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Ukraine: what are we are missing? (2/rua)
If not Nazis...
Putin's dogged insistence that he invaded Ukraine to "de-nazify" his neighbour is demonstrably false. As false as former President George Bush's risable contention that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 to "spread democracy". Neither contain a shred of truth.
As previously pointed out, Putin is the darling of the far-right in the West - a situation he has done nothing to disparage. He has met far-right leaders such as France's far-right Front National party-leader Marine Le Pen. Russian-linked banks financed the National Front after Ms Le Pen announced her support for the Russian annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
The relationship between Putin and Western far-right groups is "cosy", to put it mildly.
So if "de-nazification" was not Putin's rationale for his war on Ukraine, what was?
... then NATO?
Was it Ukraine's desire to join NATO?
Much has been made of Putin's apparent anger that Ukraine was on the verge of joining NATO.
However, this has been over-stated by both Western pundits, Putin, and other Russian officials. In December last year, Putin issued a clear ultimatum:
“Speaking of security guarantees … our actions will not depend upon the negotiations, they will depend on the unconditional compliance with Russian security demands.
We have made clear that any further NATO movement to the east is unacceptable. We’re not threatening anyone,” the Russian president said, claiming that Russia’s being threatened instead.
You must give us the guarantees. It is up to you, and you must do this immediately, right now, instead of keep talking about this for decades.”
Two months later, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, acknowledged that Ukrainian membership of NATO would not progress. Ukraine would not join the alliance:
Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated categorically:
“The question of [Ukrainian] membership in alliances is practically not on the agenda. And that is why it is strange to observe that the Russian government is making something that is practically not on the agenda the subject of major political problems. That is the great challenge that we actually face: That something that is not even on the agenda is being made an issue.”
Another impediment to NATO membership has been Hungary. A member since March 1999, Hungary has resisted Ukraine joining NATO. In 2019, citing concerns over a law to deny Hungarian minority rights to their own language in education:
Hungary’s foreign minister on Wednesday said Budapest would block Ukraine’s membership in NATO until Kiev restored the rights that ethnic Hungarians had before a language law curbed minorities’ access to education in their mother tongues.
Hungary has clashed with Ukraine over what it says are curbs on the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians to use their native tongue, especially in education, after Ukraine passed a law in 2017 restricting the use of minority languages.
In response, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelenskiy acknowledged a Venice Commission (an EU rights body) report urging his country to respect teaching of European Union official languages (eg; Hungarian and Romanian). He said:
“Ukraine is complying with all the recommendations of the Venice Commission on the education law.”
US President Biden also seemed to reject Ukrainian membership of NATO:
“School's out on that question. It remains to be seen. In the meantime we will do all we can to put Ukraine in a position to be able to continue to resist Russian physical aggression.
It depends on whether they meet the criteria. The fact is they still have to clean up corruption and the fact is they have to meet other criteria to get into the action plan.”
Putin would have been aware of all this. No doubt he can read Western media reports just as well as we can.
So NATO membership was off the table.
But what, then, is Putin's agenda?
If not NATO, then what?
Putin has made crystal clear his views on Ukraine as an independent nation: Ukraine does not exist.
As with German Nazis in 1938/39 over the fate of Czechoslovakia, Putin considers Ukraine a mistake of history; a "fake nation"; an abberation. In a speech Putin made on 21 February, he stated in an eerily Hitlerian way:
“I would like to emphasise again that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.
Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians.” [Kremlin website link]
In simple terms, Putin considers the Slavic people of Ukraine to be part of Russia. He saw the collapse of the former Soviet Union and, like Germany after World War One, believed Russia had been humiliated in it's dismemberment:
Putin himself was traumatized by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the loss of one-third of its former territory and half of its population. In an instant, the USSR disappeared, and Russia found itself much weaker and more vulnerable to rival great powers.
Many Russians agree with Putin and feel resentment and humiliation, along with anxiety about the future. But overwhelmingly they do not want war, Russian pollsters and political analysts say.
As for Putin claiming that Ukrainians are "our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties" - shooting them dead or blowing them to bits with bombs is a strange way to express "family ties".
The invasion of Ukraine has one purpose: to reintergrate the region into the Russian Federation. Putin has made this abundantly clear. It would be akin to imperialists in London wanting to re-establish it's vast far-flung empire, re-incorporating english-speaking nations into a New British Empire. I'm guessing that would not go down well in Washington, Ottawa, Canberra, or Wellington?
To further underline his neo-imperialist agenda, one of Putin's terms of surrender was glossed over by Western commentators - but is a crucial signpost of the Russian leader's intentions:
...Ukraine would have to undergo a disarmament process to ensure it wasn't a threat to Russia. There would have to be protection for the Russian language in Ukraine. And there is something called de-Nazification...
One of the mainstays of imperialism is language. The British spread English throughout it's vast global empire. The Spanish spread their language throughout Central and South America. The French, throughout Africa.
Through imperialism, the process of colonialism displaces native languages. This was never more apparent here in Aotearoa. It took until 1987 when Māori - the displaced First Nation language - was officially recognised as one of this country's official three languages. Until then, children were denied the opportunity to learn or speak Māori - often with violence.
