Paul Jay is back to speak about the war in Ukraine, the irrevocable effects of climate change, and the ever-present but often downplayed danger of nuclear warfare. He explains how the transnational capitalist elite continue to benefit from the war at the expense of the average Ukrainian and Russian worker. He also speaks about his new documentary film project on nuclear winter and his recent trip to visit political activist Daniel Ellsberg, whose insights on the Cuban Missile Crisis and potential human error leading to nuclear confrontation are heavily featured in the film. This is part one of a three-part series.
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Hi, I’m Talia Baroncelli, and you’re watching theAnalysis.news. I’ll shortly be joined by Paul Jay for a three-part series on the war in Ukraine, the prosecution of Donald J. Trump, as well as global oligarchy and capitalism. But first, please do go to our website, theAnalysis.news, and hit the donate button at the top right corner of the screen. Most importantly, get on our mailing list; that way, you’ll be emailed every time a new episode is released. You can also go to our YouTube channel, theAnalysis-news, and hit the subscribe button as well as the bell. The bell ensures that you’ll be informed every time a new episode drops. See you in a bit for part one of our three-part series with Paul Jay.
Joining me now is Paul Jay, your favorite host at theAnalysis.news. It’s really good–
Oh, not anymore.
It’s great to see you, Paul. How are you doing?
I’m doing good, thanks.
So you’ve been really busy lately, and we haven’t seen you. What have you been up to?
I’ve been up to my eyeballs in a documentary film I’m working on called How to Stop a Nuclear War, which is based on Daniel Ellsberg’s book, The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. So I was out twice in the last few months in Berkeley, where Dan is, filming more interviews with him. I’ve actually been interviewing Dan on and off for the last three years, but we’re getting much more into the thick of the production now. When I came back last time, I had COVID, and I was out of it with that. The cough is a residual of that.
Yeah, we can see that, unfortunately.
Yeah, I apologize if I’m coughing during this interview. But the work’s going very well. Dan, a lot of people may know, is ill. He’s 92 years old and diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer. He sent an email or a message out letting all his friends and everyone know about it. It went viral. Apparently, two or three million people have seen his note. He’s been interviewed many times now on mainstream media. Right now, he’s doing pretty well. But sadly, he probably won’t be for long, but he’s still quite energetic.
Well, in all your recent interviews with Dan, and you’ve known him for so many years, what has his core message been recently, especially with regard to climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
Well, he’s feeling frustrated, I guess. He was hoping all the work he had been doing would have had more effect than it had. Although I think it has had more than he thinks it has. But he thinks the danger of nuclear war is as great now as it’s ever been, and perhaps even more dangerous now– and obviously, climate change.
One of the things he said, if people watched his interview, which I thought was quite profound and important, was comparing the Cuban Missile Crisis to what’s going on in Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov compared the American blockade of Cuba to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The United States was threatened by Soviet missiles in Cuba and had a blockade against Cuba. Russia, threatened by the expansion of NATO and even possibly nuclear weapons in Ukraine, had a right to what they’re calling the “special military operation,” which is– they use those words because to say war opens it up to a question of whether this is a legal or unjust war, illegal war. So they come up with this terminology of “special military occupation,” which is nonsense.
When I asked Ellsberg about comparing the Cuban Missile Crisis to Ukraine, he said, “Well, there is a comparison, but it’s not the one Lavrov is making.” In fact, the Soviet missiles in Cuba were no additional threat to the United States, even though there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. It didn’t actually alter the geopolitical equation at all because the Soviet Union already had submarines that could fire on Washington or New York. So nothing was added to the threat. In fact, the blockade that [John F.] Kennedy put up around Cuba, while it was better than an invasion, which is what the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted, and it seems Bobby Kennedy wanted, and Jack Kennedy and maybe Adlai Stevenson were almost the only ones that really didn’t want the invasion and risk where that would lead. The blockade itself was illegal. To blockade a country is itself an act of war, an act of aggression. Kennedy had no right to put up that blockade. So to compare Cuba to Ukraine and Russia is actually not a favorable comparison for the Russians.
Ellsberg argues the Ukraine situation is very similar in that even if Ukraine joined NATO, it’s not an imminent threat to Russia. I mean, Estonia is already in NATO, and there’s no threat from Estonia to Russia. In fact, Ukraine wasn’t about to get into NATO anyway. I mean, people have heard me say this a hundred times, and it’s easily verifiable. Both France, Germany and, in all likelihood, Turkey, were not going to allow Ukraine into NATO. If there isn’t consensus, they can’t do it. So there just was no imminent threat. The underlying comparison that Ellsberg makes is that Kennedy was so afraid of domestic political forces, the Republicans accusing him of being soft on communism, soft on the Soviet Union, soft on Cuba, that he had to look tough. He couldn’t be humiliated by these missiles in Cuba because [Nikita] Khrushchev had promised him there wouldn’t be any missiles in Cuba, and Khrushchev put them in any way. That’s a similar situation to Putin.
