Part 2A. Russian Fears for Life
In the Paradigm for Peace model, the Roots of Violence are divided into seven categories. While a few of the categories aren’t as easily divided into defensive and aggressive motivations, for the most part, we examine how each party to the conflict may be defensively motivated or aggressively motivated to inflict violence with regard to each category. For example, with regard to the category Wealth, Land, and Possessions, a person using violence to protect his home from attack has a defensive motivation to use violence. A person using violence to attack another person’s home to seize that other person’s wealth and belongings has an aggressive motivation to use violence.
Matters can get complicated, and it can sometimes be quite difficult to distinguish between defensive and aggressive. Sometimes the motivations are mixed within a single person or appear defensive or aggressive simply depending upon one’s perspective. However, without getting all harried about trying to figure out who exactly is motivated by what, it’s hugely helpful to be generally aware of these two categories of violence and to think in these terms so that we never rule out the possibility of legitimate motives in the so-called bad guys and illegitimate motives in the so-called good guys.
Most importantly, it’s crucial to have policy solutions that address both Defensive and Aggressive Roots of Violence. After all, if US foreign policymakers’ policies are always based on the assumption that terrorists, Iranians, North Koreans, left-wing Latinos, and Russians are aggressive and malicious, then US policymakers will never implement policies that help address the very real and legitimate Defensive Roots of Violence in the so-called enemies. Also, note that while Defensive Roots of Violence have legitimate motivations, the use of violence for defensive reasons isn’t necessarily legitimate, especially if there are non-violent means to protect what’s under threat.
In the condensed analysis below, I tend to spend more time writing about the Defensive Roots of Russian Violence and the Aggressive Roots of US Violence, rather than the Aggressive Roots of Russian Violence and the Defensive Roots of US Violence. This imbalance is largely due to the fact that I’m much more aware of these particular roots of violence for these nations. I’m not deliberately hiding anything to create this imbalance but am sharing what I know. This angle also helps place a counterweight to the dominant narrative in the US media that Russia is aggressive and the US and the Ukrainian government are defensive. However, please understand that in a full analysis with cooperative dialogue, equal attention should be paid to all sides’ defensive fears and all sides’ aggressive motivations.
In this essay, we’ll look at the first of seven categories: Life and Safety.
If we were creating a quick chart of the Roots of Violence, we’d list down the left side of the chart the seven categories. Across the top, we’d write in the names of the players in the external and internal conflict. We’d look at the first category, Life and Safety. How do people feel that the lives and safety of those they care about are under threat?
For example, let’s start with Russia. We’d list under Russia’s and President Vladimir Putin’s fears for life several items. NATO has expanded straight across Europe into Slavic lands and former Soviet republics. This is obviously a severe threat to Russia’s survival. After all, NATO was formed precisely to combat the USSR, and now NATO is in Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. It’s as if the American Southwest seceded, allied with Mexico, and deployed missiles in Texas aimed at Washington, DC.
While those who support NATO may think of NATO’s expansion as enhancing US and European security, they fail to recognize the psychological ramifications of NATO on potential enemies: its existence topped by its expansion could easily cause physical insecurity by creating an ever-present threat to Russia. Emotional insecurity can lead to hostility, thus augmenting physical insecurity. And that, in fact, has happened with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This failure to sympathize with an enemy’s perspective, to be able to imagine an enemy’s feelings of being threatened, to respect the need for another’s emotional and psychological security, is the Achilles Heel of US foreign policymakers, who perpetually only think of how to control and dominate enemies. It’s the Achilles Heel because, by provoking rather than alleviating tension in the so-called enemy, US foreign policymakers actually weaken US security, weaken respect and genuine friendship for the US, and weaken the international foundations of democracy—caring equally for all. The resulting policies are also extremely costly and deadly. This is why in cooperative dialogue, or right now in this essay, it’s important for us to practice really sinking into Russia’s shoes and pretending we’re the leader of Russia, feeling these threats, and determined to protect our people.
