Thursday, 24 February 2022

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Donbas regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine, following referendums in which 90% of voters chose autonomy. These regions consist of roughly 70% native Russian-speakers.

An opinion poll carried out on the day of the referendum found that 94.8% of those who intended to vote would vote for independence, and even if you factor in those who did not intend to vote, 65.6% still backed independence. 

Ukraine argued that any referendum would only be valid if all Ukrainians were allowed to vote - a principle which flies in the face of the right to self-determination. Ukraine has since engaged in an eight year civil war which has resulted in civilian casualties on both sides - 80% (13,000) of those casualties on the side of pro-Russian separatists. Many were killed by the notorious neo-Nazi Azov battalion who are now equipped with state of the art US weaponry. You can see why the separatists are nervous.

The US has been talking about the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO since 2004, and in 2020, Ukraine joined NATO's enhanced opportunity partner interoperability program. From the Russian perspective, NATO bases are appearing all around their doorstep and they now face the threat of a US military base in Ukraine, just 800 miles from their capital. 

As Putin's former bodyguard Viktor Zolotov recently stated, "We don't have a border with Ukraine, we have a border with America, because they are the masters in that country".

NATO member states essentially become satellite states of the US empire. While we call them "freedom-loving democracies", they surrender a degree of their freedom to US corporatism in exchange for security. 

The US is basically an oligarchy and more imperialist than Russia, or as the popular meme puts it: the US is a corporation with an army. If you don't see this, you're probably one of the people living in a middle class bubble - the Waitrose army who would happily send working class kids into war to protect your lives of privilege.

Russia is hardly some blameless victim here, but the notion that Ukraine is a blameless victim and Russia the mindless antagonist is sorely lacking nuance, kind of like when we highlight the Russian/Georgian war in 2008 and fail to mention an EU report found that conflict was triggered by the illegal actions of Georgia. We can acknowledge truths like this without siding with Putin.

Russia is obviously wrong to be launching a military offensive against Ukraine, it's just a shame that neither Russia nor NATO seriously wanted to avoid war in this situation. 

Russia and the US have been engaging in cold war brinksmanship for the last two years. Hardly a week has gone by without the New York Times or Washington Post running a headline about how war with Russia (or China) might be inevitable. There has been a careful process of manufacturing consent for western intervention because NATO needs permission to take whatever action it feels necessary to stop the world's other superpowers threatening US global hegemony. Ten years from now, China will be the world's biggest economy, but a weakened Russia would mean a weakened China.

A drawn out war would be beneficial to the US in many respects - the sanctions and cancelling of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will hit the Russian economy, as will the cost of war itself. If Russia is sustaining large military casualties, this could impact Putin's popularity at home. The same country that wanted Putin in charge when they thought he was their man, now want him gone so they can install a puppet.

The main beneficiaries of this war will be western arms manufacturers whose share prices are soaring, and oil companies whose prices have jumped by 8% overnight.

While some on the left have mocked the overblown "Russia-gate" in which Russia interfered in elections by sharing a few dodgy memes on social media, only a fool would deny the concern about Russian oligarchs making huge donations to the Tory party. Russia certainly interferes in foreign elections, but then again, so does the CIA. It really is hypocrisy of the highest order when the west accuses Russia of what it too is guilty of. It is incredibly frustrating to see so-called moderates foaming at the mouth over the violation of Ukrainian territory while disregarding worse behaviours from the US and UK.

Many are calling for "robust sanctions" against Russia, whatever that means in practice, but they would never dream of calling for sanctions against the US, next time it decides to illegally invade a country. This is because while we say our sanctions only target figures connected to governments, in reality, they always cause hunger among civilian populations, as Afghans know too well. 

Too many have divided their world view into America = good, Russia = bad, and this is exactly the kind of attitude which enables the imperialist behaviours of the west. We are currently criticising Russia from a moral low ground as though our criticisms of their unacceptable behaviours somehow absolve ourselves of ours. See the problem here? To understand the belligerent attitude of Putin you have to also understand the image that we project on the world stage. We pose a threat to any country that refuses to bow to western imperialism, as every country in Latin America would  testify.

If we really want to stop war, it starts with acknowledging who we are and appreciating that our ongoing military expansion is wrong. A dictator like Putin is not going to back down because we threaten him with sanctions when he is starting a war precisely because he feels threatened. On the contrary, he is only going to feel antagonised into further aggression. 

Now you can yell all day long about how Putin ultimately started this war, but if we look beyond his bluster and the western hysteria about rebuilding the Soviet Union, what we see is a vulnerable man wanting a buffer zone between his nation and the US. If we can have a serious conversation about ending NATO expansion and allowing Russian separatists their democratic right to self-determination, then we might have a chance at restoring peace. But while we screech we will welcome whoever we like into NATO and insist on building endless military bases and look the other way as Russian separatists are killed, we can't sensibly say we did our best to stop war, can we?