Letter from R. M. Austin, Former Guyana Ambassador to Beijing, China
“Expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era.”
George Kennan, former doyen of American diplomacy
As a diplomat for more than four decades I have been following events in your newspaper and other news outlets. I have been troubled by events leading to and during the invasion of Ukraine by forces of the Russian federation. I can therefore say that it is indeed a truism that when the first shot is fired in a war the first victim is often the truth.
I am of the view that we cannot allow the truth to perish on this occasion. If we do, the wrong lessons might be learnt. And if we forget the warning contained in this crisis the world might be inclined to make further and perhaps irrecoverable errors with dire consequences for the peaceful development of our planet.
We cannot, like Pontius Pilate, ask what is the truth and then wash our hands and walk away. As I said too much is at stake. The grim pictures depicted during the invasion of Ukraine, the relentless propaganda of the Western states, and the general ideological nimbus which now surrounds the Ukraine crisis tend to obscure the origins of this twentieth first century tragedy.
Even those with a modicum of historical understanding would know that both the Soviet Union and the Russian Republic of today have always been sensitive to developments on its borders with the states of Eastern Europe. That is why it is recorded that when the US in the person of former Secretary of State James Baker asked for Mikhail Gorbachev’s assistance in effecting the unification of Germany in the early 1990s, the condition laid down by the latter was that there would not be an expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe.
This agreement was observed until the election of Bill Clinton. When NATO expansion was encouraged by the Clinton administration, no less a person than the former doyen of American diplomacy, George Kennan, gave a dire warning of its implications. Writing in the New York Times of February 1997, at the age of 92, Kennan made this remarkable prescient observation:
“But something of the highest importance is at stake here. And perhaps it is not too late to advance a view that, I believe, is not only mine alone but is shared by a number of others with extensive and in most instances more recent experience in Russian matters. The view, bluntly stated, is that expanding NATO would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold war era.”
Americans, in too many cases, are not possessed of a historical sense. The Clinton administration ploughed ahead with the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe embracing countries which were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact and which constituted the defense perimeter of the Soviet Union. One can draw a straight line from this development to the political and defensive actions taken by the Putin administration. I hasten to add that while Putin’s actions might be historically justified one must take issue with the methods he has utilized, methods which have also been used as a weapon by the major countries of the West.
The propaganda aimed at Russia over the Ukraine by the Western media is at best hypocritical. If the Russian federation is being hauled over the coals over the invasion of a smaller and weaker country, or for the violation of the UN charter and international law, the principle of the settlement of disputes between states by pacific means and the breach of internationally accepted borders, then these principles must apply to all states of the international community. For it is an established fact that when it comes to the trampling on the rights of small nations the Western countries have no rival.
One pleads in the name of justice that criticisms being made and the dire warnings being issued must be applied to all nations. I suspect that it is this consideration which have compelled some African states and India to abstain on the resolution in the Security Council calling on the international community to condemn the Russian Federation for the use of force in Ukraine. For Africa and India have been prominent victims of Western imperialism involving the use of force to change borders and the use of indiscriminate violence against their populations.
I do not write as a disinterested global citizen. As a person of African descent, I have a vested interest in seeing justice and the best principles of humanity triumph over the agony and the decivilization in the Ukraine. I must therefore refer to the racial discrimination which is so little noted in the Western media.
Ukraine and the Eastern European states for the Western world have become what Belgium was in the First World War and Poland was in the second: pure victims without sin. But this is not the case. We can see on a daily basis that African students who were studying in Ukraine are being prevented from leaving with the other refugees. Can Ukraine and the other Eastern European states fight for freedom and justice while denying them to African students?
I would like to see peace, justice and freedom return to Ukraine. But, in my judgement, this can only happen if the approach to the crisis is fair and humane and the interests of all the states, both historical and geopolitical, are taken into account. Justice can only be based on impartial facts.