Transcript: Session 1

Released on March 4th, 2022


Video and Text Transcript

Transcript of the video:

Helena Cobban: (00:13)

It’s great to have everybody with us today. We've had so much interest and so much. Oh, hang on. Something's come up here. I'll just take it away. Okay. So it's so many attendees and we have some great guests. I'm afraid Richard Falk, who is the co host here, is having a little trouble connecting, but I expect that he'll be with us soon. I do just want to reassure you I have not become a pirate. I have an eye problem, and I'm confident it's going to get fixed pretty soon. In the meantime, I am bumping into things, but able to focus on a lot of things in life. So we have with us today two amazing guests, Lyle Goldstein and Vijay Prashad. We're going to be able to cover a huge amount of ground looking at many of the issues to do with the current Ukraine crisis, including, of course, nuclear risks and prospects, climate crisis, dimensions of a war like this, the impact of the war on the world economy and world hunger, possible role of China and other countries in brokering an end to the conflict, and so on and so forth. Behind the scenes, we have my colleague, Amelle Zeroug, who will be putting a lot of really handy information into the chat.

So I do urge you all to keep your chat box open as we proceed. So actually, Richard Falk was supposed to make the short welcoming remarks here, but I guess I've welcomed you all. So we're going to have a free flowing conversation here after a short oh, it's my co host. Richard. It's wonderful to have you with us. I was just starting to get things going, and I'll talk just for a moment longer, and then I'll hand it over to you. We're going to have a free following conversation here after short presentations that will be given by our two guests and by Richard Falk. We're going to have this conversation for about 45 minutes, and after that, there'll be a chance for questions from the attendees, which you should be able to put into the Q and A box. But in the meantime, there will also be things happening in the chat box. So if you're a Zoom aficionado, I hope you keep the chat box open. Anyway, Richard, great to see you. Have you with us co hosting this. And I am just so sorry about the screw up on getting you in.

Richard Falk: (02:50)

It was partly by fault, I think. But I'm delighted to be here. And I think this Webinar series is really an important initiative because media coverage of Ukraine crisis has been disappointing, to put it mildly, and has failed to see to portray the complexities of the situation and its multi level significance in terms of world order, sovereignty, non aggression norms, the UN role, geopolitics and many other nuclear weapons, of course, and many other dimensions. So I hope we'll be able to shed some illuminating light on all of these issues in the course of the series. And this is the initial meeting, and it gives us the opportunity to maybe clarify the main themes that we'll address in subsequent sessions. I think that's enough for me.

Helena Cobban: (04:12)

For another, that's wonderful. And I think it's great that you did actually note the problems in the media coverage globally. The media seems to have become bifurcated. Many people say, sorry, I'm just trying to bring something up here that should have been up before. Yeah. So first of all, I'm going to give a slightly longer introduction to our guest, Vijay Prashad. Maybe he doesn't need much introduction. He is an Indian leftist and peace and justice activist. He's the director of Tricontinental, the Institute for Social Research, the chief editor of Left Word Books, and a senior nonresident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. He's the author of 30 books, including The Darker Nations, Karma of Brown Folk, and so on and so forth. Vijay is with us today from Santiago de Chile. Great to have you with us. Vijay Prashad.

Vijay Prashad: (05:21)

Super to be with you, Helena. Nice to see you again, Richard. Greetings.

Richard Falk: (05:26)

Thank you. Good to be with you.

Helena Cobban: (05:31)

So our other guest is Dr. Lyle Goldstein, who is the director of Asia engagement at Defense Priorities. Lyle earlier served 20 years as research professor at the US Naval War College, where he founded and led the China Maritime Studies Institute. He speaks both Chinese and Russian and has a lot of experience, actually having led the Naval War College's Ukraine Crisis Group back in 2014. And he's been to Russia several times. He's been to Moldova, and he's currently writing a book about the Chinese Russian relationship. So we are super lucky to have Lyle with us. And I'm going to start off with you, Lyle, actually to provide us with a quick summary of the situation on the ground as you see it.

Lyle Goldstein: (06:28)

Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Whatever time zone you're in, I wish we were meeting under happier circumstances. Thanks to Helena and Richard for inviting me here. Let me just begin by, I’ve got to say, that I'm appalled by what's happened. I can't sleep at night. I condemn in the strongest terms what Russia has done here. I do think the US has made major diplomatic mistakes over the last couple of years, really over the last decades that have played a role here. But I still think Russia needs to be punished and punished very severely. My foremost concern as a researcher and scholar now is I'm focused very acutely on the question of escalation and how do we prevent escalation to a larger war in Europe and even a global war. I think this is a problem that we need to follow very carefully. But I was asked to just give a few minutes of explanation for the military situation. So let me try to do that. I thought I'd put up a map here very quickly. Well, let me save the map for a second. I'll start by saying Russia, I think this was certainly a premeditated operation, no question about it took a lot of preparation and I think the Kremlin intended a kind of shock and awe campaign.