If Ukraine was to be a NATO, if Ukraine was to have these kinds of weapons, it would be a humiliation for Putin. Not a real threat to Russian national security. Ukraine was not about to invade Russia. But you can’t underestimate these factors. Kennedy’s fear of humiliation and Putin’s similar, both dealing with domestic situations. In Putin’s case, rising alienation and opposition to the Russian oligarchy. We’re not the only ones that see pictures of these Russian oligarchs living on these enormous yachts in the Mediterranean or wherever. Much of Russia or the Russian people are living in poverty.
Ellsberg condemns the Russian invasion. But– and this is the big but, the danger of nuclear war because of the Russian invasion and the danger of nuclear war because of the American role, perhaps provoking this with talk of NATO expansion– but like I say, they’ll see no evidence it was really going to happen. But since the invasion, the U.S. has certainly embraced this as an opportunity to try to weaken Russia, perhaps bring Putin down. They are doing everything they can to stoke and provoke this war to go on, perhaps even for years. The phrase has been used over and over again. The Americans will fight for the right of NATO to take in new members to the last Ukrainian– until every Ukrainian is dead. While he condemns the invasion quite unequivocally, he also condemns the role of the U.S. in NATO, and in particular, the Americans, in not pushing for compromise now and continuing to flood arms into Ukraine.
What do you think Ellsberg would say to the fact that, yes, of course, NATO has been expanding and has been pushing those red lines, so to speak, but what about Russia’s imperial ambitions? Maybe they would have gone ahead with the invasion, regardless, and were just using the specter of NATO expansion as a pretext to invade Ukraine.
Well, I don’t know the answer to that question because we never got a chance to see it. Certainly, a lot of Russians I’ve talked to in Russia do think it was a pretext. The point is, even if Ukraine did join NATO, how does that really change anything from Estonia? In fact, what they’ve accomplished now is now Finland is in NATO. Now they have an even bigger NATO border, Russian-NATO border. So it certainly didn’t minimize the threat from NATO.
I think, to step back a bit here, without mitigating the message that there was no imminent threat to Russia, which makes this a war of aggression, and everything I understand about the Nuremberg decisions, international law, and the UN Charter, the right to self-defense only kicks in if there’s an imminent threat. Imminent really means imminent, like you’re about to get attacked, and there’s no other way out of getting attacked but a preemptive defense. Short of that, it’s a war of aggression, period.
Right, and it has to be an imminent threat, spatially, so territorially, but also temporarily. So in terms of it being an imminent threat right then at that very moment or in that time frame and not a few months prior.
That’s the essence of it. Imminent.
Immediate. In the moment. Yeah, that’s the essence of it. At the time of the Russian invasion, there were 150,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. Even if there were Ukrainian troops near the Donbas, and there’s a claim, and the numbers go all over the place. Lavrov has said 75,000. Others have said 50,000. I saw the head of the Russian Communist Party say there were 150,000 or something Ukrainian troops about to invade Donbas. Well, there’s no evidence of any of that. The OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] that does these reports, reported an increase in shelling, but that shelling was back and forth from the Donbas region into the Ukrainian government-controlled area and Ukrainian missiles going into the independent or autonomous-controlled regions, some people say Russian-controlled. There’s a lot of shelling going on, but there were very, very few deaths, if any. The number of deaths in 2021 leading up to that– the 150,000 Russian troops– in the whole of the region, according to the OSCE, there were 10 deaths as a result of the fighting, and maybe it could be attributed to the Ukrainian side. I mean, there were more people that were killed in car accidents.
So there certainly was no imminent threat for Ukraine to invade Russia. I don’t see evidence that there was an imminent threat to Donbas. Even if there was, which again, I don’t know that there was, but let’s say there was, how likely is it that they’re going to do that when there are 150,000 Russian troops on their border? If there were Ukrainian troops gathering, it’s probably more likely they’re doing it because there are 150,000 Russian troops on their border. Even then, Donbas was still part of Ukraine. It was still an internal matter of Ukraine. It’d be like if Quebec was trying to declare independence from the Canadian federal government and Canadian troops were massing to go in and suppress, I don’t know, the Quebec provincial police or whatever it would be. The Americans don’t have a right to come in and get involved in that. It’s not a complete stretch of the imagination either. Some crazy neocons once talked about how the U.S. should intervene and support the Quebec independence movement.
Anyway, all that said, the focus of Ellsberg is on the threat of nuclear war and the climate crisis. The Americans are playing a role now to provoke, stoke, more than provoke, to sustain this war in a way that the Ukrainians don’t feel any need to negotiate. There’s some evidence that Zelenskyy, at one point, did want to negotiate. Boris Johnson went in and trounced it. I think there were meetings going on in Turkey. So there’s no doubt that the Americans are trying to keep this war going to weaken Russia, so it cannot be a rival in Europe. On so many levels, it’s insane.
