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Spin and lies fuel bloody ‘war of attrition’ in Ukraine

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Picture: REUTERS – Pulitzer-winning American journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in a blog post last week, based on insider information, that the US had allegedly sent navy divers to blow up three of the four Russian Nord Stream natural gas pipelines, which run to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

By Medea Benjamin and Nicolas JS Davies

In a recent column, military analyst William Astore wrote, “(Congressman) George Santos is a symptom of a much larger disease: a lack of honour, a lack of shame, in America. Honour, truth, integrity, simply don’t seem to matter, or matter much, in America today … But how do you have a democracy where there is no truth?”

Astore went on to compare America’s political and military leaders to the disgraced Congressman Santos. “US military leaders appeared before Congress to testify the Iraq War was being won,” Astore wrote.

“They appeared before Congress to testify the Afghan war was being won. They talked of ‘progress’, of corners being turned, of Iraqi and Afghan forces being successfully trained and ready to assume their duties as US forces withdrew. As events showed, it was all spin. All lies.”

America is at war again, in Ukraine, and the spin continues. The war involves Russia, Ukraine, the US and its Nato allies. No party to the conflict has levelled with its own people to honestly explain what it is fighting for, what it really hopes to achieve and how it plans to achieve it.

All sides claim to be fighting for noble causes and insist that it is the other side that refuses to negotiate a peaceful resolution. They are all manipulating and lying, and compliant media (on all sides) trumpet their lies.

It is a truism that the first casualty of war is the truth. But spinning and lying have real-world impacts in a war in which hundreds of thousands of real people are fighting and dying, while their homes, on both sides of the front lines, are reduced to rubble by hundreds of thousands of howitzer shells.

Yves Smith, the editor of Naked Capitalism, explored this insidious linkage between the information war and the real one, in an article titled, “What if Russia won the Ukraine War, but the Western press didn’t notice?” He observed that Ukraine’s dependence on the supply of weapons and money from its Western allies had given a life of its own to a triumphalist narrative that Ukraine is defeating Russia and would keep scoring victories as long as the West kept sending it more money and increasingly powerful and deadly weapons.

But the need to keep recreating the illusion that Ukraine is winning by hyping limited gains on the battlefield has forced Ukraine to keep sacrificing its forces in extremely bloody battles, like its counter-offensive around Kherson and the Russian sieges of Bakhmut and Soledar. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vershinin, a retired US tank commander, wrote on Harvard’s Russia Matters website: “In some ways, Ukraine has no choice but to launch attacks, no matter the human and material cost.”

Objective analyses of the war in Ukraine are hard to come by through the thick fog of war propaganda. But we should pay attention when a series of senior Western military leaders, active and retired, make urgent calls for diplomacy to reopen peace negotiations, and warn that prolonging and escalating the war is risking a full-scale war between Russia and the US that could escalate into nuclear war.

General Erich Vad, who was German chancellor Angela Merkel’s senior military adviser for seven years, recently spoke to Emma, a German news website.

He called the war in Ukraine a “war of attrition”, and compared it to World War I, and to the Battle of Verdun in particular, in which hundreds of thousands of French and German soldiers were killed with no major gain for either side.

Vad asked the same persistent unanswered question that the New York Times editorial board asked of President Joe Biden last May. What are the US and Nato’s real war aims?

“Do you want to achieve a willingness to negotiate with the deliveries of the tanks? Do you want to reconquer Donbas or Crimea? Or do you want to defeat Russia completely?” asked Vad.

He concluded: “There is no realistic end-state definition. And without an overall political and strategic concept, arms deliveries are pure militarism. We have a militarily operational stalemate, which we cannot solve militarily.

“Incidentally, this is also the opinion of the American Chief of Staff Mark Milley. He said Ukraine’s military victory is not to be expected and that negotiations are the only possible way. Anything else is a senseless waste of human life.”

Whenever Western officials are put on the spot by the unanswered questions, they are forced to reply, as Biden did to the Times eight months ago, that they are sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself and to put it in a stronger position at the negotiating table. But what would this “stronger position” look like?

When Ukrainian forces were advancing toward Kherson in November, Nato officials agreed that the fall of Kherson would give Ukraine an opportunity to reopen negotiations from a position of strength. But when Russia withdrew from Kherson, no negotiations ensued, and both sides are now planning new offensives.

The US media keep repeating the narrative that Russia will not negotiate in good faith, and it has hidden from the public the fruitful negotiations that began soon after the Russian invasion but were quashed by the US and UK. Few outlets reported the recent revelations by former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about the ceasefire negotiations between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey that he helped mediate in March 2022.

