Striving to Make Sense of the Ukraine War 1387

No matter how hard we try to be dispassionate and logical, our thinking is affected by our own experiences, by the background knowledge we have and by the assumptions they generate. In discussing Ukraine – which arouses understandably high passions – I want to explain to you some of the experiences which affect my own thinking.

I will start with childhood, when my world view was pretty firmly set. I spent much of my young life at my grandparents’ on my mother’s side, in Norfolk. In the spare room in which I would sleep, under the bed there were cardboard boxes full of periodicals that I, as an avid ten year old reader, devoured completely. They included large sets of The War Illustrated and The Boy’s Own Paper.

The War Illustrated was a weekly magazine produced in both the first and second world war, detailing the week’s key events with stories, photos and drawings. This was the second world war collection. It was sometimes remarkably stark – I still recall the report of the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and a companion ship by Japanese aircraft, of which the magazine somehow had aerial photos.

But in the early part of the war, known as the “phony war“, when not a great deal was happening to fill the magazine, it concentrated very heavily on the heroic Finnish resistance against Stalin’s Russia in the Winter War. There were, every week, photos of heroic Finns in white hooded winter gear, against a white snowy background, and stories of how they had skied up and down Soviet armoured convoys, destroying them, and were holding back a massively superior opponent amidst lakes and woods. After reading though many weeks of the periodicals, I felt intimately acquainted with the Mannerheim line and those big brave Finns, whose individual tales of great daring I lapped (no pun intended) up.

Incidentally, after writing that paragraph I read this article in the Guardian about Ukrainian quad bike patrols in the snows and the forests, knocking out Russian tanks with drones. It really is identical in content and purpose to the Finnish ski patrol stories, only updated for modern technology.

Then suddenly, from one issue to the next, the Finns were no longer heroes but were evil Nazis, and the Mannerheim Line was now definitely as German as it sounds. What is more, if marginally more gradually, the evil Communist tyrant Stalin, who had sent army after army unsuccessfully against the Finns and been executing his own commanders, was suddenly genial, wise Stalin. As a ten year old, I found the transition very hard to fathom, and being now romantically fully committed to the Finnish cause, I rather went off the magazines.

I tried to ask my grandfather to explain it to me, but whenever we mentioned “the war”, his eyes filled with silent tears. You see, those magazines had belonged to his only son, my mother’s only brother, who was to die aged 19 in a Mosquito bomber over Italy. That is why those magazines were still under his bed and had never been thrown away. Jack’s absence hung over my childhood, and I often felt myself a very inadequate substitute. Jack had been a very talented footballer, who had signed apprentice forms for Sheffield Wednesday, then perhaps the best team in the country. He had been a very talented musician, like my grandfather. Whereas I failed to excel at, well, anything.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I was fortunate to be loved unconditionally. But I grew up with a real sense of the terrible loss, the waste, the void of war, of young lives lost that can never be replaced. I grew up with a hatred of war and of militarism. And of distrust of the official narrative of who are the goodies and who the baddies in war, when that official narrative can turn on its head in a week, as the magazines did with the Finns.

Well, it is now over 50 years later, and those are still exactly my sentiments today. And that parable of the noble/evil Finns is still relevant today. Because much of what is happening in Ukraine still reflects the failure to resolve who was on which side during World War II, and some pretty unpleasant underlying narratives.

You can see the line of thinking by which nations which had been suppressed, or risked suppression, by the Soviet Union, or by Russia before it, might see an alliance with Nazi Germany as an opportunity. Remember that the second world war was taking place only 20 years after the dissolution of the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern Empires. Even a nation like Poland had only enjoyed 20 years of freedom in the past 150, and that with some fairly dodgy governance.

That the Finns effectively allied with the Nazis has never been fully worked through in Finnish national dialogue, even in that most introspective of nations. Sweden hid from itself the extent of its elite collusion and fundamental integration into the Nazi military industrial complex for, well, forever. Probably no country advanced its comparative economic position more out of World War II than Sweden, that epicentre of smug, condescending European liberalism.

So in this mess you can see how a figure like Bandera, fighting for Ukraine’s freedom, can become a national hero to many of his countrymen for fighting the Soviets, despite fighting alongside the Nazis. The key questions in re-evaluation today, across those nationalities which fought the Soviets at the same time as the Nazis did, ought to be these – how much coordination with the Nazis was there, and to what extent did they participate in, or mirror, Nazi atrocities, doctrines of racial purity and genocide?

This is where Bandera and the Ukrainian freedom fighters must attract unreserved condemnation. They were heavily involved in genocidal attacks on Jews, on Poles in Ukraine and on other ethnic and religious minorities. Ukraine was by no means alone. Lithuania was very similar, and to only slightly lesser extent, so were Estonia and Latvia. In none of these countries has there been a systematic attempt to address the darknesses of the nationalist past. Ukraine and Lithuania are the worst for actual glorification of genocidal anti-semite and racist figures, but the problem is widespread in Eastern Europe.

Even Poland is not immune. Poles are proud of their history, and are very touchy at the fact that the millions of Poles who died in Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps are often overlooked in a narrative that focuses, in Polish nationalist eyes, too exclusively on the Jewish victims. But the Poles are themselves in denial about the very substantial local collaboration between Poles and Nazis specifically against Jews, often with an eye to obtaining their land in rural areas.

This is where the story gets still more difficult. The neo-Nazi nationalists of Ukraine are an extreme manifestation of a problem across the whole of Eastern Europe, where ancient atavistic social views have not been abolished. I say this as someone who loves Eastern Europe, and who has spoken both Polish and Russian fluently (or at least has managed to pass the Foreign Office exams designed to test whether I could). Viktor Orban in Hungary, the religious right government of Poland, and yes, the far right voting electorate of Austria, are all on the same continuum of dark belief as the Nazi worshipping nationalists in Ukraine and Lithuania.

Let me tell you another story from my past, from twenty five years ago. I was First Secretary in the British Embassy in Warsaw. A highly respected elderly Polish lady, from an old family in the city, was our most senior member of local staff. I had asked her to set up a lunch for me with an official from the Polish Foreign Ministry, to discuss eventual EU accession. I made a remark about the lunch being enjoyable as the lady was both very smart and very pretty. Drawing me aside, our most senior member of local staff gave me a warning: “You do realise she’s Jewish, don’t you?”.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. But in four years in Poland I was to become used to bumping into matter of fact anti-semitism, on a regular basis, from the most “respectable” people, and particularly from precisely the forces and institutions that now bolster the current Polish government; not least the Catholic church.

