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Why is Biden Pushing Putin on Ukraine? - Larry Wilkerson

Putin is asking NATO not to expand into Ukraine. Is it an unreasonable demand? Col. Lawrence Wilkerson joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news.

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. We’re getting near the end of the year. If you’re considering giving a gift, end-of-year donation, we are a 501 (c)(3) in the United States. If you’re not in the United States, you might donate just because we’re trying to have some influence in the United States and the whole world’s fate, unfortunately, rests to a large extent on what’s happening in the United States. God help us all, and it’s not something I usually invoke. At any rate, if you can donate, that’d be great. Subscribe, share, and we’ll be back in just a few seconds to talk to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson about the situation in Ukraine and Russia.

According to a New York Times report, “Russia demanded on December 17th that the United States and its allies halt all military activity in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In a sweeping proposal that would establish a Cold War-like security arrangement, posing a challenge to diplomatic efforts to, quote, defuse Russia’s growing military threat to Ukraine.”. Now that’s New York Times language, not mine, but at any rate, back to the New York Times piece.

“The Russian proposal, immediately dismissed by NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] officials, came in the form of a draft treaty suggesting NATO should offer written guarantees that it would not extend farther east towards Russia and halt all military activities in the former Soviet Republics. The vast swath of now independent States extending from Eastern Europe to Central Asia.”. 

Further down, the Times piece reads, “They included a request for a NATO commitment that it would not offer membership to Ukraine specifically that NATO officials emphasized that NATO countries will not rule out future membership for any Eastern European countries, including Ukraine.”.

Now joining us to discuss the Russian proposal and the current tensions on the Ukrainian Russian border is Larry Wilkerson. He is the former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s a retired professor and a regular on theAnalysis.news and many other news and academic platforms. Thanks very much, Larry.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Good to be with you, Paul.

Paul Jay

So, what do you think of these Russian proposals and maybe put them in some context for us?

Lawrence Wilkerson

I think [Vladimir] Putin’s doing what he feels like he has to do, at least in the verbal sphere, counter the things NATO and, principally its major member, America, are doing. I don’t think they make much sense. I don’t think they make a whole lot more sense than what we’re doing. Both sides, now, are acting a lot like little boys in a sandbox, but we started it all. As Ambassador Jack Matlock made very clear recently, we started it all, and we’re paying the piper now for having started it. And rather than diplomatically and otherwise, back down slowly and surely, and maybe do a few mea culpas, we just keep exacerbating the situation. As long as we do that, Putin will exacerbate it equally from his side.

Paul Jay

Define we started it all.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Well, we started it all when we made a very verbal agreement. When I say very verbal, people are criticizing it because it was verbal and not written down on a piece of paper. But I always thought a diplomat’s word was his bond, especially when it was Secretary of State, as it was Jim Baker for [George] H.W. Bush and President H.W. Bush himself. 

When we told Mikhail Gorbachev and, by extension, Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze, who was then the Foreign Minister for Gorbachev, that NATO essentially would not go any further east and implied strongly that it would not gain any significant membership beyond its current members. At that time, if Gorbachev agreed to the reunification of Germany and its retention as a unified Germany, the Soviet Union, Russia’s worst enemy, worst nightmare. If he agreed to that, putting them back together and letting them be a member of NATO, we would not move any further east. That was a sacrosanct bargain as far as I’m concerned, and I think H.W. Bush, were he still alive, would say the same thing. So, would Eduard Shevardnadze and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Paul Jay

Now, there’s some people─ that is being disputed in certain quarters, but when you worked for Powell, either at the Joint Chiefs or you worked for Powell at the State Department.

Lawrence Wilkerson

That was our understanding.

Paul Jay

You never had any doubt that that was the understanding?

Lawrence Wilkerson

No doubt whatsoever. In fact, I remember a really animated conversation with the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in his office about, wouldn’t it just be unbelievable if Russia were not just─ because we had assumed observer status was a given if Russia were not just an observer at the political and military meetings of NATO. She became a full-fledged member of that alliance in both its manifestations, political and military. And I think he was very serious in his joy at the prospect of that happening. 