I think that failed. And one could even say it was almost a disaster, huge casualties on the Russian side and a lot of mistakes. And we have to, I think, admire the bravery of Ukrainians defending their own homes, their own families, no doubt about that. So those initial attacks, many of them failed, some did succeed. The situation in the north right now around Kiev and so forth, is one of, I would call it almost a stalemate. Russia is continuously reinforcing a circle around or besieging these various cities, Kiev in particular, and Harkov, it needs to be said these are massive cities. So this is no small challenge. And I think it's worth wondering, I'll just put up a map here quickly. It's worth wondering whether under any circumstances Russia would be capable of taking these cities, apparently, because in effect, they would have to turn the cities into Aleppo or Roseny or something to do that. And we all hope that they wouldn't take that step, although there are some signs that they could be going in that direction. So that's the situation in the north. Here you see Kiev here. Sorry, this is a Russian battle map I got yesterday off of Russian, a pretty authoritative Russian military website.

So you see Kiev here in the North and you can see Kharkiv over here. So that's the situation in the north. But it's important to keep in mind there is a situation in the south which is quite different, and there Russia has had a lot more success expanding from Crimea, expanding the zone, particularly in the east. And remember, from the Russian point of view, this whole conflict started over the Donbas, and that's over here and here what you see developing, not only have they had pretty good success in moving forward through Donbas, but they seem to be building up a kind of cauldron where they may trap a very significant number of Ukrainian forces. And those are some of Ukraine's best forces. So this is a major problem for Ukraine. And here also in the center we have the possible development. Not only a force is headed toward maybe Odessa here in the southwest and Moldova, I should say I was just in Moldova before the Pandemic. So I'm definitely thinking of my friends in Moldova. But you have the possibility of a kind of larger encirclement here. If these forces in the north and the south unite, coming south from Kiev and say north from Kherson of a second envelopment, which would essentially achieve a kind of Eastern Ukraine and Western Ukraine.

Whether Russia would have the power and will to take the fight into West Ukraine I think is unknown. But at this point we certainly see the bravery of a lot of Ukrainians and the Russians have been stumbling pretty badly, but we also see them, Russia, using its air power and heavy firepower much more. So that's a summary of the military situation. I'm happy to elaborate, but I know we don't just want to talk about military affairs here, so I will stop right there. Thank you very much.

Helena Cobban: (11:38)

Thank you, Lyle. Really appreciate that. It helps people to visualize things a lot better. I'm now going to turn to Vijay, and I'm putting on Vijay the burden of representing the entire, like, 80% of humanity whom we could describe as the Global South. So take it away, Vijay. What does the Global South think about this?

Vijay Prashad: (12:06)

No, it's not possible because there are a range of opinions. As you said, I'm in Chile, where the incoming center-left President is basically sounding like an Admiral for NATO. There's a range of opinions. So rather than do that, I want to share, I jotted down eight very dramatic eight theses. So let me just share those in five minutes and then see how they go. The first is obviously war is terrible. I mean, everybody wants negotiations and diplomacy. It's quite clear that even the Russians are very keen on coming back to the table. They said that they would meet in Belarus and so on. You’ve got to take any opportunity because war is basically the breakdown of diplomacy, and every war ends with some diplomacy. Might as well accelerate to diplomacy as quickly as possible. So that's the first thing I think most people around the world are hoping for. That second thesis is that this war did not begin in February when the Russians entered militarily. This war, most people, I think around the world, see this war as having begun in 2014. At least let's call it what it was with the coup in the Maidan when the government was overthrown, when essentially Victoria Nuland was there saying, fuck the EU, not my language, her language. And putting in place a US backed government.

She kept saying, let's go with Yats and eventually Poroshenko came into power. That's really got to be part of the equation. You can't start thinking about this from the 22nd of February. You won't understand anything. Then you will entirely accept the US media narrative that Putin is just brutal and aggressive. Then you don't have to have a reason. You just have force one way or the other. You have reason. We need to understand what's happening. There's a big difference between explanation and justification. I'm offering an explanation. I'm not justifying anything. But thesis number two is: the war doesn't begin then. And this war from 2014 was real for the people of the Donbas, where there was real violence visited upon people, including for Ukrainians, who then left the Donbas region for Kiev. There was ethnic cleansing on all sides going on there. It's intolerable. The Minsk agreement was meant to settle that. Obviously didn't work very well, that's the second thesis. The third thesis is that the violence in the Donbas and what was happening in the Kiev government, Poroshenko's government in particular was the collapse of Soviet Plurinationalism and the emergence of a kind of ultranationalist Ukrainian ideology against not only the Russian speakers but against Moldovans, against Ukrainians, against Hungarians.