These are highly sensitive issues and I know from experience I will receive furious feedback from all kinds of nationalities. But what I state is my experience. I should add that from my experience of Russia, society there is at least as bad for racial prejudice, especially against Asians, for homophobia, and for neo-Nazi groups. It is a problem across Eastern Europe, which is insufficiently appreciated in Western Europe.

I know Russia too well to have a romanticised view of it. I have lived there, worked there and visited often. I have very frequently expressed my frustration that many of those in the West who understand the ruthless nature of Western leaders, lose their clear sight when looking at Russia and believe it is different in that regard. In fact Russia is even less democratic, has an even less diverse media, even worse restrictions on free expression, and an even poorer working class. The percentage of Russian GDP lost in capital flight to the benefit of oligarchs and Western financial institutions is hideous.

As the West has entered more and more extreme stages of neo-liberalism, the general trend is that the West has become more and more like modern Russia. The massive and ever burgeoning inequality of wealth has seen western oligarchs now overtake their Russian counterparts in terms of the proportion of national GDP represented by their personal fortunes. In the West, multiplying limitations on free speech and assembly, the reduction in diversity of the mainstream media landscape, internet suppression of views through corporate gateways like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, increased direct or indirect reproduction of security service initiated content in the media, these are all making the West more Russia-like. To me, it feels like Western leaders are learning from Putin’s book.

Security service fronts multiply – the Integrity Initiative, Quilliam Foundation, Bellingcat are all examples, as now is the entire Guardian newspaper. Increasingly “journalists” merely copy and paste security service press releases. This is absolutely an echo of Putin’s Russia. In this war in Ukraine, the propaganda from the BBC is as absolutely biased, selective of facts and lacking in nuance as the propaganda from Russian state TV. One is the mirror of the other. Russia pioneered kataskopocracy in this era – the West is catching up fast.

To recount another particular experience, I was very interested two years ago in the arrest for treason of a Russian space official and former journalist, Ivan Safronov. The accusations refer to his time as a journalist, before he joined the space agency, and are that he passed classified information to Czech, German and Swiss recipients. There are parallels between the Russian espionage charges against Safronov and the US espionage charges against Assange.

I am particularly interested because in 2007 I investigated in Moscow the death of Safronov’s father, also called Ivan Safronov, and also a journalist. I believe Safronov was one of a great many journalists killed by various levels of the Putin regime, of which deaths the vast majority have passed completely unnoticed in the West.

Safronov worked for Kommersant, broadly the Russian equivalent to the Financial Times or Wall street Journal. He was defence correspondent and had published a series of investigations into procurement corruption in the Ministry of Defence and the real state of the Russian armed forces (you might see where I am heading with regard to the war in Ukraine).

Kommersant’s general independence had become a great irritant to Putin, and he had arranged for his close adviser Alisher Usmanov to buy up the title on an “offer you can’t refuse” basis. The editorial team was swiftly replaced. The dogged and highly regarded Safronov was more of a problem.

This is from my 2007 report:

Two months ago, 51 year old Ivan Safronov, defence correspondent of the authoritative Kommersant newspaper in Moscow, came home from work. He had bought a few groceries on the way, apparently for the evening meal. On the street where he lived, as he passed the chemist’s shop in front of the cluster of grim Soviet era apartment blocks, he met his neighbour, Olga Petrovna. She tells me that he smiled from under his hat and nodded to her. After a mild winter, Moscow had turned cold in March and Safronov held his carrier bag of groceries in one hand while the other clutched the lapels of his coat closed against the snow. Fifty yards further on he arrived at the entrance to his block, and punched in the code – 6 and 7 together, then 2 which opened the mechanical lock of the rough, grey metal door at the entrance to the concrete hallway. He passed on into the gloomy dank corridor.

So far this is a perfectly normal Moscow scene. But then – and this is the official version of events – Ivan Safronov did something extraordinary. He walked up the communal concrete stairs with their stark iron rail, until he reached his apartment. It is, in British terms, on the second floor. Instead of going in, he carried on walking, past his own door. He continued up another flight and a half of steps, to the top landing, between the third and fourth floors. Then, placing his groceries on the floor, he opened the landing window, climbed on to the sill, and stepped out to his death, still wearing his hat and coat.

Ivan Safronov thus became about the one hundred and sixtieth – nobody can be certain of precise numbers – journalist to meet a violent end in post-communist Russia. In the West, the cases of Anna Politkovskaya and Alexander Litvinienko hit the headlines. But in Russia, there was nothing exceptional about those killings. It has long been understood that if you publish material which embarrasses or annoys those in power, you are likely to come to a very sticky end…

Safronov had a reputation as a highly professional journalist, meticulous about checking his facts. He was by no means a sensationalist, but had over the years published articles which embarrassed the Kremlin, about bullying, prostitution and suicide among Russia’s conscript armed forces, and about high level corruption which deprives the troops of adequate clothing, rations and equipment.

He had recently returned from a large trade fair in Dubai, attended by senior representatives of Russia’s armed forces and defence industries. He told colleagues at Kommersant that he had learnt something there about corruption in major arms contracts, involving exports to Syria, Iran and other destinations. He had told his editor he had come back with a ‘Big story’. But, as usual, he was carefully checking up on his facts first.

Now his story will never be published.

I walk through the dirty Moscow drizzle to a police station in the foot of the apartment block opposite Safronov’s. The officer in charge is brusque. There are no suspicious circumstances and the case is closed. Why am I wasting his time, and trying to cause trouble? He threatens to arrest me, so I beat a hasty retreat to find Safronov’s flat, past the chemist’s shop, in the footsteps of his last walk. In the muddy yard between the blocks, unkempt drunks squat for shelter at the foot of scrubby trees, drinking cheap vodka from the bottle.

I look up at the top landing window from which Safronov fell. It doesn’t look terribly high. Outside the block entrance, I stop and look down at the patch of ground on which he landed. The surface is an uneven patchwork of brick, concrete, asphalt and mud. Here a passing group of young men found Safronov, writhing on the ground, conscious but unable to speak. It took almost three hours for an ambulance to come. According to Kommersant Deputy Editor Ilya Bilyanov, although plainly alive when finally taken away, he was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

A stout old lady beating her rugs in the rain gives me the combination to go in to the apartment building. Once through the heavy metal door, I am overwhelmed by the smell of fresh paint. . Everything in the stairway – walls, ceilings, rails, doors, window frames – has been covered in lashings of thick oozing paint, as though to cover over any trace of recent events. The paint has been slapped on so thick that, even after several days, it remains tacky.