Well, you have heard different Ukrainian higher-ups in the government speaking about Crimea. I think recently some of them are saying, perhaps we can negotiate Crimea, and we won’t need to take it back for us to have some final victory. But then some other diplomats or officials were walking that back. It’s hard to really gauge what the flexibility is and how diehard they are on having complete territorial integrity, and how long they want to fight for. If you look at the recent Pentagon leaks that were showing U.S. and NATO military plans and assistance to the Ukrainian military, it does seem like there is a spring offensive underway. So do you think maybe that’s why they haven’t been investing much political capital in diplomacy?
Yeah, sure. First of all, it’s been said over by many people, but the American military-industrial complex, arms manufacturers are having– this is heaven for them. They’re talking about how depleted American weapon stocks are now. Well, what does that mean? You got to resupply American weapon stocks. Apparently, Raytheon was saying that it’s going to take them years to catch up with what’s been depleted in Ukraine. Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman love this. There’s this great economic pressure on the Biden administration. There’s no doubt that a just position, anyone that cares at all about peace in this world, and even more importantly, anyone that cares about– actually people focusing on the climate crisis and reducing the risk of nuclear war. The pressure needs to be, yes, denounce the invasion, but at this point, there have to be negotiations. Everybody knows more or less what the end game of this negotiation is.
Thomas Pickering, who’s a former American Diplomat, writes in Foreign Affairs. I mean, he laid it out, but he’s not the only one. It’s pretty clear. One way he suggests is to take all the disputed territories in Luhansk and Donetsk and put them under UN supervision, then have legitimate referendums and let the people decide what status they want. Do they want to be a part of Russia? Do they want to be part of Ukraine? Do they want to be autonomous and independent? I don’t think, from what I understand, that there’s any doubt that the people of this region have a right to self-determination. The same thing goes with Crimea. The only difference with Crimea is that it’s a little more complex, given its history of being in Russia and then being in Ukraine and back in Russia. More important to me than these border histories is that quite a few of what seem like legitimate polls were taken after the referendum in 2014. The majority of people in Crimea apparently do support Crimea joining Russia. But let that be certified again. If that’s the case, then fine. People have a right to self-determination, but countries have a right to defend their sovereignty.
Sometimes these are contradictory principles. Let’s take Taiwan. Does Taiwan have a right to self-determination? I think so. I’m not a lawyer, but you go into all the various ingredients of what would give a province of China, like Quebec is a province of Canada, what would give Taiwan the right to self-determination? From what I know, I think it meets those criteria. But China has a right to defend its sovereignty, and that includes Taiwan. In the same way, Canada, even if Quebec has a right to self-determination, it doesn’t mean Canada doesn’t have a right to defend its sovereignty, including Quebec. For example, if the U.S. were to try to intervene to facilitate Quebec’s independence, that would be illegal in international law. It would be a crime of aggression. It doesn’t matter whether there’s a right to self-determination. So they’re complicated, sometimes contradictory principles. But the underlying fundamental principle is the well-being of the people involved; peace as a primary principle, and the working people of each country should not slaughter each other for the sake of the oligarchs of their countries. The same thing goes for Ukraine.
I’ve been saying– it’s easy for me to sit here in Toronto and say this, but I would love the Ukrainian working people to have a way to organize and say to the Russians, you want to denazify? Great. Go denazify Russia because you’re surrounded by Nazis all around Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. Even the Russian Communist Party is virulently nationalist and, to a large extent, anti-semitic too. The Ukrainian workers should take all these guns they have now and point them at the Ukrainian oligarchy. Okay, that’s a nice dream. But that said, that class struggle in Ukraine, which up until the Russian invasion was there boiling, I don’t know how strong the workers’ movement was, but there were unions. It all came to nothing because of the Russian invasion. Like when you’re invaded, that national contradiction with the invader becomes far more primary. It’s very difficult.
In China, when the Japanese invaded, Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party were able to mobilize such a force that they could focus on the Japanese invasion and the Kuomintang, who were sometimes fighting the Japanese and more often than not fighting the Peoples’ Liberation Army and then wound up holding themselves up in Taiwan.
Conditions don’t exist like that in Ukraine right now. If the problem is the Ukrainian oligarchy, then it’s the Ukrainian people that have to deal with that. Criminal, kleptocracy, yes, with Nazi influence. But the oligarchs in Russia are no better. They’re not the ones that are going to clean up and denazify Ukraine. If they had succeeded in invading Kyiv, and if they had succeeded in putting in some Ukrainian puppet, then Ukraine would have been ruled by a corrupt Russian kleptocracy. So let’s not forget Ukraine and Russia are class societies.
Now, here’s the big problem here in terms of international public opinion and such. The country that’s leading the charge to denounce the Russian invasion is a rogue state. The United States is, certainly, with the invasion of Iraq and many other things, but let’s just focus on that, it is a rogue state. So what credibility have they got denouncing Russia for being an aggressor, a war of aggression, violating international law? They have zero credibility because of not just what they’ve done in Iraq, but the pressure and interference in other places, backing the Saudis in Yemen and on and on. So that’s the complication. But just because the United States is a rogue state, and just because they’re denouncing this Russian invasion, doesn’t mean we as progressives don’t have to first and foremost have solidarity with the people, not the Russian oligarchy, but the Ukrainian people who are being invaded. We must also point out what the Americans really are.
