The long prehistory of Russia’s war of aggression by Matthew Hoh

This analysis is intended to convey that this war was not unprovoked and that decades of U.S. and NATO actions prepared the ground for a military conflict – a war long desired by some megalomaniacs and war profiteers in Washington, London, Brussels, Kiev, and Moscow, and a reality in February 2022.

The long prehistory of Russia’s war of aggression.
by Matthew Hoh
Neither Western provocations nor a perceived threat justify Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine.
[This article posted on 6/22/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

As with World Wars I and II, or the recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, or Ethiopia, the question is whether the immeasurable misery and widespread devastation-this time in Ukraine-could have been avoided.

Matthew Hoh shows how U.S. and NATO policies could have been perceived by Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall. He summarized the long history of the war in Ukraine, with many sources, in Substack on June 6. In a first part it is about many well-known warning signs.

Breeding ground for a military conflict

Trying to understand the Russian perspective on the war does not mean condoning the invasion, occupation, and war crimes committed, and certainly not that the Russians had no choice but to go to this war. Nothing written here excuses Russia’s actions. The Russian invasion is a war of aggression and a violation of international law.

Rather, this analysis is intended to convey that this war was not unprovoked and that decades of U.S. and NATO actions prepared the ground for a military conflict – a war long desired by some megalomaniacs and war profiteers in Washington, London, Brussels, Kiev, and Moscow, and a reality in February 2022.

The U.S. has challenged Russia

The immediate cause of the current interstate war in Ukraine is the Russian invasion. But NATO’s relentless expansion to Russia’s borders has challenged Russia. Since at least 2007, Russia has repeatedly warned that it could not tolerate NATO forces on Russia’s borders-particularly in Ukraine-just as the United States would not tolerate Russian forces in Mexico or Canada.

The U.S. had not tolerated Russian missiles in Cuba in 1962.

[upg. NATO missiles on the Russian border shorten the distance to Moscow to such an extent that mutual nuclear deterrence is undermined. This presupposes that the party under nuclear attack in each case has time for a nuclear counterstrike. See: NATO raises nuclear war threat on Russia’s border]

Author Matthew Hoh

Hoh has been a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington since 2010. In 2009, he resigned from his post there in protest of developments in the war in Afghanistan. Previously, Matthew participated in the occupation of Iraq, first in 2004/5 in Salah ad Din Province with a State Department Reconstruction and Governance team and then in 2006/7 in Anbar Province as a Marine Corps company commander. When not deployed, Hoh dealt with U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at the Pentagon and the U.S. State Department until 2008.

In 2022, Hoh ran for a Senate seat in Washington as a Green Party outsider but received only 1 percent of the vote.

On May 16, 2023, as deputy director of the Eisenhower Media Network, he published a full-page open letter in the NYT titled “The U.S. Should Be a Force for Peace in the World.” It was signed by 14 former U.S. security officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Moscow under Ronald Reagan. They called for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine “before a nuclear confrontation occurs.” Shortly before that, the Biden administration had rejected any negotiations. First, he said, Ukraine’s counteroffensive must succeed.

The broken promises of peace after the Cold War

After the end of the Cold War, U.S. and Western European leaders assured Soviet and then Russian leaders that NATO would not be extended to Russia’s borders. “U.S. Secretary of State James Baker promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Feb. 9, 1990, that NATO would not expand an inch to the east. Similar assurances by other U.S. leaders, as well as British, German, and French politicians in the 1990s, led to Russian conviction that it had been outmaneuvered by NATO’s eastward expansion.

A Decade of Humiliation and Suffering

This displeasure is not the only complaint Russians have about U.S. actions in the decade following the end of the Cold War. The economic shock doctrine imposed on Russians and the plundering of Russian finance and industry led by U.S. bankers and advisors led to an incredible decline in living standards. Even life expectancy declined sharply. The post-Soviet economic collapse led to a halving of GDP and the deaths of millions of people.

At the same time, the U.S. influenced the 1996 elections, possibly rigging them in favor of the corrupt and drunken Boris Yeltsin.

All this together, the Russian leadership and the Russian public perceived it as a decade of humiliation and suffering. To this day, there is a nationalist desire to stand up to the U.S., the West and NATO.

The NATO war against Serbia

The 78-day bombing of Russian ally Serbia by the U.S. and NATO in 1999-without a UN mandate-happened in the same month as the first expansion of NATO membership into Eastern Europe. This war of aggression against Serbia’s allies is a constant theme in Russian embassies and conversations. NATO’s air war against Serbia, now largely forgotten here in the United States, often serves as a justification for Russia’s own war against Ukraine. The war against Serbia is viewed by Russia as unjustified and illegal. It is a linchpin of Russia’s argument that the war against Ukraine is a necessary defensive war.