I pass the door of Safranov’s flat and continue up to the top landing. At the cost of some paint damage to my coat, I pose in the window from which he allegedly threw himself. It is certainly quite easy to open and clamber out, but it is a bad choice for a suicide. Soviet flats are low-ceilinged, and I calculate the window is a maximum height of 26 feet above the ground. I don’t know about you, but if I was to kill myself by jumping, I would choose somewhere high enough to make death instant… As I peer down from the window I realise that, jumping from here, you are almost certain to hit the porch roof jutting out below. That is only about twenty feet down. The Moscow police claim that marks in the snow on the porch roof were the firm evidence that Safranov jumped.

Two middle aged ladies pass with their shopping. I explain that I am investigating Safranov’s death; it seems an improbable suicide. ‘Very strange,’ they agree, ‘Very, very strange.’ They go on to volunteer that Safranov was a pleasant man, had a very good wife, did not drink excessively and was much looking forward to the imminent birth of a grandchild. Plainly, everything they say is questioning the official version, but they do not wish to do so openly. They conclude by shaking their heads and repeating their mantra ‘Very, very strange,’ as they scuttle on into their flats.

Ilya Bilyanov, Safronov’s boss, is more categorical. Safronov was a devoted family man, very protective of his wife and daughter and proud of his son, about to start University. Bilyanov says: ‘He could not have killed himself. He loved his family too much to abandon them.’

For full disclosure, the report was commissioned by the Mail on Sunday. I make no apologies for that, any more than I apologise for appearing on Russia Today. Telling the truth is what matters, irrespective of platform. On the same trip I investigated the killings of half a dozen other individual journalists who had crossed the authorities.

I am fairly sure that today I would not be permitted to go around doing this; walking in to a Moscow police station to ask about such a death, or interviewing passersby in the street and work colleagues, would get me arrested fairly quickly.

I wrote recently about NATO, the western military and the arms industry’s continued interest in exaggerating the strength of the Russian military, and how at the end of the Cold War the new access of British defence attachés led them to find the real capabilities of the Soviet army had been exaggerated on a massive scale. I have repeatedly stated that Russia, with the economy of Italy and Spain, is not a military superpower.

The Safronov case further reinforced my personal knowledge that the Russian military is undermined by massive corruption. I have therefore not been in the least surprised that Russia has had a much harder time subjugating Ukraine than many expected. Some commentators have particularly amused me by claiming that you cannot compare defence spending levels because Russian defence expenditure is more efficient than American. They cited all the corruption in US defence expenditure, such as the famous US$800 toilet seats; as though Russia were not itself spectacularly corrupt.

At just the time of Safronov’s death, Russia brought in as Minister of Defence Anatoly Serdiukov, who made genuine attempts at radical reform and eliminating corruption. This brought him so many enemies he had to be replaced by current defence minister Shoygu, now in power for ten years. Shoygu has adopted a policy of showcasing new weapons systems while not rocking the boat on corruption.

Do not confuse the apparently dazzling achievements at the shiny end of the vast sums of money Russia has pumped in to weapons development, with the day to day business of defence procurement and military supply. Russian hypersonic ballistic missiles may or may not perform as advertised, but more relevant to Ukraine are the creaking vehicles which have not been maintained, the inoperable tyres, the lack of rations, the old fashioned tank armour.

One of the truths about the Ukraine war which western media is suppressing is that, if Russia cannot take on Ukraine without serious embarrassment, then Russia could not possibly take on NATO. It is a ludicrous proposition, outwith full scale nuclear war. It is fascinating to watch the western militarist establishment in full cry, simultaneously crowing over Russian military inadequacies while claiming that the West needs massively to increase the money it pumps in to the military industrial complex because of the Russian threat. The self-evidently fatuous nature of this dual assertion is never pointed out by mainstream media journalists, who currently operate in full propaganda mode.

Another Russian asset has proved as unreliable as its military: Putin’s brain. On 16 December 2021 Ukraine and its US sponsor were not just diplomatically isolated, but diplomatically humiliated. At a vote at the UN General Assembly, the United States and Ukraine were the only two countries to vote against a resolution on “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo‑Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”. They lost by 130 votes to 2, on a motion sponsored by Russia.

The United States, crucially, was split from its European allies and, almost uniquely, from Israel on this vote. Everyone knew that the vote was about Nazis in Ukraine, not least because the United States and Ukraine both said so in their explanation of vote. The entire world was prepared to acknowledge that the neo-Nazis in positions of power and authority in Ukraine, including the anti-semites of the Svoboda party in ministerial office, were a real problem. There was also a general understanding that Ukraine had reneged on the Minsk agreements and that the banning of the Russian language in official, media and educational use was a serious problem.

(I pause to note the US explanation of vote stated that the US constitution prevented it from voting for a motion calling for the banning of pro-Nazi speech, because of US commitment to free speech and the first amendment. It is worth noting that free speech in Biden administration eyes protects Nazis but does not protect Julian Assange. It is also worth contrasting the protection of free speech for Nazis with the de facto banning of Russia Today in the United States.)

The EU abstained on the vote, but all of the above problems were rehearsed in ministerial discussions that reached that decision. You can add to the above that it was universally acknowledged in diplomatic circles that there was no chance of Ukraine (ditto Georgia) being admitted to NATO while Russia occupied parts of Ukraine’s sovereign territory. Given NATO’s mutual defence obligations, to admit Ukraine would be tantamount to entering armed conflict with Russia and it was simply not open to serious consideration.

How Russia might have progressed from this strong diplomatic position we shall never know. There can seldom have been a more catastrophic diplomatic move than Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It can be measured very simply. From winning the proxy vote on Ukraine at the UN General Assembly by 130 votes to 2 on 19 December, Russia plummeted to losing the vote in the same General Assembly demanding immediate Russian withdrawal from Ukraine by 141 votes to 5 on 2 March.

This diplomatic disaster has been matched by military humiliation. Russia is a far larger country than Ukraine and it is pointless to pretend that Russia did not expect the military campaign to proceed better than it has. To claim now post facto that the attack on Kiev was purely a massive diversion never intended to succeed, is a nonsense. Elsewhere achievements are shaky. Capturing cities is different to holding them, and the myth that Russian speaking populations in Eastern Ukraine were eager to join Russia has been plainly exploded by the lack of popular support in occupied areas.

Putin’s heavy handedness has alienated what potential support for Russia existed outside the Russian controlled areas of Donbass. It is hard now to recall that prior to the coup of 2014, political support in Ukraine was balanced for two decades fairly evenly between pro-Western and pro-Russian camps. Both Russia and the West interfered from 1992 to 2014 outrageously in Ukrainian internal politics, each using the full panoply of “soft power” – propaganda, sponsorship, corrupt payments, occasional proxy violence.