I think it’s also really important to recognize that so many people have been displaced as well. So when we’re talking about referendums, if we’re going to have referendums in certain areas of Ukraine, so many people have been forced out of those areas. So you would have to have it in a way that includes them and that maybe has them come back to the country under conditions of peace because it is a bit disingenuous to say, oh, we’ll have a referendum now after thousands of them have left and only a few of them are remaining. That’s a bit of a skewed picture of who’s there. Maybe their opinions have changed in the meantime since the invasion. I think a lot of working-class people, just by reading certain Ukrainian groups who are more working-class and have typically been opposed to the elite and have been opposed to Zelenskyy even, are now unified because they’re threatened by the Wagner group or by Russian forces who are killing them. So it’s ironic how their attention has been now forced against the other kleptocracy and not the one who is also oppressing them within their own country. Hopefully, there will be peace soon so that they can actually focus on the corruption and the problems within their own country and not just dealing with an aggressor.
Yeah, I would expect this wouldn’t be the first time a referendum has to be organized, even by the UN, where a lot of people have been displaced. So I think you’re right. There has to be a process that people can prove they were residents at such and such time and have a right to vote. If it was under UN jurisdiction, Donbas, then people, in theory, could return to their homes.
The problem here is, what’s the overriding objective for each of the players here? If you look at the Americans, the overriding objective, and is always their overriding objective is global hegemony. If you want to be the global hegemon, you got to be the hegemon in every region. So any regional power that’s a threat has to be subdued. The underlying problem here is the way global monopoly capitalism works, and there’s nothing new about it. Capitalism strives at the individual corporate level for monopoly and at the level of the country for monopoly within a region. If you’re a superpower monopoly globally, whether monopoly corporately, whether your companies can actually control certain sectors of the economy. Most importantly, and this is what exists in most of the world, American finance is the dominant financial player and is the creditor. I don’t know if it was Lenin or somebody who divided the world in various ways. One of the main ways you can divide the world is by creditors and debtors. Up until recently, the United States has been by far the number one creditor country, and more so, global capitalism depends on American management.
When the Pentagon sits down with the politicians who happen to be in power and the whole foreign policy complex, all the think tanks and everybody that feeds into this U.S. foreign policy, it’s a whole class of people, really, who is driven partly by the motivation for profit making for the arms making companies, but also an internalized view of the world. America is the beacon on the hill. America’s needed, or the world goes to anarchy. Democracy versus authoritarianism. Now, of course, that means “democracy”– I’m doing quotation marks here, especially for people listening to the podcast. I got to keep remembering more than half our audience is listening, not watching. But anyway, when they talk about “democracy,” they primarily mean the freedom of capital to move freely around the world. So they can go invest where they want. They can get countries in debt to them where they want, and so on. Then a certain amount of democracy for the people– you get to vote every few years. It’s not nothing. It sure ain’t, I don’t think, a real democracy, especially in the U.S., where people barely can even vote properly. But even then, in all the Western capitalist countries, and I include Canada in that, none of the parties really represent working people. I won’t get into that in detail. But a certain amount of democracy amongst the ruling classes themselves, when they talk about democracy, I think that’s the democracy they’re most concerned about.
They don’t like, and FDR articulated this really clearly in 1938 in the speech on monopoly, the Western capitalist on the whole, and there are some that don’t agree with what I’m about to say; they don’t want one section of capital to seize hold of the state and be beholden to a small group of capital. So democracy for the Americans, and for most or all of Western capitalism, is a democracy where the institutions maintain certain rules of the road. So these institutions play a moderating role between sections of capital so that they don’t go to war with each other, which they did in the United States.
During the American Civil War, it was primarily a war of different sections of capital and elite power fighting over how labor was going to be exploited and which section of, whether it was North and industrial capital or the Southern agricultural slave-based capital, was going to be dominant. They don’t want to do that again. They don’t want a war. So they’ve worked out these institutions that can moderate between sections of capital without the way feudalists used to rally peasants to their side. Some peasants would fight for this aristocrat, and some for that. There were endless wars. That’s not good for business, modern capitalist business. So they want some democracy. They prefer it. They like the freedom of capital, but they hate socialism. They hate the idea of public ownership and some democratization where people actually have a say in that public ownership. When faced with that, they don’t mind, especially in other countries, dictatorship. I mean, Saudi Arabia. It has gone on and on since World War II. How many dictatorships have the Americans supported? Socialism is the greatest enemy to them.
They’re balancing this. How do you have freedom of capital? A kind of democracy, not democracy for the people, but some, at least some, that looks that way. They don’t like even a [Jair] Bolsonaro situation that much in Brazil, where a group around Bolsonaro was starting to really take control of the state. But still, they had elections, and the institutions played a role.
