“I don’t think we are on the brink of World War III”.

Expressis-Verbis would like to thank Dr. Daniele Ganser for allowing us to share this exciting conversation on our Expressis-Verbis pages with our interested Luxembourgish readership. The interview was conducted and first published by Corona-Transition. Expressis-Verbis has translated this conversation into French and English.

Dr. Daniele Ganser

Daniele Ganser is a Swiss, historian and peace researcher and heads the Swiss Institute for Peace and Energy Research (SIPER). He investigates the topics of peace, energy, media, war, and terror and aims to strengthen those people who are committed to peace, non-violent conflict resolution, renewable energy and education with his lectures and books. You can find more info at: https://www.danieleganser.ch

Events in Ukraine are coming thick and fast. Recently, the Kremlin recognized the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. On 24 February, the Russian military launched a large-scale attack on Ukraine. According to reports, meanwhile, the first Russian units have advanced to the capital Kiev. Historian and peace researcher Daniele Ganser has been studying the Ukraine conflict for years. Here he presents his view of the situation to Corona-Transition.

Corona-Transition: Mr Ganser, Putin talks about protecting the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass from a “genocide”. The Ukrainian president, on the other hand, sees his country threatened by a Russian invasion. How do you assess the current political situation?

Daniele Ganser: For me, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear violation of the UN ban on violence and therefore illegal. But the invasion has a history. The Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, also known as the Donbass, have been in conflict with the government in Kiev for eight years. Because it is an armed conflict, there are deaths on both sides. So, we have had a more or less silent war here for years, but it has hardly been reported in our media. The issue of COVID-19 has overshadowed everything else.

Why has the situation escalated so much recently? 

A dramatic turn in this conflict came when Russia’s President Putin recognized the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics as independent states on 21 February 2022 and also declared that he would send Russian soldiers to eastern Ukraine. Shortly afterwards, on 23 February, these new states asked Moscow for help. Russia then invaded Ukraine with troops on 24 February.

Is Putin defending legitimate Russian security interests? 

Putin defends himself against NATO’s eastward expansion. Russia believes that Ukraine should not become a member of NATO under any circumstances. That is the red line for Moscow. Putin raised this issue during his meeting with US President Biden in Switzerland in June 2021. He attempted to get a written guarantee from Biden that Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO. But Biden refused. Now Putin has chosen the path of invasion. That is regrettable. We should always set out to resolve conflicts without violence. My impression is that Putin is attempting to copy a move NATO used in Kosovo in 1999: At that time, there were tensions between the KLA and the Serbs in Serbia. NATO then attacked and carved Kosovo out of Serbia, just as Putin has now carved the Donbass out of Ukraine. The International Court of Justice said then about Kosovo that unilateral secession, i.e., declaration of independence, was covered by international law. Putin will argue that the Donbass was allowed to declare independence and ask Moscow for help. But the NATO countries, especially the USA, of course see it quite differently and stress that Ukraine’s borders must not be violated by Russia, even though they did so themselves in Serbia.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned the BBC at the Munich Security Conference of a war on the scale of the Second World War: this could be “really the biggest war in Europe since 1945”, he said. Are we at the beginning of a Third World War?

No, I don’t think we are facing World War III. US President Biden has already said he will not send US tanks to Ukraine. Both Washington and Moscow want to avoid a confrontation. After all, both are nuclear powers. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 was also solved without confrontation.

The Ukrainian government has now broken off diplomatic relations with Russia. The West supplies weapons to the government in Kiev and demands tough sanctions.

Yes, the US has supported the government in Kiev in its war against the Donbass for years with weapons and advice. I think US interference in Ukraine’s politics is a grave mistake. If Moscow were to interfere in Mexico’s politics and train and arm troops in Mexico on the US border, Washington would not be pleased either.

How could it have come to this in the first place? 

The USA once promised Russia that there would be no eastward expansion of NATO. But then they broke their word. That was a first big mistake. Then, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008, the USA pushed through that Ukraine and Georgia should become members of NATO. That was a second big mistake. Because both countries border Russia, this unnecessarily annoyed the Russians.

Another defining event followed in 2014: the overthrow of then-President Viktor Yanukovych. Did this event lead to the precarious situation we are in today?

Yes, in 2014 the US overthrew the Yanukovych government. That was a third serious mistake that led directly to today’s tensions. Today, almost nobody talks about this coup by the USA, which I describe in my book “Imperium USA”. It is important that we remember this forgotten coup. Because it was only after the coup that the Crimean peninsula joined Russia in a vote in 2014, reducing Ukraine’s landmass. And the Donbass also seceded, declaring that it would not obey the coup government. This again reduced Ukraine’s landmass. The coup government then waged a war against the Donbass for eight years, which has now led to the invasion of the Russians. The coup at that time was triggered by snipers who shot both demonstrators and police officers in Kiev on 20 February 2014, plunging the country into chaos. President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov had to resign. The US installed Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister and Petro Poroshenko as the new president. “It was a Western-sponsored coup, there is little doubt about it,” the well-informed former CIA officer Ray McGovern declared at the time. In my opinion, it was clearly a US coup to pull Ukraine into NATO. In the US State Department, Victoria Nuland had pulled the strings, together with Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine. The telephone conversations between Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt in which they discussed the composition of the new government before the coup were intercepted and caused a stir because Nuland had insulted the European Union at the time with the expression “Fuck the EU”. But many in Western Europe have forgotten that today because it was eight years ago. The Russians, however, have not forgotten. And even the overthrown politicians in Ukraine know that the US empire was responsible for the coup in Kiev. “The Americans clearly forced the confrontational development,” the ousted prime minister Nikolai Azarov later explained. The leaders of the demonstration on the Maidan had been in and out of the US embassy and had been paid and commanded from there. However, the USA was never really concerned with Ukraine, Azarov said. The internal Ukrainian conflicts were only used as a lever in the conflict with Russia to divide Eurasia and thus weaken it.

What should the Western states do now to prevent a further escalation?

There will be no solution in the UN Security Council because the nuclear powers USA and Russia are both also veto powers. What is needed now is a de-escalation. Both the Ukrainians and the Russians belong to the human family. Wonderful people are living on both sides of the battle line. The West must admit that the 2014 coup was a big mistake. And Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine again. Ukraine should declare that it will never join NATO. That could ease tensions.

Finally, let’s discuss the role of Switzerland: The Federal Council has condemned Russia’s recognition of the separatist regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and speaks of behaviour that is “contrary to international law”. What do you think of the Swiss government’s statement? 

I think it is right for the Swiss government to criticize the breach of international law. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February is illegal and a violation of the UN ban on violence. But as a neutral country, Switzerland must constantly attempt to see the concerns of both parties to the conflict. The US coup in Ukraine on 20 February 2014 was also illegal. Joe Biden was Vice President in President Barack Obama’s administration at the time. Switzerland did not condemn this coup at the time because it was planned and carried out in secret.

The interview was conducted in writing on 24 February 2022.