Situation was so bad that the Hungarian Parliament made a criticism of what was happening in Kiev that they were driving a kind of Ukraine First policy. Poroshenko was very much not just in language, but also religion. They broke ties with the Moscow Patriarchate, you know, with the Russian Church saying we want independence for the Ukrainian Church. All of this. It had the knock on effect of emboldening all kinds of fascistic elements as well. I don't want to exaggerate them, but the battalion is real. It's not the fantasy of anybody. These are real developments and they come out of this accelerated ultranationalism which was a consequence of the coup of 2014. That's the third thesis. The fourth thesis was that not only the former Communist state's system of Eastern Europe but also Russia, USSR. Because it was not just Russia, it was also Belarus, Ukraine and so on. All of them sought some sort of equation in the 1990s with Europe. There were two angles for that equation. One was through the European Union, political and to some extent economic, and then through NATO. Let's not forget that Russia in 1994 was a NATO partner of peace.

Russia entered the NATO process. In fact, in 2004, when seven Eastern European countries, including the Baltic States, joined NATO, Russia did not object in 2004. The first known objection by Mr. Putin comes in 2007, but we can discuss that later. So European integration was very much a part of this. But in whose terms will that integration take place? Thesis number five and I'm sorry, I'm running through this so quickly, but here it goes. Thesis number five. You see, the United States has made it very clear that European nonalignment or independence of European, any Gallic Europe is impossible. They said this in the 1961, 1962 Fouchette process. Those who remember or have read about the Fouchette process that was set aside when Maastricht treaty took place, 93, then Amsterdam Treaty, 97, then the Lisbon Treaty and so on. Europe kept trying to develop some independent foreign policy. This so-called common strategic and foreign policy approach. Javier Solana, Baroness Ashton and so on were in those seats. That was all essentially toothless. Europe could not develop an independent foreign policy. And this was when it becomes, in a sense, interesting because the United States was putting the point that it's okay to expand NATO.

It's okay to bring the east into Europe as long as Europe as an entity is in some senses subordinated to the United States. That's the six thesis. I jumped ahead. Sorry. The six thesis is that the attempt by Europe to create an independent foreign policy didn't happen. I mean you've got to go back and look at the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. What was Europe able to do even in the negotiations?

Helena Cobban: (18:17)

Could you just give us the last two theses and then we can discuss some of this background later.

Vijay Prashad: (18:22)

I'm coming. The 7th one is quite easy, that's the issue that this attempt to subordinate Europe to US interests created all kinds of contradictions. The leading contradiction was energy. I mean the United States and France drove three wars against Iran, effectively a war, against Libya and against Russia. Those are the three sources of piped energy into Europe. These created all kinds of insurmountable contradictions. That's the 7th thesis. You’ve got to take this very seriously because no exit from it. America cannot fantasize energy into households in Germany. This is going to create a serious problem in the short term, not long term. And the last point is that look, frankly you're going to see the United States increasingly find that Europe has because of these contradictions a material necessity of interacting with the rest of Eurasia whether its energy from Russia or it's the Belt and Road with China. I don't presume to know as much as Lyle about this but certainly 17 countries in Europe have signed on with China 17+1 into the BRI and many of the countries like Italy signed a BRI MoU, memorandum of understanding. So these contradictions are going to intervene. My feeling is this war, yes, Russia intervened and that's bad and whatever. Frankly, the sanctimoniousness of social media and the media itself is meaningless to me because none of these people were so upset when Iraq was destroyed. None of these people were so upset when Libya was destroyed. I'm not prepared to be bullied by the social media sanctimoniousness into crying special tears because this is happening inside Europe. Sorry, not from me. But having set that aside this is not a war about any of these things. It's actually in my opinion a contest over whether the United States is going to continue to be able to subordinate Europe and whether Russia and China are going to have some role here right now. They feel they've pushed Russia aside but I don't think this is a permanent situation.

Helena Cobban: (20:36)

Wow. Thank you so much. I agree with nearly all of what you said and I think it's all worth listening to. Thank you so much Vijay for the big picture. Now Richard, your specialty obviously is international law and this crisis has major implications for international law. Why don't you have five minutes and tell us how you see things coming out whether international or can help us get out of the wall, whether it can help us to build a better order afterwards, whatever you'd like to talk about in that regard.

