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Who Benefits From a Protracted Ukrainian War?

“I feel frustrated with those who condemn war atrocities in Ukraine, but then use them as a reason to go on fighting a war that will inevitably produce even more such atrocities,” says veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn on theAnalysis.news with Paul Jay.

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’ll be back in just a few seconds to talk with Patrick Cockburn about the war in Ukraine. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button, subscribe button, and most importantly, get to the website, theAnalysis.news. If you’re not on our email list, sign up there because we’ve been having a lot of trouble with YouTube. The most reliable thing is to get on our email list and go to the website. I’ll be back in just a few seconds.

In a recent article, veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote:

EXCERPT

“I feel frustrated with those who condemn war atrocities, but then use them as a reason to go on fighting a war that will inevitably produce even more such atrocities.”

“Yet there are a growing number of politicians and pundits willing to fight to the last Ukrainian to defeat the Russian bear. Some of this is fuelled by popular outrage at Russian brutality against civilians, which is on television every night. Politicians, particularly in Washington and London, relish the thought of Russia being trapped in a Ukrainian quagmire without much concern about what happens to more than 40 million Ukrainians living on this battlefield.”

“Worrying again is an almost light-hearted belief that Putin would never use tactical nuclear or chemical weapons in this conflict. Where this confidence comes from is a mystery to me.”

Paul Jay

Now joining me is Patrick Cockburn. He’s an award-winning columnist specializing in the Middle East, a Foreign Correspondent in Moscow, Washington, Jerusalem, Belfast, Beirut and Baghdad. Patrick is also the author of nine books, including The Rise of Islamic State, which was translated into 18 languages. He wrote with his son Henry, the best-selling Henry’s Demons: Living with Schizophrenia, which was a finalist for the Costa Books Award. His latest book, Behind Enemy Lines, was published in October. Thanks very much for joining me, Patrick.

Patrick Cockburn

Thank you for inviting me.

Paul Jay

So there are a lot of themes in your article I found interesting. Let’s start with the most crucial. What exactly do NATO, the West, and the United States— if [Vladimir] Putin does have some kind of way out of this that doesn’t look like a complete disaster, then as you suggest in your article, isn’t the West inviting even more disaster?

Patrick Cockburn

Yes, I think one of those remarkable things about this war is that the objectives of Putin and Russia and the objectives of the West are very unclear. Does Putin want to permanently conquer Ukraine? At the very beginning, he made suggestions that implied denotification, getting rid of the Ukrainian leadership, and rendering the Army. That’s disappeared. People have been commenting on this. What are the Western objectives? Is it to simply stop Putin in Ukraine? Is it a regime change in Russia? Many of the things which are said imply regime change in Russia. This talk of putting Putin on trial and so forth, you only do that if you’ve decisively defeated an enemy. So there’s a sort of vagueness about this crucial issue.

To pick up another theme that I was trying to address in this article, there’s this ambivalent or contradictory attitude to Putin. On the one hand, this man is a complete demon. He’s mad. He’s a Russian equivalent of [Adolf] Hitler, at least some fascist leader, but generally, Hitler is often brought up. At the same time, if you then say, well, hold on a minute. If this war goes on and on, the one trump card that Russia does have is the possession of nuclear weapons, both strategic and tactical. Then you find people, remarkably on this crucial issue who have been saying that Putin is a satanic figure. Saying that somehow you’ll never dare use nuclear weapons. Why should they be so sure of that, given their beliefs about the nature of Putin’s regime?

Paul Jay

Well, let’s return to this issue of the possibility or veiled threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear war. Let’s start with what you make of Putin’s objectives? If the objective is to have a land bridge to Crimea to defend Donbas, first of all, let me just say people watching theAnalysis know how I feel about this. It’s totally illegal. It was totally unjustified. As we discuss this, I think you agreed, the starting point is there is absolutely no justification for this invasion. First of all, let me ask you, do you agree with that as a premise?

Patrick Cockburn

Yes, I do. I think there’s no justification for it. I think it was a crazy idea. I thought that Putin might invade at some point because of Russian sabre-rattling. The problem with sabre-rattling is that you get diminishing returns unless you take out the sabre, which I thought they might do. I thought that they would at least wait till they had enough troops to get somewhere and not wander into Ukraine on the assumption that they were going to be welcomed by the people— throwing sweets and flowers at them, which is ludicrous. I think they were wholly unjustified in what they did.

