Russia Invades the World's Mindspace

American fecklessness has created major foreign policy problems.

Scragged has previously pointed out that the Obama administration ensured that the North Koreans and the Iranians would never voluntarily give up their desire to possess nuclear weapons regardless of cost or consequence.

To summarize, when the Soviet Union dissolved, America promised the Ukraine that we'd defend them if they gave up their Soviet-era nukes.  We also promised Mr. Qaddafi we'd leave him alone if he gave up his nukes, which he did.

Mr. Obama and Hillary let Mr. Putin grab the Crimean peninsula from the Ukraine and killed Mr. Qaddafi.  Given these lies by the Obama administration, how could we expect anyone to trust us enough to give up nukes?  How else can they defend themselves?

The Saudis and Israelis warned this would happen, but Mr. Obama didn't listen.  Even the New York Times was skeptical of his approach.

We have to go back a bit further to understand how our other foreign policy misadventures fed into Mr. Putin's decision to invade the Ukraine.

Not One Inch

NPR hosted a panel discussion which reviewed what the Soviet Union regarded as a promise that NATO would not expand eastward toward the Soviet Union.

Russians say the U.S. and its NATO allies broke a key pledge. They claim the West promised Russia in the 1990s that NATO would move not one inch to the east. Putin recently said, you cheated us shamelessly. The U.S. and NATO say that's nonsense and they've always had an open-door membership policy. ...

The Berlin Wall falls in November 1989 and up comes this question of German reunification. The U.S. thinks that maybe what they could offer the Soviets to get them to allow that is a promise that NATO will not expand eastward. ...

... a book about the negotiations over all this called "Not One Inch." And she [Mary Sarotte, the author] says this not one inch thing comes from this very early conversation in 1990 between then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Baker floats this idea of letting Germany reunify in exchange for NATO moving not one inch eastward. Gorbachev's like, OK; I'll think about it. ...

Baker goes back to Washington where President George H.W. Bush is like, absolutely not. And so the Americans drop it. It never shows up on the bargaining table.

It's true that "not one inch" was mentioned at a high level, but that phrase never appeared in any of the final agreements.  Perhaps the Russians made the egregious mistake of taking American diplomats at their word, assuming that it didn't need to be written down in black and white?  Of course, our guarantees to Ukraine were written down in black and white, as were Russia's, though they've turned out to be worth somewhat less than they seemed.

NATO Expands

President Clinton was elected in 1992, just after President Mikhail Gorbachev dissolved the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr. Clinton started offering NATO membership to the new Eastern European nations which had been part of the Russian empire.  We at Scragged regarded this as, while understandable, nevertheless a provocation which Russia couldn't ignore forever because every expansion put NATO forces that much closer to the Russian heartland.  As a land power which is not defended by any natural boundaries, Russia has suffered invasion from the East and from the West for generations; a degree of paranoia and cynical pessimism is considered to be part of the Russian character.

Politico reported that when Russia invaded the Ukraine, Mr. Clinton was quick to assure everyone that his expanding NATO had nothing to do with the invasion:

Clinton said Putin "made no secret of the fact that he thought the dissolution of the Soviet Union was a great tragedy."

The former president said the U.S. and NATO never meant to threaten Russia and that the nations of Eastern Europe had a right to live in security after decades of being dominated by Russia. ...

During Clinton's presidency, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO, followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. All of those nations had either been part of the Soviet Union or allies of the Soviet Union.

There's no way that Mr. Putin would have been happy about NATO coming eastward, but he didn't do much other than protest.  Mr. Churchill observed that Russia is a mystery wrapped in enigma and shrouded in obscurity.  Why didn't he do something about it at the time?  Perhaps those countries were small enough not to worry Mr. Putin, perhaps he felt he wasn't through modernizing his military; we simply don't know why he didn't go beyond protest as his understanding of "Not one inch" was consigned to the dustbin of history.

The Ukraine is a Different Matter

The Ukraine is the second largest of the former Soviet Republics and has a very long border with Russia.  NPR credited President George W. Bush with starting the push for the Ukraine to be admitted to NATO.  France and Germany pushed back, resulting in an ambiguous situation where NATO was more or less offering the Ukraine membership "in principle" but without setting out a process to actually do it.

