When President Biden held his two-hour conversation with his counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on December 7, the American news media dutifully repeated what the White House had released: a warning by Biden to leave Ukraine alone – or else!
But didn’t Putin have anything to tell Biden? Is there a Russian side to the matter? Not as far as some media are concerned.
Take NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday (December 12). Chuck Todd opened the topic with a sound bite of Biden’s warning to Putin of "economic consequences, like none he’s ever seen" if Russia invades Ukraine.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken then told Todd that Biden and he, Blinken, had made it clear to their counterparts that the U.S. was prepared to take extraordinary steps to stop "Russian aggression."
"Ukraine is important and we are resolute in our commitment to its sovereignty, its territorial integrity." Blinken said. But even more is at stake, he said: international rules. "One country can’t dictate to another county its choices, its decisions, and its foreign policy…. One country can’t exert a sphere of influence over others."
The US and European partners had issued a statement warning of "massive consequences" if Russia invades. "We’ve been continuing to shore up Ukraine’s defenses … and we’re looking to see what NATO can do, if necessary." Blinken added the afterthought that "diplomacy and dialogue and de-escalation" were far preferable. (You think?)
None of the administration’s tough talk was tough enough for interviewer Todd. Among his questions and remarks were these:
"Why hasn’t the action of Russia amassing troops and terrorizing Ukraine been a trigger for punishment? … We’ve heard that rhetoric for seven years, through three administrations, and … Putin’s behavior hasn’t changed…. If Germany were open to essentially shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, do you think Vladimir Putin would pay more attention? Does he think Europe basically is keeping the US from doing more?… Are European allies the ones more hesitant at stronger action against Russia than what you and President Biden would like to do?"
What would satisfy Todd? Surely not (let us hope) a shooting war between the US and Russia, which could easily become nuclear. Yet if he had much interest in preventing Armageddon, he might have asked Blinken questions more like these:
- By what constitutional and legislative authority do you "shore up Ukraine’s defenses"?
- If one country can’t dictate to another its choices etc., why did the US force regime-change onto Iraq (with the avid support of Senator Biden as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee)?
- Can the US convince the world of its opposition to aggression after launching wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Korea and numerous other countries? Moreover, why does Biden give military aid to Saudi Arabia, supporting its aggression against Yemen?
- You’re "looking to see what NATO can do." Is that a threat of war? What has NATO ever done in international disputes besides support the US government in war-making?
- The world has mechanisms for settling international disputes peacefully. Why, for instance, don’t you bring the matter to the United Nations?
- Why is the Russia-Ukraine matter America’s business, when we consider how fighting mad President Kennedy got when Russia under Khrushchev meddled in Cuba and shored up its defenses?
- You inform us what the US told Russia. What did Russia tell the US?
RT – the official Russian television network formerly called "Russia Today" – had this answer to the last question:
"Putin replied that it was NATO making aggressive moves against Russia, including in Ukraine, and said Moscow was interested in getting firm legal guarantees that the US-led alliance would not expand any further to the east, or deploy offensive weapon systems in any countries bordering Russia, which includes Ukraine."
While Ukraine was the top issue at the electronic summit conference, other matters came up, including Russo-American diplomatic exchanges, cyber-security, and relations with Iran.
George and Martha
On the same Sunday, George Stephanopoulos, chief anchor on ABC’s "This Week," opened a segment on Russia and Ukraine with Biden’s warning to Putin of "severe consequences"
"As Russia is poised to invade Ukraine, can President Biden do anything to stop them?" George asked. Like, Chuck, he apparently did not think of asking any Russian spokesman.
Ian Pannell, ABC foreign correspondent, at least gave a clue that Russia had any case: "Russia has repeatedly insisted it isn’t preparing to attack … engaging in high-stakes brinksmanship to try to force the US and NATO out of Ukraine." (Ukraine is not a NATO member, and Russia wants it that way.)
Martha Raddatz, ABC White House correspondent, reported that Putin, "I’m told by US officials, was equally tough. He did not back down. He played the victim. He said he was the aggrieved person, and stop with all this democracy."
Dud he really say "stop with all this democracy," Martha? Did any of you make any effort to get the Russian side?
Instead, they interviewed William Taylor, former US ambassador to Ukraine. George asked, "Is there any real mystery here about Putin’s intentions? He insists Ukraine is part of Russia."
Taylor did not know Putin’s intentions, seeing a 45 percent chance of a major war in Europe over Ukraine, a 55 percent chance of peace. According to Taylor, Putin knows it would be very costly, not just from economic sanctions. A large number of Russian and Ukrainian troops would die. Moreover, Russia would lose its pipeline to Germany, so important to Putin.
Biden has ruled out war with Russia, but could he withstand pressure from the military-industrial-congressional gang? At their extreme is the senator from Mississippi who suggested "defending" Ukraine by nuking Russia – i.e., starting World War III. Russian diplomats were not pleased.
Paul W. Lovinger, of San Francisco, is a journalist, author, editor, and antiwar activist. (See www.warandlaw.org).