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Who Is to Blame for the War in Ukraine?

Zelensky and Biden at the White House, 2022

By Donald A. Smith, Common Dreams

Here are four views about the war in Ukraine, listed in order of increasing cynicism about U.S. culpability for the crisis:

  1. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was totally unprovoked, and the U.S. response was a noble defense of democracy and of the rules-based international order. Ukraine had a right to ally with the West and had a legitimate fear of Russian aggression (as do Poland and Czechoslovakia, for example).

  2. NATO expansion into Ukraine and other countries near Russia was reckless, because Russia had made it clear to diplomats that it considered Ukraine off-limits to NATO. America bears some responsibility for provoking the crisis, because it should have been obvious to policymakers that their trying to expand NATO into Ukraine would lead to a war. But the Ukrainians had the desire and the right to align with the West, and so U.S. intentions were noble.

  3. The U.S. and NATO failed to respect the divisions in Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian provinces and groups, and the U.S. failed to respect Russia's legitimate security concerns—e.g., not to have a hostile country along its borders that was attacking Russian speakers in the East. But the U.S. did not want a war.

  4. The U.S. exploited divisions in Ukraine, launched a regime change operation, and armed anti-Russian militias in order to intentionally provoke a war. The aim was to weaken Russia, increase European dependence on the U.S. (both militarily and economically), and enrich U.S. arms and energy industries. The U.S. couldn't care less about Ukrainian (or Russian) lives lost.

I devised these four views during discussions with my member of Congress, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash., no relation), who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and former chair. He, of course, believes view #1 and thinks that NATO expansion was needed to deter Russian aggression. But he told me that view No. 2 is plausible though wrong.

If you believe the official narrative coming out of D.C. and out of most of mainstream media, you too will think that view No. 1 is correct and that the U.S. is as innocent in the crisis as a newborn baby.

Given the history of U.S. lies and aggression with respect to foreign policy and with respect to overseas interventions, one would have to be naive indeed to believe view No. 1.

I believe the evidence points to view No. 4 being correct: The U.S. intentionally provoked a war. But it is possible that view No. 3 is closer to the truth, and that ideological fervor led the architects of U.S. policy in Ukraine to be blinded to the obvious likely results of their policies; however, that seems unlikely, because both diplomats and the RAND Corporation had told policymakers that trying to expand NATO into Ukraine would lead to war.

My reasons for holding view No. 4 are documented in "Senior U.S. diplomats, Journalists, Academics, and Secretaries of Defense say: The U.S. Provoked Russia in Ukraine." In short:

  • There were stark divisions within Ukraine between pro-Western and pro-Russian provinces and groups—divisions that the U.S. exploited to provoke a crisis.

  • The U.S. aided the 2014 government overthrow in Ukraine that replaced a Russia-friendly government with one subservient to the West. Former U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, and lifetime director of the Atlantic Council, says the U.S. "engineered" the 2014 coup.

  • The U.S. allied with and armed far-right, anti-Russian militias Azov, Sovboda, and Right Sektor that were attacking Russian speakers in the East and that had been widely condemned in U.S. media and by Congress prior to 2022.

  • The CIA was deeply involved (see this and this) and worked hard to hide its tracks (a broad "effort, around the time of the invasion, to close off many 'sources related to Russia/Ukraine matters'”).

  • Senior U.S. diplomats warned that NATO expansion into Ukraine and other former Soviet block countries was unnecessary and risky.

  • The U.S. stymied peace deals between Russia and Ukraine that could have prevented or ended the war. See also this and this.

  • The U.S. has a history of launching regime change operations, via both economic and military means, throughout the world, but in particular against Russian allies (e.g., Afghanistan, Serbia, Syria, and Libya). Russia's invasion was along its borders and involved a country with deep historical and linguistic ties to Russia. The U.S. often allies with terrorist groups to achieve its aims. The U.S. currently occupies one-third of the sovereign nation of Syria with help from its proxy army, the Syrian Defense Forces. We were told that the U.S. invasion in Yugoslavia was a noble defense of innocent people. It has since been revealed (see this and this) that the Kosovo Liberation Army was, basically, a terrorist organization armed by the CIA. When the Serbians tried to defend themselves, the U.S. accused them of engaging in war crimes. Some U.S. allies in the Kosovo war were later convicted of war crimes.

In the view of Rep. Smith, NATO expansion was necessary to prevent Russia from taking over not only Ukraine but also the Baltic states. (Likewise, he thinks that U.S. military actions near China are needed to deter Chinese aggression in Taiwan.) My view is that NATO expansion provoked the very war that is now being touted as justification for said expansion.

Despite the CIA's valiant efforts, many of the facts about what happened in Ukraine are available to the public. It's quite amazing that—so soon after the ignoble end to the disastrous 20-year war in Afghanistan—mainstream media, Congress, and most of the public have been so easily bamboozled by government propaganda into supporting yet another disastrous, avoidable war. The war has killed hundreds of thousands of people; displaced millions of people from their homes; devastated Ukrainian infrastructure; greatly increased military budgets in Europe, the U.S., and Russia (money sorely needed for climate mitigation and other urgent exigencies); increased inflation and shortages worldwide; and increased the risk of World War III and nuclear annihilation. Moreover, it's a war that Russia is now winning—a fact that increases the risk of escalation.

A negotiated end to the war in Ukraine is urgently needed.

Donald A. Smith is a writer, a peace activist working with CodePink, a Democratic Precinct Committee officer, the editor of, and the creator of He lives in Bellevue, Washington, and has a PhD in Computer Science.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.



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