The September/October 2023 edition of Foreign Affairs magazine carries a book review by Michael Kimmage entitled “Born in the Bloodlands: Ukraine and the Future of the European Project.” The book being reviewed was The Russo-Ukranian War: The Return of History by Serhii Plokhy (Norton, 2023, 400 pp).
According to the magazine, “Michael Kimmage is a Professor of History at the Catholic University of America and a Senior Nonresident Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. From 2014 to 2016, he served on the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. Department of State, where he held the Russia/Ukraine portfolio.”
This article is not another review of the book by Plokhy; rather it is a review of the review by Kimmage. It is an important topic because Kimmage has held significant positions in the university/think tank/government agency congregation that helps analyze and direct US foreign policy.
Several items in Kimmage’s review, whether taken from Plokhy’s book or added comments by Kimmage himself, raise serious questions as to the usefulness of this US analyst’s version of Ukraine War history. For example:
ONE. The review mentions that the pro-Russian candidate won the election of 2004, but states it was “dirty” and annulled after protests in the “Orange Revolution” of that year. A new “fairer” election put the pro-Western candidate in as President. The review neglected to mention or analyze the allegations that “color revolutions” are often found to have been instigated and produced by the US.
TWO. The review mentions that the pro-Russian candidate won the 2010 election but does not provide any information as to how fair it was or why he won. Kimmage then notes that this Ukrainian President turned down an economic agreement with the EU, which led to his overthrow in the Maiden revolution of 2014. Kimmage neglects to point out that the alternative agreement with Russia & China reportedly gave superior economic benefits to Ukraine..
THREE. The review does not explain or analyze the Maiden revolution, despite it being a violent overthrow of a duly elected democratic government. No mention is made of the US official Victoria Nuland, and her claim that the US spent $5 billion in the successful effort to achieve that regime change in Ukraine.
FOUR. The review notes that Russia annexed Crimea, but failed to put that action in perspective as regards the huge Russian naval base in Sevastopol. Reports circulated that the Russians acted in order to keep from being kicked out of the base and to prevent the base from falling into the hands of the US Navy.
FIVE. The review claims that Russia invaded eastern Ukraine after the Maiden revolution. Kimmage neglected to point out that before that the separatist provinces in eastern Ukraine were under attack by the Kiev forces and were engaged in a basic civil war. The separatist provinces were very pro-Russian and appealed for aid from Russia. Public opinion in Russia was favorable to the separatists. However, the Russian government was dubious about the separation and preferred to keep Ukraine whole, but with a loose federation so that the Russian-speaking provinces could be semi-autonomous. Russia tried to straddle the fence by sending “little green men” to provide military support to the separatists, but tried to make the support appear unofficial by removing all identification from the green uniforms. Russia held off annexing the separatist provinces and only annexed Crimea after a referendum held in Crimea in which the electorate voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Kimmage approves of the separation of Ukraine from the USSR following a 1991 referendum in Ukraine whereby the electorate voted to approve the separation. However, he ignores the similar situation later with regard to Crimea whereby the Crimean electorate voted to approve its separation from Ukraine.
SIX. The review notes “an open-ended diplomatic process between 2014 and 2022.” It does not adequately discuss the Minsk Agreements in detail and the effect this effort had on subsequent events in Ukraine. The agreements, if implemented, would have protected the Russian speakers in Ukraine through a loose federation arrangement. The agreement had the potential to significantly delay, if not prevent, the Ukraine War. Kimmage could also have noted that both the leaders of France and Germany later admitted that they signed the first Minsk Agreement in order to buy time for NATO countries to rearm Ukraine.
SEVEN. The review then skips to February 24, 2022, the date of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and completely ignores the “Not-Ultimatum” of Russia in December 2021, which proposed negotiations to achieve a new security architecture for Europe. This was Russia’s last-minute attempt to avoid a military-technical solution to the crisis. Kimmage then ignores the diplomatic negotiations between Ukraine and Russia held in March 2022, in Turkey and Belarus, with mediation by the Turkish President and the Israeli Prime Minister. This effort resulted in a draft agreement to stop the war, but was rejected by the Ukraine government after intervention by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
EIGHT. The review states that “Over the course of this massive invasion, Russia’s military has underperformed on the battlefield and committed atrocious war crimes.” The author does not present any evidence of the alleged “underperformance.” He should have been aware of the Russian President’s statement that “Strictly speaking, we haven’t started anything yet.” Russia has huge forces that have not even been committed to the battle yet, and greatly increased armaments production. In addition, there have been numerous allegations of atrocious war crimes committed by the Ukrainian forces. An article in Foreign Affairs should have noted these facts.
NINE. Kimmage’s review mentions NATO’s beginning in the first paragraph, but ignores the issue of NATO expansion eastward. Yet, NATO expansion is one of the main reasons behind the conflict in Ukraine, and is regularly mentioned as a “red-line” for Russia. The actual sequence of events during 2021, which was reported by the news media as they happened, was summarized last week by the NATO Secretary General as follows:
Then lastly on Sweden. First of all, it is historic that now Finland is member of the Alliance. And we have to remember the background. The background was that President Putin declared in the autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent us. And was a pre-condition for not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that.
The opposite happened. He wanted us to sign that promise, never to enlarge NATO. He wanted us to remove our military infrastructure in all Allies that have joined NATO since 1997, meaning half of NATO, all the Central and Eastern Europe, we should remove NATO from that part of our Alliance, introducing some kind of B, or second class membership. We rejected that.
So he went to war to prevent NATO, more NATO, close to his borders. He has got the exact opposite. He has got more NATO presence in eastern part of the Alliance and he has also seen that Finland has already joined the Alliance and Sweden will soon be a full member…
Extract from: “Opening remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the joint meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and the Subcommittee on Security and Defense (SEDE) followed by an exchange of views with Members of the European Parliament, 07 Sep. 2023.” (www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_218172.htm?selectedLocale=en)
TEN. The review states that “This war did not begin as a proxy war between Russia and the United States. Putin may have gone to war because of his vision of Russia’s place in the world. But his more visceral motivations follow from Russian history and form his warped view of Ukrainian history…” This completely ignores the massive involvement in Ukraine by the Biden family and the intervention by Victoria Nuland. It ignores the years of the US arming and training the Ukraine military and providing intelligence and direction during the war. It completely overlooks the fact that Putin early on proposed a “Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok” and suggested that Russia be admitted to NATO.
It is hard to understand why a professor of history would write a public document so lacking many essential facts and history. Especially since the skimpy history he recounts is tangential to his main thesis of the Ukraine War’s impact on the European Project. It would be more useful if the professor would write an exposé about what actually transpired at the Policy Planning Staff during 2014-2016, the Maiden revolution period, or provide a history of the European Project. He was certainly in a central position to know what was going on. In addition, the editors at Foreign Affairs failed to do basic editing. They should have at least pointed out to the professor some of the areas for improvement listed above, since the information is readily available through an internet search.