Richard Falk: (21:15)

Thanks. Helena and I found very useful the two prior presentations and picking up on what Vijay said at the very end about the importance of recognizing the Iraq War of 2003 as an important precedent for what is happening in Ukraine. And often international law, when it involves geopolitical actors in the peace and security area, is greatly influenced by the precedent, whether it's consistent with international law or not, created by the geopolitical actors. This happened with nuclear weapons testing. Once the US tested in the oceans, it was in a very weak position to object to other countries using the oceans for testing nuclear weapons, even though it didn't want them to, including France. It got into a kind of diplomatic impasse with France at the time. And just one thing from what Lyle said, he talked about the American diplomatic mistakes, that not being consequential in terms of evaluating the suffering imposed on the Ukrainian people, and I agree with that. But it's more than diplomatic mistakes. It's the geopolitical atmosphere created by repeated US violations of national sovereignty and disregard of international law. You remember, George W. Bush at the time of the Iraq attack, said the UN would be irrelevant if it didn't endorse what the US was doing, and it showed a kind of selective defiance.

And one way of interpreting what is the ultimate strategic objective of Putin is to restore the geopolitical balance that existed during the Cold War. You remember the US proclaimed a Unipolar moment, and it has behaved as though it's the one global security actor and the spheres of influence the other geopolitical actors are disregarded. I'm not in favor of these spheres of influence, but they have been accepted and they are part of the geopolitical level of order which is built into the UN Charter in terms of the veto. The veto in effect tells the geopolitical actors you don't have to obey international law unless you want to. It's very permissive and is using the UN as an ideological instrument in this context to condemn Russia for doing what we've done all over the world and most recently Iraq and Afghanistan and so on. So this is very important, and there are two levels of world order that are often confused. It's a state centric system in which international law supposedly governs the interstate behavior and is built on pursuit of national interest. And then there's this geopolitical overlap that has existed ever since the state system emerged, which is that the great powers use force as a matter of discretion and in a way that was preserved, not eliminated by the UN and the UN Charter and contemporary international law.

So it's very important, in my view, to distinguish this state-centric level of world order and the geopolitical overlay. And that's what I feel we're observing in the Ukraine. And just to finish, I would say this doesn't morally excuse what the Russians are doing in Ukraine or the suffering inflicted on the Ukrainian people. But it's not different in kind than what the US has inflicted on a series of other countries. And indeed, Iraq was in many ways worse because it had been under twelve years of crippling sanctions prior to the attack, which resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian deaths during that sanction. And then we mounted this huge attack. So that precedent should be the fact that it was not mentioned in the mainstream media after Biden's very disappointing State of the Union treatment of these issues, not mentioning the desirability of a ceasefire, even of the Russian withdrawal from Ukraine, not seeing not articulating any kind of exit strategy that would save face for Russia and bring peace to Ukraine. Let me stop there.

Helena Cobban: (27:50)

Yeah. That was so notable yesterday in the State of the Union address, which I saw described as Biden's Manichean moment. And I also thought he was trying to channel Winston Churchill very unsuccessfully and not mentioning diplomacy and not mentioning the geopolitical context. Richard, you gave us a lot of meat about the role of the United Nations in the world order. Does any of the rest of you or Richard see a particular role for the United Nations or for the BRICS group of countries from the global south, or perhaps just for China and India, who is going to lead the diplomacy that will prevent this from escalating, given that clearly the United States is not going to.

Vijay Prashad: (28:54)

You know, I have the highest respect for Antonio Guterres. He's a very distinguished diplomat, and I'm sure Richard might feel the same or whatever, but when Mr. Guterres said that this is the worst war of this century, again, I just felt this is routine, systematic amnesia about Iraq. It's almost like they have bought meetings somewhere to decide how to talk about these wars. People sitting outside Europe, outside North America, listening to statements like that, the credibility of the institution is damaged. How can you say it's the worst war? He actually said that the day that the Russians intervened, the day of the Russian intervention. How could you already say it's the worst war, Mr. Guterres, that damages the credibility of the institution. Are you going to be a reasonable, neutral actor in this and look at what's going on and call for perhaps set the table in Belarus for a new discussion, Minsk three or whatever. So the United Nations. I don't think it's not possible for the UN to operate the General Assembly resolution that was passed just a few hours ago. It was revealing who voted where. It's hardly going to move an agenda.