Anyway, when they look at Ukraine, what’s their primary objective? To assert their hegemony over Europe. They don’t want Russia to be a big player in Europe because it could be too competitive to American power in Europe. They hate the idea that there would ever be a Russia-German cooperation or alliance because imagine if you had a Russia-German alliance in Europe, who needs the U.S.? There’s no longer even a role for NATO at all, and it would change everything. So the Americans, that’s their primary objective.
What should their primary objective be? What should we be demanding their primary objective should be? Peace? Yeah, of course. But it’s more specific. The great threat facing us is the climate crisis and then the threat of nuclear war. You can reverse it because of what’s happening right now. If there’s a nuclear war next week, no one’s going to be around to worry about the climate crisis. So you can’t even compare these two in a way. They both have to be dealt with. It’s too obvious. It can’t be dealt with without an international agreement that includes China and Russia, especially China, but also Russia.
What good is global hegemony in a world of utter chaos? If they thought there were supply chain problems during the pandemic, just wait until we start crossing the 1.5 and two-degree warming levels, then three and then four. James Hansen said recently in a study that two degrees of warming is already baked into the system. We are there now. We’re not at two degrees yet, but it’s already baked into the climate. The only way to stop going past two, maybe mitigate getting to two, is a radical rupture with the use of fossil fuel now, today, and a radical moving into sustainable energy today, now. That should be everyone’s priority, including Ukrainians. What good is a Ukraine that defeats the Russians, one, isn’t a wasteland of destruction? How many times have the Americans promised to come into Eastern Europe and rebuild and this and that, and they do very little? Maybe there’ll be a way to spend money there, but do you think the American people entering a recession are going to be, oh, let’s all go spend more money in Ukraine?
More importantly, what is there of Ukraine or Russia if we don’t face up to climate and if we keep risking a nuclear war? So the problem here is we got to step back from– while we need to denounce the Russian invasion without mitigation, we need to step back because the problem is the way monopoly capitalism has reached such a moment of utter irrationality that we’re on the precipice of destroying human civilization. So once you put it into that context, how on Earth can the Ukrainians keep talking about liberating Crimea? How can there not be a quick resolution under the auspices of the UN? Yes, the U.S. is very much the culprit here. Yes, the Russians invaded. Yes, I’ve said it over and over again. I’m not mitigating that. But the Americans actually do have the ability to say to the Ukrainians, yeah, you have a right to fight as long as you want to fight, including liberating Crimea. If that’s what Ukrainians want to do, okay. But we don’t have an obligation to keep arming you if it’s threatening the world. And that’s what they should say.
Not just threatening the world but also threatening the integrity of their own country. Some would argue, even certain liberal historians, I think I’ve mentioned this before, Stephen Kotkin, he’s been a diehard supporter of arming Ukraine, but he’s been saying that what good is the outcome if Ukraine can’t join the EU in the end and there’s not much left of their country. It’s going to require a huge effort to rebuild the country. We already know that. Something much greater than the Marshall Plan. What good will it be if they regain Crimea? There are no collective security agreements in place. There is no redistribution of wealth in place. There’s no solution for climate change in that region. Even if they have Crimea back, that’s not really a great final outcome, at least in his view. So it would make sense to focus on what is really realistic.
Certain other experts like Trita Parsi have been saying that you can still have diplomacy and not actually have a ceasefire. The two aren’t the same thing. So many Western countries have been shying away from investing in diplomatic negotiations as if a ceasefire would be around the corner, and they don’t want to downplay their support for Ukraine. It’s ridiculous because you can still have open lines of communication and work toward diplomacy, and that won’t necessarily automatically lead to a ceasefire. So they should be talking a lot more.
Sorry, go ahead.
We also don’t really know what’s going on. I mean, I think, again, this recent Pentagon leak just shows how U.S. intelligence is so much better at gauging what the Russians are doing than what the Ukrainian war plans are. Maybe there are some rogue elements in the Ukrainian government. So I feel like countries are just shooting from the hip, and they don’t have a real strategy in place, or else some strategies are just hidden from the West. Whether that serves a purpose, I don’t really know. But yeah, it’s really hard to say.
Why don’t we talk about China’s role in mediating these conflicts? [Emmanuel] Macron was recently in China to speak to Xi Jinping, to try and put pressure on China to condemn Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine and to potentially discourage him from sending weapons to Ukraine. I don’t know if China is actually– sorry, sending weapons to Russia. I don’t know if China has actually sent any, but that prospect is obviously really disconcerting for people in the West if they think that this is going to become some new form of Cold War competition between the U.S. and China in the end.
Yeah, well, it already is. It goes back to this striving for monopoly. The U.S. does not want to give up its predominant position, and it has already, to a large extent, lost it. I think China is now the major trading partner for almost everywhere, and they don’t have any foreign military bases. So they’ve accomplished this just through finance, loaning money, the aid of some kind, because of the size of their market and so on. In Latin America, almost, if not every major country in Latin America, their major trading partner now is China or it’s U.S. but China is right there next to it.