When NATO expands, it means more than just a picture on the map of NATO covering nearly all of Europe. It means that physical weapons and military bases to potentially be used against Russia have also expanded in coverage across the continent. For example, Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Ashore Mark 41 Vehicle Land System with its SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptors has been deployed in Romania and Poland by the US through NATO. This system is capable of intercepting and destroying an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), thereby theoretically rendering ineffective Russia’s missiles and the strategy of mutual deterrence. If Russia can no longer feel safe, it will feel the need to develop more weapons and new strategies.
Moreover, the Mark 41 VLS, while allegedly intended solely for defensive purposes, could be fitted with aggressive weapons. 1 Making the weapon-imposed threat even more precarious is the fact that the Trump administration withdrew in 2018 from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which had previously regulated land-based ballistic missiles and missile launchers. Even more ominous are the joint US-Ukrainian and NATO-Ukrainian military training in the nations and seas bordering Russia. 2
US policymakers and media makers have denied Russia’s accusations of US chemical and biological weapon intentions in Ukraine, but with US policymakers and media makers so untruthful about so many things, even the representation of Putin’s essay, and with a terrible documented record throughout the decades of US presidential administrations lying to the American people and Congress, we would be foolish simply to believe these denials on faith alone. Therefore, we should open-mindedly consider these Russian reports and predictions. Russia’s Ministry of Defense recently claimed that forces loyal to Kiev are preparing a chemical attack in eastern Ukraine. Russia has also previously warned of chemical weapons being stored in Ukraine. US policy and media makers, as they have done repeatedly and without proof, reverse Russia’s claims and state that Russia is using its claim as a pretext for its own planned chemical attack. 3
As civilians, how can we know the truth? Who’s preparing a chemical attack? Is anyone? It’s impossible for us to know. But we should understand one thing that’s based upon a long record of US government lies to the American people: there is absolutely no reason to believe US policymakers more than Russian policymakers. Just because we are Americans and each of us may be truthful does not mean that American policymakers are truthful. Our individual identities as Americans are not melded with the identities of US policymakers. They are strangers to us and we do not know them at heart.
Russia has also released documents that allegedly prove that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, has played a significant role in providing and seeking funding for a military biological program, particularly with the labs of Black & Veatch and Metabiota, in Ukraine. According to Russia’s Defense Minister Igor Kirillov, the Pentagon issued contracts with a number of labs, including Black & Veatch, Metabiota, and CH2M Hill, for this military biological program. Investors in the program have included Hunter Biden, his investment fund Seneca Rosemont, and George Soros and his Open Society Foundation. Documents have reportedly revealed Hunter Biden’s close connections with both the labs and with the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the part of the Department of Defense engaged in the biological weapons program.
In the past, the Russian Defense Ministry has repeatedly drawn attention to the Pentagon’s military biological programs in former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. During its invasion, Russia found more than 30 biological laboratories in Ukraine, some of which may be for military purposes. In fact, Russia reports that it has found traces of a biological weapons program in the labs, which Ukraine reportedly was desperately trying to hide.4 Again, although US policymakers deny such an operation, they obviously would never admit it if it were true. And in the current climate, in which US policymakers automatically dismiss every single one of Russia’s fears as absurd, even the obviously valid ones, we cannot gauge the validity of Russia’s fears based upon US denials of their legitimacy.
In fact, a reading of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (2000) by Project for a New American Century is enough to be jolted into awareness of the ardent enthusiasm the neoconservative writers feel for conquering several other nations, for enhancing and preserving US hegemony, and for developing weapons including pocket-sized robots to be let loose on enemy territory, skin-patch pharmaceuticals to negate fear in US troops, and biological weapons to target specific genotypes—a recipe, perhaps, for genocide. 5
PNAC is defunct, but one of its co-founders, William Kristol, is an advisor to the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a neoconservative-liberal hawk mix of individuals that has the singular mission of thwarting, weakening, and basically destroying Putin. PNAC’s other co-founder, Robert Kagan, is the husband of Biden’s Undersecretary of State, Victoria Nuland, infamous for the leaked tapes at the time of the 2014 Ukrainian coup. She is also the former CEO of the similarly-sounding Center for a New American Security. To deny that US policymakers have the intention to develop biological weapons seems unwise.
