Zelensky wanted to ‘breach’ US pact not to attack Russia - GulfToday

Zelensky wanted to ‘breach’ US pact not to attack Russia

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Volodymyr Zelensky talks with officers during his visit to the forward positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Vugledar-Maryinka defence zone, Donetsk region, on the occasion of the Marine Day, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. File/Agence France-Presse

Volodymyr Zelensky talks with officers during his visit to the forward positions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Vugledar-Maryinka defence zone, Donetsk region, on the occasion of the Marine Day, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. File/Agence France-Presse

Among the dozens of classified US intelligence documents leaked on the Discord messaging platform by Massachusetts national guardsman Jack Teixeira were reports that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks to breach the agreements he has made with the US and other NATO powers not to attack Russia itself. According to John Hudson and Isabelle Khurshudyan writing on May 13th in The Washington Post — which had access to the documents — Zelensky proposed occupying Russian villages and securing long-range missiles to hit targets deep within Russia.

The documents “reveal a leader with aggressive instincts that sharply contrast with his public-facing image as the calm and stoic statesman weathering Russia’s brutal onslaught,” argued the authors.

Until recently, US President Joe Biden had hesitated to provide Zelensky with modern tanks and F-16 fighter planes, fearing that Ukraine would expand the war by attacking Russia and drag the US and its NATO allies directly into the conflict. However, Biden was pushed and prodded by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other hawks in the administration into agreeing to both tanks and F-16s, risking escalation and expansion and, perhaps, Russian use of nuclear warheads. Biden said nothing when Britain offered Ukraine long-range missiles capable of reaching Russian targets.

This seems to have encouraged Zelensky to empower two right-wing militias comprising Russian dissidents to invade the Russian border region of Belgorod between May 22nd-24th in the most serious cross-frontier raids conducted up to that time since the war began. Russia has accused the US of supplying the militias with weaponry and vehicles to carry out this mission. While US military spokesman Matthew Miller was suspicious of the claim, he said that the “US does not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia, and we’ve made that clear. But as we’ve also said it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war.” These words give Ukraine a free hand.

The two militias which claimed to be involved were the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps which are trained and armed by Ukraine and operate under Ukrainian command and control. Reuters cited Mark Galeotti, head of the London-based Mayak Intelligence consultancy and author of several books on the Russian military, who said that these groups “comprised anti-Kremlin Russians ranging from liberals and anarchists to neo-Nazis.” He said, “They’re hoping that in some small way they can contribute to the downfall of the Putin regime. But at the same time, we have to realise that these are not independent forces... They are controlled by Ukrainian military intelligence.”

Military analysts cited by Reuters said the Legion and Volunteer Corps may have been ordered to carry out this mission to divert Russian troops from active front lines while the Ukrainian armed forces prepare their long-awaited — and delayed — counter-offensive to regain territory in the east as well as to undermine Russian morale.

Kyiv publicly denied responsibility for the attack, but its denial was not taken seriously, either by Russia or the Western powers. These groups belong to the Ukrainian Foreign Legion created on February 27th, 2022, three days after the Russian invasion and is a unit of the Territorial Defence Forces of Ukraine. There are at least 16 different units which have recruited fighters from the US, Canada, Europe, Chechnya, and Central Asia as well as Russia. Some of the volunteers are members of takfiri movements which fought and failed to oust the Syrian government which is allied with Russia. Several of these groups have links to the far-right Ukrainian Azof regiment.

Since 2014, when Russia seized control of the Russian-majority Crimea and eastern Donbas, the Azov regiment – which is loosely affiliated with the Ukrainian regular army – have harassed and attacked Russian “separatists” in this region. Russia has used the Azov’s past reputation for harbouring “Nazis,” white supremacists, and fascists to try to blacken Ukraine’s armed forces and political leadership which have not only tolerated this militia but also embraced and made use of it and similar groupings.

Azof’s actions plus Zelensky’s December 2021 call for NATO membership during a telephone conversation with Biden who assured him that Kyiv’s bid to join the alliance was its own decision.

This was a foolish move by Biden. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-91, Russia had warned that NATO’s recruitment of Ukraine would be a casus belli. Ahead of the Zelensky-Biden exchange, Russia had deployed thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border and called for guarantees against NATO’s expansion. When these guarantees were not forthcoming, Russia invaded Ukraine. Two words — “No NATO.” and a serious Ukrainian crackdown on the Azov regiment might have averted a war which is harming the entire world and could spread from Ukraine to neighbouring countries.

During the war, Zelensky has continued to demand NATO grant Ukraine membership. Last September, he called for accelerated membership after Putin declared the annexation of four occupied regions of Ukraine. When he renewed this demand last week, Stoltenberg declared, “To become a member in the midst of a war is not on the agenda...The issue is what happens when the war ends.”

Western governments have not agreed to Zelensky’s calls for membership during the war as this could commit the alliance to join the battle with Russia. They prefer that Ukraine acts as their proxy in this conflict. Eastern European countries which were once ruled by the Soviet Union and hold grudges against Russia urge NATO to begin the process of inducting Ukraine and plan to press for this during the Vilnius summit in July. This would amount to waving a red flag in the face of the already rampaging Russian bull. Welcoming Ukraine into NATO after the war ends would amount to the same thing. Politicians who favour this course of action simply refuse to understand that Russia vehemently rejects NATO weapons and troops on its border with Ukraine. How would Washington react if Mexico and Canada welcomed the deployment of Russian weaponry and troops on the southern and northern borders of the US? We already know. When the Soviet Union sent nuclear missiles to Cuba to deter a US invasion (like the 1961 Bay of Pigs disaster), the US threatened airstrikes on the missile sites, risking nuclear war. Fortunately, sanity prevailed on that occasion.

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