Bush Doctrine Even Before 9/11

For the Russians, the first NATO expansion meant that the United States moved its bases and missile launching sites closer to Russia, while U.S. leaders proclaimed a policy of “with us or against us.” At the same time, in 2001, the United States withdrew from the decades-old Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) in the context of NATO expansion and the U.S. global war on terror. The ABM Treaty was intended to provide nuclear deterrence by limiting one side’s ability to launch a first strike and protecting it from retaliatory strike by defensive missiles (defensive missiles that the Russians believed would become more effective by moving closer to their borders).

The withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, announced by the United States months before the September 11 attacks, was an early element of what later became known as the Bush Doctrine. The Bush Doctrine had three core components: Unilateralism, preemptive military action, and regime change. The Bush Doctrine reached its peak with the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

NATO-backed regime change stoked Russia’s fears

Exactly one year after the unprovoked preemptive war against Iraq, NATO carried out its second post-Cold War expansion. In March 2004, seven more Eastern European countries were admitted to NATO, including Russia’s three Baltic neighbors, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. NATO forces were now located on Russia’s direct border.

Later in 2004, an Orange Revolution occurred in Ukraine. The Orange Revolution and its colorful sister revolutions in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics from 2000 to 2010, seen in the West as movements of democracy, threatened the rule of pro-Russian leaders-often successfully. Russia’s ally in Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, was deposed in the Serbian Bulldozer Revolution of 2000. Three of these revolutions, all successful, occurred within 18 months of each other: Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004, and Kyrgyzstan in 2005. All three Moscow-friendly leaders were overthrown.

Less successful color revolutions occurred in the former Soviet republics of Belarus in 2006 and Moldova in 2009.

In Kyrgyzstan, a second color revolution occurred in 2010. This time, Kurmanbek Bakiyev was hounded out of office after he closed an American air base in his country. For the Russians, these were not revolutions, but coups. The Russians saw them as part of a grand strategy by Washington to weaken Russia by eliminating its allies.

There are historical explanations for Russia’s paranoia. Since the end of World War II, the United States has carried out dozens of coups throughout the world. The Russians saw these actions by the West as a clear danger: the Bush Doctrine, which openly envisions preemptive wars and regime change, the color revolutions, NATO expansion, and the ABM Treaty denunciation.

The idea of Russia joining NATO appears to have been discussed several times with NATO and Russia, but within a few years of Vladimir Putin coming to power, mistrust and hostility between Russia and NATO gained the upper hand.

Dramatic Escalation: NATO’s Role in Ukraine and Georgia

In 2008, NATO leaders, including President Bush, announced their intention to admit Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Both countries border Russia. That summer, a five-day war broke out between Georgia and Russia, with Russia invading after Georgia fired first.

Washington and Brussels did not expect the Russians to use force if provoked. But Russia’s showed its determination to enforce red lines.

In 2009, the United States announced plans to deploy missile systems in Poland and Romania. The systems, announced as missile defense systems, could fire defensive weapons or just as easily launch offensive cruise missiles into Russia, which is only about 500 kilometers from the missile bases in eastern Poland.

In 2009, the Russians watched the U.S. dramatically expand the war in Afghanistan. In 2011, NATO imposed regime change in Libya. In both Afghanistan and Libya, the wars were justified with lies. In both countries, U.S. and Western European military victory came first. Any efforts at negotiation were not only dismissed, but denied.

In 2012, the clear U.S. goal was to bring about regime change in Syria. Like Serbia more than a decade earlier, the Syrian government was a Russian ally that was now under threat. As in Afghanistan and Libya, negotiations were impossible because the Americans made the resignation of Syrian President Bashar a condition of talks. This was unacceptable to Assad and to the Russians.

In Russia’s eyes, these three wars by the Obama administration were an expression of American determination to wage war without regard to consequences and never to negotiate.

By the end of 2013, political tensions in Ukraine had developed into a crisis. There was a long and deep historical division in the country between its eastern and western halves. Protests erupted across the country. In Kiev, protesters occupied the central Maidan square. Violent riots broke out in January 2014. In late February, the legitimately elected, albeit corrupt, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Moscow.

U.S. involvement in the overthrow of Yanukovych’s government was unmistakable. Senior U.S. State Department officials and members of Congress, most notably Senator John McCain and Victoria Nuland, attended anti-government rallies, boasted of spending more than five billion dollars to promote democracy in Ukraine, and infamously discussed plans for a post-coup government in Kiev.