During the Soviet era, whilst not displacing local languages, the citizens of Eastern Europe; Baltic Soviet Republics, and other Soviet states, were required by law to learn Russian. (My own parents were taught Russian in Hungarian schools.)
This is a red-flag for colonialism and Putin is waving it in our faces.
As well, Putin also fears the spread of multi-party democracy. Even during the Soviet Era, the people of the USSR looked to Eastern Europe with envy as several Warsaw Pact countries enjoyed a comparatively higher standard of living.
Having parliamentary democracies on his borders - especially former Soviet republics - would be a constant reminder to Russian citizens that their own country is not meeting norms enjoyed throughout the West. The closure of independent media in Russia would bring joy to Donald Trump - but not to Russians.
But perhaps the most sinister reason is the most simplist. Putin is invading Ukraine as a show of force; a warning to other, nearby former Soviet republics and to supposedly neutral nations, Sweden and Finland.
It was the rationale posited by Ahsan I Butt, in March 2019, when he analysed the illegal US invasion of Iraq:
Sixteen years after the United States invaded Iraq and left a trail of destruction and chaos in the country and the region, one aspect of the war remains criminally underexamined: why was it fought in the first place? What did the Bush administration hope to get out of the war?
... the causes of the war finds that it had little to do with fear of WMDs – or other purported goals, such as a desire to “spread democracy” or satisfy the oil or Israel lobbies. Rather, the Bush administration invaded Iraq for its demonstration effect.
A quick and decisive victory in the heart of the Arab world would send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes such as Syria, Libya, Iran, or North Korea, that American hegemony was here to stay. Put simply, the Iraq war was motivated by a desire to (re)establish American standing as the world’s leading power.
Indeed, even before 9/11, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saw Iraq through the prism of status and reputation, variously arguing in February and July 2001 that ousting Saddam would “enhance US credibility and influence throughout the region” and “demonstrate what US policy is all about”.
Just as the United States invaded Iraq; crushed the Saddam regime; and installed it's own puppet government to "send a message to all countries, especially to recalcitrant regimes" - Putin was doing precisely the same.
So, not Nazis. Not NATO.
This was Putin telling his neighbours and the rest of the world: "We're back. Don't mess with us." [Bloggers note: artistic license has been used with that statement. Mr Putin may or may not have uttered such words.]
Russia's strategem has been made explicit by influential neo-fascist Russian political analyst, Aleksandr Gelyevich Dugin. Mr Dugin has made his views on a continent-wide Russian empire explicitly clear. The assimilation of Ukraine is the first step in expanding Imperial Russia's - which he refers to as Novorossiya - borders:
Mr. Dugin made things more direct in his 1997 text: Ukrainian sovereignty presented a “huge danger to all of Eurasia.” Total military and political control of the whole north coast of the Black Sea was an “absolute imperative” of Russian geopolitics. Ukraine had to become “a purely administrative sector of the Russian centralized state.”
Apparently a fan of Dugin, Putin agreed, claiming in July 2021:
“During the recent Direct Line, when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe. I therefore feel it necessary to explain my position in detail and share my assessments of today's situation.”
The above article - under Putin's name and posted on the Kremlin website - is reminiscent of something straight out of Mein Kampf.
For further examination of the link between neo-fascist Aleksandr Dugin and Russia's presidentt, on 26 March, RNZ's Kim Hill conducted an interview with author, researcher into rightwing movements, and podcaster, Julian Walker:
Walker says Dugin is on the precipice of becoming a “blood-stained household name” and that those trying to understand Putin’s motives should look to Dugin.
Meanwhile, the people of Ukraine - unsurprisingly - have declined to share Putin's grandiose views that Ukraine is, and has always been, a part of Greater Russia:
Putin’s claims on Ukraine have made Ukrainians more united in their views of their own country and its European future.
Ukrainians also feel more negatively toward Russia than they have in the past, with a sharp drop in pro-Russian attitudes since 2014. Fully 88% of Ukrainians support their country’s independence from Russia. Survey data from February 2021 shows that 56% of people across Ukraine support the country’s path toward NATO membership. This number was 30% in 2014, just after the annexation of Crimea.
Even the Ukrainian citizens living in the occupied territories care increasingly less about how the conflict is resolved. They are less concerned about being part of Ukraine or Russia and more worried about their own economic well-being.
Mr Putin apparently forgot to ask Ukrainians what they wanted.
This is not "liberation", it is invasion. It is empire-building writ large.
(To be continued: Part 3/toru – Spheres of Influence and the Nuclear Club sends out invites)
Al Jazeera: Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?
Wikipedia: NATO members
Washington Post: Putin’s attack on Ukraine echoes Hitler’s takeover of Czechoslovakia
NZ Govt: Māori language, culture and heritage
Al Jazeera: Why did Bush go to war in Iraq?
Wikipedia: Aleksandr Dugin
New York Times: The Grand Theory Driving Putin to War
Wikipedia: Novorossiya (confederation)
Conspiratuality: Julian Walker
Bowalley Road: The West Will Ignore Putin’s Weary Anger At Its Peril.
Bowalley Road: Russia vs Ukraine - The Story Changes.
The Daily Blog: Hypocrisy writ large
The Daily Blog: The weapon of choice when you have no firearms
The Observer: The western elite is preventing us from going after the assets of Russia’s hyper-rich - Thomas Piketty
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Sharon Murdoch
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