Paul Jay

There are Russian-speaking cities that are fighting back against the Russian invasion, is that correct?

Patrick Cockburn

Yes. Something sort of in the East. I mean, even in Mariupol’ where the Russians have captured about 11,000 Ukrainian Marines, but all these Marines who are interviewed on Russian television speak Russian. There’s a very simple thing if you fire missiles on people, and if you’re on the receiving end of missiles— I’ve been shelled quite a lot in Baghdad and Beirut and other places— you do not feel good about the people who are firing shells and missiles at you. It’s a visceral reaction that you immediately dislike them. So whether you’re a Ukrainian or Russian speaker, you’re likely to respond in the same way. Suppose your neighbor/grandmother/Catya in the house next door to you has just had her legs blown off; you’ll feel really angry about it. So it’s not surprising that they respond in this way. I always thought that the invasion was A: wrong and B: crazy.

Paul Jay

On the face of it, a lot of people have made this comment. The way the [Joe] Biden administration was talking about ‘an invasion is coming, an invasion is coming,’ it really did seem like they were goading Putin into invading. Many analysts were saying the troops on the border and threat were actually somewhat effective. The Germans were continuing with Nord Stream Two. There was a lack of unity in NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], and the same analysts were saying if he actually invades, NATO is going to unite. It really does look like Putin has done what the U.S. has wanted him to do.

Patrick Cockburn

Sure. Yeah. This was very predictable. It was difficult beforehand to think of any upside from the point of view of Putin in Russia, of actually carrying out an invasion. It was very easy to see there was an upside in threatening to carry out an invasion. What made it even more negative was that they carried out this strange invasion. They presupposed they’d have no resistance. They sort of sent in penny packets of troops from all directions. The whole thing was very amateur and based, so far as I can see, on a political fantasy that there wouldn’t be any real resistance. Well, we know, and this was predictable, that there was a great deal of resistance.

It reminded me of Saddam Hussein in 1990. Saddam actually did it twice. He invaded Iran in 1980, attacking a more populous country that had just had a revolution that was predictably disastrous. There was a disaster, and then he did it again in a rather different way, by invading Kuwait in 1990.

Why did he do it? I think some of the conventional explanations are probably correct. He was isolated due to COVID. I think that autocracies, and particularly Putin’s autocracy, become monarchies. The guy at the top makes all the decisions, and the people around him become more and more courteous. People are appointed because they say yes to the boss and never contradict him. After 22 years in power, Putin seems to have been surrounded by guys, his old pals from the FSB, the Russian Intelligence Service, which used to be the KGB and other people who are courteous and agree with him.

There’s one other factor. Russia is an oil state; it sells natural resources and so forth. The government doesn’t have to do much to get revenues. All the oil States have an equal level of incompetence as far as I can see, but that’s a slightly different point.

Paul Jay

One would think Putin’s logic, at this point, is that if at the end of all this, he controls Donbas and has a land bridge to Crimea, that’s a victory. This move towards Kyiv was never serious. Even now, he and others that defend the Russian position say, in fact, what’s happening on the ground is more or less what they wanted.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, I guess they say that, but they didn’t behave like that. They attacked Odesa, Kyiv, Kharkiv, and many other targets. Now they’re looking for some victory because, rather amazingly, after more than 50 days of this war, they haven’t won any victories. It shows a real level of incompetence not to win a victory anywhere. Kharkiv is very close to the Russian border. It used to be a Moscow correspondent. Kyiv isn’t that far. These aren’t foreign expeditions. It’s not like Russia intervening in Afghanistan in 1979. This should have been easy, yet they seem to have made a complete mess of it. So if they can win some sort of victory there and take Mariupol’ and say, look, we defended Donbas, and he can claim something, but it’s a tremendous expenditure of energy. It’s united NATO, which would seem to be a dying institution. It has weakened the European Union. In a lot of other ways, it has weakened Russia, the Middle East and Central Asia. This is a real disaster. I wonder how far Putin will be able to get away with this.