Matters were brought to a head in Ukraine when Yanukovich was flown to Moscow and persuaded by Putin to renounce the EU Association Agreement which Ukraine was entering, in favour of a new trade deal with Russia. This evidently was a key moment of political choice, and Putin overplayed his hand as he lost out in the crisis that ensued. That Russian defeat in 2014 may not have been terminal if Putin had not responded militarily by annexing parts of Ukraine. In doing so, he alienated the large majority of Ukrainians of all ethnicities forever – as I stated at the time.

So now Putin can stride the stage as the macho guy who outfoxed the west and used his military to win Crimea for Mother Russia. But it is an extremely hollow victory. He has gained Crimea, but lost the other 95% of the Ukraine, over which one month ago he exercised a massive political influence.

The current invasion of Ukraine has differed from previous incidents like South Ossetia, Abkhazia or even Crimea in that it has been much more extensive, and entailed an attack on the capital, rather than simply occupation of the targeted areas. If Putin had simply massively reinforced Russian forces in the areas controlled by his breakaway “republics”, there would not be anything like the international reaction which has resulted.

One particularly unsavoury aspect of all this – and here we come back to Finland/Russia and the goodies/baddies narrative – is that all the massive problems of Ukraine are now utterly whitewashed by the western political and media class. There was general acceptance previously, albeit reluctantly, that the “Nazi problem” exists. It is now almost universally reviled as a Russian fiction, even though it is undoubtedly true.

Just a year ago, even the Guardian was prepared to admit that President Zelensky is linked to $41 million in dodgy offshore cash holdings and effectively a front for corrupt oligarch Kolomoisky, who looted $5.5 billion from Privatbank. Now, thanks entirely to Putin, Zelensky is viewed universally as a combination of Churchill and St Francis of Assisi, and any criticism of him whatsoever in the West will get you online lynched.

That the United States is becoming a kataskopocracy is witnessed by the willingness of the Biden administration to rip up the First Amendment in order to prosecute Assange under the Espionage Act, because the CIA and FBI demand it. It is also witnessed by the role of the security agencies in suppressing the truth about Hunter Biden and his corrupt links to Ukraine. The Biden laptop was, as I stated at the time and is now admitted even by the New York Times, an entirely genuine inadvertent leak.

You will recall that from when his father was Vice President, Hunter Biden was paid $85,000 a month by Burisma, a Ukrainian power company which Hunter never once visited and for which he did no discernible work. When his laptop was given to the New York Post, revealing salacious sex and drugs evidence and more importantly, blatant peddling of his father’s influence, the entire “respectable” mainstream media rubbished it as a fraud and, remarkably, Twitter and Facebook both suppressed any mention of it as “fake news”. This suppression was advocated by the US security services, contacting the media and the internet gatekeepers at top level, and conducting a public campaign through activating retired agents.

This was the CNN headline:

The Biden laptop was leaked on 14 October 2020, three weeks before voting day in the Presidential election. Its suppression by the mainstream media, Twitter and Facebook, at the behest of the security services, is the biggest illegitimate interference in an election in modern western history.

That the Ukraine is the scene of so much of the corruption of Biden and son, but no criticism of the Ukraine is currently considered legitimate, has made now a very good time for the approved media to admit the banned stories were in fact true, while nobody is listening. We are also even seeing credulous articles on why Nazis are not really bad at all.

A Ukrainian oligarch was the biggest single donor to the Clinton Foundation, and the murky links between the American political establishment and Ukraine are still surfacing; it has plainly been a major honeypot for US politicians. The recent Credit Suisse leak, again sadly curated and censored by mainstream media, revealed Ukrainians as the largest European nationality involved, but the media gave us virtually no details – and those confined to two “coincidentally” pro-Russian Ukrainians out of 1,000 Ukrainian accounts. Whatever information on Ukrainian government linked oligarchs was contained in the Credit Suisse documents is suppressed by those who control them, which in the UK includes the Guardian newspaper and James O’Brien of LBC. In Ukraine the material was shared only with pro-government journalists.

I have been criticised severely on Twitter by those who believe that now, in wartime, it is wrong to say anything bad about Ukraine and we must solely concentrate on Russia’s defeat. To be clear, I hold Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to be not only stupid and vicious but also illegal, and to constitute the war crime of aggression. But we come back precisely to the angels and devils simplicity of looking for “goodies” and “baddies”. The Azov Battalion have not suddenly become less racist or brutal or Nazi-worshipping because they are fighting the Russians.

The real danger is that the heroic resistance to Putin’s invasion – and be in no doubt, it is heroic – will be a massive boost to the right in Ukraine, and the cult of “Glory to the heroes!” will be massively reinforced. The far right had more influence than Zelensky wished before this current invasion, and his ability to control them is limited. His personal standing is much enhanced. He may be a deeply fallible human being, but as a war leader he has been brilliant. He has exploited media to boost the morale of his armed forces and to rally his people, and been very effective in using international public pressure to rally practical support from foreign powers. Those are key skills for a war leader, and if “acting” is one of the skill sets needed, that makes it none the less true.

But I very much doubt the enhanced standing of Zelensky will enable him to counter the right wing nationalist wave that will sweep Ukraine, especially if resistance continues to be effective in containing Russian advances. Certainly measures that were previously decried by liberals, like the Russian language ban, now have wide support. I shall be very surprised if, once the dust has settled, we do not see much worse repression of ethnic Russians under the guise of action against “collaborators”. Far from denazifying Ukraine, Putin has boosted its Nazi problem.

Having damaged my own reputation for sagacity by my over-confidence that Putin would not be foolish enough to launch a full scale invasion, I am reluctant to venture any predictions as to outcome, but the most likely must be a frozen conflict, with Russia in control of rather more territory than before the conflict started. The Kremlin has appeared to backtrack its aims to securing the territory of its newly recognised republics, and still appears intent on seizing as much coastline as possible. Without a credible threat to Kiev, Zelensky has little motive formally to agree a ceasefire on this basis. Eventually we will reach some form of de facto stasis.

Now is a good moment to correct the myth that the population of Donbass is ethnic Russian and wishes to be united with Russia. I will make three points.

The first is that there is a difference between Russian speaking and ethnic Russian, and repeated census returns in Ukraine showed the majority in Donbass to identify as ethnic Ukrainian, though Russian speaking.

Secondly, the ethnic Russians were heavily concentrated in the urban centres and thus much more politically visible than the rural Ukrainian majority, and far quicker politically mobilised. This is precisely what happened in 2014 (and failed with tragic loss of life in Odessa).

