Alfred De Zayas: A Culture of Cheating – On the Origins of the Crisis in Ukraine

Alfred De Zayas: A Culture of Cheating – On the Origins of the Crisis in Ukraine

Alfred De Zayas

February 11, 2022

The current tensions between the United States and Russia with regard to Ukraine goes back to a series of NATO actions and omissions following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989/91.  On the Russian side, there is a widespread perception of having been misled by the US and NATO, a pervasive malaise about a breach of trust, a violation of a “gentleman’s agreement” on fundamental issues of national security.

While the US protests that it never gave assurances to Gorbachev that NATO would not expand eastwards, declassified documents prove otherwise.  But even in the absence of declassified documents and contemporary statements by political leaders in 1989/91 including Secretary of State James Baker and German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (which can be consulted in YouTube), it is all-too-obvious that there is a festering wound caused by NATO’s eastward expansion over the past 30 years, which undoubtedly has negatively impacted Russia’s sense of security. No country likes to be encircled, and common sense should tell us that maybe we should not be provoking another nuclear power.  At the very least, NATO’s provocations are unwise, at worst they could spell Apocalypse.

Originally published at

We in the West play innocent, and retreat into “positivism”, asserting that there was no signed treaty commitment, that the assurances were not written in stone.  Yet, Realpolitik tells us that if one side breaks its word, or is perceived as having double-crossed the other side, if it acts in a manner contrary to the spirit of an agreement and to the overriding principle of good faith (bona fide), there are political consequences.

It seems, however, that we in the West have gotten so used to what I would call a “culture of cheating”, that we react surprised when another country does not simply accept that we cheated them in the past, and that notwithstanding this breach of trust, they should accept the “new normal” and resume “business as usual”, as if nothing had happened. 

Our leaders in the US, UK, EU contend that they have a clean conscience and refuse to consider the fact that the other side does feel uncomfortable about having been taken for a ride.  A rational person, a fortiori a statesman, would pause and try to defuse the “misunderstanding”.  Yet, the US culture of cheating has become so second nature to us, that we do not even realize it when we are cheating someone else, and we seem incapable to understand that denying our actions and reneging on our words adds insult to injury.

The culture of cheating is family of the doctrine of “exceptionalism”. We self-righteously claim the right to cheat others, but others cannot cheat us. Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi (that which Jupiter can do is not permitted for the bovines). This constitutes a kind of predator behaviour that neither religion nor civilization has succeeded in eradicating. We mount false-flag operations and accuse the other side of the same. The CIA and M15 have been caught red-handed on so many occasions – and yet no one seems to be asking whether in the long run, such behaviour is not counter-productive, whether our credibility is shot.

Alfred de Zayas, U.N. independent expert on international order, hold a news conference calling for the abolition of tax havens, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Perhaps one explanation for this kind of behaviour is that we have elevated the culture of cheating to a kind of secular virtue – equivalent to cunning, daring and boldness.  It is seen as a positive attribute when a leader is “craftier” and “sneakier” than his/her rival.  The name of the game is to score points in an atmosphere of perpetual competition, where there are no rules.  Our geopolitical competitors are just that – rivals – and there is no interest whatever in fraternizing with adversaries.  Cooperation is somehow perceived as “weak”, as “Un-American”.   “Dirty tricks” are not seen as dishonest, but as clever, even patriotic, because they are intended to advance the economic and political interests of our country.

In a way, “dirty tricks” are perceived in a positive light as artful, ingenious, adventurous, even visionary. This curious approach to reality is facilitated by a compliant and complicit corporate media that does not call out our bluff and instead disseminates “fake news” and suppresses dissenting views.  Unless an individual has the presence of mind to do his/her own research and to access other sources of information, he/she is caught in the propaganda web.

The US government has practised this culture of cheating in its international relations for more than two hundred years, particularly in its dealings with the First Nations of the continent, who again and again were lied to, and whose lands and resources were shamelessly stolen. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his book Why We Can’t Wait : “Our nation was born in genocide” (p. 120).  How many “Indian” Treaties were broken, again and again? And when the Sioux, Cree and Navajo protested, we massacred them. See the studies of the UN Sub-ComExpert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples: Call for submission and Study on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements Between States and Indigenous Populations.

This “culture of cheating” can be documented countless times in connection with the Monroe Doctrine and US relations with Mexico, Latin America, Hawaii, the Philippines, etc.