He’d just come back from Warsaw, where he’d spoken to all the heads of the former Warsaw Pact countries’ militaries. He had told them that he served a country. He was very elated about having done this. He served a country whose Constitution hated him, hated the military. The founders of the country did not like the military. They did not want a standing military and so forth, and that they, as they became non-Communist and or absorbed into the more healthy fabric of Europe, would have to learn to live with leaders who probably didn’t like them either. I mean, this was a euphoric time. This was a time─

Paul Jay

What year are you talking about?

Lawrence Wilkerson

We’re talking about ’90, ’91, ’92, all the way up to ’92 when even H.W. Bush begins to cool a little bit because I think he perceived that Gorbachev was not as forthcoming as he had sort of promised to be. But it was easy, and Powell and I, I think, saw this. It was easy to ascertain why Gorbachev was having real problems. You can’t go around emptying the honey cart as it were and not expect to have problems from some of the bureaucracy around you who lived off the honey cart.

Paul Jay

So, why didn’t the Soviet Union then Russia, why didn’t once it’s a capitalist country, the supposed raise on debt and I say supposed because I want to explore what the hell the real point of NATO was and is. But the supposed rationale for NATO was that you have this Communist threat, so, either why didn’t Russia enter NATO or why not get rid of NATO?

Lawrence Wilkerson

We began immediately doing things that made Russia, even under Yeltsin, doubt our word. I think probably the crusher for Yeltsin came when we were operating in the Balkans in such a way that Russia felt it needed to get in there, at least, to put some troops on the ground and counter our military weight because, after all, that was their near abroad. That’s the way they looked at it. Those were Slavic Peoples, and he couldn’t even get overflight rights from the countries that were between him and Russia-proper and that infuriated him. We even went out of our way, so to speak, trying to expedite the way they could get in there, and so forth even though we did have a contretemps on the ground when General [Wesley] Clark very unwisely said that he would probably have to oppose the Russians coming into Pristina. We suddenly opened up an airway and let them come into Pristina.

Those were times when the end of the Bush administration and more so than anything H.W. Bush ever did, Bill Clinton became a creature of the military-industrial complex. He already was. I think everybody knew that who knew anything about the governor at all and began to promote this, not just come into the NATO preparation plan. Come into the─ what do we call it? The alliance for peace or whatever. I can’t remember the term we used, but get ready to be a member of NATO, and by God, we could sell F-16s to 10 more countries and things like that. Suddenly, we were Russia’s enemy again. We were not only Russia’s enemy again; we were very front leaning in the foxhole enemy.

When you talk about my President, for example, George W. Bush going to Tbilisi and announcing publicly that Georgia would be a member of NATO in the future with Shevardnadze right beside him, the young President of Georgia at the time. Smiling to the cameras because here was the President United States saying Georgia would be a member of NATO. Well, what did Mr. Putin do? He carved off a little section of Georgia in the next month or two, and he still owns it as far as I can tell.

That was stupid, that was idiotic, and it was moronic. It truly was, and yet we did it. Look at now we have 30 members, I think, in NATO, including Montenegro, Lapia, Estonia, Lithuania. This is an untenable alliance. It will fall of its own weight. It’ll topple of its own weight. But I’ll tell you this right now when you tell a Texan, or you tell Coloradan, or you tell a Montanan or, in fact, almost any American that they are going to risk nuclear war over Rica or Montenegro? The first thing they’re going to do is ask it where the hell they are, and the second thing they’re going to do is tell you, you’re nuts, and yet that is what we have done. Article five extends to these countries.

Paul Jay

I think there’s a lot of people in the American elites and even in the military that must be thanking the gods of war that Ukraine is not in NATO right now because the last thing on Earth the Americans or the British, and they’ve made this clear, is they want some obligation to go send troops into Ukraine. 

Lawrence Wilkerson

Or, as I said, ultimately, to give them a nuclear umbrella. This is nonsense. This is absolute nonsense. This business of the rumours that were circulating around last week, which is what the Deputy Defence Minister of Russia really reacted to that we’re going to put something like GLCMs back in Europe. Do you remember ground launch cruise missiles from Ronald Reagan’s days and the fury even amongst some Europeans because the Germans were saying, you’re going to put those things on our territory? Well, we know where the nuclear weapons targeted at them are going to hit. We’re talking about that again. We let some new rumours out that we’re going to counter their tactical nuclear weapons with on-the-ground tactical nuclear weapons of our own. Submarines aren’t enough. We want to tackle it that way. This is nonsense. It’s not nonsense. It’s utter crass stupidity. It’s deadly and dangerous.