The third is that many ethnic Russians have resisted the current invasion, and even Russian media has struggled to find evidence of mass enthusiasm in newly “liberated” areas.

In the western world, Russia has served as not only the evil empire that “justifies” massive arms expenditure, but as the evil genius behind all political developments that threaten the smooth course of neoliberalism.

This was brought to its highest pitch by Hillary Clinton’s ludicrous claims that it was Russian hacking that cost her the 2016 election. It was actually the fact that she was an appalling and arrogant candidate, whom the electorate disliked and black voters did not bother to turn out for in their usual numbers, and that she ignored the voters of rustbelt states and their concerns.

The security services were shocked by Trump’s aversion to starting new wars abroad, his maverick inclination to have his own take on relations with Russia and the Middle East, and his general lack of docility in the face of security service advice. (Much of Trump’s foreign policy was terrible, I am not attempting to say otherwise. But he was not the kind of docile, Obama-like tool the security services were used to).

The security services therefore worked against Trump his entire time in office, from boosting the Russiagate election hacking narrative, despite there being no evidence for it whatsoever, to quiet briefings giving credence to the appalling charlatan Steele’s discredited “peegate” dossier, right through to the suppression of the Biden laptop story. The Mueller inquiry failed to come up with any evidence of collusion between Russia and Wikileaks in hacking the DNC emails, because there was no such collusion.

Neither was there collusion between Wikileaks and Trump. The story the UK security services placed in their house journal the Guardian, on secret meetings between Manafort and Assange, was simply a lie. Throughout his Presidency Trump was subjected to a continual drip, drip, drip of briefings to the media from his own security services that he was, in some way, a secret Russian asset, Putin’s puppet.

The CIA commissioned from UC Global 24 hour secret taping of Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy, including in the bedroom, toilet and kitchen. This included meetings with his lawyers, but also many hours of private conversation with myself, with Kristin Hrafnsson and others. This too came up entirely empty on evidence of Russian collusion. Because there was never any such collusion.

Just as “Russiagate” was an utter nonsense, attempting to use Putin to explain the advent of Trump, so in the UK liberals comforted themselves by attempting to use Putin to explain Brexit. Like Trump, Nigel Farage and Arron Banks “must” be secret Russian agents too. The high priestess of this particular cult belief is Carole Cadwalladr. From having done good work in exposing Cambridge Analytica, which targeted political ads to Tory benefit using personal data which Facebook was greatly at fault in making available on its customers, Cadwalladr allowed the subsequent accolades to go to her head and became the security services’ tool in making ever wilder claims of Russian influence.

Cadwalladr’s task was easy because the UK’s liberal middle class simply could not come to terms with Brexit having happened. They could not understand that vast swathes of the working class were so alienated from society by the effects of unconstrained neo-liberalism, that they were led to grasp at Brexit as a possible remedy. That is not a comforting thought. Instead, Cadwalladr offered the much more digestible notion of Putin as an evil exterior cause.

With right thinking liberals on both sides of the Atlantic appalled by the advent of Trump and Brexit, there was no depth of Russophobe fantasy which figures like Cadwalladr and Steele could not plumb as an explanation and still find a willing audience, without being questioned too hard on actual evidence.

Again, I should be plain. Nations do interfere in each other’s democratic processes to try to get results favourable to themselves. It is a fundamental part of the job of spy services and of diplomats. It is what they are paid to do. I did it myself in Poland, and with quite spectacular success in Ghana in 2000 (read my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo).

No nation interferes in other nation’s elections and political processes on the scale that the United States does, every single day. Today it is trying to get rid of Imran Khan in Pakistan as well as continuing its work against the government in Venezuela, Cuba, Syria and elsewhere. That there was marginal Russian activity I do not doubt, but not on any grand or unusual scale or with any particularly striking effect. And not involving Wikileaks.

One consequence of the invasion of Ukraine is that every mad Russophobe narrative of the past decade is now, in the public mind, vindicated. Including the remarkably unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Skripal and Navalny. It is now impossible to claim that there is any evil for which Russia is not responsible, without suffering a deluge of online hostility and ridicule. The western military industrial complex, NATO and the Western security services have all been enormously strengthened in their domestic position and control of popular opinion by Putin’s mad invasion.

There are aspects of Putin’s foreign policy which I have supported, and still do. Having inadvertently installed a pro-Iranian Shia regime in Iraq, the West sought to appease its Gulf and Israeli allies and “restore the balance” by replacing the Shia-friendly Assad regime by hardline ISIS and Al-Qaida linked jihadists. This may have been the most stupid foreign policy move in recent history, and thank goodness Putin sent troops into Syria to thwart it. On a more standard diplomatic level, Russia has played a pivotal and entirely commendable role in trying to end the isolation of Iran in nuclear agreement talks.

But I have always consistently opposed Putin’s invasions in the post-Soviet space, including the brutal destruction of Chechnya that brought Putin to power. I support Dagestani and Chechen independence, and have written consistent articles pointing out that Russia remains an Empire, with most of its territory not ethnic Russian and acquired contemporaneously with the conquests of the British Empire. I have consistently called for stronger and more effective sanctions, in response to the occupation of South Ossetia in 2008 and of Crimea in 2014. In 2008 I warned explicitly that the lack of a firm sanctions response to Putin’s aggression would lead eventually to war in Eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s actions are illegal but the US and UK, who launched an equally illegal and much more devastating invasion of Iraq, are ill-placed to be outraged. A de facto Russia annexation of South Ossetia must not be permitted, unless we eventually want a war of Eastern Ukraine.
NATO is part of the cause of the problem, not the solution. By encircling and humiliating Russia, NATO has created the climate in Russia so favourable to Putin.

That last sentence remains a key observation. It is the West’s unremitting hostility to Russia which has caused a Russian nationalist reaction and sustained Putin in power. The West’s military industrial complex needed an enemy, and had Russia developed in a more liberal direction it would have been a disaster for the militarists. So instead of working to plot a path for Russia into the European Union, it was forced to sit in the corner with a hat on saying “designated enemy”, while NATO continually expanded. That is the tragedy of the last three decades.

All of which ignores the fact that China is now the most dominant economic force in the world, and is probably the most dominant military force in the world, although Chinese wisdom in not recently deploying its military might on imperial adventures contrasts sharply with the United States. I am not sure when I last bought anything which was not made in China – including, to my amazement, our second hand Volvo. All this Russia/NATO antagonism will scarcely rate a footnote by mid-century.

