for the anti-communist insurgency in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s was that it had been a response to the Russian invasion of December 1979.

But, as Glazebrook reminds us, “in an interview in 1998, Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to US President Jimmy Carter, admitted that the truth was the exact opposite”.

Brzezinski told Le Nouvel Observateur that Carter had signed “the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul” four months earlier.

Brzezinski wrote to Carter at the time to express that “this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention”. When the Soviets officially crossed the border, he wrote to Carter, saying: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.”

“Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire,” wrote Glazebrook.

“Asked whether he regretted the move, which plunged Afghanistan into a conflict which is now into its fifth decade, he replied ‘Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?’

“Plunging the Afghan people into a half-century of devastating war was of no consequence for the likes of Brzezinski. His successors clearly have the same attitude towards Ukraine,” wrote Glazebrook.

It was not Russia alone that invaded Afghanistan, but the Soviet Union, which included Ukraine. Many Ukrainian troops took part in the invasion and suffered the “demoralisation” of war, as did all the Soviet Republics, including Ukraine.

The occupation, and the social counter-revolution led by the decisive sector of the Soviet bureaucracy (organised by the Communist Party of the USSR) from 1998‒91, led to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

This social counter-revolution overthrew the nationalised, planned economies of the Soviet Republics and restored capitalism in all of them, including Russia and Ukraine.

The Brzezinski quote brings to mind one by then-US Secretary of State Madeline Albright in 1996 on 60 Minutes.

Leslie Stahl asked Albright whether the sanctions taken against Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait were justified, given the reports that half a million children had died as a result.

Albright answered: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

Truman and Roosevelt

Glazebrook referenced then-Senator Harry Truman’s comment to President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1941, concerning the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during WWII: If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible.”

In fact, the US held back on opening a second front” against Germany and then did so only slowly, starting in northern Africa — letting both sides “bleed” in the fighting in the Soviet Union.

In the end, the majority of German casualties in WWII were on the eastern front. A staggering 25 million soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the Soviet Union.

The expansion of NATO east was begun under then-President Bill Clinton in 1997 and continued. Each expansion increased tensions with Russia. The US and Britain pressed for Ukraine and Georgia to become part of NATO, but Germany and France demurred. A compromise was reached that Ukraine and Georgia would not join immediately, but would do so in the future.

This threat has been maintained to this day. Russia correctly views Ukraine joining NATO as an existential threat and a “red line”. Any Russian government, including the most liberal bourgeois democracy, would do so.

In 2008, acting on the promise that it would join NATO, Georgia attempted to retake two small Russian-occupied territories. This led to a short war with Russia, with Georgia believing that NATO would intervene. It did not.

Glazebrook quoted Kent University Professor Richard Sakwa, a Russia and Ukraine expert, who wrote that, following the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, “British Foreign Secretary David Miliband visited Kiev and pledged Britain’s support, dooming the country to becoming the next epicentre of the artificially constructed struggle for mastery of Europe.”

2014 coup

The 2014 coup against the elected president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, was engineered by the US. US Ambassador Victoria Nuland directly intervened to appoint the new Ukrainian nationalist government’s first president.

A few US “experts” were first part of the new government. Biden’s son, Hunter, eventually joined the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, in spite of having no experience in the field.

After the coup, the new Ukrainian nationalist government in western Ukraine launched a civil war against the largely Russian-speaking east. It included downgrading the legal status of the Russian language. The civil war continued up to the present, with the NATO countries supporting the Ukrainian nationalists and Russia the other side.

Glazebrook wrote that following the coup, NATO staged the Rapid Trident military exercise on Ukrainian territory on September 15‒16 of that year, a war-gaming exercise involving 15 “allied and partnered nations”.

“Since then, plans for NATO incorporation have proceeded apace. A British government document listing British support to the Ukrainian military outlines these plans in detail.

“In 2016, NATO outlined its Comprehensive Assistance Package of 16 ‘capacity building programmes and several trust funds for military modernization’ whilst ‘NATO allies also participate in a wide range of military exercises with Ukrainian armed forces through the Military Committee with Ukrainian Work Plan.

“But it was in June 2020 that this process was really ramped up, when Ukraine was offered ‘Enhanced Opportunity Status’ with NATO. Notes the British document, ‘this status provides Ukraine with preferential access to NATO’s exercises’ and training.”

No wonder the Ukrainian government believed that NATO would back it up if there was an invasion. While the US said it didn’t want a war with Russia, it coyly let the prospect of NATO intervening remain open.

It wasn’t until November 2021 that NATO publicly ruled out intervention.

Glazebrook’s assessment is that this was the final signal to Russia that it could invade, which Putin all along wanted to do, in keeping with his avowed intention of restoring the old Russian empire — without the tsar, but with Putin as its head. He received support from the head of the Russian Orthodox church before the invasion began.

Since the invasion, Putin has bombed Ukrainian and Russian-speaking areas of the country — including the largely Russian-speaking city of Mariupol — causing many Russian speakers to join the resistance.

