In late February, a conference is scheduled in New York City to discuss the risk of nuclear war if computers reach the level of artificial intelligence and take decisions out of human hands. But there is already the old-fashioned danger of nuclear war, started by human miscalculation, fed by hubris and propaganda.
That possible scenario is playing out in Ukraine, where the European Union and the United States provoked a political crisis on Russia’s border in November 2013, then backed a coup d’etat in February 2014 and have presented a one-sided account of the ensuing civil war, blaming everything on Russia.
Possibly the worst purveyor of this Cold War-style propaganda has been the New York Times, which has given its readers a steady diet of biased reporting and analysis, including now accusing the Russians for a resurgence in the fighting.
One way the Times has falsified the Ukraine narrative is by dating the origins of the crisis to several months after the crisis actually began. So, the lead story in Saturday’s editions ignored the actual chronology of events and started the clock with the appearance of Russian troops in Crimea in spring 2014.
The Times article by Rick Lyman and Andrew E. Kramer said: “A shaky cease-fire has all but vanished, with rebel leaders vowing fresh attacks. Civilians are being hit by deadly mortars at bus stops. Tanks are rumbling down snowy roads in rebel-held areas with soldiers in unmarked green uniforms sitting on their turrets, waving at bystanders — a disquieting echo of the ‘little green men’ whose appearance in Crimea opened this stubborn conflict in the spring.”
In other words, the story doesn’t start in fall 2013 with the extraordinary U.S. intervention in Ukrainian political affairs – spearheaded by American neocons, such as National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – nor with the U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych and put one of Nuland’s chosen leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, in as Prime Minister.
No, because if that history were included, Times readers might actually have a chance for a balanced understanding of this unnecessary tragedy. For propaganda purposes, it is better to start the cameras rolling only after the people of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from the failed state of Ukraine and rejoin Russia.
Except the Times won’t reference the lopsided referendum or the popular will of the Crimean people. It’s better to pretend that Russian troops – the “little green men” – just invaded Crimea and conquered the place against the people’s will. The Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of an agreement with Ukraine for maintaining the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.
Which leads you to the next paragraph of the Times story: “The renewed fighting has dashed any hopes of reinvigorating a cease-fire signed in September  and honored more in name than in fact since then. It has also put to rest the notion that Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, would be so staggered by the twin blows of Western sanctions and a collapse in oil prices that he would forsake the separatists in order to foster better relations with the West.”
That last point gets us to the danger of human miscalculation driven by hubris. The key error committed by the EU and compounded by the U.S. was to assume that a brazen bid to get Ukraine to repudiate its longtime relationship with Russia and to bring Ukraine into the NATO alliance would not prompt a determined Russian reaction.
Russia sees the prospect of NATO military forces and their nuclear weapons on its borders as a grave strategic threat, especially with Kiev in the hands of rabid right-wing politicians, including neo-Nazis, who regard Russia as a historic enemy. Confronted with such a danger – especially with thousands of ethnic Russians inside Ukraine being slaughtered – it was a near certainty that Russia’s leaders would not succumb meekly to Western sanctions and demands.
Yet, as long as the United States remains in thrall to the propagandistic narrative that the New York Times and other U.S. mainstream media outlets have spun, President Barack Obama will almost surely continue to ratchet up the tensions. To do otherwise would open Obama to accusations of “weakness.”
During his State of the Union address, Obama mostly presented himself as a peacemaker, but his one major deviation was when he crowed about the suffering that U.S.-organized sanctions had inflicted on Russia, whose economy, he boasted, was “in tatters.”
So, with the West swaggering and Russia facing what it considers a grave strategic threat, it’s not hard to imagine how the crisis in Ukraine could escalate into a violent clash between NATO and Russian forces with the possibility of further miscalculation bringing nuclear weapons into play.
