I’m a self-confessed, lifelong Russophile. I read a lot of Russian literature, I love Russian art, I’ve worked there – training cosmonauts at Star City – and I’ve travelled some of its byways, going from St. Petersburg to Archangel, via the length of Karelia, the White Sea and the Solovetsky Islands.
In the past, in political discussions with friends, I’ve often tended to give Putin the benefit of the doubt, not because I like the guy, but because I detest the hypocrisy of the West; of our governments, our military-industrial complex, and of their poodles in mainstream media and propaganda outlets like the Orwellian-named ‘Integrity Initiative,’ and Bellingcat. I always try to take an objective view, and find out the facts and draw my own conclusions. It’s a trait that often gets me into trouble, but it’s a part of who I am.
So when I conclude that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is the deranged act of a madman who has completely lost the plot, then there is definitely something going on.
So first of all, let’s take a look at some establishing facts, all easily verifiable, even in today’s disinformation jungle.
Firstly, at the break up of the Soviet Union, the West gave Gorbachev a solemn assurance that NATO would not expand eastwards. This was in return for Gorbachev’s pledge not to interfere with German reunification. The West has completely reneged on its assurance over the past three decades. Now I get that this is a complex issue. What do you do, if you have a raft of former Eastern Bloc countries, like Poland and the Baltic States, all clamouring for NATO membership because they fear their Russian neighbour? Well what you do, I’m afraid, is say ‘no,’ because you have given an assurance.
For those who think I’m being harsh or unrealistic, let’s look at a credible ‘what-if’ scenario. With NATO membership not possible, the former Eastern Bloc states may well have formed their own mutual defence pact – let’s call it TATO, for the sake of argument. After a few years, NATO and TATO start to carry out joint military exercises and before you know it, you have the same sort of security landscape as you wanted, without any of the lies and deceit.
Secondly, it is a fact, however much we would like to conveniently ignore it, that there is at least one international precedent for what Putin has done. Twenty-three years ago, Albanian separatists started agitating in a province of Serbia called Kosovo. The Serbian government sent in the military to quell the dissent and the West responded by going into Kosovo and setting it up as a separate state, and bombing Belgrade. Now, when Russian separatists start agitating in the Lukhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine, and the government sends in forces to quell them, and Russia then goes into those places and sets them up as separate states and starts bombing Kiev, the West is aghast.
Why the difference? Well the answer is obvious insofar as by the Western narrative, Serbia was the ‘bad guy’ in the first case, and Russia is the ‘bad guy’ in the second case. But I hope you see my point.
Thirdly, eight years ago, Russia annexed Crimea, then part of Ukraine, to general international condemnation. My take on this at the time was that it was done to avert an humanitarian crisis. There were plenty of stories floating around at that time, that the fascist elements in the Kiev leadership were planning acts of ethnic cleansing against Ukraine’s Russian population. Was there any substance to these stories? Did the Russian intelligence services have hard evidence that something was going to happen in Crimea? I have no idea. But that’s the problem – if you are going to avert an act of ethnic cleansing, say, you have to take action before it happens. Probably, you can never be one hundred percent sure that something would have happened if you hadn’t have acted. Take the example of the genocide in Rwanda. When it happened, the West wrung its hands and bewailed how terrible it all was, but said that obviously it couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, as that would have violated Rwanda’s sovereignty and international law. Well, in 2014, in Crimea, Putin rightly or wrongly grasped that nettle.
My own view, eight years on, is that Putin was probably right. Why? Well after Crimea was annexed, Ukraine cut off the drinking water supply to Crimea, which came from other Ukrainian territories. Now, if you loved the people of Crimea and believed that they had been snatched away unjustly, by a neighbouring monster and you wanted them back, to live in peace and harmony all together in the Ukraine, why would you do that? It is clear evidence of ill-will on the part of Ukraine’s leadership, to its Russian minority.
The question of Ukraine’s desire to join the EU, is also interesting here. EU member states have an obligation, enshrined in the acquis, to properly safeguard the rights and interests of the principal ethnic minorities in their territory. So I just don’t get the position of Ukraine’s leadership. You can either oppress your Russian minority, or you can join the EU, but you can’t do both. They seem to want to do both – can’t they see the impossibility of that?
Incidentally, it is this fundamental principal of the EU acquis, that has led me, well up to this week, at least, to believe that states like Estonia, for example, had nothing to fear from Russia. Their EU membership requires them to do right by their Russian minority, and so long as that happens, then I don’t see that Russia is going to be crossing their border anytime soon. Look: I’m not Estonian, I haven’t lived in the shadow of Russia like the Estonian people have, and I don’t have the cultural background, or the fine appreciation of the weight of history there, to know what other things contribute to that sense of threat. All I can do is report what I perceive as an outsider looking in.
