He's sour over Putin helping to thwart the march to war on Syria in 2011
Ray McGovern is a retired 30-year veteran of the CIA.
He is the co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at Consortium News
The year 2015 will surely mark a watershed in relations between the United States and Russia, one way or the other. However, whether tensions increase – to war-by-proxy in Ukraine or an even wider war – or whether they subside depends mostly on President Barack Obama.
Key to answering this question is a second one: Is Obama smart enough and strong enough to rein in Secretary of State John Kerry, the neocons and “liberal interventionists” running the State Department and to stand up to the chicken hawks in Congress, most of whom feel free to flirt with war because they know nothing of it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, by contrast, experienced the effects of war at an early age. He was born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) eight years after the vicious siege by the German army ended. Michael Walzer, in his War Against Civilians, notes, “More people died in the 900-day siege of Leningrad than in the infernos of Hamburg, Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki taken together.”
Putin’s elder brother Viktor died during the siege. The experience of Putin’s youth is, of course, embedded in his consciousness. This may help to account for why he tends to be short on the kind of daredevil bluster regularly heard from senior Western officials these days – many of whom are ignorant both of suffering from war and the complicated history of Ukraine.
This time last year, few Americans could point out Ukraine on a map. And malnourished as they are on “mainstream media,” most have little idea of its internal political tensions, a schism between a western Ukraine oriented toward Europe and an eastern Ukraine with strong ties to Russia.
As NATO expansion drew in countries closer to Russia’s borders, the Kremlin drew a red line when, despite very strong warnings from Moscow, an April 3, 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest declared:
“NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”
Both countries, former Soviet states, press up upon Russia’s soft southern underbelly.
Often forgotten – in the West, but not in Russia – is the impulsive reaction this NATO statement gave rise to on the part of Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili, who felt his oats even before the NATO umbrella could be opened.
Less than five months after Georgia was put in queue for NATO membership, Saakashvili ordered Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. No one should have been surprised when Russia retaliated sharply, giving Georgian forces a very bloody nose in battles that lasted just five days.
Ultimately, Saakashvili’s cheerleaders of the George W. Bush administration and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had been egging Saakashvili on, were powerless to protect him.
Instead of drawing appropriate lessons from this failed experiment, however, the neocons running the foreign policy of Bush – and remaining inside the Obama administration – set their sights on Ukraine.
Putin: Little Tolerance for Other Reality
At a press conference ten days after the coup in Kiev, Putin complained about “our Western partners” continuing to interfere in Ukraine.
“I sometimes get the feeling,” he said, “that somewhere across that huge puddle, in America, people sit in a lab and conduct experiments, as if with rats, without actually understanding the consequences of what they are doing. Why do they need to do this?”
And in a speech two weeks later, Putin said:
“Our colleagues in the West … have lied to us many times, made decisions behind our backs, placed before us an accomplished fact.
This happened with NATO’s expansion to the east, as well as the deployment of military infrastructure at our borders. … It happened with the deployment of a missile defense system. …
“They are constantly trying to sweep us into a corner. … But there is a limit to everything. And with Ukraine, our Western partners have crossed the line. …
If you compress the spring all the way to its limit, it will snap back hard. …
Today, it is imperative to end this hysteria and refute the rhetoric of the cold war. … Russia has its own national interests that need to be taken into account and respected.”
On Sept. 8, 2013, when Secretary Kerry swore Nuland in as Assistant Secretary of State, he gushed over “Toria’s” accomplishments, with a panegyric fully deserving of the adjective fulsome. It was a huge hint that Kerry would give her free rein in crafting policy toward Russia, Ukraine, et al.
Fortunately, Nuland was not able to sabotage the behind-the-scenes dialogue between Obama and Putin that enabled Putin to dissuade Obama from attacking Syria in September 2013 by convincing him the Syrians were about to agree to destroy all their chemical weapons.
Obama had cut Kerry out of those sensitive talks, but left on his own Kerry continued to try to drum up international support for military action against Syria.
That Kerry was blindsided by the extraordinary agreement worked out by Obama and Putin with Syria, became embarrassingly obvious when Kerry, at a press conference in London on Sept. 9, 2013, dismissed any likelihood that Syria would ever agree to let its chemical arsenal be destroyed.
Later that same day the agreement to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons was announced.
Sadly, to some significant degree, the U.S. mischief in Ukraine can be regarded as payback from Kerry, his Senate buddy John McCain, and of course Nuland for Russia’s dashing their hopes for a major U.S. military bombing campaign against the Syrian government.
Putin: Kerry “Knows He Is Lying”
It is rare that a head of state will call the head diplomat of a rival state a “liar.” But that’s what Putin did six days after Obama overruled Kerry and stopped the attack on Syria.
On Sept. 5, 2013, as Obama arrived in St. Petersburg for the G-20 summit, Putin referred openly to Kerry’s congressional testimony on Syria a few days earlier in which Kerry greatly exaggerated the strength of the “moderate” rebels in Syria.
Kerry had also repeated highly dubious claim (made 35 times at an Aug. 30 State Department press conference) that the Assad government was behind the chemical attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21, that he had thus had crossed the “red line” Obama had set, and that Syria needed to be admonished by military attack.
About Kerry, Putin took the gloves off:
“This was very unpleasant and surprising for me. We talk to them [the Americans], and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows that he is lying. This is sad.”
Putin’s stern words about Kerry and the behind-the-scenes Obama-Putin collaboration that defused the Syrian crisis of 2013 appear to have awakened the neocons to the need to shatter that cooperation – and the Ukraine coup became the perfect device to do so.