As long as the Ukraine government was more or less favorably disposed to Russia, Mr. Putin could tolerate a degree of inconclusive talk about NATO expanding so much closer to him, but we messed that up.

The far-left mouthpiece Truthout tells us that Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was the "mastermind" behind the Feb. 22, 2014 "regime change" in Ukraine.  She worked to overthrow the Ukrainian government headed by President Viktor Yanukovych while convincing the ever-gullible US mainstream media that the coup wasn't really a coup but a victory for "democracy."  We have no insider knowledge as to opine on how true this may or may not have been, but, there are clearly grounds for debate on the subject

Yanukovych's government had been pro-Russia enough to rub along acceptably with Russian President Vladimir Putin in spite of all the pro-NATO talk, but the new government was much more pro-Western and less acceptable to Russia.  From Mr. Putin's point of view, the US had fallen back to an old cold-war tactic - we destabilized a government which had been allied with him and replaced it with an enemy government aligned with us.  To make matters worse, it seemed that by working through various businesses, the new government was paying large sums of money to the son of the Vice President of the United States.  How would that look to the Kremlin kleptocrats?

Wasting no time, Mr. Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in February and March of 2014.  As we explained in our article cited above, the Obama administration ignored its obligations to protect the territorial integrity of the Ukraine and Mr. Putin kept Crimea.  He didn't go any further during the Trump administration, but once Mr. Biden took over, he saw an opportunity to force the Ukraine back into the Soviet orbit and ordered the invasion.

He grossly overestimated his military capabilities and his intel team hadn't told him how fiercely the Ukraine would resist, but that's a problem inherent to any tyranny.  The top three qualities Mr. Putin demands in subordinates are loyalty, loyalty, and loyalty followed by slavish devotion.  Skill and ability aren't important until they suddenly become very important, but it's usually too late to do anything about it when a crisis makes the incompetence evident.

So Where Are We?

As we see it, the US backed Mr. Putin into a corner, led him to believe that NATO was disunited enough that it would be OK to invade, then helped the Ukraine turn the Donbas into a killing ground.  This is yet another dent in American credibility.

What's worse, we now have two Eurasian land powers destroying each other.  This will make it easier for China under President for Life Xi to take back the parts of Russia which China ceded to the Czars in the Treaty of Aigun of 1858 and the Treaty of Peking of 1860.  The Chinese are well aware that the Mongol empire ran from Vladivostok to Vienna and they'd like to get some of that territory back, not to mention reeducating the rebels in Taiwan.

We live in interesting times, and our feckless leaders persist in making things more interesting, day by day.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments

Great to see these 2 new articles here on Scragged.
Great article. I didn't know China/Xi had a dog in the fight re: history and the recovery of long ago annexed land. Taiwan will be first I'm guessing although no one knows what craziness might occur to intervene.

The obvious question is: how would the US like it/react if Mexico and Canada allied with Russia and Russia built bases on the Vermont border? Of course we'd object. Yet the uniparty liars along with their msm cohorts scream democracy.. Totally ignoring what not only the Ukrainian majority might want or not want, but what we, the US taxpayer might want or not want.

Putin knows just by looking at the sorry state of society here that the same is in store for him and Russia if he blinks. The globalists are trying to take down another anti-globalist leader like they did and are continuing to do here with Trump. I think the globalist elites believe they can carve up the world amongst themselves and that China will go along in letting Russia evaporate. I also think Putin will do whatever it takes to not let that happen. Xi will never bow to the globalist elites...he'll eat them alive.

Far too many variables to even guess what may or may not happen in any of these scenarios other than to generalize and think "it probably won't be good".

And yes, the uniparty is/are, and always have been, tried and convicted- liars. Like the saying goes "if their lips are moving, they're lying".

May 15, 2023 11:53 AM

The US & NATO negotiated like Stalin. How unsporting of us! We allowed former Warsaw Pact countries, who wanted to preserve their independence, too join NATO. Since all of the Warsaw Pact had been occupied by Russia, they had good reason to fear reoccupation.