One of the elements that is totally missing from the Ukraine debate is the right of self-determination of peoples. Undoubtedly the Russians in Ukraine are not just a minority, but constitute a “people” — and as such the Russians in Donetsk, Lugansk and Crimea possess the right of self-determination. enshrined in the UN Charter and in Article 1 common to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Until the deliberately anti-Russian coup d’état of February 2014, the Ukrainians and Russian-Ukrainians had lived side by side in relative harmony.  Maidan brought with it Russophobic elements that have since been exacerbated by the systematic war propaganda and incitement to hatred, both prohibited by article 20 of the ICCPR.

Thus, it is not certain whether the Russians in the Donbass feel safe enough to want to continue living with Ukrainians who have been and are being incited to hatred against them. Back in March and June 1994, I monitored the parliamentary and presidential elections in Ukraine as representative of the UN Secretary-General.  I travelled around the country.  No doubt that the Russian-speakers had a profound sense of Russian identity.

There would be no conflict in Ukraine today if Barack Obama, Victoria Nuland and several European leaders had not destabilized the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych and organized a vulgar coup d’état to install Western puppets.  The bottom line:  Western interference in the internal affairs of other States can backfire, and the culture of cheating and deceit that we continue to practice renders it impossible to reach sustainable solutions. 

The UN Charter, the only existing “rules-based international order”, has the necessary mechanisms to resolve our differences on the basis of the principles of sovereign equality of States and the self-determination of peoples.

Originally published at Counterpunch

About the author

Alfred de Zayas is a professor at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and served as a UN Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order 2012-18. Here is his very comprehensive biography and experience.

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9 Responses to "Alfred De Zayas: A Culture of Cheating – On the Origins of the Crisis in Ukraine"

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  2. Cesar Jeopardy   February 26, 2022 at 1:33 am

    I couldn’t have stated it better myself. And I have tried. And break through the “propaganda web” that has Americans so enthralled. I’m about to give up.

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  4. psjessen   February 23, 2022 at 8:25 pm

    The Western problem is, has been so especially the last 25 Years, to identify individuals with a country, Putin with Russia. And isn’t it exactly what Mr. Hvelplund does in his comment? Thanks to the Western propaganda media. Create a boogieman and you have the excuse (it’s OK when it’s USA leading) to smash the whole country. Always seek confrontation, and the media propaganda ensures that dialogue and peace talk is no way to go in the public perception.
    In Denmark the media propaganda is massive. You are brainwashed to believe that we are the good and Russia is evil because Putin is evil. Same story every time. I must ask, when will people wake up? Probably never, unless the power elites are neutralized.
    When people support NATO it’s because of fear propaganda and mis/dis-information. If common sense was practised NATO would have been shut down. But this would be against the Western narrative that our freedom is based on alliance with the one and only USA. Either you are with us or you are against us. That’s the mantra of the falling empire. The ever growing Military-Industrial-Media-Academic-Complex is now starting a new war in Europe. Denmark and other stupid (sorry) European contries are not aware of the fact that they are acting as useful idiots. The power elites pulling the strings! The eternal sanctions, used again and again… Why is USA still sanctioning Cuba? And why Iran? Gives no sense at all.
    And talking about ‘dirty tricks’, the two ‘Novichok’ poison affairs, the Skripals in the UK and Navalny in Germany were orchestrated by the Western media and not Putin. That so many people believe these Western-media-created-stories just shows what enormous influential power the fear mongers have through the corporate owned mainstream media. My advise is, stop reading, watching and listening to mainstream media. Stick to independent media!

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  7. gittehector   February 20, 2022 at 2:27 am

    Thanks a lot for this and other articles about the escalating crisis between Russia and NATO led by USA. It is a terrible situation that is likely to rise even further, and devastate thousands if not millions of lives.
    John Pilger posted this comments the other day, blaming among others the media in creating the war hysteria, and he (and TFF) is absolutely right.

  8. Frede Hvelplund   February 18, 2022 at 3:45 pm

    Dear TFF,

    It really is difficult to talk about Russian interests if they are identified with Precident Putin that kills, poisons, send opponents into prison (Navalni),closes Memorial, give high five to the murder prince in Saudi Arabia and threatens his opponents, as well as neighbor countries.

    In that way the reality is that he supports and furthers Natos expansion totally countrary to what he seems to want and against more general strategical russian interests
    For instance the Ukrainians support for Nato membership has increased from 31%- to over 55% since 2014 due to his threatening acts an rethoric.
    It consequently is very difficult to identifye Putins interests with the real strategical interests of the russian people.
    I think that you are advocating a very reasonable and good Russian peace case.

    But you seem to forget that a good case and a good purpose can have a bad and counter productive leader.

    Best regards

    Frede Hvelplund

    • JO   February 18, 2022 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for your intellectually sparkling comment, so well formulated and spiced with creative spelling. Your only mistake is to address this to TFF and not to the author whom I am sure will find your views interesting. Write him directly at:


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