Paul Jay

Yeah, it wasn’t that long ago when the U.S. war strategy was if there was any─ maybe it still is. Probably it still is, that if there was any real direct, on-the-ground military confrontation of any size, I think it was one battalion or something between American and Russian troops. It would actually trigger a full-scale nuclear attack on the then Soviet Union. I’m guessing still on Russia and China, for that matter.

Lawrence Wilkerson

That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, I think.

Paul Jay

[Daniel] Ellsberg says at least back in the day he was working for RAND [Research and Development] and advising the Air Force and Pentagon, that was the war strategy.

Lawrence Wilkerson

That wasn’t the war strategy. That was the ultimate fallback position if the war strategy didn’t work. Powell’s Fifth Corps was on the Fulda Gap, facing 10 of [Vladislav] Achalov’s most deadly armoured divisions, which would slice through the gap and be in Western Germany very quickly. The plan was an act of defence with conventional weapons and so forth, but many people, probably including Powell, though we never talked about this particular issue, thought that that would inevitably not be elastic enough and not be because we’re, again, we’re operating on exterior lines, and they’re on interior lines. It would not be very successful, and then the ultimate plan was, yes, to nuke the spearhead, at least of the Soviet forces. And that was it. Nuke the spearhead with tactical nuclear weapons. Hope they stopped. Indeed, a reflection of the very strategy that in the latest maneuvers of the Russians is theirs now were NATO to invade, the situation sort of turned around. Were NATO to invade, they have said, and in doctrine, they officially announced now, that they’re going to hit the points of the invasion with tactical nuclear weapons.

Paul Jay

You said just a few minutes ago that the NATO expansion opened up all these markets for American weaponry. I mean, is that really what the hell the point of NATO is because─

Lawrence Wilkerson

That’s half of it and, you know, this is so ridiculous, too, because in many respects, the American taxpayers paying for those weapons because Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and others are so heavily subsidized in order to be able to buy the weapons because the weapons are so damned expensive. So, you’ve got the American taxpayer in there not just paying for the U.S. forces but also paying for at least a portion of the other NATO forces and what they get.

Paul Jay

So, it’s a way of raising the military expenditure without it showing up in the military.

Lawrence Wilkerson

Exactly, and Lockheed Martin doesn’t care whether they get paid by the taxpayer through Polish hospices or directly by the taxpayer. They still get the money.

Paul Jay

At the start of the interview, you said you thought both Putin and the Americans or the Russians and the Americans were like playing in the sandbox here. But don’t you have to parse the Russian position, like, Russia’s demand for the non-expansion further east of NATO, not including Ukraine and NATO. Do you not think that’s a reasonable demand?

Lawrence Wilkerson

Oh, I think they have the lion’s share of rationality, and Putin is operating basically the way I would operate on a grand strategic scale. I would not tolerate this. I would say I would not tolerate it, and I would try to come up with ways to make my word believed, but he’s operating from a very difficult position. He really doesn’t have a whole lot of cards to play other than Gazprom and his gas station and Germany and other dependents on that energy source. All that is morphing and changing so fast that I wouldn’t count on that being as volatile and as important as it is today, five years from now, seven years from now, whatever. And you got other pipelines being built, and other pipelines are going to be pumping, too. I was looking at the sketch of them the other day. So, he doesn’t have a whole lot of cards in his hand. And so, he’s got to be a little more bellicose and a little more frightening. I suspect he feels that way when he does do things because he doesn’t have a whole lot of power.

If you listen to Admiral [Arleigh] Burke’s webinar. I think I mentioned this on one of your other podcasts. When he was talking about how many naval forces he commands and how much, really military might he has. He commands all the naval forces around that area, the standing Atlantic Forces, the U.S. Atlantic Forces, all the NATO forces, standing Force, Naples, and so forth. Probably more naval power in relative terms than anyone since the French fleet and [Horatio] Nelson met at Trafalgar. Incredible. And he said it. He said that Russia has no allies. I have lots of allies.