I want to conclude with a plea for complex thought. I want to go back to the Finns and Russians at the start of this story, and the truth that “goodies” and “baddies” is not a helpful diagnostic tool for international relations. These things can be true at the same time:

a) The Russian invasion of Ukraine is illegal: Putin is a war criminal
b) The US led invasion of Iraq was illegal: Blair and Bush are war criminals

a) Russian troops are looting, raping and shelling civilian areas
b) Ukraine has Nazis entrenched in the military and in government and commits atrocities against Russians

a) Zelensky is an excellent war leader
b) Zelensky is corrupt and an oligarch puppet

a) Russian subjugation of Chechnya was brutal and a disproportionate response to an Independence movement
b) Russian intervention in Syria saved the Middle East from an ISIS controlled jihadist state

a) Russia is extremely corrupt with a very poor human rights record
b) Western security service narratives such as “Russiagate” and “Skripals” are highly suspect, politically motivated and unevidenced.

a) NATO expansion is unnecessary, threatening to Russia and benefits nobody but the military industrial complex
b) The Russian military industrial complex is equally powerful in its own polity as is Russian nationalism

I could go on, but you get the point. I hold all those points to be true. The media and political class in the UK will trumpet a) and vehemently deny b). Many in the anti-war movement will trumpet b) and vehemently deny a). None of these people have any actual principles. They are simply choosing a side, choosing their “goodies” and “baddies”, their black hats and white hats. It is no more an ethical choice than supporting a football team.

One final thought on the tone of the coverage of the war both of the media and of supporters of the official western line on social media. Though affecting to be sickened by the atrocities of war, their tone is not of sorrow or devastation, it is triumphalist and jubilant. The amount of war porn and glorying in war is worrying. The mood of the British nation is atavistic. Russians living here are forced on a daily basis to declare antagonism to their own people and homeland.

I have had great difficulty in writing this piece – I have worked on it some three weeks, and the reason is a deep sadness which this unnecessary war has caused me. In the course of my typing any paragraph, somebody has probably been killed or seriously injured in Ukraine, of whatever background. They had a mother and others who loved them. There is no triumph in violent death.


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1,387 thoughts on “Striving to Make Sense of the Ukraine War

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      • Rhys Jaggar

        Sometimes those with less intimate experience of these matters will find bite-sized chunks more palatable?

        I found this one of your very best blogs, so don’t be embarrassed about it.

      • Robert Dyson

        I look forward to the finished piece.
        “You do realise she’s Jewish, don’t you?” resonates, painful. Presumably educated ‘nice’ people.
        Lack of nuance and open debate seems for now gone, even in science. It’s like snakes and ladders, we seem to progress for a while then slide back again.

        • Steve

          Robert, the Asov battalion and its fellow travellers are not “neo Nazis”, they are the genuine dyed in the wool article. Complete with the same demagoguery, including calling the people of the Donbas “untermenschen” and threatening their extermination. They are horrible people.

      • George Porter

        I can see why writing it was a struggle. I am even more impressed by the finished article.

        I am mostly not reading the war porn, but it is hard to escape the view that the Russian invasion has been carried out with great brutality. Why?

        • Fran

          Don’t you think this is what war is? Imagine the shock and awe of Iraq. We only saw it on our screens as a great fireworks display over Baghdad, because this was the war of our ally. We didn’t get to see the horrific impact on tender human flesh. This war is the war of our enemy, so we’ll get to see it up close, so that we all know what a monster, how uniquely evil our enemy is. It’s why he’s our enemy of course.
          Raqqa and Mosul were brutal, Fallujah was brutal, the bombing from the air of Serbia for 78 days straight was brutal .

          • George Porter

            You are right of course. But destroying Mariupol before taking it looks to be counter-productive, as does most of the death and destruction, even from an imagined Putin viewpoint.

    • Philip Espin

      A real journalistic tour de force compared to anything I have read over the last 6 weeks. Great to see you channeling Robert Fisk too, with those reminiscences of the impact of war from your own family background. The issues are indeed complex and it is sickening to see the propaganda spouted by many of our politicians and most of our press.

      My sympathy for all the people suffering from the clash between multiple corrupt regimes. At least there are still some honest journalists, like you Craig who will not shy from telling it as they see it, rather than how they are paid to see it.

  • Chris Watkins

    A very interesting and thoughtful piece.

    I disagree with you about Scottish independence, but I am pleased to be a subscriber.

    The faux outrage about Russian interference in our elections has been laughable, and you are one of the very few people – astonishingly few – who consistently point this out.

    You are also one of the very few people pointing out that the results so far in this war mean that Russia is highly unlikely to attack NATO….unless our response should put them in a position they find impossible.

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, which I will re-read, perhaps several times.

  • marcel

    Thank you Craig for sharing your thoughts. While I might not agree with everything (but it is more a difference in degree than a difference in kind), I particularly appreciated your lists of things that can be true at the same time.
    A voice of sanity in the craziness that kills people everywhere.

  • Xavi

    Very refreshing to a see a writer striving to be entirely honest about this conflict, acknowledging the many nuances and complexities. Thank you so much.

    I was surprised though not to see any reference to the metanarrative behind the relentless American prodding of the Bear: namely their refusal to rest until they have installed another Yeltsin in the Kremlin and restored complete US control of Russia and its natural resources. This disastrous invasion they have lured Russia into is simply the latest staging post in a quest to return that country to its condition in the 1990s. I do not believe NATO expansion has all been about further enriching the bombmakers.

    • Eva Smagacz

      I agree about relentless prodding of the Bear, but I do not believe that there is a singularity of purpose behind that prodding. Coup in Kremlin would not really help: the Russia resources are in currently in hands of oligarchs, and therefore (till sanctions kicked in) freely available on international markets. Russia having pro-western government would be a disaster for Military Industrial business interests. All that was worth looting, has been looted on industrial scale by anybody who had access to the line of credit (the great sell-off of Russia under Yeltsin to predominantly jewish businessmen was due to fact that they had access to Israeli banking and western banking – including access to credit, that was unattainable to ordinary Russians).
      On one hand, Russia that has no industries to speak off, and population so poor that there is no internal market for raw materials, such Russia is guaranteed to export all raw materials by necessity. Conflicts on peripheries of Russia, and sanctions, are especially helpful with that regard. With cheap raw materials thus available, but with hostile government still in Kremlin, Military Industrial complex can bleed western taxpayers dry with boogy man stories of Russia military might.

      • MrShigemitsu

        “the Russia resources are in currently in hands of oligarchs, and therefore (till sanctions kicked in) freely available on international markets.”

        But, for the West, why pay retail when you could buy wholesale – or, even better, just help yourself?

        A most astute and informative article by Mr Murray.