No, BRICS cannot move an agenda at all. It's not feasible at all. BRICS hasn't had a really good unified political declaration in a long time. You’ve got to remember that Brazil is governed by Bolsonaro, a man relatively subordinate to Washington. Mr. Modi is also relatively subordinate to Washington except on this issue. But nobody is going to take it seriously if in BRICS, two of the countries are Russia and China. It's just not going to have credibility here. I think Mr. Putin has to keep calling for some kind of conference. Looking at the way the military has been proceeding, it looks like what the Russians are eager to do is not so much breakaway Eastern Ukraine as to create a land bridge between Crimea and the rest of Russia. That sea bridge going over the Black Sea is not sufficient. They look like they are trying to make a land bridge. That's a military aim that the Russians probably have. Once they attain that, will they actually sue for peace and say, let's have a discussion and so on? Do they really want to have a change of government in Kiev? It's got to be actually between Russia, Ukraine, the Europeans and the Americans. I don't think any external actor has the credibility I'm afraid.

Helena Cobban: (31:47)

I think I'd like to turn to Lyle, because you probably have something to say about this, and I hope, including about the potential role of China, which the way that I look at it, during the US-Soviet Cold War, you had the two big world powers and it was a two person game, and then the Soviet Union collapsed, and you had the Unipolar moment and the indispensable nation and all of that. But now we're not back to the old Cold War because there is China, and can they play a role in either formally or behind the scenes helping to de-escalate and resolve this thing? What do you think, Lyle?

Lyle Goldstein: (32:29)

Yeah, thanks, Helena. And so many good points here. By the way, Vijay is very correct that the land bridge is an important issue for the Russians, and other issues haven't been talked about in the media really much at all. But Crimea has been without water really very dry. It's been a huge concern for Putin and others. And so to get water flowing again to Crimea was a very important war objective, which they have. So that implies maybe there could be a settlement. But I also agree very strongly with what Richard said about the overlay of geopolitics within the Security Council. I think that's very important. And I myself, I call myself a realist, and I'm one who thinks that spheres of influence are essential for global order. And to me, there's no question in my mind that Ukraine is part of Russia's sphere of influence. And it's kind of deluded, it seems to me, to act otherwise. And that is one of these foremost mistakes we've been making, and we've deluded ourselves. And Unfortunately, I think the Ukrainians have been deluded by this, too, and we're all paying the price for those mistakes in diplomacy. I think the UN does have an important role.

I think China's role could be important. China, I don't think, has a lot of experience in this kind of mediation, but they bring a lot to the table, and not just resources, but I mean, they have a huge experience already in UN peacekeeping, which is really impressive. Plus, of course, it's not a small thing that I think Russia at this point, we can say among the countries that Russia trusts, they're trusting China more than most and maybe more than any other country, as it were, to support its interests. And that's critical. You can't have a mediator that's just going to push Russia aside, I have to say, just thinking about it. And by the way, I made a proposal. I'd like to put a link to it in the chat, but had made a proposal in January 2020 that we need a peacekeeping force for Donbas, and both China should be involved critically and also India, partly because India is more trusted by the west, a Democratic country, and so forth. But it couldn't just be a bunch of Norwegians and Swedes, that wasn't going to fly at all from Russia's point of view. So I think there are solutions and China's role, China should play a more prominent role in this kind of diplomatic crisis.

Helena Cobban: (35:10)

So, Richard, I like to circle back to you and ask whether now is a time for some kind of reform, deep reform of the UN system. It's been talked about for a long time, but now we have a somewhat distant but still a threat of nuclear escalation here, and we still have the situation in which the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council also happened to be the five recognized nuclear weapons States. So isn't it time to end that veto system? Are there other things that can be done to prevent nuclear weapons actually dominating the whole world system?

Richard Falk: (36:02)

Well, of course, that's a very searching question. I'm afraid I have a pretty skeptical view of what is possible. Certainly it is desirable and arguably necessary to create a stronger, more autonomous UN. But there's no political ambition, especially on the part of the countries that you mentioned, the P5. They have no visible incentive at this stage to eliminate their geopolitical freedom of maneuver, which they possess. And you can't do anything within the UN framework without their endorsement. The veto power extends also to any amendment of the UN charter structure or funding arrangements. And so it would be very difficult to reorganize the UN without the approval of at least Russia, China, and the US. And that doesn't seem even within the domain of realist utopian thinking. It's too far removed. So the only alternative to that was the one that Sukano mentioned and failed with decades ago of creating a new kind of international institutional framework, problem solving framework outside of the scope of geopolitics. And that wouldn't work either, in my view. And it's not only for Ukraine. Not only do we need this for Ukraine Iraq type situations, we can't deal prudently with climate change without a stronger mechanism for global cooperation and implementation.

