Washington bears most responsibility for sustaining the Russia-Ukraine conflict
Published: Feb 20, 2024 05:03 PM
Smoke rises near the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk on February 15, 2024. Photo: IC

Smoke rises near the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant in the town of Avdiivka, Donetsk on February 15, 2024. Photo: IC

Editor's Note:
February 24 marks the anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has been ongoing for two years with no end in sight. Why can't the conflict be resolved? As it continues, has the West's mentality of "defeating Russia" evolved? How does the conflict impact global geopolitical patterns? As the two-year anniversary approaches, the Global Times (GT) collected views within the US and Europe.  

In the first interview of the series, Chris Hedges (Hedges), a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times for 15 years and author of several New York Times best sellers, shared his insights. He hosted the show On Contact for RT America and RT International for six years. RT America was shut down in the early stages of the conflict, leading to Hedges and other staff members being laid off.

GT: The Russia-Ukraine conflict is entering its third year. Why do you think it cannot be ended?

Hedges: The US does not want it to end. The goals of the American government are very different from those of the Ukrainians. Ukrainians obviously wanted to expel Russia, including from the Donbas. From the beginning, the Americans understood that, this was impossible. Their goals were to isolate Putin within Russia and Europe, and to degrade the Russian military. That's what proxy wars are about. They've certainly degraded the Russian military. They have essentially cut Putin off from Europe. There will be a negotiated settlement, which they could have easily negotiated before the whole war began.

I covered many proxy wars as a foreign correspondent. It's always the same. These wars are used to further the ends of the American empire to the detriment of the countries involved. Huge swaths of Ukraine have been destroyed. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed or wounded. It's heartless and cynical. 

GT: Given your experience in covering wars, how would you suggest the Russia-Ukraine conflict could be resolved?

Hedges: It will end with negotiations. Those negotiations will include an exchange of land for peace. I can't tell you when this will happen, but even senior military leaders in the US and Ukraine are calling the war a stalemate. It's a strange war, because it's largely artillery duels over hundreds of miles. The so-called offensive that the Ukrainians were supposed to mount this spring was a complete fiasco. Negotiations are the only way out. They were always the only way out.

GT: With the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and the Red Sea crisis in the Middle East, has the US been distracted from the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

Hedges: The US attention on Ukraine was distracted before Hamas attacks on October 7. It has been clear for many months that the war in Ukraine has been a failure. This failure led the media to walk away from the story, as if the war does not exist. This is typical. Look at the military debacles we orchestrated in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Once these conflicts became a fiasco, the media lost interest. We pretend they aren't happening. 

GT: From the war in Ukraine to the Israel-Palestine conflict, are the voices of anti-war and anti-imperialists like yours more powerful or marginalized in the US?

Hedges: We are marginalized from the commercial or mainstream media. But at the same time, the mainstream media has so little credibility that our voices still resonate. For example, my weekly show, The Chris Hedges Report, on The Real News Network, regularly gets hundreds of thousands of views, with several shows reaching over a million. My weekly columns on chrishhedges.substack.com, where Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi also put out material, also get very wide circulation.

There's a crisis in the mainstream media. A lot of media organizations are laying off staff. The Washington Post recently laid off 240 reporters and editors, and Los Angeles Times had laid off 74 last June. CNN's viewership is abysmal. 

Voices like mine, which are not controlled, do have big followings despite clear efforts to marginalize us, especially with algorithms and shadow banning. For example, the show I had on RT America and RT International, On Contact, saw its entire six-year archive taken down by YouTube after the war in Ukraine started. My sin was that I gave a voice to third party candidates, anti-imperialists, anti-capitalists, Black Lives Matter activists and anti-fracking activists. In 2017, the director of National Intelligence published a report and seven pages were devoted to RT. They didn't attack RT for Russian propaganda. What they attacked RT for is lifting up those dissident voices. The Russian military operations against Ukraine gave them the excuse they needed to shut RT America down. 

Chris Hedges Photo: Courtesy of Hedges

Chris Hedges Photo: Courtesy of Hedges

GT: American media and politicians continue to hype the "Russian threat." Is this to garner public support for the Russia-Ukraine conflict to continue?

Hedges: Yes, but of course it's absurd. First of all, I was in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989, covering the revolutions there. I was present when the promises were made to Gorbachev not to extend NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany. I was there. I heard it. I was in the room. The US betrayed that promise. NATO was formed to prevent a Soviet invasion of Europe, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became redundant. It should have been disbanded.