Putin claims the right to invade any country to protect Russian speakers, wherever they might be. Does that claim remind you of another leader who went to war to protect German speakers everywhere?

In 2008, Putin took a bite out of Georgia, The US did essentially nothing. In 2014, Putin took a bite out of Ukraine. The US sent MRE rations. Trump kept Putin too poor to invade with smart energy policies. Biden's crusade against fossil fuels enabled Putin to pay for an invasion.

Domestically, Democrats give away other people's money. Internationally, Democrats have given away other people's countries. Conservatives should not give away other people's countries just because Roosevelt gave Stalin a pass.

May 15, 2023 5:46 PM

A lot can be said about this excellent piece; I'll stop at THANK YOU.

May 15, 2023 10:56 PM

Kissinger had suggested that an alliance of the US and Russia would bring stability across the globe. That alliance would have halted China's revanchism. It would have gotten Iran out of the Middle East. And it would have relegated Europe to its rightful place as a Second World country.
Kissinger's concept was known in foreign policy circles as is the fact that he had been meeting with Trump well before the election.
I'm going to venture a guess here and say that the whole Russian collusion thing was a successful attempt by entities threatened by a US/Russian alliance to pre-empt such a development from taking place.

May 15, 2023 11:31 PM

Memory Wars. Culture Wars

gives a synopsis of Russian history that goes beyond what we said about Russia being invaded over and over.

The core of Putinism is as follows:

A strong state: Means tight control, with a vertical of power from the top to the bottom. The Tsar controls all that happens in the state, and a rejection of liberal values or property values, or the rule of law would affect this vertical of power.

The belief spread across Russian society is that democracy is a foreign principle and that any time foreign ideas penetrate Russia, the state becomes weak. This is why the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 are almost silent in the popular telling of Russian history. This is also why the chaos of the 1990s cannot be allowed ever to happen again. It was the beginning of the dissolution and destruction of the state. It was due to the entry of Western ideas of democracy and free markets.

An independent way of development: Russia is unique in the history of the world. Ergo, its development is very Russian. This goes back 1000 years, though the events that Russians care about in official history and those that don't are carefully curated.

At no point will they talk of how strong the state was under Peter the Great and Catherine, while at the same time pointing out that both spoke French at court and embraced the European Enlightenment. Granted, their ideology did not spread beyond the palace out of fear of a peasant revolt.

A Millenarian mission: Russians (and many Americans) believe at an end of days mission. This is a process where Russia will guide humanity toward a great future. It's one chosen by God, and the concept of a third Rome mainly sets it; there will be no fourth.

This also comes into the final battle that will set the future. Russia has a unique role in history. It's a form of manifest destiny.

This is the core of Putinism, which might explain how it's difficult for Russia to see itself as just another nation. From the get-go, we have a country that sees itself as separate from the rest of the world.


Russia, entirely on purpose, ignores certain events, such as the Molotov-Ribbentrop treaty that split Poland in two. Nor will it admit to the Russification campaign in those newly occupied territories. They also don't talk about American Lend-Lease or what the Red Army did to civilians on the road to Berlin.

May 16, 2023 4:28 PM

Here's another more biting analysis than yours:

U.S. Actions and Russia's Invasion of Ukraine
As the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, U.S. and Western European leaders assured Soviet and then Russian leaders that NATO would not expand toward Russia's borders. "There would be no extension of.NATO one inch to the east," U.S. Secretary of State James Baker told Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990. Similar assurances from other U.S. leaders as well as from British, German and French leaders throughout the 1990s confirm this.

Since 2007, Russia has repeatedly warned that NATO's armed forces on Russian borders were intolerable - just as Russian forces in Mexico or Canada would be intolerable to the U.S. now, or as Soviet missiles in Cuba were in 1962. Russia further singled out NATO expansion into Ukraine as especially provocative.

Seeing the War Through Russia's Eyes
Our attempt at understanding the Russian perspective on their war does not endorse the invasion and occupation, nor does it imply the Russians had no other option but this war.

Yet, just as Russia had other options, so too did the U.S. and NATO leading up to this moment.