  • conjunction

    Thanks Craig, this is very helpful, for me personally especially in what you have said about Nazism and corruption within Ukraine. I also very much like your closing coda about paradoxical truths.

    Incidentally I would be very interested to hear your views in the unlikely event you had time to explore them on the situation vis-à-vis Imran Khan especially how the US might be trying to get rid of him. All I know is that the press has saying he has lost the support of the army and of course that is crucial in Pakistan and has been for decades.

    Thanks again.

    • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

      I, too, had been hoping to hear Craig’s take on Imran Khan’s pre-emptive move and am sure that he will be very well informed on how things are developing. Certainly not advisable for Imran to take a plane at this time, but could encourage a perception of common interest with India.
      (Also high time to change my moniker, if allowed, especially after reading this well-balanced article.)

      [ Mod: Yes, you can change your moniker, but kindly retain the same email address if so. ]

    • Jon Musgrave

      Interesting that comparison of voting in recent elections in Ukraine and Russia gave a total of approx 2% far-right votes in Ukraine and approx 7-8% far-right votes in Russia. Maybe an investigation into far-right/nazism in Russia would be interesting?

  • John Kinsella

    Wrt the sentence “Ukraine has Nazis entrenched in the military and in government and commits atrocities against Russians” in CM’s piece, who exactly are the Nazis spoken of?

    The Azov Brigade/Battalion? Do we know that some/all of them are Nazis?

    Government members are Nazis? Who?

  • Tom Warwick

    [ MOD : Caught in spam-filter]

    Mostly a good, well-considered piece by Craig. Of course, he has his own narrative framework which reflects his support of Wikileaks/Assange and his obvious hostility to people like Carole Cadwalladr and critics of Assange. On some details and ignored matters, it’s worth comparing his account with those from, say, journalist Marcy Wheeler (“Emptywheel” on Twitter). That’s where contradictions and omissions in Craig’s account become apparent.

    Craig writes, “Neither was there collusion between Wikileaks and Trump” – which was true in the end, but not for want of trying by Wikileaks. It’s funny how people forget this:

    On the whole, though, a good corrective to the more sweeping manifestations of Russophobia.

  • Eva Smagacz

    This is such relief to find an english language writing that does not shy from complexities surrounding Russia/Ukraine/UK/EU/USA conflict and the current war in Ukraine. Like Covid19 mono-truth narrative, and the 9/11 mono-truth before that, the corporate mass and social media are flooding the internet with singular take on a complex problem.
    Having been on receiving end of propaganda in my formative years (I was born in Poland), and simultaneously exposed to “politically incorrect” viewpoint via family links and dissident circles, I am quite skilled in smelling the b****shit a mile off.
    Most public has no such defences, and the propaganda is not even subtle anymore. I have heard disdain about views and wishes of ignorant general public (aka voters) in Bruxelles as much as in London. Western Neoliberal elites truly believe that they are the best equipped, intellectually and ethically, to govern little ignorant people. Neoconservative elites truly believe that they are best equipped, by being both cogent and deserving, to rule little ignorant people.
    Both share ideology that they are strivers, while everybody else is slackers (poor loyalty to collective versus poor work ethic, respectively). And both share ideology that centralised benevolent authoritarian governance is the answer to every malady of our age.
    This ideology necessitates deliberate shrinking of marketplace of ideas, as it is an obstacle to dominance of current proscribed narrative.
    We need to remember that 71% of Ukrainian agriculture is in hands of transnational corporations and most of the rest of the country is owned by oligarchs. This is war is about which oligarchs – eastern or western – will get greatest spoils.
    As an aside, let me point out that the foundation of BioSecurity apparatus in the last two years put in place legal means of isolating individuals from each other, thus closing the oldest way of exchanging ideas and gathering information: person to person oral communication, in the places where people gather together.

  • M biyd

    I dont agree that Kiev was a principal target. The Russian main area of attack is the Black Sea and principally Mariupol which provided Crimea with its fresh water supply until the Ukrainians cut it off and which has a potentially huge steel production complex.

    The utter folly was allowing the US goal of preventing European economic independence from the US to come to fruition by killing Nord Stream 2. I think the US and her Ukrainian puppet stoked up the Russians and inveigled a new inexperienced German government to walk into the trap along with Putin.

    • Jimmeh

      > I dont agree that Kiev was a principal target.

      I do.

      Putin has stated and written, over many years, that Ukraine is not a thing, and that Ukrainians are not a people. Apart from his transparent denials that he was about to invade (and it’s not customary to pre-announce an invasion), his statements about his intentions have generally turned out to be true.

      He’s written extensively about his admiration for the “steppe people”, their spirit and hardiness. The steppe people’s way of warfare was to advance on a *very* broad front, with the flanks advancing faster than the centre, to form a crescent, whose horns eventually join to form an encirclement. Russia advanced on Ukraine from the south, east and north. It seems fairly clear that he was attempting an encirclement of the entire nation. The attack on Kiev was not a feint or a distraction; otherwise he would not have allowed it to destroy so much of his men and materiel.

      I think his romantic attachment to the “steppe people” and the empire of Peter The Great will be his undoing. He is now trying to pivot to reinforcing the “independent republics” in the east; but that is going to be much harder, now he has united the Ukrainian people against Russia.

    • Squeeth

      @M Byrd what if it wasn’t a trap but the maturing of a Russo-Chinese policy of preparing their countries for the consequences of defying American Caesar? The Russian alliance with Syria defeated the Great Satan in his Oilstan back yard and now he’s being defeated in Russia’s back yard. I think that the Russians had the war in the bag within 24 hours, all that’s happened since is aftermath.

    • Tatyana

      “main area of attack is the Black Sea and principally Mariupol which provided Crimea with its fresh water supply”

      That’s why I normally don’t like foreigners giving their opinions on my region 🙂
      Have you ever seen a thing called ‘a map’? You’d be excited to find out Mariupol and Azov sea on it.

      • jrkrideau

        I am in Canada and heard a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reporter in Lvov say the same thing. Could the CBC not at least give him a map?

        I also notice that all (almost all?) CBC reporters report from Lvov. The other day a reporter was describing the situation that day in Kiev that day and signed off as “Jane Doe, Lviv”. Why do I not think she had just dropped over to Kiev for the day? Sheesh. In fact, as far as I can tell, CBC reporters never leave Lvov.

        Liz Truss, the UK Foreign Secretary, probably thinks Vladivostok is on the White Sea.

  • Vivian O’Blivion

    A wee bitty too ambitious perhaps.
    Yes, it’s necessary to consider history and the myriad of competing interests when assessing Ukraine.
    All the individual points in the essay are difficult to fault but the whole is difficult to digest for a limited mind like mine.