Since the invasion, Putin has bombarded not only Ukrainian parts but also of Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, causing many Russian-speakers to join the resistance.

The most egregious example has been the Russian bombardment and takeover of the largely Russian-speaking city of Mariupol.

In that city and other parts that Russia has occupied, Putin has denied those people self-determination, in keeping with his tirade against the Russian Revolution and Lenin for advocating national self-determination.

US will arm Ukraine up to a point

The US-NATO military buildup of Ukraine has stopped Russia from a quick victory and has inflicted losses and damage to the Russian invading forces.

US policy is and will continue to be making sure that enough military aid from NATO countries is provided to Ukraine to keep the war going. But it will stop at direct intervention that would mean Russia’s defeat.

The US has built up Ukraine’s military and the civilian far-right militia — which the US has nurtured since 2014 — to assure that, if Russia succeeds in forming a weak government in Ukraine under its tutelage, there would be a massive armed resistance to continue the “bleeding”.

If Russia “wins”, it loses.

On top of being a violation of Ukrainian self-determination, and an unconscionable act, the Russian invasion is a colossal blunder by Putin, playing right into the US “bait and bleed” strategy.

Russia appears to have accepted that its war will be prolonged.

As Glazebrook explains, this is also what the US wants: to continue the bleeding without its direct military involvement, with the aim of debilitating and demoralising Russia to the point where it gives up and opens the door to US domination over its economic resources, including gas and oil, agricultural products, gold reserves and mineral exports.

That would be “worth it” for the US, even if a prolonged war means massive Ukrainian loss of life, economic and infrastructure devastation and deep global economic hardship.

The impacts of the war are already being felt by poorer countries, but are also affecting the US and other rich countries.

While at first continuing to believe and hope for NATO intervention, and pleading for it on the world stage, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accepted that will not happen.

At every turn, when Zelensky sought to negotiate with Russia, the US made more threatening moves against Russia to prevent it.

But, there are new indications that there are obstacles in the US’s desired path.

Limits of sanctions

US sanctions against Russia’s oil and gas are causing inflation throughout the world. This is further intensified by its sanctions against Russian wheat and fertiliser.

Sanctions against Russian wheat and fertiliser exports, on top of the damage to Ukrainian wheat and fertiliser producers have caused world food prices to soar. This could lead to a “hurricane of hunger and a meltdown of the global food system” that would be devastating to poor countries, according to the United Nations.

Planting of wheat throughout the world has been curtailed for lack of fertiliser and there has been a drop in demand for wheat because of inflation.

This ensures that the food crisis will continue throughout the summer and beyond.

The war is becoming more and more unpopular throughout the world, but especially in the Global South.

One result of the war is that Germany is stepping up its rearming. The European Union has declared it will work to become “independent” — including in energy — of both Russia and the US.  According to French President Emanuel Macron this will take five years to achieve.

Biden has threatened to impose sanctions on China if it continues to help Russia economically — but China has so far ignored those threats.

Learn from the past

Finally, some argue that NATO arming Ukraine to the extent of defeating Russia is the only issue for opponents of Russia’s invasion today, rejecting or putting aside the issue of NATO expansionism and US sanctions.

To do so would mean aligning with calls for direct military intervention by NATO. Moreover, as we have seen, the US will not allow that.

Most US antiwar groups reject the argument that arms for Ukraine is the main way to support its self-determination. They correctly recognise the current and historical role of US imperialism, including in the former Soviet Republics. Never mind the fact that the US has already provided Ukraine well over $1 billion in arms.

The demand to arm Ukraine to defeat Russia — no matter the political outcome for Ukraine, where the political divisions were sharp before the invasion (in the country’s east, for example) — will not go away.

Zelensky and his government are clearly aligned with Europe and NATO — at least that is its stated political and economic objective. His criticism is that the US and Europe are not doing enough to stop and defeat Russia.

During WWI, socialists were divided on a similar issue. The majority of the Second International backed their own rulers in the war. The Bolsheviks disagreed, and organised to end the tsarist dictatorship and establish a workers and peasants government to end Russia’s war. In the US, socialist Eugene V Debs went to jail because of his opposition to war.

During WWII, revolutionary socialists did not support their own governments in the war. In the US and amongst its allies, the Stalinists and Social Democrats did. We said workers and farmers were not served by an inter-imperialist war. We also defended the only non-capitalist workers’ state in the war — the Soviet Union, while remaining opposed to its bureaucracy and calling for its overthrow.

During the war, colonised peoples in India and Indonesia demanded independence. The “Quit India” movement was directed at British colonial rule.

We need to unite in opposition to Russia’s invasion and to US reactionary foreign policy. It is against the interests of workers and farmers in Ukraine, Russia and the US to ignore why the war is happening, and what needs to be done.

The future of US foreign and defence policy remains to be seen.  Its objectives, however, are clear: bait and bleed Russia no matter the cost to the people of Ukraine and the world.

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