Mr. Nyet returns: Russia’s in-your-face behavior at the United Nations this week

As the Cold War-2 unfolds, shades of the past return to haunt those of us old enough to recollect and not merely to have read about them.  One such recollection was brought to life on Monday at the session of the United Nations Security Council convened at U.S. demand to consider the ongoing threat of war at the Russian-Ukrainian border.

In his career as Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union from 1957 to 1985, a period of such length that the present incumbent Sergei Lavrov’s 18 years would seem to render him still a boy in short trousers, Andrei Andreevich Gromyko was the dour face of the world’s second superpower at the UN and at all other international gatherings. He held his own in the give and take of debate, and did not mince his words. Yet, by his intelligence, sophistication and steadfast pursuit of national interest he won the respect of adversaries as well as allies.

It is too early to speak of respect that Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya, appointed only in 2017, may or may not have earned with adversaries. But his severe mien and in-your-face denunciation of American and Western claims that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent at Monday’s session certainly drew the rapt attention of all. Surely Gromyko would be proud.

Let us not coddle the Russians. “Strategic empathy” is for fools. Clown though he may be, Boris Johnson was entirely accurate when he said in Kiev yesterday that “Russia is holding a gun to the head of Ukraine, by intimidating Ukraine, to get us to change the way we look at (European security)” [Reuters].

What we are witnessing today on the international stage is more than a re-run of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 with the roles of the United States and Russia reversed. It is an intentional reversal of roles and language up and down the line on Russia’s part.  Nebenzya’s brazen denial that his country is intimidating Ukraine by moving its armed forces around on its own territory was intentionally serving up to the USA and NATO the tripe that has been served up to Russia these past 25 years: that NATO is a purely defensive alliance which does not threaten Russia in any way when it holds massive war exercises at Russia’s borders or stages a mock recapture of the Kaliningrad enclave.

I have been in a friendly discussion with peers in the antiwar movement over Vladimir Putin’s end goal: will he settle for ‘half a loaf’ or is he truly  going va banque as the French and Russians say, meaning ‘going for broke’ in vernacular English. I believe in the latter interpretation:  Putin would never have delivered what is in effect an ultimatum to the United States to return to the status quo ante in Europe of 1997 if he were not persuaded that he can win most if not all of his objectives.   Moreover, the United States would not now be engaged in diplomatic discourse, however dissembling it may be on their part, were the Pentagon not aware of the facts it does not yet disclose to Congress, not to mention to the broad American public: that Russia is in a ‘gotcha’ position if things go to extremis, that it probably has a first strike capability, meaning it could so destroy the United States war-making capabilities on a first strike as to preclude an effective riposte. This is the so-called ‘window of opportunity’ that Russia has created for itself by developing and deploying hypersonic missiles and other cutting edge strategic weapons over the past twenty years while the United States poured its military budget into bloody wars on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Will there in fact be a war now in Ukraine?  No one can say.  The Russians have declared and should be believed when they say a war, if it comes, will not be of their choosing, but will be imposed on them by the United States using Ukraine as a tool, so as to enforce a cruel new round of sanctions from Europe.

How would that war end? No one is in doubt of absolute Russian victory, achieving any particular outcome they seek, but very likely ‘ending Ukrainian statehood.’ This is what Vladimir Putin warned more than a year ago if Ukraine failed to implement the Minsk Accords, which is manifestly the case now that Kiev said publicly a couple of days ago that implementation is off the table.

Would such a war trigger a broader conflagration at the global level?  Again, no one can say for sure, though from the foregoing it would appear to be very unlikely. This is so not only because of Russian strategic strength but also because of backing from the Chinese who can at any moment turn up the pressure on Taiwan and force the USA to confront a potential two-front war.

And so, We, the People can sleep soundly on our pillows even if the world order we have known for the past twenty-five years is about to come crashing down.

©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022

7 thoughts on “Mr. Nyet returns: Russia’s in-your-face behavior at the United Nations this week

  1. I hope that one positive aspect of the American retreat will be that there will be less of the endless droning about democracy. It’s wearisome. One can add another level to Dant’s inferno where those damned to hell are endlessly lectured about democracy and human rights.

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  2. I don’t think the threat is Ukraine. The threat is to take out the missile base in Romania.
    But don’t talk about it.
    It is one thing Biden and Co saying the response to a Ukraine invasion would be sanctions not military.
    Quite another if Biden were to open his mouth about a response to the missile base being destroyed.

    Best pretend it won’t happen and the claim it was a lucky hit and the weren’t ready.


    1. First of all, may I express my congratulations and admiration for Dr. Gilbert Doctorow’s high-quality and brilliant analysis. Kudos!

      Secondly, I would like everybody to know that US and NATO responses to Russia’s demands have just been leaked in full to Spain’s El País newspaper, which is the Spanish socialist-communist coalition Government’s mouth piece.

      If this were the case, I am afraid that the Spanish Government’s little reputation left before its Western partners will soon be vanished for a long period of time.

      Some other options for this leak’s source obviously come to mind.

      However, El País would have not published nothing of this dimension, if had fallen in its lap from other sources, domestic or foreign, without consulting the Spanish Government firstly – nowadays, this is how El País and other Spanish media works, since it receives from the Government over €150m p.a., since Prime Minister Sánchez is in power (2018).

      In terms of the contents of the documents, there is not much new of what we already know from what all the parties involved in this imbroglio have already shared with the public.


  3. This is an interesting interpretation. Try as I might, I don’t understand the Russian game plan. What do they intend to do that will intimidate the US and NATO enough to accede to the demands in Russia’s ultimatum? And not only get Biden to agree to, but be able to get through a thoroughly Russia-hostile Congress? I don’t think Putin, Lavrov and the rest of the Russian leadership are blithering idiots. So they have something in mind.

    I never thought having Russian subs patrol off of American waters or parking a Russian frigate or two in Cuba would do it. Neither would escalation in Syria, or signing a big arms deal with Iran.

    My guess was the ultimatum was designed to be rejected, which would free Russia over the medium-term (meaning not just the next month or two, but over the course of the next half decade) to escalate in relatively minor ways here there and everywhere, as it saw fit, and then when the Americans complained, wave the American answer stating the right of all states to choose their own alliances in their face.

    But if this is a genuine replay of the Cuban missile crisis in reverse, with an explicit or even wink-wink threat of nuclear first strike, well, then we are living in interesting times. And I need to get the hell out of New York. Still, I don’t think Putin is such a high-stakes risk taker. Never was, and I don’t think he would bet what he sees as a bright future for Russia on that kind of brinkmanship.


  4. Inducing a little sweat on your opponent’s brow can sometimes do wonders.

    Ever notice how nervous Blinken appears? When that dreaded feeling of realizing that you yourself are in very real terms, less than 30 minutes away from total extinction if you don’t play your cards just right, it’s amazing how quickly you can toss all your superfluous rhetoric out the window and start thinking about how to dig yourself out of the hole you’ve dug yourself, before it collapses on you.

    Besides, when character push comes to character shove, most of these western leaders are the flight not fight types, even & maybe even most of all the armchair warriors among them, so I doubt there’s much risk involved for Russia with this ‘pressure campaign’. if that’s what it is.

    CNN referred to it today as Putin’s ‘brutal subtlety’. I had a good laugh over that before realizing the very fact of the description is a tell, that it’s apparently working like a charm.

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