In terms of Ukraine, China is the place that, in theory, should have said no to this. If they want to call themselves socialists, then one of the fundamental principles of socialism is international solidarity with workers everywhere. A fundamental principle of that is you don’t support wars where workers slaughter each other for oligarchs. That’s it. You don’t. China’s position should have been from the very beginning, trying to use the leverage they had to get a negotiated settlement. I don’t see how the Russian economy would have survived without China buying its oil and gas from Russia. Apparently, they’re getting a cut-rate deal on it, but that is not the way a socialist country operates– for the sake of better prices on fossil fuel and for the sake of weakening our geopolitical ally, the United States, I’m sorry, not ally, adversary, they like to call themselves. They like, I guess, it’s in China’s narrow interest to see the Americans tied down in Ukraine, spending tons of money there. Maybe they see it mitigates the provocations the United States creates over Taiwan. But that isn’t how a socialist country operates.
They could have and should have used and still should not be so fuzzy on what they actually think about the U.S. invasion. If you read something called Global Times, which is a website that more or less speaks for the Chinese Communist Party, there have been several paragraphs in there in some of their articles where they actually do come pretty close to saying this is an unjustified invasion. They don’t quite say it all the way, but they come pretty close. But they make a point, and in some ways, it’s somewhat similar to Ellsberg’s point, which is you can’t humiliate Putin and his government, and you can’t try to bring them down without horrible consequences. You can’t hope for the disintegration of the Russian Federation, which some of the American neocons and even people in the Biden administration, many of them are essentially neocons, hope for. They’re actually seeing this as a strategic opportunity to fundamentally weaken the Russian Federation, maybe even lead to its breakup in some ways, and in that way, weaken China. They don’t like China having this massive resource of fossil fuel.
Russia is not– people have called Russia just a gas station. Well, it’s pretty clear that it is not. They have a big agricultural sector. They make fertilizer. Their arms manufacturing industry is top-notch. Even if the army isn’t doing very well, apparently, their sophisticated weapons are at world-class levels. So that’s not an insignificant ally for China. For the U.S., weakening, breaking up– so China’s issued some warnings in between the lines, saying, you better be careful what you wish for here, America. A strategic defeat for Putin, the oligarchy, and the Russian armed forces can get extremely dangerous for the world. But I would just say back to the Chinese, well, the same thing for you. If you don’t really try to get this war over with and use your leverage for a UN broker deal, and I should mention, by the way, all these arguments about how Dombas was about to be attacked. Well, even if it was, which again, I don’t see it, but let’s say they were, well, then Russia goes to the UN Security Council and gets a resolution condemning Ukraine for its threat to Donbas, to the autonomous areas, and try to get a resolution, even a resolution supporting an intervention to defend Donbas. They didn’t do that. And that’s what China should have been saying. If you really think this is such a threat, then use the UN Charter, use the UN mechanism, because China is supposed to be a supporter of that. But you can’t make speeches about defending sovereignty and integrity and then be quiet about Russia’s invasion, which is what China is doing.
So there’s this mix going on here of people. They want to call it socialism with Chinese characteristics. Well, fine. Without getting too deeply into it, at this time, although I’m happy to do it some other time, is this actually socialism or not? Well, maybe it is sort of but not the kind, certainly, that Marx and Engels imagined in the sense that where’s the democracy for the workers? But okay, let’s set aside that right now. If you say you’re a socialist, then you need to abide by the principles. In fact, the Soviet Union was very involved in some of the international laws that were written that condemned wars without an imminent threat, condemning them as wars of aggression. China has supported all that, has supported that concept.
Yeah, I get the problem here and what I said earlier. The biggest criminal and the biggest purveyor of wars of aggression since World War II is the United States. Of course, the biggest criminal prior to World War II was the British Empire. Anglo-American imperialism has more blood on its hands, even than Hitler. The British actually killed more people over the 300 years of the British Empire. Anyway, you don’t need to compare who’s the worst criminal. I get why peoples of the South see the United States as the greater danger. I get why in much of the world, people see the U.S. as the greater danger. In an overall way, I guess it is because it is the power of the United States, the power of American finance, the corporate power; they are the primary obstacles, even on the climate front, in spite of all their rhetoric, pretending they care about climate. But these are not dogmatic, easy, simple rules that the Americans are to blame for everything.
If you were in Pakistan and India attacked, or vice versa, or the fight over Kashmir erupted again, it wouldn’t be clear where the U.S. was where Russia and China were. Maybe China is a little more towards Pakistan. The U.S. certainly backs [Narendra] Modi, but India is keeping up its relations with Russia. It’s a complicated jigsaw puzzle there. That being said, if you’re in Pakistan, you’re worried about the Indians. If you’re in India, you’re worried about the Pakistanis. Then the world better worry about a nuclear war between India and Pakistan because that’s enough to create a nuclear winter that could kill a billion people. This is the thing; it doesn’t matter which conflict you look at. The big picture comes back to the issue of climate and the risk of nuclear war. So the fundamental thing we need to be saying to all these powers, including the Chinese, and you want to call yourself socialism with Chinese characteristics, fine. Although I’ve never heard of socialism that didn’t have some national characteristics. I mean, Cubans had Cuban characteristics and so on, so whatever. The fundamental principle of a socialist country is international solidarity amongst working people. So you do what you can to end this war. There’s probably no force in the world right now that has more possibilities for ending this Ukrainian-Russian war than China. There’s still not doing it.