Two things, however, happened. One, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US felt that they could create what they called a unipolar world, which meant global domination. There would be no other superpower that would rival the US. Two, there were billions upon billions of dollars to be made by the arms industry if they reconfigured the military hardware in Central and Eastern Europe to be NATO compatible. So if Russia was not willing to be a threat - and we must remember that Gorbachev, Yelsin and Putin all hoped initially to build economic and even military alliances with Europe and the US - Russia would be turned into a threat. 

Over many years Russia was provoked and baited by NATO expansion up to its borders and US hubris. The war in Ukraine was a war that should have never happened. Washington bears a lot of responsibility for starting it and most of the responsibility for sustaining it. 

The playbook the pimps of war in Washington use to lure us into one military fiasco after another, including Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and now Ukraine, does not change. Freedom and democracy are threatened. Evil must be vanquished. Human rights must be protected. The fate of Europe and NATO, along with a "rules-based international order" is at stake. Victory is assured.

The results are also the same. The justifications and narratives are eventually exposed as lies. The cheery prognosis is false. Those on whose behalf we are supposedly fighting are as venal as those we are fighting against. 

The "Russia threat" statements, used to justify the Ukraine war, are a fiction, but then so was the entire premise of the Cold War. 

GT: NATO recently kicked off its largest military drills since the Cold War, with its eye fixated on Russia. Some think it marks the return of the Cold War. What's your view?

Hedges: Since the end of the World War II, the US government has spent between 45 to 90 percent of the federal budget on past, current and future military operations. The US spends more on national defense than China, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, UK, Germany, France, South Korea, Japan and Ukraine combined. It is the largest sustained activity of the US government. It has stopped mattering — at least to the war machine — whether these wars are rational or prudent. The war industry metastasizes within the bowels of the American empire to hollow it out from the inside. The US is reviled abroad, drowning in debt, has an impoverished working class and is burdened with a decayed infrastructure as well as shoddy social services. The war machine is a state within a state, or what the German socialist Karl Liebknecht, speaking of the German military, called "the enemy from within." 

In 1989, we talked about the "peace dividend," but this "peace dividend" never materialized. The weapons industry was not about to give up its profits. That's why you see the US expansion into the South China Sea. A lot of it is driven by a lust for profit and a belief that the global hegemony the American empire has lost can be regained through force. It is self-deluded and dangerous.

GT: How does the Russia-Ukraine conflict affect the image of the US? 

Hedges: Many things have damaged the US, the defeat and humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the debacle in Iraq, the creation of a failed state in Libya, the failure in Syria, the millions in the Middle East we have killed or turned into refugees. And for what? 

The Gaza war is worse, however, than the Russia-Ukraine war. The US is the enabler in many ways, not just that they veto ceasefire resolutions at the UN, but they are the major munitions suppliers. Israel very quickly ran out of tank shells and artillery shells. Most are produced in the US.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the US has sent 230 cargo planes and 20 ships filled with artillery shells, armored vehicles and combat equipment to Israel since the attacks of October 7, in which some 1,200 Israelis were killed. US weapons and military equipment are being shipped to Israel from the British base RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, according to the UK investigative website Declassified UK. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that more than 40 US and 20 British transport aircraft, along with seven heavy-lift helicopters, have flown into RAF Akrotiri, a 40-minute flight from Tel Aviv. Germany reportedly plans to provide 10,000 rounds of 120mm precision ammunition to Israel. 

If the Biden administration wanted to stop this genocide they could in an instant by cutting off these arms shipments.

Our decades-long military fiascos, a feature of all late empires, are called "micro-militarism." The Athenians engaged in micro-militarism during the Peloponnesian War when they invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers. The defeat triggered successful revolts throughout the Athenian Empire. The Roman Empire, which at its height lasted for two centuries, created a military machine that, like the Pentagon, was a state within a state. Rome's military rulers, led by Augustus, snuffed out the remnants of Rome's anemic democracy and ushered in a period of despotism that saw the empire disintegrate under the weight of extravagant military expenditures and corruption. The British Empire, after the suicidal military folly of World War I, was terminated in 1956 when it attacked Egypt in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Britain was forced to withdraw in humiliation, empowering Arab nationalist leaders such as Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and dooming British rule over its few remaining colonies. None of these empires recovered. The US is engaging in the same kind of suicidal folly. What they want to get back, they can't have. Using military adventurism makes it worse. It is similar to the decay of the Roman Empire, although it is more dangerous because we and our adversaries have nuclear weapons. 

GT: How will the US presidential election this year affect the trajectory of the conflict? 

Hedges: The US always knew this was not a winnable conflict. It has achieved its ends, even if it has devastated Ukraine. Trump may be more aggressive in terms of ending support for Ukraine, but it is terminal. It's not sustainable, no matter which party is in power. How long can we sustain a stalemate? The difference might be that the stalemate will be sustained for longer if Biden is reelected.