Appearing before Judge Ramona Manglona in the district courtroom of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, in his last few hours prior to freedom, Julian Assange explained that his action of releasing the classified documents that had been shared with him by (then) Bradley Manning was protected by the first amendment of the US constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression, and that he believed the Espionage Act, under which he was being charged, was in conflict with that amendment. To paraphrase: “I broke the law; the law is wrong.”

In the event that Russia should ever be held accountable for its Special Military Operation (SMO) in Ukraine in 2022, its representatives might argue the same. Sure, it’s fine to say that a nation that invades another nation is violating the national sovereignty of the nation that is invaded. But this principle of international law, by itself, is wholly insufficient to cater to the nuances, subtleties, vagaries and brutalities of life as it is actually lived.

What are the mitigating circumstances that any wise judge might consider before determining a just outcome in this instance? Among the immediately proximate were evidence of a planned armed assault by the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) on the peoples of the self-declared People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine; US dismissal within weeks prior to the SMO of Russian concerns of US intention to place nuclear offensive-capable weapons in Ukraine on Russia’s borders and of Russian requests for negotiation concerning the US having already placed or planned to place such weapons on the borders with Russia of Poland and Romania; and clear indications that Ukraine was being encouraged by NATO to believe that it was on the path to NATO membership, something which Russian leaders had been warning the collective West would constitute an existential red line for Russia, one that it had been seeking in vain to roll back through negotiation with the collective West over the previous thirty years.

Longer-term considerations included the illegality of the anti-Russian regime in Kiev that had come to power as a result of a US-instigated and US-funded coup d’etat in 2014, whose purpose was to prevent the democratically elected government of Ukraine at that time from preferring a subsidy arrangement with Russia over a competing offer from the European Union (EU). These and other considerations occurred in a context of a satanic hostility directed towards Russia by the collective West, sometimes overflowing into public documents such as the 2019 RAND (military industrial think tank) report entitled “Extending Russia” that envisaged a breakup of the Russian Federation, using Ukraine as a proxy disruptor force. The hostility was buttressed with loud but faux anti-Russian propaganda campaigns whose relationship to evidence was extremely fragile if not entirely false, including the charges that Russia had sought to influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election, and that Russian spies had poisoned Sergey and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury in 2018. These provided a convenient psyop basis for the civilizational war that lay just around the corner.

Even a cursory student of international relations might very reasonably have drawn the conclusion in 2020 that the collective West was implacably opposed to the government of Russia and to the Russian Federation and that this opposition had every sign of being permanent and of being permanently and existentially threatening to Russia. This hostility had little or nothing to do with perceptions of the legal status of the Russian Federation, and a great deal to do with something we now understand a great deal better in 2024 than in 2022, something that I will call US-captained “liberal authoritarian exceptionalism,” also known as the (no) “rules-based order” that has come to assert itself, with no public consultation whatsoever, above the United Nations. This was what allowed NATO to induce a secessionist, “independent” Kosovo, contrary to international law and without the benefit of elections.

Some people who acknowledge the extent to which Russia was duped and victimized by a collective West that had persuaded itself that it had “won” the Cold War, nonetheless, still feel it necessary as proof of their essential humanity and law-abiding good faith to condemn Russia for its 2022 SMO, presumably because they believe deep-down in something that is called “international law,” and that “international law” is virtuous unto itself. Any Russian leader who allowed himself, or herself, to think in this fashion, and to have identified only those policy options that fitted snugly into what is, fundamentally, a Western invention, would have been fatefully misguided and wrong.

If your enemy is coming towards you with a hatchet and publically declaring that he is out to sever your head from your shoulders, this is not the time to consult law books, but rather to react promptly and efficiently, taking any action that will afford you immediate protection from him, including a preemptive strike that you hope will stop him in his tracks. Putin, like Xi Jinping, have long ago spotted the hatchet-man, have even experimented with trying to reason with him, and are now convinced, with justification, that he is committed to their destruction. In those circumstances of certain hatred, one must choose one’s time and place for engagement without regard for niceties.