Fourthly, you have to consider the sheer bias in the reporting on Ukraine for the last decade or so, by the West’s mainstream media which has become little more than a mouthpiece for parroting whatever propaganda is fed them by the West’s intelligence services. The work of a courageous band of independent journalists can only go a small way towards redressing this balance. By now, the propaganda has gone on for so long that many of the citizens of western countries believe it all implicitly and, more sadly still, so do their leaders. So when we are fed eight years of stories about Russian separatist and Russian aggression towards the rest of Ukraine, it becomes the truth. The notion that the West could be acting the provocateur, goading Ukraine to waggle a stick in the tiger’s cage is dismissed as fantasy – the delusions of Russia’s stooges.
There is only one place to go to get the real picture of what is happening in the Ukraine, and that is the website of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which has been monitoring conflict situations like the Ukraine for over 50 years and has long been the gold standard for such things. For the past eight years it has even-handedly reported all actions committed, including violations of the Minsk II protocol (signed in 2015 to try and stop the fighting), by all parties in the conflict. This even-handedness means that it is not used as a source by western mainstream media, as to do so would de-bunk the narrative being supplied to it by our intelligence services. Recently, the US, UK and Canada have removed their observers from the OSCE mission in the Ukraine, and have begun to brief against it, which tells you all you need to know about the West’s agenda.
There are other complicating factors that muddy the Ukraine situation further:-
- Crimea was part of Russia, within the Soviet Union, until the 1950’s, when it was gifted by decree to the Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev, on what is now seen to be the rather flimsy pretext of the integral character of the economy, the territorial proximity and the close economic and cultural ties between the Crimea Province and the Ukrainian SSR. This is largely bullshit. The constitutionality of the decree has been challenged several times since, and Krushchev himself is rumoured as saying that his peers must have been drunk to sign it off.
- Shortly before Russia annexed Crimea, there was a unilateral referendum held in Crimea that delivered the overwhelming result to secede from the Ukraine and integrate with Russia. Given the high proportion of ethnic Russians in Crimea, I don’t think anyone seriously believes that this referendum was rigged. By that measure, what happened to Crimea shouldn’t be regarded as annexation at all, but was rather ‘the will of the people.’ But of course, the legality of remedial secession is still unclear in international law, as evidenced by the debate around a similar referendum in Catalonia in 2017. It is no surprise that Ukraine dismissed Crimea’s referendum, using the same arguments as Spain had done a few years earlier for Catalonia.
- Then there are the Nazi/fascist angles. It is a fact that there are strong fascist elements attached to Ukraine’s leadership, present in Ukraine’s culture and making up some of the armed forces that are currently fighting against Russia. I think my very strong anti-fascist views are well known from these pages by now, and personally, just the first angle above, is enough for me to want nothing whatsoever to do with Ukraine. I do not subscribe to the doctrine that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend,’ and I wish the West didn’t either. I find it mind boggling that ‘we’ are currently arming Nazi’s to fight against Russia. Going any further than that, however, risks falling down the rabbit holes of conspiracy theorists. Yes it is true that at a UN vote in 2016, only the US, Ukraine and Palau declined to condemn the glorification of Nazism. Yes it is true that during the Trump administration there was a colossal growth in the visibility of fascist tendencies within the US. Yes it is true that there are allegations currently going around about corrupt dealings between the Biden family and Ukraine. But is the current situation in the Ukraine part of a burgeoning plot to bring in a fascist new world order. I don’t think so: I hope I’m not proved wrong.
Whenever a situation like the one in Ukraine emerges, the first question you have to ask is ‘Cui bono?’ – Who benefits? Well Ukraine isn’t benefitting – the country is getting trashed, and that includes the parts under the control of the Russian separatists. Russia isn’t benefitting: Ukraine hasn’t rolled over, so the Russian military will start to suffer setbacks. On top of that there are the economic sanctions for the Russian people to suffer domestically, and for Putin personally his loss of credibility at home and, to the degree he had any left, abroad. Europe isn’t benefitting, we’ve another huge influx of refugees to look after on top of those arriving from Libya, Syria and elsewhere.
No, if you want to know cui bono, you have to look to the West’s military-industrial complex, and the opening up for them of another lucrative theatre for arms sales, the principal drive for which comes from our political leaders, who are to a large extent in the pockets of this complex.
The United States, as the principal member of NATO not part of Europe, has a particular role and is a particular beneficiary here. The United States derives enormous economic benefit from maintaining a cluster of conflict zones around the edge of Europe – Syria, Libya, for example and now Ukraine – that present a large and constant drain on European resources, though military commitments and through the need to aid the large and constant streams of refugees that flow from these zones. Without this drain, these resources could be directed towards further improving innovation, and the competitiveness of European business on global markets, thereby hitting US corporations on the bottom line.
None of what I have described above is rocket science, nor is any of it new. in 2015, eminent American political scientist John Mearsheimer made this analysis.
Which brings me finally back to Putin. Given all that I have outlined above, why the fuck would you give the West exactly what it wanted, unless you’re a madman who has totally lost the plot?