Paul Jay

How much do you think all this has to do with the Nordstrom two oil gas pipelines? The Americans have made it very clear they don’t like the fact that Germany has made this deal with Russia. If I understand it correctly, the pipeline circumvents the Ukraine, which is a big deal, I guess, to the Ukrainian economy. Also, Germany is doing this in defiance of the United States. Sorry. Go ahead.

Lawrence Wilkerson

No, it’s not just the energy coming to you. If you transship, you get transshipment fees, too. So, that’s one of the things that was being looked at in Afghanistan. For example, to increase Afghanistan’s economy. This is really nonsense, too, because─ and Trump did this. President Trump did this. He cancelled one of the most powerful reposts to Nordstrom two. In fact, to the whole business of Gazprom and Russia having so much power over Europe, especially Germany. Dominion power here in Virginia, second only to Duke Power on the East Coast is the largest public utility, was building a 12 plus billion-dollar facility on the East Coast. It was their largest future investment that was going to produce the liquid gas. And it would go basically for the first decade or so overseas and make a lot of money for Dominion, a lot of money for stockholders, shareholders, and so forth and began to diversify East Coast power, at least in the interim fuel of natural gas. Trump cancelled it. He cancelled it just right out of the blue, and environmentalists, of course, and others just leapt on it and said, oh, wonderful. This is terrific. This is splendid. And Congress leapt on it said, oh, this is splendid because they were going to sell to Europeans. Like the Jones Act says, you can’t build something that you’re only going to sell to Europeans. That’s terrible. That’s terrible. So, Congress will all be─ they’re brain dead, Paul. They’re stupid, or the G.R.U. [Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie] and the NKVD [People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs], the two Russian intelligence entities, have a lot more influence and power than I thought in this country.

Paul Jay

Why would Biden pick up this opposition to Nordstrom to? Germany and Russia have a perfect right to make a deal together. Why make such an issue out of it? The whole American position seems to be so provocative, and to what end?

Lawrence Wilkerson

And another item you might bring up is that if Iran were allowed to finish its oil pipeline and its gas pipeline, you could relieve a lot of the pressure that way, but oh, no, because that would be the Ayatollah making money. This is the way we do business, Paul. We have no common sense, and we certainly have no international sense. Look at China, the base road initiative in all its configurations. Whether you’re talking about Central Asia, you’re talking about the maritime road, or you’re talking about the sort of tributary road in South America or whatever. That initiative should be encouraged, it should be helped, it should be curbed where it becomes vicious or predatory like us, and it should be that Chinese money, which now tops everyone else’s money in the world, is put to good use. Doing things in the world that develop people or States economically and help them to create a good situation for their now, in most cases, poverty-stricken people. That’s what the base road initiative is— the Marshall Plan on steroids.

Now, what do we do? We treated it as if it was a vicious attempt to challenge our superiority in the world economically and financially. In other words, we lost our superiority in the world, almost in every respect, a long time ago. But it is that it’s trying to hold on to the status quo and challenge the person who is, in fact, challenging the state that is challenging that status quo. But we should be working with them. We should be making the base road initiative as positive and effortless as possible because it has just incredible money behind it.

Paul Jay

Alright, let’s go back to Ukraine, and then we’ll do another segment on China. Just straight, one simple question, should the United States, should NATO, declare that Ukraine will never be part of NATO?

Lawrence Wilkerson

I believe that vague— I wouldn’t go that far. It’s kind of like the strategic realities with Taiwan. Clarifying things like that in diplomacy or even President to President or Foreign Minister to Foreign Minister is almost never a good policy. You let things be understood, and you let things be clearly understood, but you don’t promulgate them like that. I just think Putin should back down after we assure him diplomatically behind the scenes that Ukraine will never be a member of NATO.

Now, a long time ago, we had an opportunity, and maybe we still do, but I said when Victoria Nuland was saying F-U-C-K to the Europeans and so forth. A Brilliant woman that, I said, the situation in Ukraine is really getting out of hand. This was right before the attempted coup. I said we should have studied neutrality in Ukraine. And what I meant by that was neither the Russians, nor the Americans, nor the Europeans muck in Ukraine. Leave it alone. Let it be neutral. We drop the adjective or the article the Ukraine. It’s no longer that; it’s Ukraine. Ukrainians are very specific about that. It’s Ukraine. It’s not the Ukraine. So let it be Ukraine. Let it be neutral. Leave it alone, everyone, and let’s get some things like the MIST agreement. I thought it was going to do a little bit of this but get some things in writing where we can more or less assure that the major effort on the part of principal Europe, America, and Russia will be to leave Ukraine alone. Let them decide on their own path.