And so the whole notion of global problem solving, which is part of the reality of the present world order, depends on some kind of centralized institutional capability. And it doesn't seem to be something that is on the policy horizon of the realist foreign policy advisers and the transnational elites that really create the sense of politics as the domain of the possible. There's no push in that direction, I'm afraid. I hope others disagree.

Helena Cobban: (39:23)

Well, I call myself a visionary realist, and I think that we have to take into account the balance of power kind of things. But I'm always searching for ways to get beyond the current situation, one in which US government aggressions are completely unpunished, Israeli aggressions are completely unpunished, and then along comes Ukraine. I mean, I think there has been a lot of discussion in much of the global south about the fact that people don't seem to hurt according to Western dominated media, unless they are white people. You can see Syrians and Afghans and Palestinians and Libyans hurting and hurting and hurting, but their stories are not put on the front page in the same way until you have little blonde Ukrainian girls, one of whom, as it happened, was the Palestinian young activist, Ahed Tamimi, who happens to be blonde, and she got recategorized as a winsome Ukrainian victim. I mean, it's hard for all of us who have all of us with our human empathy and human feelings not to see that the suffering obviously is terrible, but it's terrible, whatever the color of people's skins, whatever their religion.

Vijay Prashad: (41:01)

Can I say something about, associated with the point Richard made about, you know, look at the world we live in. Let's just breathe this in. I covered the Libya war. I was in Benghazi and then in Tripoli. A breakaway faction of a sovereign country, Libya, led by a man who was the financial advisor of the Sheikh of Qatar’s Wife, Mahmoud Jibril, declares that it wants independence. First they talk about Eastern independence, a breakaway province, Eastern Libya calls out to the west, come and help us. A philosopher runs headstrong into the conflict from France, makes a phone call to the French, and the French get a UN resolution and start to pummel and bomb Tripoli to smithereens, destroying Libya. What's the difference between what NATO did in Libya and what the Russians are now doing in Ukraine? Can somebody explain to me the difference? It strikes me it's identical. There are people in the Donbas region saying, help us, we want to break away. We are suffering the oppression, genocide from Kiev. They call upon the world community. The Russians show up and start bombing. Okay. They didn't seek a UN Security Council resolution. Perhaps they should have.

Perhaps they should have made more about that ethnic cleansing in the Eastern provinces. Again, I'm not justifying what Russia is doing. I think the war is appalling. On the other hand, what's the difference between what the Russians are doing in Ukraine and what the west did to Libya? The only difference is a piece of paper called UN Resolution 1973. And let me just say something about UN Resolution 1973. Actually, the west violated UN Resolution 1973 because the UN resolution merely said a no fly zone. The West started to act as Mahmoud Jibril’s air force. So much so that when the African Union delegation went to Tripoli in the middle of the war, Gaddafi said, I will have a ceasefire. Let's go and have talks. And then the African Union group went to Benghazi and they sat with Mahmoud Jibril and others, and Jibril and others said, we don't want to have a ceasefire because we're winning. We're going to defeat Gaddafi. So that's a violation of UN Resolution 1973. In fact, if you accept that the NATO countries violated the UN resolution, there's no difference to me between the NATO war in Libya and the Russian war in Ukraine.

And yet the world is incensed by what's happening in Ukraine and nobody cares a fake about the destruction of a noble country like Libya, destroyed now, where slavery has returned and continues to be there. By the way, it's not just that it was revealed and so on continues to be there in Northern Libya. I was in Sabha in the south of Libya, a barbaric situation there, where the French Foreign Legion has reestablished itself. What is this, the 19th century where the French Foreign Legion has bases and is patrolling Sabha, Libya? And the Americans have the world's largest drone base in Agadez, Niger. And nobody cares at all. Why? Because it's Africa, friends. And in Africa, this is all allowed. In Europe, it is not allowed. Go back and read Aime Cesaire’s 1950 Discourse on Colonialism.

Helena Cobban: (44:42)

Thank you so much. Yeah, we do have a couple of good questions from the attendees. I don't know if Amelle can bring, oh, it looks like Susan Abulhawa. Why don't you ask your question? Hi. Yeah, Hi, Susie.

Susan Abulhawa: (45:02)

Thanks. This is really wonderful. I can just read my question that I posted in the chat. I have two questions. So what do you think have been miscalculations on all sides? For example, it seems to me that Zelensky miscalculated the US and NATO's willingness to jump to their aid militarily. And two, can you speak to the extraordinarily rapid response of the ICC and announcing they were going to investigate Russia's possible war crimes? And again, this is especially stunning in light of the decades of abuses and war crimes by the United States and Israel.

Helena Cobban: (45:43)

Great questions. Thanks, Lyle. Do you want to take one of those about miscalculations?

