Conflict in the Ukraine: Do Americans Realize What Is at Stake?

Seven years after President Biden and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, played key roles in carrying out the 2014 putsch that toppled Ukraine’s democratically elected president and ignited a deadly civil war, the U.S. and NATO have escalated hostilities toward Russia in Ukraine and in the Black Sea. As the conflict between the US and Russia over Ukraine threatens to erupt into a hot war, and neocons on both sides of the US political spectrum exhort Biden to get tough on Russia, the question arises whether Americans understand the recent history of Ukraine, particularly the US role in causing and intensifying the conflict, the fascist influences that pervade Ukraine’s military, and the anti-democratic actions of Ukraine’s current President Zelensky.

The civil war in Ukraine has festered for seven years and exacerbated tensions between Russia and the West. The situation has markedly deteriorated since Biden was installed as president in January 2021. This is not unexpected given Biden’s long history of aggression toward Russia and US interference in Ukraine, a nation that borders Russia but lies 5600 miles distant from the US Prior to the US 2020 election, Biden regularly leveled epithets at Russia’s President Putin, denounced Russia as the US’ greatest threat, and assured the Council on Foreign Relations that he supported NATO enlargement, particularly membership for Ukraine. Once Biden took office, bellicose actions followed the rhetoric. In April 2021, the Biden administration made evidence-free allegations that Russia committed "cyberespionage" and attempted to interfere in the US election, and imposed draconian economic sanctions as penalty. That same month, Blinken accused Russia of amassing troops near the Ukraine border (which means inside Russia), a move which would have been justified, if accurate, given Russia’s fears that the civil war in Ukraine would spill over onto Russia territory and threaten its own national security.

Hostile US rhetoric and punitive sanctions occurred against a backdrop of military maneuvers. In May 2021, NATO conducted massive wargames, dubbed "Steadfast Defender 21," involving 9,000 NATO troops from 20 nations, with special focus on the Black Sea region. In June 2021, US and NATO warships entered the Black Sea, including the US guided-missile destroyers USS Laboon (DDG-58) and the USS Ross; the French diving support ship FS Alizé; the UK’s guided-missile destroyer HMS Defender and patrol vessel HMS Trent; and the Netherlands frigate HNLMS Evertsen. Russia contends that the British warship HMS Defender purposely violated Russia’s territorial waters, on June 23, by sailing across Russia’s border near Cape Fiolent, on the Crimean Peninsula. This flagrant intrusion was immediately followed by the Dutch frigate Evertsen’s sortie near the Russian border in the Black Sea. Its attempted incursion was only prevented when Russia’s jets flew by – at a safe distance from the vessel.

In October 2021, provocations continued as the US destroyer USS Arleigh Burke completed NATO exercises in the Black Sea. The destroyer USS Porter entered the Black Sea on October 30, on “routine patrol,” after participating in NATO exercises in the Aegean Sea, and was soon joined by the USS Mount Whitney, the flagship of the US 6th Fleet.

Accompanying these threatening maritime exercises, Biden and the US State Department continued their hostile rhetoric toward Russia, made misleading and false accusations, and provided additional military funding to Ukraine. In March 2021, Biden approved $125 million in new US military aid to Ukraine, and quickly pledged another $150 million. In August 2021, Biden signed a memorandum allocating another $60 million military aid package. US military assistance to Ukraine since 2014 totals $2 billion, and includes Ukraine’s purchase of two shipments of Raytheon’s lethal Javelin anti-tank missiles. This military assistance to Ukraine is in flagrant violation of the Minsk Accords. US military aid and additional funding is provided to Ukraine even as its President Zelensky prosecuted Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of Ukraine’s largest opposition party, for "treason"; shut three opposition media sites, and imposed sanctions on eight other media and TV companies for five years.

Since May 2021, Biden, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and corporate media have continued to accuse Russia of amassing upwards of 90,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border (inside Russia). These accusations continue unabated even though both Russia and Ukraine deny them. Russia, meanwhile, points out that Ukraine has deployed half of its armed forces, or 125,000 troops, to the eastern provinces of the Donbass, where, between 2014 and 2019, 13,000 were killed in the conflict and more than 30,000 injured, including both civilians and combatants. The safety of the residents of the Donbass constitutes the crux of the civil war in Ukraine. At the start of the conflict, its predominantly ethnic Russian residents objected to the overthrow of Ukraine President Yanukovych and chafed under the rule of the new, US picked Poroshenko, whom they viewed as illegitimate. The residents of the Donbass sought some measure of separatism or political autonomy from Kiev, which articulated an increasingly hostile and anti-Russia position and unleashed an "anti-terrorism" movement against residents of the Donbass using armed militias. It is these U.S.-backed Ukraine armed forces – permeated by extremist and neo-Nazi militias – that the residents of the Donbass fear and attempt to defend against. Starting in 2014 and continuing now, in the present, Ukraine forces have marshaled ongoing attacks against the Donbass using mortars, grenade launchers, drones, small arms fires, and armored vehicles. These continual and indiscriminate attacks target schools, residential and municipal buildings, and energy infrastructure. Besides inflicting civilian casualties, these attacks terrorize the populace and make everyday life fraught with danger.

Ukraine’s armed forces are heavily infiltrated by Right Sector fighters. One of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi leaders, Dmitry Yarosh, whose far right forces predominated in the Maidan protests leading up to the 2014 coup, and who has been a member of Ukraine’s Parliament as head of the Right Sector political party, incorporated his neo-Nazi militias into Ukraine’s armed forces in 2015. In November 2021, Yarosh was appointed as an advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s armed forces.

The U.S. conflict with Russia in Ukraine thus stems from the U.S.-supported overthrow of Ukraine’s president Yanukovych in 2014 and the ensuing civil war in the Donbass between the ethnically Russian residents of Ukraine’s eastern provinces and Ukraine’s armed forces. Ukraine’s anti-terror movement against the Donbass effectively criminalized its residents. The Ukraine armed forces that attack the Donbass are heavily infiltrated by neo-Nazi militias. Russia supports the ethnic Russian residents of the Donbass and seeks protection and quasi-autonomy for the region, as outlined in the Minsk Accords and the "Steinmeier Formula." Since taking office, Biden has exacerbated this conflict by sending Ukraine more weapons, approving US military maneuvers in the Black Sea, and threatening to include Ukraine in NATO. Can sane voices pressure Biden to diminish his aggression toward Russia, or will the US take the world to the brink of WW3?

Maria Francesca Gritsch is a 2006 UCLA PhD in Sociology, with an emphasis on international political and economic developments. She has worked for over 20 years as a Lecturer in Sociology at California State University.