Now, here’s the problem with that, of course. They are the most corrupt government on the face of the Earth, and they show no signs of getting out of that corruption anytime soon. So, you’re going to constantly have the corrupt leaders saying, oh, I’m with Russia. Oh, I’m with Europe. I’m with the United States and so forth because they can make political hay out of that with a certain portion of their electorate. You’ve got to be able to tolerate that, and you’ve got to put some, I think, combined effort in there to teach them how to govern themselves.

Paul Jay

How dangerous is all this if the United States doesn’t do what you’re talking about, and it sure looks like they’re not going to?

Lawrence Wilkerson

I think you cannot find any major strain of foreign policy for the last 20 years in this country executed by this country that looks sane. I’m serious. We have not done anything that looks sane.

Paul Jay

Well, the only rationality to it is there’s a lot of money being made.

Lawrence Wilkerson

A lot of money is being made by very few people.

Paul Jay

Yeah. All right. Thanks for joining me, Larry, And thank you for joining us again on theAnalysis.news. If you can, please donate to support what we’re doing. It certainly costs money to do all this. Subscribe, share, tell your friends. Thanks again.

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5 Comments

  1. Russia is absolutely correct in demanding a written response. Diplomatic, behind the scenes U.S. promises have been absolutely worthless. Consider all the verbal promises made when Germany was reunited. Time to stand up and make a commitment. No more sneaky stuff.

  2. Corrections:
    Russia was invaded from the east by Napoleon in 1812, not 1871.
    On US’s corruption, I omitted the US Justice Department as a source of great corruption. One example, under Pres Obama, Justice failed to prosecute the CEOs and CFOs of the US rating agencies and the US major banks and AIG. Not a single top executive of any of the fraudulent actors that made the housing bubble of 2008 was prosecuted. In fact, they were rewarded with bonuses from the funds that were printed by the Fed and appropriated by congress to rescue their failed enterprises. I omitted the Supreme Court that made corporate contributions to political campaigns “free speech”. I omitted congress whose members engage in insider trading as Speaker Nancy Pelosi promises to continue doing. There isn’t an African or Asian satrap that is as corrupt as the governments of the USA.

  3. Col Wilkerson said that Ukraine is the most corrupt country in the world. I don’t see how any country in the world can compete with the US for corruption. On an absolute scale, the US is, of course, many times larger than Ukraine. Even on a per capita basis, how can they be compared? The Pentagon and associated budgets of the US are over 1 trillion dollars each year, and the Pentagon does not even have to submit audits of expenditures. The US Federal Reserve Bank, its FOMC, its Chairs, Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen, Powell, by fostering “bubbles” and by printing tens of trillions of dollars engage in legalized theft from the savings of American citizens. Col Wilkerson suggested that NATO exists in great part to buy – with US taxpayer dollars – from Lockheed, Grumman, and the rest. The US has spent trillions on needless wars since 1950. I doubt that any country in the world is so corrupt as the US. Col Wilkerson said that US foreign policy is insane. We are also insanely corrupt. The US is number 1.

  4. Sorry, but Russia has an ally: China. They do joint maneuvers and are working to replace the Swift System. U.S. sanction power has to end.

  5. Listening on to Col. Wilkerson after he compared both Presidents Biden and Putin to boys in the sand-box, I heard a less equivocal description of the origin of the current conflict whose platform is Ukraine. I heard Wilkerson faulting the U.S., especially Presidents from Bill Clinton on, for turning a pledge by then Sec’y of State James Baker to end NATO’s eastward expansion, into a military “Drang nach Osten”. That culminated in Russia’s move into Georgia’s Abkhazia and S.Ossetia in 2008. Russia then made clear that Ukraine was another red line for Russia and it NATO membership was out of the question.

    I see no basis for equivocation over the behavior of the US and of Russia. The case Russia makes is watertight and justified by the historical record of invasions by European powers, three times from the east (1871, 1917, 1940) and once from the south (1853) . Russia made clear what it would do now in Ukraine by its punishment of Georgia in 2008.

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