The Russians made their red lines clear. In Georgia and Syria, they proved they would use force to defend those lines. In 2014, their immediate seizure of Crimea and their support of Donbas separatists demonstrated they were serious in their commitment to defending their interests. Why this was not understood by U.S. and NATO leadership is unclear; incompetence, arrogance, cynicism, or a treacherous mixture of all three are likely contributing factors.

Again, even as the Cold War ended, U.S. diplomats, generals and politicians were warning of the dangers of expanding NATO to Russia's borders and of maliciously interfering in Russia's sphere of influence. Former Cabinet officials Robert Gates and William Perry issued these warnings, as did venerated diplomats George Kennan, Jack Matlock and Henry Kissinger. In 1997, fifty senior U.S. foreign policy experts wrote an open letter to President Bill Clinton advising him not to expand NATO, calling it "a policy error of historic proportions." President Clinton chose to ignore these warnings.

Most important to our understanding of the hubris and Machiavellian calculation in U.S. decision-making surrounding the Russia-Ukraine War is the dismissal of the warnings issued by Williams Burns, the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In a cable to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2008, while serving as Ambassador to Russia, Burns wrote of NATO expansion and Ukrainian membership:

"Ukraine and Georgia's NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia's influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests. Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face."

Why did the U.S. persist in expanding NATO despite such warnings? Profit from weapons sales was a major factor.


So far, the U.S. has sent $30 billion worth of military gear and weapons to Ukraine, with total aid to Ukraine exceeding $100 billion. War, it's been said, is a racket, one that is highly profitable for a select few.

Let's make America a force for peace in the world.

May 20, 2023 8:56 PM argues that Mr. Putin was backed into a corner by America:

More recently, Mearsheimer outraged supporters of Ukraine with comments pinning much of the responsibility for Russia's invasion on American policy.

Expanding NATO after the Cold War, and holding membership open to Ukraine, inflamed Russian fears, he argues.

And he rejects the idea Putin has grand designs to rebuild the Soviet empire.

But when Mearsheimer recently came to Washington, DC, his topic was not the war's origins but its stakes and likely outcome.

He spoke as a realist, and the reality as he sees it is that every party to the fight has reason to perceive it as an existential struggle.

This photograph shows a destroyed building in the town of Kupiansk, Kharkiv region, on May 26, 2023, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK / AFP) (Photo by SERGEY BOBOK/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukraine ready to launch long-awaited counterattack on Russia, official Oleksiy Danilov says
In Ukraine's case, that's obvious - it's fighting for survival.

Yet that means more than just resisting obliteration. Kyiv's objectives are to reclaim all its sovereign territory and make sure Russia cannot resume aggression in the future.

Anything less would be only a temporary reprieve.

Mearsheimer reiterated his argument that the Russians believe their existence as a great power is jeopardized by NATO's growth.

If Ukraine recovers Crimea and gets admitted to NATO, Russia loses reliable access to the Black Sea and Mediterranean beyond it.

For the czars, Soviets and Putin alike, Crimea has been a vital security interest.

Putin's aim, in Mearsheimer's estimation, isn't the total conquest of Ukraine. That would be like "swallowing a porcupine."

The Ukrainian population as a whole is simply too large and too hostile for Russia to absorb the full country.

But Russia will continue its war of attrition until it secures the oblasts it has occupied so far.

And Mearsheimer thinks Moscow wants four more oblasts after that, until Russia controls more than 40% of Ukrainian territory.

Taking Odessa and cutting Ukraine off from the Black Sea is also an objective.

Russian victory means a mutilated, unstable, commercially isolated, undefendable Ukraine.

For all his criticisms of US policy before the invasion, Mearsheimer sees no way for America and Western Europe to back down now.

For them, too, the war is existential.

European security depends on NATO. If the West invests everything it can in the Ukrainian effort, short of direct military intervention, and Russia still wins, confidence in NATO will shatter.

That doesn't mean Russia's armies march onward. What Mearsheimer foresees is rather the disintegration of NATO from within, a loss of strategic cohesion that allows Russia and China to play different European nations, and different factions within those nations, against one another.

May 29, 2023 2:53 AM
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