Much more happened in secret and in silence, and when it became known, only U.S. journalists outside the mainstream reported it.

Events in Ukraine were viewed in Russia as a coup d’état. As a repeat of the color revolutions, each of which replaced Russia-friendly governments with U.S./NATO-friendly ones.

President Putin’s Warning

The Russians saw a determined U.S. and NATO ready to overthrow governments and wage war. From their perspective, they were being squeezed by NATO expansion and threatened by U.S. missiles. Warnings not only against NATO expansion but also against interference in Ukraine had gone unheard.

The Russian parliament had officially condemned NATO enlargement in 2004. Starting in 2007, the Kremlin began issuing regular warnings. In 2008, following NATO’s announcement of Ukraine and Georgia as members, Vladimir Putin warned George W. Bush: “If Ukraine joins NATO, it will do so without Crimea and the eastern regions. It will simply fall apart.”

British journalist and editor of Harper’s Magazine Andrew Cockburn pointed out that U.S. recognition of an independent Kosovo in February 2008 angered Russia even more, and that even Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili complained to Secretary of State Rice that it could trigger a dangerous reaction from Russia.

In response to what Russia perceived as a coup d’état in neighboring Ukraine, Russia seized Crimea, home to its century-old warm-water naval base, and invested significant military support in the eastern Ukrainian Donbass region, backing Russian-speaking separatists in an ever-worsening civil war.

The following year, the Russians similarly intervened heavily with their military in Syria to ensure the survival of the Syrian government. Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria were predictable and should have been expected.

A desperate attempt to make peace: The Minsk II Agreements

The civil war in Ukraine intensified in 2014 until negotiations in 2015 led to the conclusion of the Minsk II agreement. This agreement between Ukraine and Russia drastically reduced the destruction and paved the way for the Donbas to achieve autonomy within a federalized eastern Ukraine. By and large, violence was contained until 2021, when tensions flared again because both Moscow and Kiev failed to comply with some provisions of the agreement.

The Russians argued that the Ukrainian government was not implementing the agreement’s framework for Donbass autonomy, while the Ukrainians argued that Moscow was refusing to withdraw military support from the region.

In late 2022, the former leaders of Germany, France, and Ukraine certified that the West had no intention of ever fulfilling or complying with the Minsk II agreement. According to Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, and Petro Poroshenko, the West wanted to use the time to rearm Ukraine and prepare for a possible war with Russia, not to prevent such a war. For the Russians, these admissions confirmed that the West was not to be trusted. They saw this as another betrayal and another reason to use force to secure their security needs.

It appears that the Russians also used the time by preparing their economy for inevitable U.S. sanctions, and by improving relations with other nations and expanding their military-industrial base to be prepared for high-intensity conventional war.

Escalation through the Trump administration

During the Obama administration, the U.S. provided mostly economic and logistical support to Ukraine, but began to increase its troops in Europe, including conducting more exercises in the new NATO countries on Russia’s borders.

The Trump administration escalated the U.S. role in the Ukrainian civil war by supplying Ukraine with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons. This was interpreted by the Russians as an indication that the U.S. was deliberately stoking the conflict and preparing for war.

This interpretation was reinforced when President Trump unilaterally abrogated the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty. The INF Treaty banned precisely the kind of intermediate-range missiles that the United States could now deploy in former Soviet bloc NATO countries, allowing Moscow to be hit by first-strike nuclear missiles within minutes.

For decades, the Open Skies Treaty had allowed each nation to conduct surveillance missions as a key element of confidence. These overflights verified compliance with nuclear weapons treaties and ensured that each side could see the other’s actions. This limited the real risk of misperceptions and misinterpretations that could lead to nuclear war. To Russia’s displeasure, the Biden administration refused to rejoin either treaty.

As fighting increased in the Donbass in late 2021, the Russians made proposals for negotiations while sending more forces to the border with Ukraine. U.S. and NATO representatives immediately rejected the Russian proposals. In the first months of 2022, violence in eastern Ukraine increased dramatically. The stated attempts at dialogue may, in hindsight, reveal a sincere desire on both sides to avoid conflict.

By mid-February, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were counting thousands of explosions a week in the Donbas. On February 24, Russia invaded Ukraine.

Incompetence, arrogance, cynicism.

For years, the Russians made their red lines clear, showing in Georgia and Syria that they would defend those lines with force. In 2014, the immediate seizure of Crimea and direct and extensive support for separatists in the Donbass showed once again that they are serious about protecting their interests. Why the U.S. and NATO leadership failed to understand this can only be explained by incompetence, arrogance, cynicism, or a treacherous mixture of all three. This mixture sheds light on the path to war in Ukraine and partly explains the many wars, military operations, interventions, and occupations that the U.S. has been responsible for since the end of the Cold War.