Increasingly, we see candidates for leadership, even in the collective West, like Donald Trump in the USA or Nigel Farage in the UK, and quite possibly Marie Le Pen in France, who consider that Russia’s action in 2022 was “provoked” by NATO expansionism. That these insights are coming from the legacy Right is a measure of the extent to which the legacy Liberal and legacy Left have been corrupted and co-opted, with the help of mainstream liberal and left media at the service of power, by neoliberal/neocon ideology, at least in so far as foreign policy is concerned. In other words a gradual, frosty mist of realism is settling around the edges of publically-acceptable speech in the West, a realism that is not instantly subject to melting by the hot air of fools and knaves. The boundaries of what is publically-acceptable in the West are drawn by politicians, media, think-tanks and academe that serve corporate masters affiliated with globalist institutions and interests, interests (primarily of finance capital and the couple of hundred or so board members who control it)) that are protected by military and nuclear force. And the difference between 2022 and 2024 is that now many more of us can see this with astonishing clarity, and are inspired to resist.

We have the restrained, rational determination of Vladimir Putin – a leader manifestly several times more intelligent and knowledgable than his European and US counterparts – to thank for this. He called it a “Special Military Operation” to convey the idea of a strictly limited, corrective force with very clearly articulated objectives namely, Ukrainian neutrality, demilitarization, denazification of Ukraine and integration of the People’s Republics into the Russian Federation (just as Crimea had been integrated in 2014, in response to a referendum – and forget about Western propaganda’s fiction of ‘little green men’).

Although his “invasion” force of 2022 is routinely derided by his Western critics, the size of the force was nowhere near sufficient to conquer the entirety of Ukraine, yet it achieved an almost immediate and remarkable outcome – which was Ukrainian willingness, within a few weeks of the invasion, to negotiate peace. Peace terms were all but agreed when the collective West, in the persona of the UK prime minister Boris Johnson, was sent to Kiev to convey the message, in effect, that “we,” (NATO, the collective West, Zelenskiy’s sponsors and minders) don’t want you to sign the agreement and we will provide you with all the weapons you need to defeat Russia on our behalf.

As it turns out, Western money (hundreds of billions of dollars), training, weapons, navigational guidance, intelligence, and even field hospitals, have done nothing of the sort nor will they, no matter how many more ATACMS missiles the West can drag out of its cellars (it wont be many), nor how many counterproductive sanctions it can add to the hundreds already imposed to no good effect (the Russian economy is booming), and no matter how many Russian assets can be stolen by the European Union.

Ukraine has been through two counter-offensives and is thought, after the loss (dead and severely wounded) of well over 500,000 men, to be embarking on a third, this one to be fought mainly by very poorly trained and largely demotivated conscripts and prisoners and the like. These are chained as slaves to the crude methods of mobilization and press-ganging that are ultimately the responsibility of a President who originally came to power – likely backed by MI6 – because he promised peace. The very same President who feared to call elections this last March, as he was constitutionally obliged to do, and is now illegitimate. If Zelenskiy still commands the popularity of a bare majority of Ukrainians it is because his strongest critics have moved out of the country or are dead. Zelenskiy is the illegitimate dictator of a regime that glorifies Nazis, has grossly suppressed freedom of expression, freedom of political association, and freedom of religious worship, that has kill-lists for dissidents, and locks up, tortures or murders journalists it does not like. It is wedded to the crudest forms of neoliberalism, the sale of its prized agriculture to global agribusiness capital and its investors like Blackrock, and has long been selling off a huge swathe of public assets to raise more money for the war.

The first counter-offensive, in 2022, when the Ukrainian army was still relatively fresh and had the benefit of all manner of stockpiles of Soviet weaponry (especially air defense systems and fighter jets) at its disposal, succeeded in forcing Russia to withdraw from both Kherson and Kharkiv. The second counter-offensive launched in 2023, had much less impact and Ukraine failed in its most important objectives which were, first, to secure Bakhmut from Russian advances and, more to the liking of Ukraine’s Western sponsors, to push down from Robotyne through to Tokmak and on to the Azov with a view to dividing what had already become a Russian land-bridge from the mainland to Crimea.