In the column of our chart under Russian fears, we might also include the US-built Ukrainian naval base on the Black Sea, particularly because of the US ties. We could include Russian and German news reports of the presence in 2015 of US private military contractors connected with Academi in Ukraine training far right-wing Ukrainian extremists. 6 We also might investigate whether there were further results from meetings between Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy and Erik Prince, former head of the infamous Blackwater, regarding the development of a private military contract in Ukraine. 7
Instead of dismissing these fears as “phony”—as US policymakers and media makers perpetually do—we’d recognize the validity of each of these fears. This is how kind, responsible people treat others with fears. They listen to the fears, whether rational or irrational, until they understand the other’s feelings. Then they help them address these fears. Had the tables been turned with all of these military alliances, bases, weapons, and military drills transpiring along US borders or in former US territories or states, US policymakers would have been quaking in their boots long before this. The Russians have shown remarkable restraint.
The Russians also are not stupid and, unlike Uncle Sam, they’re not prone to war. They’re very unlikely to invade anywhere unless they’re feeling severely threatened by realistic, actual threats. They know full well from experience that any invasion attempt will be severely skewed by Western propaganda to make them look bad. With that in mind, it behooves us to seriously examine Russia’s and Putin’s fears, including the threats of chemical and biological weapons, for only something severely threatening must have drawn Russia out.
If Russian fears seem rational, participants should try to create solutions to give Russians valid reasons to no longer fear. Americans can’t simply say, “Trust us.” They have to provide valid reasons not based merely upon trust. If Russian fears come across through discussion as more irrational, then participants should work together supportively to uncover the psychological reasons for these irrational fears.
In dialogue, participants would discuss these fears and really try to step into Russia’s shoes to understand why these factors are mortally threatening. Participants would ideally reverse roles, or reverse the scenario and imagine a similar situation occurring to the US in reverse, such as if Alaska seceded, allied with Russia, and deployed missile launchers aimed at Washington, DC. The goal here is understanding and empathy—not control or intimidation of the other side, and certainly not dismissal of another’s fears as absurd.
For all those foreign policymakers who believe understanding and empathizing with others’ fears—especially enemies’ fears—is not appropriate to foreign policy, I suggest you find another line of work.
In light of these Russian fears, consider that statement made by Defense Secretary Austin, who expressed his belief that the US needs to “weaken” Russia “to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”8 Austin totally misses the point: Russia invaded because it felt militarily threatened and it felt Ukrainians’ lives in Donetsk and Lugansk were threatened. Russia invaded because it felt existentially threatened by expanding US and NATO domination in Eastern Europe and Ukraine and by threats to Ukrainian lives in Donetsk and Lugansk. Why make it feel even more threatened by insisting that Russia become militarily weaker? It doesn’t make sense.
US policymakers persistently demonstrate zero capacity for understanding human dynamics. Their answer to those who resent US domination is always more US domination. Is it because US foreign policymakers want to dominate so completely that no significant signs of resistance are possible? But why? Is this some misguided attempt to seek pseudo-popularity by forcing itself upon those who don’t want it? Are policymakers mistaking domination for being liked and accepted? Is this craze for domination in part the result of clumsy social skills magnified by a billion? What on Earth is going on with these people in power?
And why wasn’t Austin’s idea of weakening an improperly-behaving nation to prevent future misbehavior suggested after the US invasion of Iraq? Or Afghanistan? Or Panama, Grenada, Vietnam, and Korea? Or after the first weapon shipment to the contras in Nicaragua? After the very first US extrajudicial drone attack? After the very first CIA coup? As far as I can see, the answer is that US foreign policymakers do not support justice. They support themselves.