Russia’s reaction was predictable

All of this is and was well known. Almost immediately after the end of the Cold War, U.S. diplomats, generals, and politicians warned of the danger of NATO expanding to Russia’s borders and maliciously interfering in Russia’s sphere of influence.

Former Cabinet members Madeleine Albright, Robert Gates, and William Perry issued warnings, as did revered diplomats Strobe Talbott, George Kennan, Jack Matlock, and Henry Kissinger. In 1997, 50 senior U.S. foreign policy experts addressed President Clinton in an open letter advising him not to expand NATO. They called NATO expansion “a political mistake of historic proportions.”

President Clinton ignored these warnings and advocated NATO expansion, in part to accommodate American voting blocs of Eastern European descent.

Blinded by hubris and a Machiavellian calculus in decision-making, U.S. administrations disregarded warnings from Williams Burns. Burns worked in the U.S. State Department is and is now director of the CIA. First, in 1995, while serving in Moscow, Burns wrote in an official cable from the Russian capital:

“Hostility to early NATO enlargement […] is almost universal across the domestic political spectrum here.”

In 2008, as U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Burns repeatedly articulated these warnings in no uncertain terms:

“I fully understand how difficult the decision to defer [Ukraine’s NATO membership] will be. But one also cannot overstate the strategic consequences of a premature [accession] offer, especially for Ukraine. Ukraine’s NATO accession is the sharpest of red lines for the Russian elite (not only for Putin). In more than two and a half years of talking to key Russian players – from sharpers in the dark corners of the Kremlin to Putin’s fiercest liberal critics – I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine’s admission to NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.

At this point, a [NATO accession] offer would not be seen as a technical step on the long road to membership, but as a strategic gauntlet. The Russia of today will respond. Russian-Ukrainian relations would be frozen […] It will create fertile ground for Russian interference in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.”

And in another telegram to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, titled “Nyet Means Nyet: Russia’s NATO Enlargement Redlines”:

“The NATO aspirations of Ukraine and Georgia not only strike a sore spot in Russia, but also raise serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Russia not only sees encirclement and efforts to undermine Russian influence in the region, but also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences that would seriously affect Russian security interests. According to experts, Russia is particularly concerned that the strong disagreements in Ukraine over NATO membership – much of the ethnic Russian community opposes accession – could lead to a major split that would result in violence or, at worst, civil war. In that case, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene – a decision it does not want to make.”

To reiterate, those were the words of the current U.S. director of the CIA.

Coming soon, Part 2:

Who benefits from the war

Who influences the information

The costs and risks of war

The potential for peace


Who fuels war and profits from it
The defense industry lobby is enormously powerful
by Matthew Hoh
How the military-industrial complex influences politics and the media – The costs and risks of war are suppressed.

[This article posted on 6/24/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

No Western provocation justifies Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine. Still, it begs the question of whether the immeasurable misery and widespread devastation could have been avoided.

In a first part, Matthew Hoh recalled warnings years ago. In this second part, we look at who benefits from war, who on the Western side influences the information, the costs and risks of war, and the prospects for peace.

New markets for the military-industrial complex

Behind the diplomatic misbehavior and the accompanying megalomania (see Part 1) is the U.S. military-industrial complex (here and here and here).

Dwight D. EisenhowerPresident Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961 on the danger of the military-industrial complex. During World War 2, he was a Supreme Commander for Europe as a general. © cc

More than 60 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower had warned in his farewell address of “the potential for the disastrous rise of a misguided power.” He was describing the ever-increasing influence, if not control, of the military-industrial complex’s policies.

At the end of the Cold War, the military-industrial complex was in an existential crisis. Without an adversary like the Soviet Union, it would have been difficult to justify massive U.S. arms spending. NATO enlargement opened up new markets. The Eastern European and Baltic countries that joined NATO had to upgrade their armed forces and replace their Soviet-era stockpiles with Western weapons, ammunition, machinery, hardware, and software that were compatible with NATO’s armies. Entire armies, navies, and air forces had to be rebuilt. NATO expansion was a money grab for an arms industry that originally saw hardship as the fruit of the end of the Cold War.

From 1996 to 1998, U.S. defense contractors spent $51 million ($94 million today) lobbying Congress. Millions more were spent on campaign contributions. Once the arms industry realized the promise of Eastern European markets, the desire to beat swords into plowshares was over.