Since that time Russia has taken Bakhmut, and it has taken Avdiivka further to the south. It has decisively defeated Ukraine in the Robotyne area and in the Vremivka Ledge area to the east, it has opened up many new fronts and broken through many Ukrainian defense lines, as in Vovchansk, Toretsk, Spirne, Krasnohorivka, Ocheretyne, Novomikhailivka and is steadily, albeit very, very slowly, advancing westwards and northwards, east of the Dnieper. To all accounts, the UAF is a very depleted and under-equipped force, fighting for territory against an enemy that is fighting to attrite – to wear down the Ukrainian army, not for territory. When Russia cares about territory it is because the territory represents a Ukrainian defense line that Russia wants to destroy. Russia also appears to care more about the lives of its soldiers, which also explains its cautious and plodding advances that start with artillery, drone, missile and bomb attacks long before ground operations are launched against any particular locality and the enemy positions that it hosts. These often benefit from previous, steady, Russian degrading of Ukrainian energy and transportational infrastructure.

This is a terrible, horrific war, and it is also a new kind of war, one that is historically unprecedented. At its center is the drone, and the use of drones to maintain constant and close-up surveillance, backed up, I would say, with increasingly sophisicated missiles in which Russian technology is superior both to Ukrainian and to Western weaponry. Indeed, Russia appears to exceed Ukrainian and US supplies in stockpiles and levels of production and production capacity across most categories of weapon and ammunition. Its strong relations with countries such as Iran and North Korea give it access to further weapons (e.g. drones in the case of Iran, shells in the case of North Korea) and its strong relations with China allow it access to all manner of electronics, digital and other technologies and materials that it needs for production purposes. Russia is effectively depleting US and Western weapons stockpiles, even as the pressure of US obligations to furnish weapons to allies like Israel and Taiwan intensify, causing the collective West to draw on current and increasingly expensive production rather than depleted stockpiles. This is not looking like a sustainable scenario for the West. It can juggle balls in the air for a while longer but must eventually crash.

Seeing all of this has led Ukraine and the West to increasingly relax their restrictions on “Ukrainian” (i.e. launched and navigated by NATO operatives) deployment of Western missiles on any target across Russia, and to consider increasingly desperate counter-measures including the sending of NATO military personnel into Ukraine (sometimes described as ‘volunteers’) and, most recently, the setting up by NATO of military hospitals and military protection for such hospitals in preparation for a third Ukrainian counter-offensive. French, Polish and Baltic forces are among the most enthusiastic supporters of such measures. In the case of France it is widely suspected that the purpose of placing NATO ‘boots on the ground’ is to have Russia fire on and kill them, at which point, France will exert maximum pressure on the US to intervene directly in the war, something with neither current President Biden nor potential future President Trump, wishes to entertain. The first is worried about his election prospects (poor and getting poorer); the second is preoccupied by what it claims to consider the bigger and more important enemy, China.

Over recent weeks the prevailing narrative of the proxy war fought by NATO over the pretext of Ukraine against Russia is one of constant escalation both in rhetoric and in action, most alarmingly in the direction of nuclear war, the last resort for countries that cannot bring themselves to back down – Russia because it faces existential threat; the collective West because it has foolishly dug itself so deeply into a trench of foolishness, deception, and self-deception. Both sides have readied their non-strategic nuclear weapons. Both sides, but particularly the collective West, are now flirting very dangerously with nuclear annihilation of the human species. Ukrainian/Western drones and missiles have been aimed at and have struck important components of Russia’s nuclear infrastructure namely, the radar stations that give Russia warning of an impending ICBM attack, without which the prospects for either intentional or accidental launches of nuclear weapons are greatly enhanced. Western introduction of F-16s into Ukraine (or, more likely, to airfields in Poland and Romania from which they will fly in attacks on Russia) is profoundly problematic because Russia cannot know in advance whether these nuclear-capable fighter jets are actually carrying nuclear-tipped missiles. Russia has more openly referred to its fleet of nuclear kinzhals and zircons and the like, perhaps remembering that in the last major nuclear showdown between the US and Russia over Russian missiles in Cuba, in 1962, it was Russia that backed-off. It may therefore need to work doubly hard in order to convince the collective West that it is serious. Uncertainty over matters of global life and death have an extraordinary and perhaps unknowable disorientation effect on global political and military leaders that is profoundly disturbing.