Bennett said explicitly that the West “blocked” or “stopped” (depending on the translation) the negotiations. He confirmed what has been reported by other sources since April 21, 2022, when Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, one of the other mediators, told CNN Turk after a Nato foreign ministers’ meeting: “There are countries within Nato who want the war to continue … They want Russia to become weaker.”

Objective analyses of the war in Ukraine are hard to come by through the thick fog of war propaganda. Advisers to Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky provided the details of the UK’s Boris Johnson’s April 9 visit to Kyiv that were published in Ukrayinska Pravda on May 5.

They said Johnson delivered two messages. The first was that President Vladimir Putin and Russia “should be pressured, not negotiated with”. The second was that, even if Ukraine completed an agreement with Russia, the “collective West”, which Johnson claimed to represent, would take no part in it.

The Western corporate media has weighed in on these early negotiations only to cast doubt on the story or smear any who repeat it as Putin apologists, despite multiple-source confirmation by Ukrainian officials, Turkish diplomats and now the former Israeli prime minister.

The propaganda frame that Western establishment politicians and media use to explain the war in Ukraine to their own public is a classic “white hats versus black hats” narrative, in which Russia’s guilt for the invasion doubles as proof of the West’s innocence and righteousness.

The growing mountain of evidence that the US and its allies share responsibility for many aspects of this crisis is swept under the proverbial carpet. Western media and officials were even more ridiculous when they tried to blame Russia for blowing up its own pipelines, the Nord Stream underwater natural gas pipelines that channelled Russian gas to Germany.

According to Nato, the explosions that released half a million tons of methane into the atmosphere were “deliberate, reckless, and irresponsible acts of sabotage”.

The Washington Post, in what could be considered journalistic malpractice, quoted an anonymous “senior European environmental official” as saying: “No one on the European side of the ocean is thinking this is anything other than Russian sabotage.”

It took former New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh to break the silence. He published, in a blog post on his own Substack, a spectacular whistleblower’s account of how US navy divers teamed up with the Norwegian navy to plant the explosives under cover of a Nato naval exercise, and how they were detonated by a sophisticated signal from a buoy dropped by a Norwegian surveillance plane.

According to Hersh, Biden took an active role in the plan, and amended it to include the use of the signalling buoy so that he could personally dictate the precise timing of the operation, three months after the explosives were planted. The White House predictably dismissed Hersh’s report as “utterly false and complete fiction” but has never offered any reasonable explanation for this historic act of environmental terrorism.

President Dwight Eisenhower said that only an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” can “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist”.

What should an alert and knowledgeable American citizenry know about the role its government has played in fomenting the crisis in Ukraine, a role that the corporate media has swept under the rug?

That is one of the main questions we have tried to answer in our book War in Ukraine: Making Sense of a Senseless Conflict. The answers include:

* The US broke its promises not to expand Nato into Eastern Europe. In 1997, before Americans had ever heard of Putin, 50 former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academics wrote to President Bill Clinton to oppose Nato expansion, calling it a policy error of “historic proportions”. Elder statesman George Kennan condemned it as “the beginning of a new cold war”.

* Nato provoked Russia with its open-ended promise to Ukraine in 2008 that it would become a member of Nato. William Burns, who was then the US ambassador to Moscow and is now the CIA director, warned in a State Department memo: “Ukrainian entry into Nato is the brightest of all red lines for the Russian elite (not just Putin).”

* The US backed a coup in Ukraine in 2014 that installed a government that only half its people recognised as legitimate, causing the disintegration of Ukraine and a civil war that killed 14,000 people.

* The 2015 Minsk II peace accord achieved a stable ceasefire line and steady reductions in casualties, but Ukraine failed to grant autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk as agreed. Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande now admit that Western leaders supported Minsk II only to buy time for Nato to arm and train Ukraine’s military to recover Donbas by force.

* During the week before the invasion, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe monitors in Donbas documented an escalation in explosions around the ceasefire line. Most of the 4,093 explosions in four days were in rebel-held territory, indicating incoming shellfire by Ukrainian government forces.

* After the invasion, instead of supporting Ukraine’s efforts to make peace, the US and UK blocked or stopped them in their tracks. What would an alert and knowledgeable citizenry make of all this? We would clearly condemn Russia for invading Ukraine.

But then what? Surely, we would also demand that US political and military leaders tell us the truth about this horrific war and our country’s role in it, and demand that the media transmit the truth to the public. An “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” would surely then demand that our government stop fuelling this war and instead support immediate peace negotiations.

This is an edited version of an article that was first published on www. commondreams.org