Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
As we all witness the continuing Russian-inflicted carnage in Ukraine, we are reminded of an oft-referenced assessment of American wisdom in foreign affairs, widely attributed to Winston Churchill: Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else.
As the dreadful war of attrition continues in Ukraine, Americans should be cognizant of the role their country played in causing this horrid devastation. By reflecting upon our clear errors – if today’s media is at all so capable – perhaps we can learn a lesson, lest we doom ourselves to repeat history’s mistakes.
Let us begin in 2006 when Senator Obama led the initiative to pay Ukraine to give up 15,000 tons of ammunition; 400,000 small arms and light weapons; 1,000 anti-aircraft portable or shoulder missiles, which he said would “create a more peaceful and safe future for the people of Ukraine.” This pales in comparison to his policies as President, in which he forced Ukraine to give up its remaining weapons – including over 500 pounds of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium (HEU), 76,000 tons of ammunition, 366,000 small arms and light weapons, and 3 million deadly landmines – with all of this HEU going to … Russia! We could go on, but you get the drift. President Obama, comically, had already been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, not only for his purportedly peaceful initiatives in Ukraine, but also ostensibly for his campaign rhetoric promising an open hand to enemies, rather than a closed fist. Unfortunately, neither Obama nor the Nobel Committee understood the Doctrine of Unintended Consequences.
Per a 2010 joint statement by Obama and Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych, Obama gave American security assurances to Ukraine in connection with its disarmament. What, pray tell, could go wrong with a country now denuded of any credible military force? Only putatively paranoic Republicans warned of disaster, because, as the media told us, they dislike peaceful initiatives.
Fast forward to late 2013 and early 2014. Consultant Paul Manafort had persuaded Yanukovich that the best way forward for Ukraine was an alliance with the European Union (“EU”) and the United States, negotiating an EU Association Agreement as a prelude to later NATO membership.
Given Ukraine’s traditional status as a “jump ball” between Russia and Europe, it was important to Ukraine that an agreement with the West would not cost the country the benefits Putin’s Russia was currently providing. So, sensibly, Yanukovych wished Europe and the United States to fund the $15 billion in foreign aid that the country would lose in cutting ties with Russia. But the Obama State Department refused granting any substantial aid, seemingly because, like every other politician in Ukraine, Yanukovych was corrupt. Yet the sophomoric Obama Administration was still hoping against hope that Yanukovich would still sign the EU Agreement. However, Yanukovich’s mother did not raise a fool, and the EU Association Agreement was not signed.
The “Maidan Revolution” resulted, as the strongly EU-oriented country erupted, not understanding the practical motives of Yanukovych, much as the United States wrongly disassociated itself from the ostensibly corrupt strongman. Put differently, if the U.S. did not like Yanukovich, it could have forced him toward an honest government after first bringing him into the Western fold, failing which it could have worked to push him out. But let’s get Ukraine into our alliance first, yes?
The result of this silly policy was to strengthen Russia, as a twelve-year-old could have predicted. In the ensuing chaos, caused by America, Putin invaded Ukraine, marching to Crimea to annex this strategically important territory on the Black Sea.
Did the U.S. make good on Obama’s public assurances of security when he took away Ukraine’s weapons? Not exactly as Ukraine had hoped. Obama offered blankets and MRE (Meals Ready to Eat), but not weapons or military support. “One cannot win the war with blankets,” President Petro Poroshenko proclaimed. This timidity by the Obama-Biden Administration, of course, later assured Putin that he would not meet American resistance once Biden was elected President.
Meanwhile, Obama Administration Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was doing everything in her power to tell Russia that she was open to corrupt dealings. Her State Department had the sole deciding “equity” vote to approve the sale to Russia of Uranium One, a company owning twenty percent of America’s uranium assets. Uranium One, as planned, immediately was transferred to Russia’s Rosatom, giving Putin pricing power extending today to nuclear utilities in the United States. Approximately $150 million, or far more by some estimates, has been documented as having been contributed to the Clinton Foundation by Russian interests, which Foundation in turn employed Hillary’s presidential campaign-in-waiting. Eleven identified Russian spies surrounding the deal were whisked to Russia before our agencies could aggressively debrief them about Clinton’s doings.