Lyle Goldstein: (45:52)

Sure. I'll just say quickly, I think many of us probably agree that a major miscalculation was the NATO expansion. Personally, I've been against NATO expansion since the idea came up. I always thought it was ridiculous. To me. The very clear statement of this was made by George Kennan, one of my heroes, who knew so much about Russia and history and played a huge role in the Cold War, including and ending the Cold War. A lot of people don't know that he did play a major role in ending the Cold War, too. But anyway, he foresaw all of this. He saw that Russian nationalism would be badly triggered, and he also foresaw that eventually people would come and say when this all did become a crisis in war and so forth, they would all come back and say, well, the Russians were always going to be aggressive. So he predicted all of it. But in the end, the diplomacy, I think, was badly botched. There wasn't real consideration of Russia's objections. I mean, arguably it was just too late at that point. And yes, I think Zelensky probably he's become a hero to many in these last few days, and I think we do have to commend his heroism.

But, yeah, he seems to have been a comedian. I don't think he fully understood anything about the military power and what he was facing and the reality of the situation. And it probably caused him to make some very serious mistakes which are costing Ukraine so much today.

Helena Cobban: (47:31)

And the question about the ICC, maybe for you, Richard.

Richard Falk: (47:41)

Yes, an interesting question that points to an obvious institutional reality that reflects geopolitics. In other words, the ICC is very responsive when the issue involves something the west is concerned about. And it had been in its early years, mainly African abuses of state power, and it's been notoriously resistant to addressing Israeli crimes and US crimes in Afghanistan. And it points to institutional double standards, which I think has been underlying much of what we've been saying, that the UN itself behaves differently with Ukraine then it does with either the Palestinian agenda or with the Iraqi agenda back in 2003. We're living in a world of squares. The US is fighting to maintain hegemonic geopolitics, and Russia and China are trying to create what might be called symmetrical geopolitics. And in my view, that's the deepest way of understanding what are the larger strategic stakes of what's happening in Ukraine and indirectly, what's happening in The Hague as far as the ICC is concerned.

Helena Cobban: (49:37)

Right. We have a really good question also that came in from our board member, Rick Sterling. Can we bring Rick Sterling into the conversation? By the way, Suzie, it's great to hear you and to have your wisdom here. Rick.

Rick Sterling: (50:01)

Thanks very much, Helena. And I really enjoyed the presentation from all the speakers. I was a little bit cautious hearing Lyle's background at the beginning, but I found his moment to be very insightful. So my question, well, on February 24, President Putin delivered a speech, and I found it to be very incisive and very frank and clear. And in that speech, he outlines the history of the conflict and the fact that it's clear that Russia feels threatened by the current situation and they think it's now or the situation is going to get worse. So my question is whether you think Ukraine as it is now with a substantial amount of US control is a real threat to Russia or if this is imaginary.

Helena Cobban: (51:07)

Well, I guess that sounds more or less like a military-ish question.

Lyle Goldstein: (51:13)

Yeah. Very interesting question. And really it gets the heart of the matter. The speech was worth reading, and I hope people I think a lot of people went straight to The New York Times and read the annotated version, but I recommend you go and get the actual words and go through them yourself. There is a lot that's interesting there and that we should reflect on, and that really does explain. I mean, just at a minimum, if you want to know how this war is unfolding, Putin talks very explicitly about the atrocities in Odessa in 2014, and those are real. And he said he's going to Odessa to find the perpetrators. So you could kind of feel the emotive sense there. He also mentioned that there's NATO facilities that are being set up with NATO help in that area, and I expect those are also targets. But your larger question is so important, and I think it is confusing a lot of people. I don't think that the activities of NATO in Ukraine were at this point a huge threat to Russia. But I spent a lot of time in Russia. I speak Russian and I'm reading their press all the time.

Russia, they are extremely paranoid. It's just deep in their soul. China is also paranoid, but Russia is sort of paranoid times ten. Well, they're not going to wait for Ukraine to build up these larger military capabilities with NATO's help. They're going to strike first. So this was effectively a preemptive attack, but they were not going to wait until Ukraine became a very strong country, a kind of Poland or if you will, in Norway with immense serious military power that it could bring against Russia. So the idea was to act now before that happens, because in the future, Ukraine would emerge as a threat. And there were signs that the other panelists have referred to as of and so forth that this would be a very virulent anti Russian course. So you would have the will and the power to threaten Russia. Thank you.

Vijay Prashad: (53:34)

Can I ask Lyle a question? Lyle you just said that Russians are paranoid and that the Chinese are paranoid, that's a lot of paranoid people on the planet. How would you characterize the people of the United States?