Paul Jay

They talk about American NATO objectives. It seems the objective is a long, drawn-out, dragged-out war. As you say in your article, “to the last Ukrainian to weaken Russia,” but why do they consider Russia such a threat? Or is this purely a play to sell a lot of arms? First, you militarize Ukraine, and then Russia can come in and destroy it. Then you can spend a lot of money remilitarizing it and rebuilding it. When I talked to your brother Andrew; he has a book, Spoils of War. Essentially he makes the argument that a lot of these wars go on purely for money-making. There isn’t some great geopolitical thinking behind it.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, that’s true. I think that one can be over sophisticated in explaining why these wars go on. Selling weapons and creating an atmosphere of a new Cold War is really good for military budgets. High military budgets are good for people who manufacture and sell arms. There are other factors. Let’s say in Britain and America, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden hope to make political gains out of this. NATO becomes more important. The European Union becomes less important. Things are going their way. Politicians like wars when they seem to be victorious, and it’s striking how little effort they’ve made to end the war. Even talking about negotiations is treated almost as a form of treachery.

Paul Jay

It was like that in the beginning. At a time when they could have signaled— they being the Americans and other European countries— they could have signaled more strongly that there was no way Ukraine was on its way to membership in NATO. Everyone knew that. They were not going to get a consensus on Ukraine joining. I can’t imagine Turkey would have agreed, and certainly, even France and Germany were opposed to it. Instead of strongly signaling that this was never going to happen, they kept reinforcing Ukraine’s right to join in a way that was actually provocative. Is that not what their plan was, to be provocative?

Patrick Cockburn

I think it was. I mean, one of the bizarre things was they wanted to assert Ukraine’s right to join NATO, and at the same time, say that no soldier from a NATO country would actually enter Ukraine to defend Ukraine. So they are provoking the Russians but at the same time tempting them by saying they wouldn’t enter Ukraine. They certainly had an incentive to weaken Russia and to push NATO eastwards. How far they saw that this was going to provoke a direct invasion— although they kept saying there was going to be an invasion. Now they get credit for having predicted it, but they kept on saying it week after week, and it didn’t happen.

So I’m not sure how far they expected things to break so well in their favor, but they’re making a lot of gains over this politically at home and abroad. In the Middle East, Russia will be a weakened power. You mentioned Turkey; Turkey will be another beneficiary from this. NATO and Russia will probably be the big gainers.

Paul Jay

The cynicism about all this arms trade. Turkey is acting as a peacemaker by hosting the negotiations and selling arms to the Ukrainians, especially this drone, which apparently is very effective. This is so much about the arms industry and arms dealing. In fact, Ukraine was an arms exporting competitor to Russia. It’s such a filthy business.

I want to raise another issue in a lot of the interviews I know I’ve been doing and others in alternative media. We focus on geopolitics, the U.S. and Russia. A lot of the Ukrainian progressives are saying you’re missing what we are. There are several Ukrainian socialist organizations, left-wing sites and groups, and they’re saying we’re fighting a national liberation movement here. You guys are missing that piece of the story. As if the Ukrainian people who are fighting are only some extension of the Ukrainian government, and there isn’t a people’s resistance here.

Patrick Cockburn

Sure. Yeah, I think that’s a very reasonable point. One of the problems with this 24/7 wall-to-wall media coverage is that it focuses on a few points. It doesn’t focus on domestic Ukrainian politics. It doesn’t focus on people who feel like they’re a nation resisting an imperialist invasion and occupation.

Paul Jay

The people I’m reading and talking to are also— they can’t say no NATO now because that’s the only way they have the means to resist, but they want no NATO at the end of this.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah. They want to retain their independence or gain their independence. Remember at the beginning of this, since January/February, when Washington, London, and others were talking this up by saying Russia’s going to invade, and the Ukrainians were talking it down. They were saying we don’t see any sign of this on the ground. The situation is the same as before.

Paul Jay

What do you make of that?

Patrick Cockburn

They can see the danger of just becoming a Western proxy. Remember, there are 44 million Ukrainians, and 5 million of them have already fled the country, according to the UN [United Nations]. They could end up with a large chunk of that population as refugees.