Meanwhile, Clinton had begun a sophomoric “Russian Reset” program, one feature of which was the transfer of American dual-use technology to the Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley, the Skolkovo region. As our Defense Department proclaimed, not approvingly, this was “arguably an overt alternative to clandestine industrial espionage.”
If all this is so, why would Vladimir Putin wish that the unpredictable Donald Trump be elected in 2016 over the corruptible Clinton? The obvious response is that he would not.
In fact, as the 2016 Presidential campaign was in full swing, the CIA developed what it considered reliable Russian intelligence that Clinton’s foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan had hatched a plot to avert attention from Hillary Clinton’s DNC fix, as documented by hacked/downloaded anti-Bernie Sanders files.
Sullivan’s diabolical plan, surely endorsed or perhaps created by his boss, was to claim that Trump was engaged in electoral collusion with Russia, thus explaining the supposedly “hacked” and embarrassing DNC emails. The Russian intelligence disclosing the scheme was so strong that CIA Director John Brennan briefed President Obama, Vice President Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, later going so far as to send a formal written investigative referral to the FBI regarding this plot.
What is so significant about this program – verified by reliable Russian sources – was that key Kremlin-connected actors became engaged in the plot, clearly needing approval from Vladimir Putin himself. These Russian agents were a veritable Who’s Who of Russian intelligence: Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS was retained by the Denis Katsyv family, in turn doing Putin’s bidding against the anti-Putin Magnitsky Act; ex-British spy Christopher Steele, whose longtime client was oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Putin; Igor Danchenko, a Russian spy who had already infiltrated the Brookings Institution and sought to compromise State Department sources; Charles Dolan, a longtime Russian public relations agent in the United States, and also a strong Clinton insider; Olga Galkina, a poorly-disguised Russian intelligence agent working with Danchenko and Dolan; according to Danchenko, Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former head of Russian intelligence, and Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s right-hand aide.
However, rather than halting this maliciousness aborning, our partisan and Democrat-leaning intelligence agencies cynically worked hand in glove with these Russian assets, even though both Brennan and Comey knew that this was a dishonest collusion between Russia and Clinton. The FBI, knowing that Danchenko was a likely spy, gave him CHS status (Confidential Human Source), paying him handsomely, thus shielding him from disclosure as a CHS. To buck up his cred, the FBI briefed him on 25 other Russian counterintelligence matters, thereby handing the family jewels directly to Putin. Steele, rather than being vilified by the Bureau for his palpably false claims, was offered $1M by the partisan Bureau to corroborate them.
Even after Steele was terminated as a CHS for leaking to the press, the FBI still accepted his reports through Justice Department Number Four official Bruce Ohr, strongly connected to Steele, for whom his wife worked and who had previously compromised Ohr. Strikingly, Ohr not only relayed bilious anti-Trump libels from Steele, but also pressed for investigating Trump Campaign Director Paul Manafort, mainly as retribution by Steele’s patron Deripaska, who was upset with Manafort over a failed investment.
When Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya managed to finagle an infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., she was acting at the behest of and preparation by Glenn Simpson, who was acting for two ultimate principals, Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton, an obvious conclusion, but not one sussed out by a brain-dead media.
American intelligence agencies, and later Robert Mueller’s “Russiagate” Special Counsel, along with a predictably partisan press, cast this tableau not as it was – a joint Clinton-Putin disinformation operation – but as proof of the “Russian Collusion” canard.
