The current Russian invasion of Ukraine could have been avoided, and it demonstrates a failure that the U.S. leadership couldn’t effectively communicate with its Russian counterpart, according to Gen. Michael Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general who briefly served as the National Security Advisor to former President Donald Trump.
“Russia, Ukraine, Europe … what’s happening? At the 60,000-foot level, this is a totally avoidable war. Totally avoidable,” Flynn recently told NTD’s “Capitol Report” program.
“It really goes back to 1994, what was called the Budapest Accords, in Budapest, Hungary, at the end of the Cold War,” said Flynn.
On Dec. 5, 1994, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States signed an agreement with Ukraine called The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in Budapest, Hungary. The three nuclear powers gave their assurances on independence and sovereignty of Ukraine in exchange for removing all nuclear weapons from its territory and becoming a member of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Two other nuclear powers, China and France, gave their assurances in separate documents.
These nuclear powers also signed identical security assurances with Belarus and Kazakhstan at the time.
“One of the big-ticket items that came out of the Budapest accords was no further encroachment of NATO against this new Russian Federation,” Flynn said, explaining that no country leaders wanted to have nuclear missiles across the boundary between Russia and European countries.
The Budapest Memo (pdf) didn’t mention the NATO expansion. However, Western leaders had promised no NATO eastward expansion throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991. The most famous one is then-Secretary of State James Baker’s “not one inch eastward” assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990.
According to recently declassified documents by the National Security Archive at George Washington University published on Nov. 24, 2021, before and after the Budapest meeting in 1994, then-President Bill Clinton kept assuring then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin that any NATO enlargement would be slow, with no surprises, building a Europe that was inclusive not exclusive, and in “partnership” with Russia.
In a Sep. 28, 1994 conversation, Clinton told Yeltsin that he had never said that Russia could not be considered for NATO membership, and that “when we talk about NATO expanding, we are emphasizing inclusion, not exclusion,” and “there is no imminent timetable.”
In a Nov. 30, 1994, letter to Clinton, Yeltsin said, “We have agreed with you that there will be no surprises, that first we should pass through this phase of partnership, whereas issues of further evolution of NATO should not be decided without due account to the opinion and interests of Russia.”
The war also shows the Biden administration’s failure to communicate with Russia in an effective way to prevent the escalation of the Ukraine situation, said Flynn.
“War is a failure of policy and diplomacy,” said Flynn. “Anytime you see states, nations, nation-states, at war with each other, it’s because there’s a failure to communicate some way somehow. And that’s what happened.”
Flynn said Russian President Vladimir Putin kept saying Ukraine shouldn’t join NATO and it should declare neutrality, but “we won’t come into play here, and they never did.”
Current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had pushed for joining NATO after taking office. Joining NATO and the European Union has been put into the constitution of Ukraine during his tenure.
Last month, Zelenskyy said his country has to accept that it will not become a member of NATO.
“Now that it has occurred, we still see a failure to communicate because it does not appear as though the United States leadership is able to have a good conversation—a good, decent, authentic, honest conversation with the leadership of Russia, because that’s really what it comes down to,” Flynn said, referring to the recent gaffe Biden made in Poland.
In a Mar. 26 speech in Poland, Biden said of Putin, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”
“Immediately after he said it, they had to start walking it back. They had to start walking it back,” said Flynn. “Because it’s so wrong to say that.”
The White House and the State Department clarified that Biden didn’t talk about regime change.
Biden defended himself two days later.
“I want to make it clear: I wasn’t then, nor am I now, articulating a policy change. I was expressing the moral outrage that I feel, and I make no apologies for it,” Biden said.