Lyle Goldstein: (53:46)

Lyle, also very paranoid. Indians are, I think, significantly less paranoid, or at least they were before 2020. But I think you're right that Americans are truly also paranoid. Now, look, we were also attacked out of the blue.

Vijay Prashad: (54:00)

I'm actually not asking that question. I'm trying to be provocative because I'm actually going to ask you to go in a different direction, because that's not an explanation of anything that Russians are paranoid. You see, give me an explanation of why Mr. Putin said in that speech that they're not prepared to allow hypersonic missiles and so on for six minutes to Moscow and other things. Is that paranoia?

Lyle Goldstein: (54:30)

Hold on, Vijay. Let me answer here's where I think it is paranoid, because I'm not aware of any suggestion that there was any likelihood at all of any. And having worked in the US military, I can say I just don't think that was ever on the table, nor is there any evidence that there would be on the table. So the paranoia is the leap from there. Look, I dealt with Russians for a very long time and we have to deal with Russians how they are. And we should have understood that and realized that even, let's say, the smoke or the whiff of such deployments without any facts would still trigger that. And of course, you say are Americans paranoid? Would we allow these kinds of behavior in Mexico or Canada? Absolutely not. So I don't think Russians are so weird, but we have to realize Russia has been invaded over hundreds of years and almost exterminated many times. And this has left a deep imprint on the way they react. They're not the only one. The Poles are similar, but they will react extremely strongly and will act preemptively to prevent and forestall threats. So we've seen this consistently.

Vijay Prashad: (55:43)

Let me come back to this.

Richard Falk: (55:46)

Just one word to this interesting dialogue. I think there's a better argument for saying that the Russians are being prudent, not paranoid in view of their own history. This historical experience is within the lifetime of the leadership of Russia. They suffered terribly during World War II more than any other nation. And to see this process, you mentioned the Kennan version, who knew the Russian consciousness, had experienced so directly. Before talking about Russian paranoia, one should talk or at least simultaneously about NATO provocations and the two things are fused. It seems to me we're operating in a context where what is at stake is this international discourse which has been so one sided. And as Vijay pointed out, this General Assembly resolution shows the extent to which the west controls the discourse even within the US. And it got most of the countries in the global south to go along with this discourse. So there are a lot of issues involved here, it seems to me.

Helena Cobban: (57:36)

Well, you know what? This is a great time for us to actually wind up this session because there are such a lot of issues. I mean, I personally am bowled over at the extent of the discussion we've been able to have in one hour. We've picked a number of little threads and I hope we can pick deeper or whatever. This is a very bad metaphor. I hope we can delve deeper into all these issues over the coming seven sessions of this webinar series because this crisis is not going to go away. And I just hope that all of you who are the guests and attendees will consider coming back as Richard and I continue next Monday. We have Chas Freeman and Katrina vanden Heuvel as our guests. And then on the following Wednesday, we're going to have some international rights experts to look more deeply at the right aspects of this. So it has been really a very moving experience. And if people want to see more about what's coming up, please go to our website, And on the home page there you can see a link to all the upcoming plans we're going to have.

This session has been live streamed on YouTube. Yeah, that's what it says at the top. And the YouTube video will be there. For those of your friends and contacts who were unable to take part or to attend this session today. Hang on. There we are. Oh, yes. Go to our website and you will find a donate button. We really need your help in order to keep this globe circling conversation going as best it can. And I want to remind attendees as you leave, there will be an exit poll. We'd love it. If you could actually fill out the exit poll, it shouldn't take more than a minute or two and it'll help us really design our continuing programming. So now I'd like to thank Vijay Prasad for being with us. Vijay Prashad really thank you for that great wisdom. Come back as many times as you can over the next few weeks. And Lyle Goldstein as well. Really great to have your kind of military expertise with us and your vision as well. So Richard, I guess we're kind of wrapping up now. So what do you think? Do you want to say anything?

Richard Falk: (1:00:35)

Well, just to echo your words, essentially, but I think this has been a very stimulating session. It may suggest that we need more time at each of these sessions because there was a lot more to say on this theme. We didn't get the kind of interaction that I think might have been possible if we had another half hour or so. But by and large, I think we certainly lived up to this initial idea that I put forward that we would try to do something different than what the mainstream media was doing with these issues. And I think in that sense, we broadened the context in a constructive and creative way.

Helena Cobban: (1:01:27)

Thank you so much. Great to work with you on this, Richard. Great to have you, Lyle and Vijay, and in the background our technical expert, Amelle Zeroug. Thank you, everybody, and see you on Monday. Bye.

Speakers for the Session


Helena Cobban


Prof. Richard Falk


Lyle Goldstein


Vijay Prashad

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