To continue with our chart, we should include for Putin the fear of assassination, which he likely feels. After all, the CIA and its paid foreign agents are infamous for their assassinations which they inflict with impunity, as described in several books and articles, including William Blum’s Killing Hope. 9 The venomous anti-Putin US propaganda which falsely depicts him as both cruel and stupid, the economic sabotage against Russia by means of sanctions and shutting off Nord Stream 2, the cutting off of money to Russia, and even the collaboration with neo-Nazis are all reminiscent of the CIA’s propaganda and economic war against Chile’s President Salvador Allende. With its lies and economic tactics, the CIA helped foment riots and also funded the fascist Patria y Libertad thugs to help with the 9/11/1973 coup, in which Allende was killed. Patria y Libertad also helped ensure a gory aftermath for tens of thousands of civilians of Chile. A coup in Russia is obviously hoped for by American leaders. The blatantly propagandistic program by Infographics, “Russia’s Big Problem with Ukraine,” even portrays with its paper cut-out art a group of Russian troops leveling their weapons at a man intended to be Putin.10
We should also include for Putin’s and Russia’s fears some of the ideas Putin set forth in his February 2007 Munich speech, including Putin’s disappointment that the US and NATO nations failed to ratify the newly adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. The original treaty of 1987 between Russian President Gorbachev and US President Reagan was adapted in 1999 to reflect the expansion of NATO and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. However, only Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed the new treaty.
It was an important treaty for Russia because NATO had expanded to include the nations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia, but these nations were not parties to the original treaty. After years of hoping the other nations would sign, Russia pulled out of the treaty in December 2007. If the Baltic nations on the border of Russia were not required to observe the treaty, it didn’t make sense for Russia to observe it either. Russia blamed the West for not signing. The US and NATO nations blamed Russia for not complying with certain terms. Either way, one would think that intelligent negotiators talented in integrative negotiation could have worked something out.11
In the 2007 speech, Putin also expresses the dangers of weapon proliferation, nuclear arms, weapons in space, and the hyper-use of force by the US government. Putin offered Russia’s cooperation in disarmament, 12 but instead of reciprocation, his honorable speech was instead followed by a 15-year anti-Putin campaign 13 and by the continuation of US policies of proliferating weapons, revitalizing its nuclear arsenal, preparing for weapons in space, and favoring the hyper-use of force, by US troops and private military contractors.
After really sinking into Russia’s shoes to feel these fears, we’d step out of those shoes and then step into the shoes of Americans who mortally fear Russia. Now I’ll admit right here that I don’t understand US fears, so in this essay I won’t be able to fairly represent those fears. However, in an actual cooperative dialogue, the idea is to ensure it includes people who can sincerely represent US fears, both as American civilians and as US policymakers from groups such as the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Just as we did with Russia and Putin, we’d all sink into these people’s shoes and feel their fears and sincerely try to see their logic as they do. As with Russian fears, there may not be agreement as to which fears are rational and which are irrational. However, participants will try to provide valid reasons for Americans not to mortally fear Russia, and they’d also work together to try to uncover psychological reasons for irrational fears, including decades of propaganda and social dynamics within US culture.
So we’d ask, during the decade or two prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and also since the invasion, have any Americans felt their lives and safety were threatened by Russia? If so, how exactly? Did Americans or other NATO members feel the need for NATO expansion in order to feel safe and sleep peacefully at night? Was there disagreement amongst NATO members? Ukraine and Russia had improved their relations in 2010, when Ukraine officially abandoned the goal of joining NATO.14 Was the abandonment of this goal threatening to Americans? Which ones? Why?
Did any Americans feel a sense of lethal danger and an urgent need to send weapons to the Ukrainian government to fight in its civil war? Do Americans feel their current fears are connected with the decades of anti-Soviet Cold War propaganda? Did they think of the USSR as malicious, belligerent, and untrustworthy then and do they think of Russia as malicious, belligerent, and untrustworthy now? What fatal scenario do some American civilians or policymakers fear could result from Russia’s actions?
Whether fears are rational or irrational, we must spend time in dialogue learning about the nature and causes of these American fears. They won’t go away just by dismissing them as absurd. And, frankly, I also don’t think they’ll go away by merely continuing an arms race, sending weapons, and devising lethal strategies for use against Russia. While weapons are one component of security, they’re not even half of what it takes to feel emotionally and psychologically secure and to actually be secure. That type of security requires—not the transfer to nations far and wide of an American form of plutocratic pseudo-democracy pinned upon elections, capitalism, privatization, globalization, and US dominance—but rather egalitarian justice, mutual understanding, and genuine friendship.