Paul Jay

So if you go back to what NATO objectives were before the invasion began, you had a lot of American congressmen and senators advocating sending small arms to Ukraine so that Ukrainians could fight the Russians in the streets. This is before the invasion. There was no attempt to actually stop the invasion by conceding some obvious points, NATO for one. What do you make of the issue of Donbas? This is supposed to be— one of the main justifications of the Russian invasion was a possible genocide against Donbas, the attacks on Donbas. When I look at the actual numbers that the United Nations reports on deaths in Donbas from the Ukrainian government, from 2018 to 2021, I think it’s 310 civilians dead. That is not a genocide. What do you make of that? What is the solution for dealing with Donbas?

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, I think reporting of that’s been pretty deceptive. I think a round figure is a given 14,000 or something since 2014. What isn’t said is that almost all of these were killed in the first two years. It was pretty quiet before this. I mean, it’s tough for the 300 people, but this is an area with a population of several million. Then there was this sort of agreement (Minsk 2 Agreement), so-called, which seemed to me to be the basis of a long-term agreement. You had Luhansk and Donetsk, who claimed independence, but previously they were two separatist areas. These were limited problems, and they were ones that could be resolved.

Paul Jay

In terms of Ukrainian agency, the Ukrainian government itself could have done something and declared that they were not going to join NATO, but they didn’t do that prior to the invasion.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, I think they didn’t do various things probably because they were being pushed by the Americans saying not to do that. I don’t want to get to the stage of saying the Russians certainly had grievances. They certainly felt threatened. They certainly had arguments for this, but they didn’t have grievances which justified an invasion. That invasion has actually made all the things that the Russians said might happen to them but probably wouldn’t happen to them happen. So it’s been an extraordinarily self-destructive operation from their point of view.

Paul Jay

From an actual military point of view, does it make any difference at all if there are nuclear weapons in Ukraine or if they are in Poland to Russia? I don’t see how it can be more than a 10-second difference.

Patrick Cockburn

I think it does because it means that any issue between Russia and Ukraine immediately becomes a nuclear issue. I think there’s a mistake that people make, which is when people say will there be a nuclear war, they imagine a Doctor Strangelove situation. Somebody presses the button and takes off with nuclear weapons or missiles fired from silos far away. These days we have tactical nuclear weapons that were designed to— the first nuclear weapons had explosive power, 3,000 times Hiroshima. Now you have tactical nuclear weapons that are half the power of Hiroshima. So if you want to take out a convoy or if you want to take out a certain area, military area, you can do that. So it might be used on the battlefield. These are battlefield weapons. The Russians have talked up this option, and the Americans have as well, the idea of using nuclear weapons in what is otherwise conventional war. It seems to be completely crazy because if the other side gets news that you’ve used nuclear weapons, you have a nuclear war. The other side doesn’t know whether you’re going to use some missiles with the payload of half of Hiroshima or several thousand times Hiroshima. So it’s incredibly dangerous.

Paul Jay

[Daniel] Ellsberg calls it institutional madness in his book Doomsday. I think, and this is the point Ellsberg has made to me, neither side will accept losing that exchange. So it has to spiral into more and more nuclear weapons because it—

Patrick Cockburn

That is why it is so destructive. It happens very fast. There’s a lack of— various sorts of tripwires that existed during the first Cold War against the Soviet Union aren’t there anymore. There were agreements that were reached on what weapons were available, but also contacts between the two sides to prevent accidental exchanges. All of these have been forgotten about, ignored or removed over the last 30 years. In many ways, it’s much more dangerous now than it was at the height of the Cold War when everybody was super conscious of this. I remember I was at school during the Cuban Missile Crisis in Scotland. There was a real terror among the boys. Everybody was frightened of this. We knew all about what nuclear war might do, and somehow that doesn’t exist anymore.

Paul Jay

They’re using this terminology about tactical nuclear weapons, and they’re not using the word doomsday machine. This does not stay at the level of tactical nuclear weapons.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, it was useful. The idea that people didn’t know much about it still knew about MAD, mutually assured destruction. Once missile nuclear weapons start being used, then you can’t stop it, and you have an apocalyptic war. So I think that the danger of that has gotten much greater. The public is less conscious of it. Politicians are less conscious of it. The military has slid into [inaudible 00:30:06] the agenda [inaudible 00:30:07] option that [inaudible 00:30:09] some were mad won’t mean mutually assured destruction. The basic calculations are exactly what they used to be. If I could make another point.