No mainstream media outlet asked the obvious question: if Trump and Putin had truly been colluding, why was it necessary to lure the inexperienced young Trump into this meeting through a Trump-friendly music producer’s sponsorship? Wouldn’t the supposedly existing collusion render this invitation both unnecessary and unduly revealing? But these questions would require at least a minimum degree of critical thinking by an incapable media. It suffices to say that after years of a debilitating but jejune “Russiagate” investigation, Russia was strengthened, if for no other reason than through the weakening of Trump and the whitewashing of Clinton’s pro-Russian corruption. Of course, the value of the American intelligence gained by Putin and his FSB cannot be overestimated.
Now back to Ukraine. In the wake of Putin’s Crimean invasion, and the ongoing Maidan Revolution, Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter took advantage of an unstable and corrupt country that was hungrier than ever for foreign aid. It suffices to say that the avowed American policy of helping Ukraine, by ridding it of corruption, was itself corruptly stymied by Joe Biden’s prevention of any prosecution for stolen millions by energy company Burisma and its dishonest owners Mykola Zlochevsky and Ihor Kolomoisky, the latter who also looted the country for billions under the Vice President’s nose via his PrivatBank.
As this wrongdoing was finally unraveling, President Trump in 2019 sought an investigation of Ukrainian corruption. U.S. foreign aid had been conditioned on Ukraine’s certification by the State Department as non-corrupt, a milestone achieved by President Petro Poroshenko. But Poroshenko was upset in the 2019 election by Volodymyr Zelensky, a protégé of the corrupt Kolomoisky, who owned the television network hosting Zelensky’s comedy show. The incoming Zelensky administration was at least potentially corrupt, and certainly not certified to be non-corrupt.
To be sure, when the inartful Trump sought Zelensky’s anti-corruption investigations, he unnecessarily invoked the name of his ostensibly compromised rival Joe Biden. We all know the upshot: deep-state, anti-Trump operatives engineered Trump’s impeachment for this appropriate but awkward request.
One leader of Trump’s opposition was flawed Representative Adam Schiff, who previously had dishonestly touted alleged evidence of Trump’s Russian collusion. Now he led the impeachment charge which, not coincidentally, shielded his own chumminess with major arms dealers, including a middleman for military aid to Ukraine. An open, free-flowing debate highlighting this Ukraine-based corruption, consistent with traditional free speech principles, would have cost Biden the election.
The result was not only Biden’s presidency, but a weak foreign policy headed by the compromised author of the Russian collusion canard, Jake Sullivan. Sullivan, in turn, together with his weak President, presented Putin with a virtual engraved invitation to invade Ukraine.
While the invading Russian troops were floundering, stalled along the 140-mile route to Kyiv, an activist United States could have helped Ukraine turn the highway into a 140-mile buffer zone of destroyed vehicles and dead Russian soldiers, perhaps stopping the invasion in its tracks. Saber-rattling beforehand would have obviated even that missed chance for a happy victory.
But the soft Biden-Sullivan team dithered, withheld MIG’s and other lethal aid, allowing Russia to escape what should have been the equivalent of Hitler’s ill-advised World War II Russian invasion.
Now America is pouring billions into a devastated country, with no end in sight. Leading from behind, belatedly forced to support the resistance, President Biden is now taking credit for the bravery of the Ukrainian people, who had defied Biden’s assumption of surrender.
So, if we take stock of the past decades’ policies of Obama-Biden-Clinton Democrats and their Democrat-leaning media allies, we see nothing but missed opportunities to accomplish a peaceful status in the geopolitically important borderlands between Europe and Russia.
The only epoch of stability in recent decades occurred during the administration of the unpredictable Trump, but even then pro-Russian forces, allied with partisan Democrats, were weakening Trump so as to engineer his defeat in 2020.
Will the major media embrace the obvious narrative put forward here? Of course not. Doing so would implicate the media as being as equally dishonest as Clinton, Biden and Schiff and as equally responsible for the brave but beset Ukrainians who are dying daily to save their devastated country.
What can our society learn from all of this? One key takeaway: the supposedly peace-loving Democrats are not in the business of making Western civilization more secure, if doing so would hamper their corruption, partisan power grabs, or preeningly sophomoric policies.
John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the book, The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened .
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