Having said that, though, I think there is an argument to be made for the fact that the U.S. is the greatest obstacle to this so-called rules-based international order, with quotation marks. I mean, they use this, at least in my view, they use this as a discursive tool to pursue their own interests. So they keep saying that, we need to condemn the war in Ukraine, we need to condemn Russia because we need to safeguard this rules-based international order. But the problem is that if they actually cared about these customary norms and these international standards, then they would be the first to prosecute Bush and Cheney and to hold their own war crimes to account. But they’ve insulated themselves and ensured that the ICC would never have any jurisdiction over them or issue an arrest warrant for any American officials. I’m sure that’s why the majority of the world is just looking at the West and saying, all your talk of democracy, Trump’s autocracy is BS because you don’t hold yourself to those same standards. But I would ask you, does that then mean because they’re so hypocritical that they shouldn’t hold potential Russian war criminals to the same standards? How should we go about ensuring that there’s some form of international justice? Maybe there would be Ukrainian war criminals as well that would need to be prosecuted. I don’t know. There have been UN reports, or I think, an Amnesty report maybe, that showed that there were war crimes on both sides, but the reports show that there were probably more systematic war crimes perpetrated by Russian troops than Ukrainian.
There is such hypocrisy in the American position and the Western position. I include China there, too. I mean, did the Chinese demand accountability for Bush-Cheney after the Iraq War? I don’t remember. Wherever I’ve looked, I can’t see anything. I don’t remember the Chinese coming to the United Nations and asking for war crime trials for Bush-Cheney. They’re far more interested in developing U.S.-China trade. Of course, that’s what should have happened. I mean, it’s a joke. The hypocrisy is so terrible that even prosecuting Trump looks hypocritical because such bigger crimes were committed by former U.S. presidents, including Obama.
I’m not even talking about the drone program here, but if I understand it correctly, under international law, President Obama had an obligation to prosecute Bush-Cheney for war crimes. By not doing that, he becomes a collaborator. At the time when Obama was President, and this was a much hotter issue, I interviewed several experts on international law. It wasn’t just the need to prosecute Bush-Cheney; it’s that Obama himself could be prosecuted. But given that the only people that seem to ever get prosecuted are from small countries, it’s not like I shed a tear that these guys get prosecuted, but when the big war criminals don’t, and especially when the American war criminals don’t, then let’s get real about how do we get to a peace and how do we get to dealing with climate and the risk of nuclear war and any attempt to prosecute Putin or other Russians for war crimes. And yeah, they’re never going to go after Ukrainians anyway. And, of course, if you’re going to do it, you might as well go after all war crimes. But it’s a pointless exercise. All it’s going to do is make it impossible to come to an agreement. And if Putin thinks his life is on the line, and not just him, the people around him, they’re going to fight to the death here. So let’s get real about what should be done. Yeah, if you want to prosecute Putin, great. Let’s start with Bush-Cheney and all the other kinds of people. In fact, Larry Wilkerson, who we interview all the time, he said if there is a prosecution of Bush Cheney, he should be on the dock, too. And in fact, Ellsberg has said, and it’s going to be in the film. There’s a clip where Ellsberg says because of his role as a nuclear war planner and in Vietnam if he was charged with war crimes, he wouldn’t plead not guilty.
But this idea that the Russian war criminals, sure they are, should be held accountable by Western war criminals makes no point. The fundamental problem here is we need to stop the killing of ordinary people. The slaughter of ordinary people has to stop. This accountability of the Russians, it’s a propaganda game because the truth is, I would doubt the Americans even really want Putin held accountable because that sets a precedent. If you have a war of aggression and you’re going to do now what was done to the Nazis in the Nuremberg trials, well, maybe yeah. Maybe there should be some Americans in Nuremberg-style trials. Of course, there should be. Anyway, it’s a distraction at this point.
Well, I have one final question, and that would be, how do you see things playing out in Russia? How do you think the Russian people are going to react if there are several years of war? It’s obviously hard to see into the future, but the current sanction regimes have not had a really horrible, deleterious, short-term effect on the Russian economy because Russia and the central bank they’ve learned how to isolate themselves from the effect of these sanctions, and they have China as a huge trading partner. So I think the short-term effect hasn’t been that measurable. But what do you think will happen long term if they don’t repeal sanctions and if this war continues? Do you think we’ll see hunger strikes or any antiwar movement?
