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Food for thought – or maybe ‘pro- Kremlin garbage’

A week ago, the New York Times published a very interesting article entitled ‘The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin’.

The story, which drew on more than 200 interviews with current and former officials in Ukraine, the United States and Europe – the majority of whom spoke on condition of anonymity – is teased thus in its introduction: “For more than a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine that is now critical for both countries in countering Russia.”

The relationship reportedly included the establishment of up to 12 secret CIA “forward operating bases” along Ukraine’s border with Russia, as well as training programmes for a number of elite Ukrainian fighting forces that Ukraine – apparently without US knowledge – subsequently deployed to assassinate several pro-Russian figures in its territory.

Given how so many officials – anonymously or not – cooperated with the two journalists who wrote it, several cynical defence analysts [are there any other kind?] have suggested that the article can reasonably be seen as a public pitch on the part of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] for more funding for its Ukraine operations – after all, as the piece is at pains to point out, the intelligence partnership “has transformed Ukraine … into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today”.

But whatever its propagandist purpose, the fact that the article clearly and in great detail sets out how this arrangement between the US and Ukraine started eight years before Russia’s invasion might encourage some reconsideration of what has been presented as the only acceptable narrative about the inarguably awful war in Ukraine since it began.

As sheeted home by Mark Episkopos, writing for online magazine ‘Responsible Statecraft’ [the article is called ‘CIA in Ukraine: Why is this not seen as provocation?’ and, as ever, readers are encouraged to seek it, and the Times stories out for themselves], the Russian invasion has consistently been decried by the US and its allies as being “unjustified and unprovoked” [NZ, for example, “condemns, unequivocally, the unprovoked and illegal attack”].

While he certainly doesn’t seek to justify “the special military operation” – as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin described it at the start of the bloody conflict – Episkopos does note that the issue is fundamentally “one of basic security perceptions”.

“Moscow repeatedly warned — for many years before 2014 — that it was and remains prepared to take drastic action to prevent Ukraine from being used by the West as a forward operating base against Russia. Yet that, as recounted in lurid detail by The New York Times, is precisely what has happened over the past 10 years,” Episkopos points out.

“Justification is by nature a subjective exercise, but there can be little question that the activities described in this exposé constitute, from the Kremlin’s perspective, a dire provocation and would be seen as such by the United States if the situation were reversed and a rival superpower established such bases in Mexico. This perception is an inseparable part of the military and political context that shaped this war’s outbreak. It can be dismissed as paranoid, but if so it is a paranoia common to all security establishments.”

Which poses the question of whether this is legitimate food for thought – or merely “pro-Kremlin garbage”, as those infamous RNZ edits of Reuters articles about the Ukraine conflict were called last year?

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