Paul Jay

Yeah, go ahead.

Patrick Cockburn

I think all this coverage of the atrocities, very real atrocities, carried out primarily by the Russians, and what gets underestimated is we’re not actually in the state of total war. I covered a lot of wars, mostly in the Middle East, and the level of destruction by artillery— people always think about missiles, but most of the destruction is carried out by heavy artillery. This isn’t at the scale of what we saw in a whole series of sieges in the Middle East. Whether it was the Syrian government in Damascus, Aleppo, or the Americans backing the Kurds in Raqqa when that was held by the Islamic State, or Mosul when that was being attacked by the Iraqi Army aided by American airstrikes, you could see Raqqa— I’ve been in Raqqa in northeast Syria. It’s a big city, and everything is completely ruined. This is worse than anything we’ve seen in Ukraine, and this could happen again. We’ve had these attacks on these cities, but other than Mariupol’, we haven’t had them surrounded yet. It’s rather remarkable, maybe just the failure, the ineptitude of the Russian forces, but let’s leave aside the reason. They haven’t actually surrounded places like Kharkiv, even though they’re so close to the Russian border. These things could happen in the future. I think that a lot of these atrocities reported are not exactly untrue, but it focuses on things that have happened as if this is the worst of the worst, and it isn’t. Things could get an awful lot better. The violence so far isn’t on the scale of Damascus, Aleppo or Fallujah town outside Baghdad.

Paul Jay

This is the violence the Americans laid against the Iraqui?

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah. They used to give heavy artillery to built-up areas, and they’d say there were no civilians there. They’re taking great care. They’ve been endless, not endless, but have been quite a lot of good studies of what really happens when you open up with artillery in civilian areas. They say we killed two civilians when on the ground; people who investigate find that where they say they killed one person, they killed 50. This is pervasive. This hasn’t really happened in Ukraine yet, but it could happen.

Paul Jay

So this goes back to the beginning of the interview. Right now, as you said in your article, the politicians are essentially advocating exactly what would lead to more atrocities. What you’re saying now would lead to even greater devastation. What’s the alternative? What should the U.S./West, what should the position be?

Patrick Cockburn

I think that they need to work out what their objectives are and then see negotiations as a priority. At the moment, they don’t even seem to think about them at all. The Russians need to do the same thing. What’s their objective? We’ll see if they take Mariupol’ when they have one victory under their belt, will they then see that as a moment that they might produce a compromise or something like that? I’m fairly pessimistic about it, but neither side has really spelled out what their objectives are or actually seems to know what their objectives are. Seems to me the leadership in Russia, leadership in Washington and Europe is pretty low. These are not people with any experience of war or who know much about it.

There are some small Wars, Chechnya— I covered that in ’99-2000 after Putin came to power. I was in Grozny and later on the outskirts of Grozny and later in Syria and so forth. The Russian Army was quite effective, but these days it seems both ineffective, and the political direction seems sort of crazy, really.

Paul Jay

Could you get a sense of where Russian public opinion is? I have friends in— I was talking to Russian friends who thought there would be some public support for the defense of Donbas. Although, as I say this, the numbers don’t bear out there with such a great threat to Donbas. Certainly, a lot of people thought there were, a lot of Russian people thought. He told me that if the Russian Army, if the government went beyond Donbas, people would be very opposed to it. There seems to be some opposition, but in the reporting, the majority is supporting Putin.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, I think one shouldn’t take too much of a broad approach to this. I think with the first attack in Ukraine, you had a lot of vocal opposition from intellectuals and other people who probably didn’t much like the government anyway. People went out and demonstrated, but then the free press, such as it was Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Ekho Moskvy radio, were all shut down, and there was complete domination by the state broadcasting. So that has died away. If you demonstrate, you end up in prison for a rather long time. On top of that, you had sanctions. Russian Paralympics were suddenly thrown out of the Paralympic Games. An ordinary Russian who thinks some poor, disabled guy who’s made efforts for years to try and compete in some sport and suddenly he’s thrown out. This does not make you feel good about the West. That’s the history of sanctions. These are collective punishments. In some ways, they weaken the target, the country. There’s no doubt it will weaken Russia. Russian factories produce almost everything but have a competitor from outside the country. This is true in the industry everywhere. It’s particularly true in Russia at the moment. Warehouses will still have enough components, but at a certain point, those components won’t be there if they can’t get them abroad. They can’t produce anything. Pressure will be there.