The Actual Narrative
There’s no sign that the New York Times has any regrets about becoming a crude propaganda organ, but just in case someone is listening inside “the newspaper of record,” let’s reprise the actual narrative of the Ukraine crisis. It began not last spring, as the Times would have you believe, but rather in fall 2013 when President Yanukovych was evaluating the cost of an EU association agreement if it required an economic break with Russia.
This part of the narrative was well explained by Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, even though it has generally taken a harshly anti-Russian line. But, in a retrospective piece published a year after the crisis began, Der Spiegel acknowledged that EU and German leaders were guilty of miscalculations that contributed to the civil war in Ukraine, particularly by under-appreciating the enormous financial costs to Ukraine if it broke its historic ties to Russia.
In November 2013, Yanukovych learned from experts at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine that the total cost to the country’s economy from severing its business connections to Russia would be around $160 billion, 50 times the $3 billion figure that the EU had estimated, Der Spiegel reported.
The figure stunned Yanukovych, who pleaded for financial help that the EU couldn’t provide, the magazine said. Western loans would have to come from the International Monetary Fund, which was demanding painful “reforms” of Ukraine’s economy, structural changes that would make the hard lives of average Ukrainians even harder, including raising the price of natural gas by 40 percent and devaluing Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, by 25 percent.
With Putin offering a more generous aid package of $15 billion, Yanukovych backed out of the EU agreement but told the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Nov. 28, 2013, that he was willing to continue negotiating. German Chancellor Angela Merkel responded with “a sentence dripping with disapproval and cool sarcasm aimed directly at the Ukrainian president. ‘I feel like I’m at a wedding where the groom has suddenly issued new, last minute stipulations,” according to Der Spiegel’s chronology of the crisis.
After the collapse of the EU deal, U.S. neocons went to work on one more “regime change” – this time in Ukraine – using the popular disappointment in western Ukraine over the failed EU agreement as a way to topple Yanukovych, the constitutionally elected president whose political base was in eastern Ukraine.
Assistant Secretary of State Nuland, a prominent neocon holdover who advised Vice President Dick Cheney, passed out cookies to anti-Yanukovych demonstrators at the Maidan Square in Kiev and reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested $5 billion in their “European aspirations.”
Sen. McCain, who seems to want war pretty much everywhere, joined Ukrainian rightists onstage at the Maidan urging on the protests, and Gershman’s U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy deployed its Ukrainian political/media operatives in support of the disruptions. As early as September 2013, the NED president had identified Ukraine as “the biggest prize” and an important step toward toppling Putin in Russia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons’ Ukraine-Syria-Iran Gambit.”]
By early February 2014, Nuland was telling U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt “fuck the EU” and discussing how to “glue this thing” as she handpicked who the new leaders of Ukraine would be; “Yats is the guy,” she said about Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
As violent disorders at the Maidan grew worse – with well-organized neo-Nazi militias hurling firebombs at police – the State Department and U.S. news media blamed Yanukovych. On Feb. 20, when mysterious snipers – apparently firing from positions controlled by the neo-Nazi Right Sektor – shot to death police officers and protesters, the situation spun out of control – and the American press again blamed Yanukovych.
Though Yanukovych signed a Feb. 21 agreement with three European countries accepting reduced powers and early elections, that was not enough for the coup-makers. On Feb. 22, a putsch, spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias, forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.
Remarkably, however, when the Times pretended to review this history in a January 2015 article, the Times ignored the extraordinary evidence of a U.S.-backed coup – including the scores of NED political projects, McCain’s cheerleading and Nuland’s plotting. The Times simply informed its readers that there was no coup. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Still Pretends No Coup in Ukraine.”]
But the Times’ propaganda on Ukraine is not just wretched journalism, it is also a dangerous ingredient in what could become a nuclear confrontation, if Americans come to believe a false narrative and thus go along with more provocative actions by their political leaders who, in turn, might feel compelled to act tough because otherwise they’d be attacked as “soft.”
In other words, even without computers seizing control of man’s nuclear weapons, man himself might blunder into a nuclear Armageddon, driven not by artificial intelligence but a lack of the human kind.