It’s not only foreigners who need these components to feel secure, it’s Americans. This is probably why US policymakers have been forever on this wild goose chase for security: they’re feeding an insatiable need for security that is insatiable precisely because they’re feeding it all the wrong food. They seek domination when what they need is friendship. They insist that others understand US goals and serve US interests, when what they really need is two-way mutual understanding and caring. They’re giving themselves junk food when what they really need are all the root vegetables of a big bowl of borsch.
Within Ukraine, we should ask Ukrainians from a range of perspectives how they felt about billions of dollars of US and NATO weapon shipments arriving since the civil war began in 2014. Did these weapons help them feel safer? Did they protect them from harm? Or did they put Ukrainians in greater danger from other Ukrainians and from Russia? Would Ukrainians be suffering now if the weapons had never been sent? Do Ukrainians feel the weapons helped resolve the problems that caused the civil war or did they make the problems worse? Did Ukrainian government members all agree that they wanted to receive US and NATO weapons? Or not? Were the weapons placed in responsible hands? What effect did US and NATO weapon shipments have on the effectiveness and strength of any formal or grassroots non-violent conflict resolution initiatives that may have been unfolding, including the Minsk Agreements?
We should also ask whether Russian weapons were sent to Donetsk and Lugansk, as the West claims. If so, how did these weapons make various Ukrainians feel with regard to their safety? Better or worse? The same set of questions we asked about US and NATO weapons should be asked about Russian weapons.
Read Part 1 here
- Jack Detsch, “Putin’s Fixation with an Old-School US Missile Launcher,” Foreign Policy, January 12, 2022; Tass Russian News Agency, “Russia Slams US Aegis Ashore Missile Deployment in Europe as Direct Breach of INF Treaty,” November 26, 2016; and Ankit Panda, “A New US Missile Defense Test May Have Increased the Risk of Nuclear War,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, November 19, 2020.
- NATO, “NATO and Ukraine Navy Together in the Fight against Piracy,” October 30, 2013; and Reuters, “Ukraine Holds Military Drills with US Forces, NATO Allies,” September 20, 2021.
- Russia Today, “American Mercenaries Preparing ‘Chemical Weapon’ Incident in Eastern Ukraine, Russia Claims,” December 21, 2021; and Paul D. Shinkman, “Fears of False Flag Operation Grow as Russia Claims Ukraine Poised for Chemical Weapons Attack,” May 6, 2022.
- Al Mayadeen, “Russia Releases Documents in US-Funded Bio-Weapons, Hunter Biden Exposed,” March 31, 2022; and Al Mayadeen, “Russian Forces Find 30 Biological Labs in Ukraine, Possibly for Bioweapons,” March 7, 2022.
- Project for the New American Century (PNAC), “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” Donald Kagan and Gary Schmitt, Project Co-Chairmen; Thomas Donnelly, Principal Author, (Washington, DC, 2000).
- Tass, “Militia Claim Spotting up to 70 Mercenaries of US Military Company Academi in East Ukraine,” April 21, 2015.
- Simon Shuster, “Exclusive: Documents Reveal Erik Prince’s $10 Billion Plan to Make Weapons and Create a Private Army in Ukraine,” Time, July 7, 2021.
- Julian Boyer, “Pentagon Chief’s Russia Remarks Show Shift in US’s Declared Aims in Ukraine,” Guardian, April 26, 2022.
- William Blum, Killing Hope, (London: Zed, 2014).
- Infographic Show, “Russia’s Big Problem with Ukraine,” April 8, 2022.
- Daryl Kimball, contact, “The Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and the Adapted CFE Treaty at a Glance,” Arms Control Association, last reviewed August 2017.
- Vladimir Putin, Munich Security Conference, February 11, 2007.
- Diana Johnstone, “For Washington, War Never Ends,” Consortium News, March 16, 2022.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, “Svoboda Party”.
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Kristin Christman.