Sanctions tend to be a collective punishment which makes people look to the leadership. I’ve seen this in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. They don’t really weaken the regime. As time goes on, more will become unemployed because of this. People may not feel good about the outside powers, but they won’t feel too good about the leadership in the Kremlin either as unemployment goes up. There are lots of other effects. People don’t really think about countries in Central Asia. In Tajikistan, a very high proportion of their workforce works in Russia. Suddenly these guys are going to be out of a job. It’s going to destabilize these places.

I think that Russian public opinion— there’s a final point I’d like to make, which is when you have public opinion, people say, well, I’m against or for the war because they’re attacking us Russians. At a certain point, people’s sons get called up to the Army, and they start getting killed. People begin to have a very different attitude; that’s something that people really care about is threats to their sons of military age. Remember, Russia hasn’t really mobilized yet. They’re still saying this is not a war. This is a special military operation, which is what Putin says. They could mobilize fully and try to mobilize their manpower. That hasn’t happened yet. Then you’re in a completely different universe when it comes to public opinion because that’s what people care about most. They care about their children. What’s likely to most worry them is the thought that young Ivan is going to be 18 next year and he’s going to go off to the war, and he stands a very good chance of being killed or injured. People really take that seriously. In a way, they might have more vague feelings about whether it’s a good or bad idea to invade Ukraine.

Paul Jay

Just finally, [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy has said, although not in the last few days, I don’t think that Ukraine really isn’t going to get into NATO. So when it comes down to some kind of final negotiation and Ukraine agrees not to join NATO for 20 years or whatever that is, the real sticking point is going to be Donbas. What is the negotiated settlement on Donbas? There’s going to have to be something.

Patrick Cockburn

It’s more difficult now because they’ve declared independence. If you had them with regional powers, there was a possibility before this all happened that they would participate in the political process in Kyiv, but they would have strong regional powers within Ukraine. The problem is once a war gets underway, people’s blood has been spilled, and things that were quite easy to do before the war get really difficult to do. Public people, Ukrainian, you seem to have pictures on television of people where civilians have been shot in the head by Russian soldiers. The willingness to compromise goes down. Foreign powers have their own agendas. It becomes very difficult to end the war, and we’re reaching that stage because people think, well, we fought this war, and all these people have died. They can’t have just died, and we’ll have some sort of petty compromise over Donbas. Something that might have been acceptable before the 24th of February this year, when the invasion started, probably isn’t acceptable now or no longer politically feasible.

Paul Jay

So this drags on?

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, that’s the way with wars. This is true of the First World War. Pretty soon after it began, it became obvious that neither side was really going to win, but so many people had already been killed, and each side had so demonized the other that it became impossible to end.

Paul Jay

And the arms manufacturers smile.

Patrick Cockburn

Sure. Yeah. Not just them. Before the war started, there were a lot of American businessmen in the oil and gas business, particularly in LNG, liquefied natural gas, who were going around Europe explaining the virtues of this compared to depending on Russian gas. Their dreams have come true.

Paul Jay

When I say arms manufacturers, I don’t just mean American. I think it’s 30% of the Russian workforce is in the arms industry, the industrial workforce.

Patrick Cockburn

Right. I didn’t know that figure, but that’s one of the things they export. One thing that’s meant to be sort of competitive. People may be looking at it again now that they had weapons that could compete with others. One of the revelations about this has been the apparent incompetence of the Russian military. One thing I did notice was that Novaya Gazeta, which is this independent newspaper I mentioned before, did have a survey on what is the most corrupt Ministry in Russia. It was some year ago; it was 2013. They were surveying business and other people, they came back, which was the Ministry of Defense.