The current crisis is far more serious than that of the Cuban Missile Crisis and far more ignored by Western mainstream media. First of all, there are many more nuclear powers today, which greatly complicates the mathematics of nuclear confrontation. Secondly there are several locations of significant crisis that could tempt local leaders to choose the most extreme options. And thirdly the principal interlocutors today, with the major exception, I would say, of Vladimir Putin, in a world which practices only the art of the harangue to the exclusion of the art of peacemaking, are feeble, spoilt and privileged know-nothing dunces.

These dangerous times have come about, as I have many times argued, as a form of counterrevolution conducted by the collective West against the revolution that was represented by the growth in wealth and power of the BRICS countries, especially India and China, a revolution which the collective West in the period of peak globalization, helped bring about. It is currently a counterrevolution that has three principal fronts: Ukraine, Israel/Iran, and Taiwan. In Ukraine, NATO-friendly forces can attempt to stop Russia in a “frozen conflict” scenario, something that Russia is adamantly opposed to doing; in the Middle East the US is allowing itself to be drawn by Israel not simply into an unspeakable genocide, but into a war with Iran over the Lebanon that will bring in Russian support that has been so effective in Syria; in China/Taiwan the US is manoeuvering towards a strategy of regime change in both Taiwan and Beijing, not realizing that with the cementing of relations between China, Russia and North Korea, the West’s ancient strategy of a blockade of China simply cannot work and that it will be the West that is going down.

What will be the outcome? Several options come to mind. The first is Armageddon, introduced by either a major power prepared to fire a pre-emptive strike, giving the other party an opportunity to decide whether it wishes to retaliate. The first strike need not be nuclear but could take the form as some have opined, of a conventional decapitation or destabilizing of Kiev and/or Odessa, in an attack of sufficient scale to scare off Ukraine’s threats to Russian settlements. The point is that there will be a strike of such severe magnitude that it will stun the opposing side into stopping in its tracks to reflect and negotiate. Whether the other side will actually pause before committing to a counter-strike is inherently unknown. Or, the West may simply be defeated over Ukraine and then, later, in Taiwan, and that after more than 500 years of merciless imperialism, the Western star will decline rapidly as a new order, the order of multi-polarity or the order of multi-modality, will emerge. Or, the conflict will congeal into a frozen conflict, inherently unstable and very much to Ukraine’s but not Russian advantage presumably somewhere along the current combat lines, in the form of a ceasefire prior to the conduct of negotiations. Or, Russia will lose, and the West will proceed to orchestrate a regime change, coupled with the fragmentation of the Russian Federation into small, bite-sized principalities. Such a development would leave China highly exposed, vulnerable to comparable Western shenanigans – colored revolutions and all the rest of it and no longer superior to a Western blockade.

(Featured Image: “Atom Bomb Nuclear Explosion” by Burnt Pineapple Productions is marked with CC0 1.0.)


  • Oliver Boyd-Barrett

    Oliver Boyd-Barrett is Professor Emeritus (Journalism and Public Relations) from Bowling Green State University, Ohio and (Communication) from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His first book, The International News Agencies, was published by Constable/Sage in 1980, and its French sister, Le Traffic des Nouvelles (with Michael Palmer) by Alain Moreau, in 1981. Since 2000 he has focused on issues of war and propaganda. Recent titles include Hollywood and the CIA (Routledge), Media Imperialism (Sage), Western Mainstream Media and the Ukraine Crisis (Routledge), Russiagate and Propaganda (Routledge), Media Imperialism: Continuity and Change (Rowman and Littlefield)(with Tanner Mirrlees), Conflict Propaganda in Syria (Routledge). Two current projects deal with Russiagate: Aftermath of a Hoax (Palgrave), and Afghanistan: Aftermath of Imperial Occupation (provisional).

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