I don’t know the answer. I know there are two possibilities, maybe more, but there’s one that the Chinese describe in, like I said, in the Global Times articles I’ve seen, and that is, if it looks like the Putin government is going to be humiliated, if it looks like they may really fall, if it looks like the Russian Federation starts to even come apart, then this becomes a much bigger deal than it already is. Meaning that the Russian people, now I’m quoting the Chinese article, start to see this not as a “special military operation” that doesn’t touch most of their lives that much. They start seeing it as a great patriotic war. Amongst much of the Russian population, certainly not all, but much, as it is in the United States, there is a toxic mix of religion and nationalism that forms much of people’s identity. If people feel that identity so threatened, their whole existence– in the United States, we’re number one, we’re number one. Democracy, democracy. How many working people go off to die in Iraq, Afghanistan, or other wars and really truly believe they are fighting to defend the identity of their people, the freedom of their people? Well, the same thing’s going on in Russia.
Many people truly believe in God, the Russian God– it’s like back in the viking days. The vikings had their gods. The British had their gods. They go to war to see which gods are going to win. Well, much of the Russian people’s identity is based on this. As we saw with the German people in the lead up to World War II, this being humiliated, as the Germans felt after the Versailles Treaty and the deliberate humiliation of Germany after the end of World War I, and they probably would have done the same thing after World War II if it hadn’t been for the Soviet Union. The Marshall Plan and wanting to help Germany get back on its capitalist feet certainly had economic considerations to promoting American capital in Europe. But if there hadn’t been the Soviet Union, they would have stuck it to the Germans a lot worse than they did after World War II.
Anyway, so one scenario is that the Americans keep the pressure on, keep trying to actually bring down Putin, and keep hoping for the worst for Russia and by implication China. Or one, yes, an antiwar movement develops in Russia.
Boris Kagarlitsky thinks, and I’ve interviewed him a few times. He thinks the Russian military is against what’s going on, or much of the leadership is. He thinks maybe they’ll intervene at some point. I don’t know whether he’s right or wrong. Or maybe the American oligarchy and American capitalists, they get this is getting to the point of risking their own assets. I’ve been saying my joke about my film on nuclear weapons is Wall Street has said they have a responsibility to defend the assets of their investors. Well, don’t you have the responsibility to defend the asses of your investors? Maybe they get that this ain’t the best thing for money making. Maybe the Russian oligarchs get this isn’t the best way for us to be rich. Maybe. World War I and World War II, they did eventually end, but there was a craziness on the German side, a metaphysical ideology that went with German nationalism. One hopes in Russia, maybe they can be more pragmatic about it. But the Americans have to create an opening for that to happen, and maybe the Chinese can facilitate it. Otherwise, we’re into shit. Let’s be straight about it. I don’t know how long the war goes on. As long as the war goes on, I don’t expect, unless there’s a great reverse change in policy, I don’t think the Russian state as such is going to be threatened by the way it is now if it just keeps going. So I don’t think Putin is deliberately going to use a tactical nuclear weapon unless he’s really on the edge of a humiliating defeat in Ukraine. And that’s not out of the question.
So is the U.S. going to push it to that point? Then the second problem is the longer this goes on, the more opportunities there are for miscalculation. So that missile that landed in Poland, at least the Americans quickly said it was not Russian. It turned out it wasn’t Russian. So the Americans aren’t looking for an excuse for a nuclear war here because they could have quickly blamed the Russians for that missile. But what happens if a Ukrainian missile of some kind, or more than one, some shit hits the fan and it’s heading towards Moscow, and they don’t actually know what it is? This is the problem. It’s one of the main points of the film.
With our intercontinental ballistic missiles, there’s very little time to decide what is on your radar screen. We’ve had miscalculation after miscalculation where we’ve come very close to nuclear war. So the tenser this gets, the longer it goes, and the more chance for miscalculation there is. So maybe some rationality, at least on the nuclear issue, enters some of these ruling classes’ heads. I mean, the Chinese are concerned about this. You can see it, like I say, in Global Times. Even if the Chinese have nothing to do with it, if some nuclear weapons are used, it will lead to the end of the world. If it becomes a full-out nuclear war, there’s no China left after that. So they certainly do get the risk of all this. So one hopes that there’ll be some rationality. I’m not seeing that there’s a movement now or yet. The repression in Russia is very strong.
Yeah, you can be arrested for 15 years or something.
It’s kind of weird what I’m being told. Some people like Kagarlitsky speak out quite openly to the foreign press, not domestically, and they don’t do anything about it. Then other people are going to jail for five or 10 years for saying it’s a war, not a special military operation. But the repression is there, no doubt. Even if antiwar sentiment is rising, it’s not breaking out in a way that’s going to change things.
The other problem is if the world really goes into a deep recession, who knows whether that’s happening or not? Anyway, we’re on a knife’s edge, and the solution is simple. The Americans have to bloody well stop provoking and pushing this. Of course, the Russians need to negotiate and stop making completely unreasonable demands. The same thing goes for the Ukrainians. One hopes the Chinese, whatever you want to call them, they find it in their interest to really try to facilitate this thing to end.
Well, Paul, it was really great getting your insights on these really tricky issues. We haven’t seen you in a while, so it’s great to hear what you had to say about all of these things and about the war. So thank you.
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