Paul Jay

You make an important point in your article, I thought, which if, in fact, this is incompetence and mistakes, they can learn from these mistakes. This is far from over.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah, that’s the problem with war. People are always counting their chickens before they’re hatched. They think we’re a winner, and we’re bound to. Everything is going to be okay. One could see that with the U.S. and Afghanistan. I was there in 2000 and again in Iraq in 2003, and they’re completely overconfident. The other side learns from their own mistakes and their own arrogance. They cook up some nasty surprises of their own. So this is by no means over. It depends on how far the Russians actually use their potential strength, not very much, I’d say.

Paul Jay

The hysteria they are creating, as much as there are Russian atrocities in Ukraine and the invasion is unjustified and illegal, the hysteria in the United States about all of this is at such a level, it’s hard to see a negotiation, as you’re saying. Or are the Americans—

Patrick Cockburn

It’s difficult to see that. It’s one of the problems about the great sort of weight of— I’ve been writing about wars. I started off with Northern Ireland in the 1970s and then moved to Beirut. War propaganda has always been part of war since the beginning of time. These days, the degree to which the other side is demonized makes it very difficult to compromise. I mean, even American diplomats in Damascus in 2011 were saying that the media had so demonized Bashar al-Assad early on that it became very difficult to persuade anybody to negotiate with him, although they thought negotiations were essential. Proposing negotiations or compromise was shaking hands with the devil, and nobody would agree to it. Politicians couldn’t agree to it because it was too toxic. A similar thing has happened, I think, with Russia, the sort of total demonization, and certainly admitting the Russians have committed lots of atrocities and the war is completely unjustified. Total demonization means that it becomes almost impossible to stop the war, and therefore, you get a vicious circle with more atrocities, and all wars involve atrocities.

Paul Jay

They characterize what the Russians are doing as something extraordinarily evil. And, of course, not a word about what the U.S. has done on a far greater scale in Iraq and many other places.

Patrick Cockburn

Yeah. It’s sort of distressing this, and it’s misleading. This isn’t to justify what the Russians are doing or even what the Russians did in Syria, well, the Syrian government did, being in areas that they flattened with artillery and bombs. News report after news report, they mentioned what the Russians did in Syria, the Russian way of war. There’s never a mention of very similar cities, Raqqa, which I mentioned was an Islamic State and Mosul in Iraq, which is exactly the same. They were bombarded, and they were flattened. Thousands of civilians were killed. So anything that’s like that is blamed on the Russians and on the Russians alone.

This, first of all, it just isn’t true. War is like that, unfortunately. Armed forces always lie about the tremendous efforts they make to avoid civilian casualties. When you investigate, you find vast numbers of civilians dead. So this partiality, I think, again, makes it very difficult to end the war because people feel, how can we have any compromise or even think about compromise with that evil demon in the Kremlin or indeed with any Russian. I was reading this afternoon about a Russian restaurant in London that is famous as a hangout for the Russian and Ukrainian opposition. Now every time that phone goes, it’s not somebody trying to book a table; it’s somebody screaming abuse down the phone, saying, you Russian monsters. This makes it very difficult to have any compromise, although compromise will have to happen at some stage.

Paul Jay

Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Patrick.

Patrick Cockburn

Thank you.

Paul Jay

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5 Comments

  1. Time and time again the maiden protests are portrayed as a western coup when many notable Ukrainian academics(as well as ordinary Ukrainians) such as sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko, strongly refutes, the Kremlin western coup narrative being regurgitated by many leftists is appalling, additionally conservative right wingers, are relieved the burden of proof this narrative carries no, longer weighs heavily on their conscious.As they’re aren’t the only ones spouting this garbage

    1. If I understand correctly, there are a number of factors that contributed to the Maidan Revolution.
      Some of these are:

      *Natural gas from Russia passes through pipelines and heats homes in Ukraine, on the way to Europe. Both dependencies have been used for political ends. The IMF has coerced Ukraine into increasing natural gas prices, by 50% in 2010 and a proposed 40% in 2013 (source:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine_and_the_International_Monetary_Fund).
      *Crony capitalism and corruption were commonplace in Ukrainian govt, especially the Yanukovych presidency during which the Maidan Revolution occurred.
      *The nationalist movement in Ukraine (Svoboda, Right Sector) was prominent during and after the Maidan revolution, but fanned by US support.