In a circular and mutually reinforcing cycle, Congress provides money to the Pentagon. The Pentagon funds the defense industry, which in turn funds think tanks and lobbyists to persuade Congress to spend more money on the Pentagon. Campaign contributions from the arms industry accompany this lobbying. The Pentagon, the CIA, the National Security Council, the State Department, and other limbs of the national security state directly fund the think tanks and ensure that any policy that is promoted is the policy that the state institutions themselves want.

Presence in media without disclosing conflicts of interest.

Congress is not the only body under the influence of the military-industrial complex. The same defense contractors that bribe members of Congress and fund think tanks often directly or indirectly employ the experts featured on Cable News and given ample space in media reports.

Rarely is this conflict of interest recognized by the American media. Thus, men and women who owe their paychecks to Lockheed, Raytheon, or General Dynamics appear in the media and make the case for more war and more weapons. These commentators and pundits rarely admit that their benefactors profit immensely from policies for more war and more weapons.

Hub between arms industry and government

Corruption extends into the executive branch, as the military-industrial complex employs many administration officials. Outside government, Republican and Democratic officials move from the Pentagon, CIA and State Department to defense contractors, think tanks and consulting firms.

When their party recaptures the White House, they return to government. In exchange for bringing their rotating rosters with them, they receive lavish salaries and perks. Similarly, U.S. generals and admirals who leave the Pentagon go directly to defense contractors.

This revolving door reaches the highest levels. Before becoming secretary of defense, secretary of state and director of national intelligence, Lloyd Austin, Antony Blinken and Avril Haines worked for the military-industrial complex. In Secretary Blinken’s case, he founded a firm, WestExec Advisors, dedicated to trading and brokering influence for weapons contracts.

Do not ignore interests of the oil and gas industry, too

In the context of the Ukraine war, there is a broader level of commercial greed that cannot be dismissed or ignored. The U.S. supplies the world with fossil fuels and weapons. U.S. exports of petroleum products and weapons now exceed exports of agricultural and industrial products.

Competition for the European fuel market, especially liquefied natural gas, has been a major concern of both Democratic and Republican administrations over the past decade. Eliminating Russia as the major energy supplier to Europe and limiting global fossil fuel exports from Russia have brought large profits to U.S. oil and gas companies. In addition to broader commercial trade interests, the sheer amounts of money that the U.S. fossil fuel business brings in cannot be ignored.

The cost of war

Hundreds of thousands have probably been killed and wounded in the fighting. The lasting psychological damage to both combatants and civilians may be even greater. Millions of people have been left homeless and are now living as refugees.

The environmental damage is incalculable, and the economic devastation is not limited to the war zone but has spread around the world, fueling inflation, destabilizing energy supplies, and affecting food security. The rise in energy and food costs undoubtedly resulted in a large number of deaths far beyond the geographic boundaries of the war.

The war is likely to evolve into a protracted stalemate of senseless killing and destruction. Worst of all, the war would escalate – perhaps uncontrollably into a world war and possibly a nuclear conflict. No matter what the mad realists in Washington, London, Brussels, Kiev and Moscow may say, a nuclear war cannot be controlled and certainly cannot be won. Even a limited nuclear war, with perhaps each side firing ten percent of its arsenals, will lead to a nuclear winter in which we will have to watch our children starve. All our efforts should be directed toward avoiding such an apocalypse.

The Potential for Peace

The two parts of this analysis were intended to outline how Russia perceives the deliberate provocations of the United States and NATO. Russia is a nation whose current geopolitical anxieties are shaped by memories of invasions by Charles XII, Napoleon, the Earl of Aberdeen, the Kaiser, and Hitler.

U.S. troops were among the Allied invasion forces that unsuccessfully intervened against the winning side in the Russian Civil War after World War I. Knowing historical context, understanding the enemy, and having strategic empathy for the adversary is neither deceitful nor weak, but smart and wise. We are taught this at all levels of the U.S. military.

Nor is it unpatriotic or disingenuous to speak out against the continuation of this war and to refuse to take sides.

President Biden’s promise to support Ukraine “for as long as necessary” should not be a license to pursue unclear or unattainable goals. Such a policy could prove as disastrous as President Putin’s decision last year to launch his criminal invasion and occupation.

It is morally indefensible to support the strategy of fighting Russia to the last Ukrainian. Nor is it moral to remain silent when the U.S. pursues strategies and policies that cannot achieve its stated goals. This senseless pursuit of defeating Russia in the spirit of some kind of 19th century imperial victory is unattainable.

Only a meaningful and genuine commitment to diplomacy aimed at an immediate cease-fire and negotiations without disqualifying or prohibitive preconditions will end this war and its attendant suffering, bring stability to Europe, and eliminate the risk of nuclear war.

This entry was posted in 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply