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This transcript appears in the June 3, 2022 issue of Executive Intelligence Review.

[Print version of this transcript]

Eric Denécé

The Ukraine Conflict Could Have and Should Have Been Avoided

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Schiller Institute
Eric Denécé

This is the edited transcript of Eric Denécé’s remarks to the May 26 Schiller Institute Conference, “The Insanity of Politicians Threatens Nuclear War.” Mr. Denécé is the Director of the French Center for Intelligence Studies. His presentation in French was dubbed in English, but he engaged in a brief dialogue in English after the conclusion of his presentation, which is included here. The video of the entire conference is available here.

Before giving an analysis of the Ukrainian crisis, I would just like to make a few introductory remarks.

First of all, I would like to express my sympathy to the people who are victims of this crisis. And also, to say that if it is appropriate to denounce the Russian attack, it is also appropriate to denounce all violations of international law. That is to say, those violations of international law that led to the Ukrainian aggression in the Donbass and unfortunately those that our American allies have regularly carried out in the name of the fight against terrorism throughout the world, especially the 2003 violation.

What seems important to me, today, is to recall how we got here, and how this war, which should never have happened, ended up happening. It is not a question of being pro-Ukrainian or anti-Ukrainian, pro-Russian or anti-Russian, but of analyzing the facts with the soberness and rationality required.

First of all, it is important to remember that this war should never have taken place. It is a conflict that should have been avoided, and finally in which all the actors today involved directly or indirectly have their share of responsibility.

It is necessary to recall, first of all, a fact essential for me, which is that at the end of the Cold War NATO should have been dissolved. It is an organization whose sole purpose was to protect the West from the Soviet threat, from the expansion of the proletarian revolution and from the Soviet military threat, and it should have disappeared at the end of the Cold War.

The simple fact of having kept it, has been one of the origins of the problems we face today.

We must also remember that for thirty years, whether we like it or not, there has been a real humiliation of Russia. Unkept promises of the West, which have not only reinforced dissatisfaction, but also resentment towards the West. The lies presented to Moscow on a regular basis over the years have only increased the gap between the two parts of the European continent.

Of course, there was also the Maidan coup. I recall that President [Viktor] Yanukovych, as corrupt as he was, like all his predecessors at the head of Ukraine, had been legally elected and recognized by the representatives of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]. And that it was therefore a revolutionary coup d’état, which was carried out to remove him from power, supported by the West and in violation of all democratic rules.

It was followed quite quickly by the ostracization of the Russian-speaking populations of Donbass, and very swiftly by the military aggression of the Kiev forces against these populations, who are not separatists, as was too often announced by the media. This population wanted their autonomy to be recognized within the Ukrainian Republic and especially wanted the free use of their language, which is Russian. But they were immediately countered by the Kiev regime that wanted to have them fall in line again.

I think that what is happening in the United States, in terms of domestic politics, has played an important role—the setbacks of Joe Biden since he was elected President of the republic, the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the great budgetary problems and sequestration, have led to a toughening of the American policy orientation, which has caused the war.

I also cannot forget the Ukrainian responsibility, especially of course, the attitude toward the Donbass. But also, the very provocative speech that [President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy gave at the Munich [Security Conference] summit at the beginning of the year, stating loudly and clearly that for him it was essential that three conditions be met:

1) integration into NATO, which he has never ceased to demand,

2) the takeover of the Donbass by force, and

3) the demand for Ukraine to have nuclear weapons.

When we put all this together, we can understand—but understanding does not mean excusing—the Russian reaction in relation to this set of affronts that were unfortunately orchestrated against Russia.

I think we should also remember that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has repeatedly stated that the militarization of Ukraine and its integration into NATO was an existential threat to Russia. We have not taken this into account. We have continued to push the Ukrainians into an extremely tough position toward Moscow and towards the Donbass. Unfortunately, we have gotten that which we have provoked. And that is what triggered the Russian offensive.

This Russian offensive meant falling into a trap, into which Putin finally moved with full awareness. I would say that he did it all the more willingly because none of his proposals to set up a new security architecture in Europe were honored.

Secondly, what has this conflict been all about since February 24?

I would say that it is in the end a war that Ukraine cannot win. First of all, even if we are opposed to this Russian attack, we must recognize that it is a special operation and not a desire to invade Ukraine as has been said too often by the countries of Eastern Europe and by NATO.

Let us first recall the number of troops: 150,000 men took part in the operation. By way of comparison, the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the Americans and the British included 250,000 American and 30,000 British troops, totaling 280,000 against an army that was not at the tenth of the efficiency of the Ukrainian army. So, to continue to say that Putin wanted to invade Ukraine is absolutely false.

This military operation has encountered a number of initial failures and dysfunctions, but for the moment it seems that the war aims that Russia has set [for] itself—that is, to protect the Donbass and finally take over the Russian-speaking provinces, certainly less Russian-speaking than Donetsk and Lugansk in southern Ukraine—is succeeding.

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of hasty judgments about the military operation which, despite the losses on both sides, it is not the rout [of] the Russian army that some want us to believe. Moreover, this will become part of the important lessons that will become more known.

Other elements deserve to be mentioned. The massive distribution [to Ukraine] of arms, in particular of light weapons, anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles which were made in the West, were partly, perhaps largely used in the conflict, but were also fed to mafia and criminal networks, to be resold to third-world terrorist networks because there were no effective control mechanisms in Ukraine.

I will also insist on two other points. The reactions and sanctions that have been voted up against Russia, which, although they obviously have an international legal basis, have been totally disproportionate, both in their economic and their cultural aspects. We have reached the height of stupidity by forbidding [Russian] sportsmen, musicians and opera singers to practice their profession, whether they are for or against Putin. We have entered into a totalitarianism of thought, which is totally excessive.

The same is true of the media. For the first time, the information war that we have waged against Russia is finally now being characterized as an attack on the freedom of the press. And in the end, the fact of not having information on what is happening on the other side, makes us unable to have an objective vision of the situation.

I will also conclude by insisting on the role played by Zelenskyy and his “spin-doctors” today, by offering “his” version of the facts in the Ukrainian conflict.

If, of course, this country is being attacked, if it is legitimate for Ukrainians to take up arms to defend themselves, I believe it is essential to report that 90% of the fighting is taking place today in Russian-speaking areas, so it is not ethnic Ukrainians, i.e., Galicians, who are suffering from this fighting. However, it is all these ethnic Ukrainians who are leaving the country. We have no emigration from Russian-speaking areas. That’s it. And at the same time, the western part of the country, which is under Russian bombings, in the literal sense, is not a conflict zone.

The last point that seems to me to be important in this conflict is to talk about the co-belligerence of the West, because the way in which we supply arms, ammunition, and help the Ukrainians with intelligence, is no longer indirect aid. It means that we are today in a situation of direct co-belligerence. It has nothing to do with what happened in 1979-89 in Afghanistan where the role we played against Moscow at the time was clandestine aid. It has nothing to do with the support during the Iran-Iraq war, where the West, and France in particular, clearly sided with Iraq. Today, we are really in a situation of co-belligerence, and not only in the supply of arms.

I will end with a quick third point. Is a way out of the crisis possible? Today, among the lessons we can draw from these crises and events, above all stands the “victory of geopolitics.” I believe that we must say this loud and clear: the lesson of geopolitics is that no state can ensure its security at the expense of its neighbor. And here, Ukraine has done exactly the opposite, thinking that it could advance its interests by making a mockery of the Russian warnings and demands, which may have been excessive at times, but which were absolutely not taken into account.

Beyond that, there are a number of winners and losers in this conflict. Russia and the United States today are partial winners. The Americans because they have succeeded, through this crisis, in finally restoring their image and, above all, in forcing the Europeans to close ranks around them and around NATO. So, it’s a victory, of course, but there are still major impacts on American policy, especially at the international level because few people outside the West support the position of the Europeans and Americans, and especially because there are economic consequences, especially in the inflation hitting the United States.

On the Russian side, it is also a form of victory because the Russians have finally managed to show that they can challenge the West, even if there are also a series of negative consequences for them, including on the economic level. But in any case, they have not given in from their point of view and there is now a type of new division of the world in which the West no longer holds the reins.

And then, there are actors who are losing from this conflict. First of all, the Ukrainians with the total destruction of their country. But also, and I insist on this point, this destruction is a fact for which the Zelenskyy government is largely responsible. And then the Europeans, the Europeans who blindly are following the Americans into this conflict that does not concern them. Because we must remember that Ukraine was neither a member of the European Union, nor a member of NATO. It had no defense agreement with the countries of the West, especially not with France. While for us Europeans, the economic sanctions are much, much heavier, in terms of consequences, than they are for the Americans.

So, to sum it up; a conflict that should have been avoided. And there, the European responsibility is overwhelming. It should be remembered that if France and Germany, which were major players in the Minsk agreements, had forced Ukraine to respect these Minsk agreements, perhaps this conflict could have been avoided. But of course, the interference of the United States, which was not a party to the Minsk agreements, played a major role.

So, a conflict that should have been avoided; a war that cannot be won by Ukraine—I think it is necessary to say it very clearly. Unfortunately, a way out of the crisis is not taking shape because of the rise of the extremes: the obstinacy of the Americans, the Europeans following after them, and the Russian attitude that considers that it is an existential conflict for Moscow, do not give me hope for something positive unless there is a 180-degree turnaround of one or the other of the actors. I believe that this is what we must hope for in the coming weeks.

Henry Kissinger’s recent statements, declaring that it was imperative that Ukraine give up land to Russia, seem to me to be extremely relevant, but the Ukrainian government’s stubborn refusal to do so does not allow me to believe that negotiations are possible.

Thank you for your attention.

Dennis Speed (moderator): Thank you very much, Mr. Denécé. I understand you have some limitations on schedule. We want to take the opportunity, while you were here, to get your response to something, partially because of some of the questions that have come in, but also because this is a kind of statement that we’d like to have people respond to.

There’s a passage from the earlier document, “NATO in Caesar’s Foolish Footsteps,” that Lyndon LaRouche wrote, in which he talked about NATO, and I wanted to get your response to this. He said:

NATO has not been a trans-Atlantic alliance, but has been in fact a form of Anglo-American political rule over continental Western Europe. This was understood by President Charles de Gaulle, who withdrew France from NATO while preserving France’s alliance with the United States on that account. It was for the same reason that de Gaulle blocked Britain’s entry into the EEC, and enjoyed support from his ally, West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer, in that policy. It is Washington and London which run NATO, with other member-nations degraded to very, very junior partner status in matters of policy making.

What we wanted to do is get your response to that statement, also because in America, people don’t have now, particularly, any idea about any difference in terms of de Gaulle’s role, France, or any of that. We just wanted to see what your view was of that idea.

Denécé: I didn’t hear your question because of the translation problems.

Speed: What it referred to is de Gaulle’s role in terms of his view of NATO, and the problem of the dominance by Washington and London of that alliance and the junior partner status of Europe.

Denécé: I see. Of course, the policy of General de Gaulle is something we in France would like to apply, but we don’t dream. I don’t think the French political leaders today are on the same line as President de Gaulle. Most of them are what we call here Europeanistic: That means most of them are fully in the position in which they believe that the European Union is the only solution for the future of France. So, it’s something which is very different from the policy of General de Gaulle.

Anyway, I would like to add something, which in my opinion is very important. I remember at the end of the Cold War, I had the occasion to meet Col. Igor Prelin, who was the former instructor of Vladimir Putin at the head of the KGB. He told me something very interesting, which in my opinion is very important to understand what is happening in Ukraine today. He said, “We are not the Germans of World War II. We did not lose the war. The U.S.S.R. collapsed, but Russia did not lose the war. Don’t make the mistake of treating us as defeated.” But, I’m sorry, this is what we did.

So, from the beginning, from 1990-91 at the end of the Cold War, we began to do a lot of mistakes, and step-by-step, year-by-year, we have been digging and digging the number of mistakes—by “us,” I mean the French, the Europeans, and Americans have been doing regarding Russia. It’s a pity, because as a former intelligence officer of the Cold War, I don’t have any love or hate about Russia, but I have to confess that a lot of mistakes we’ve been doing is the real reason of the war we are living today.

Speed: Thank you. And thank you very much for joining us today. We understand you have a limited amount of time, but you handled the question as well as you could have, and we thank you for your remarks.

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