      An article from the Jacobin does an excellent job of describing the competing forces and complex history leading the the current conflict:
      https://jacobinmag.com/2022/02/maidan-protests-neo-nazis-russia-nato-crimea
      Here’s a quote near the end of the article that summarizes things:
      “In truth, the Maidan Revolution remains a messy event that isn’t easy to categorize but is far from what Western audiences have been led to believe. It’s a story of liberal, pro-Western protesters, driven by legitimate grievances but largely drawn from only one-half of a polarized country, entering a temporary marriage of convenience with the far right to carry out an insurrection against a corrupt, authoritarian president. The tragedy is that it served largely to empower literal neo-Nazis while enacting only the goals of the Western powers that opportunistically lent their support — among which was the geopolitical equivalent of a predatory payday loan.”

      I suspect that as time went on the US and Russia fought for influence in Ukraine, at first economically (via the IMF for the US) over the natural gas transit, then later via nationalist politics after the Maidan Revolution.

  2. I applaud “Cynical Rex’s” criticism of Patrick Cockburn’s omissions!
    I believe, too, that the fear of Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons neglects to consider the announcements by Pres Putin of the condition he places on such use: that Russia faces an existential threat. The USA is the only country to my knowledge that asserts a first-use policy. That is where our fears should lie.
    Russia has not sought an unconditional surrender from the USA’s proxy, Ukraine. Before the final recourse to its army, Russia urged all the signatories to the Minsk agreement to pursue its terms. Vladimir Putin, an autocrat, was the only leader to try to avoid military use through real negotiation. With regard to Putin’s autocracy, I might remind other commentators that almost all countries are now autocracies, ruled by wealthy oligarchies, but some with a softer glove than others.

  3. Hi Paul,

    It’s difficult to analyze the war on the ground and whether Russia is achieving its objectives as it is claiming (rt.com). I’ve questioned Counterpunch about Patrick Cockburn’s essays there, as he claims authority in determining Putin’s frame of mind and Russian objectives. There are military analyses from people like Scott Ritter (a former US marine intelligence officer) or Col Doug Macgregor (Grayzone interview) that describe the Russian military as competent and with the intention of eliminating all Ukrainian offensive capabilities. Cockburn hasn’t discussed the Ukrainian nationalist battalions like Azov, or reports of Pres. Zelensky’s gov’t banning opposition parties and the arrest and torture of dissidents (see Consortium News: https://consortiumnews.com/2022/04/20/zelenskys-hardline-internal-purge/). I understand the respect you have for Patrick Cockburn’s history as a reporter, but I’m skeptical about his recent work, and how it seems to support official US govt propaganda about Putin as a war criminal and hate against Russia.

    I suspect the Russians are hoping Ukraine will sue for peace, as my understanding is they have cut Ukrainian supply lines in the east and have divided and surrounded Ukrainian forces there (see this analysis for more detail: http://thesaker.is/the-russian-military-intervention-in-the-ukraine-a-macro-view/). If the Russians were to obliterate Ukrainian forces in the east, rather than try to get Zelensky to make terms, it would be much harder to create a peace agreement.

    Cockburn does not discuss reports of heavy bombardment of the Donbass prior to the Russian invasion, nor the history of the Maidan Revolution supported by the US, to install an anti-Russian gov’t. I agree with Cockburn that the US wants the conflict fought to the last Ukrainian, given Biden’s repeated promises of more money for military aid: Ukrainian deaths cost the US govt and military nothing. While Russia may want a peace agreement for neutral status of Ukraine, as long as a “low” intensity conflict is possible, the US will aid the nationalist battalions and not allow Zelensky to make peace. Russia may be between a rock and a hard place, where they can obliterate the eastern Ukrainian forces and make peace impossible with Zelensky, or continue to watch the US funnel arms and support to Ukraine to prolong the conflict.

    I agree with the analysis from thesaker.is blog site, that Russia is likely effective in its ground war, but the US has bested Russia in terms of a propaganda or PSYOPs war.

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