    The initial point, that our personal experience impacts our processing of the present.
    I have an instinctive sympathy with non-Ukrainian folk within the borders of what is now the Ukrainian state but was drawn up as an administrative block of the Soviet Union. That these non-Ukrainian folk, post 2014, face cultural oppression from Ukrainian nationalists fascists, is easier for me to appreciate than some readers.
    A primary school pupil in the early 70s, I was given the belt for using Scots. Yes, as a wee bairn, I was beaten with a leather strap for speaking my ain language.
    Imagine if an extreme English nationalist (ok, more extreme English nationalist) government in Westminster started changing all our maps and road signs so our locks became lakes and our straths and glens became valleys. That is in effect what was happening in Ukraine. Whether Zelensky wishes to mitigate the growing tide of xenophobic, Ukrainian nationalism is moot, he is impotent to restrain it.
    My sympathies to folk of all ethnicities within the borders of Ukraine, but the government in Kyiv can go hang.

  • ET

    “A Ukrainian oligarch was the biggest single donot to the Clinton Foundation,”…………….presumably donor.
    Or perhaps you did mean donut 😀
    I had to look up what “kataskopocracy” meant and got only four references on a google search only one of which was useful. Might I suggest you include a definition of what kataskopocracy is? Does “rule of spies” sufficiently explain it?

    Thanks for the article. It goes some way to address the dilemma of being against both Russian agression and NATO/USA/UK/EU provocation,not that it ought to be a dilemma in the first place. Personally, I am still all at sea with what I think of the whole thing. I do however think that the ensuing enery crisis had disadvantaged EU/UK more than it has USA. I wonder how that will play out as times moves on and whether that was anticipated by USA. Despite how the EU and UK appear to be USA vassal states now I wonder if they will, at some point, begin to diverge from USA leadership because of differing interests in regard to energy supply.

    • craig Post author

      I am disappointed you found it on google. I thought I was manufacturing it from the Greek. I was expecting people to enjoy working it out.

    • Rosemary MacKenzie

      I also looked up the term – can’t reproduce it without it in front of me – and found what you found. Also found Craig’s article picked up by a publication called Russia News Now. This is a new one on me but I’ll add it to my Russia list. I still have little clue what the term means. There is an economist who considers Russia a kleptocracy which it probably is, along with almost every other nation on earth. The future for the planet becomes sadder and sadder.

  • pete

    Craig thanks for this amazing assessment of the Ukraine conflict and its background, it makes the piss-poor efforts of the mainstream news outlets look shabby and sordid by comparison. It reminds us that the only rational way forward in this matter is by negotiation. Jaw, jaw, not war, war.

  • Patsy Millar

    Thank you for the effort you have put into this piece. I shall be reading it several times to get full understanding. I just wish the MSM would do more to really explain the situation.

  • T

    I agree history has been well in reverse in the West for some time now, heading as you say more towards Putin’s Tsarist-type Russia than building upon the social democratic golden age. Sham democracies ever more completely controlled by the richest. Systematic suppression of democratic and journalistic dissent.

    When elite British journalists and politicians declaim about Our Values, Our System what are they even referring to anymore? It can be judged very quickly from 1) their principle idols Blair and Obama .. two amoral, self-serving puppets and empty vessels. And 2) their horror and revulsion at Corbyn’s values of peace and social justice, and the shameless depths they plumbed in order to strangle the prospect of genuine democracy in Britain. 

    That’s why it’s impossible for anyone who’s paid cursory attention to these foghorns to believe they genuinely care about “The Ukrainian People”; any more than they did about the Iraqi, Afghan, Libyan, Syrian, Yemeni, Uighur, Cuban, Venezuelan People. Their waving of the human rights flag is so fleeting and self-interested that it is now actually toe curling to behold. And here in 2022 they are suddenly wrapping themselves in the antiwar flag, having endlessly demonized and smeared the antiwar left. Highly selective compassion and outrage that barely conceals their revanchist neoimperialist chauvinism. 

  • John O'Dowd

    This is a brilliant and very important piece of writing. It must be widely read and digested by those who really want to understand (in all its complexity) what is going on.

    (The underlying forces that have pushed a particular agenda for over a century of effort to control Eurasia are even more mind-boggling and complex – but that is for another day.)

    I have only one major point of disagreement – and it is with this sentence:

    “The mood of the British nation is atavistic. Russians living here are forced on a daily basis to declare antagonism to their own people and homeland.”

    There really is no such thing as the “British nation”. The term is an invention to disguise the fact that the British state is actually the English state – with other parts of the main island and archipelago held as English possessions.

    Like most Scots I do not consider myself in any way to be “British” – and I abhor the usual and very predictable gungho jingoism that accompanies English interests in foreign wars.

  • DunGroanin

    Worth waiting for those thoughts. Thank you CM.

    Critical Thinking at its best.

    I expect its nuance will be rejected by many media commentators and btl.

    I personally may not get it all either ? to wit:

    Regarding Ukrainian culpability in the final solution – I understand that 1.5 million of the purported 6 million of the Holocaust – a full quarter came from the Ukraine. Is that not so?
    Presumably that’s not including the 30,000’s mass murder of Baba Yar in the first days of Ukrainian nazism.

    Regarding the attack by ‘Putin’, surely that is not a decision he could force if the Generals and others were not agreed of its necessity. Is it not obvious that there was an attack formulated, with nato oversight, training, command and advanced weapons and special forces to ‘retake’ the breakaway regions? From what I have gathered such plans existed as did the troop build up – 400k is the upper numbers, if so surely with Russian collaborators these plans would have been known to the Kremlin?

    The Riot acts, were therefore issued requiring nato and the Ukrainians to provide the assurances and finally push Minsk into effect. They weren’t. The UN vote on nazism also forced the hands of the US never mind the Ukrainians. Should Russia have waited until the 8 year daily assault on the breakaway regions was launched before they responded and were facing that assault on just that well prepared front?
    Zelensky is an actor and claims to be Jewish but happily did Sieg Heils as part of his ‘entertainment’.
    Cadwalladr and co were interested in the active parcelling up of Russia from the beginning of her career – she used to post photos of herself in Moscow.
    Farage did harangue the EU Parliament back before his BrexShittery, about how they were standing by as Ukraine was being attacked! There is video of it. Perplexing as it seems.

    China: there is no way in my opinion – as the two nations being the powerful centres of the Shanghai Cooperative Organisation with enhanced treaties recently signed – no way that the Russian preemptive attack was not agreed by Xi. It happened after the face-to-face meeting.

    Let’s not forget the Kazakh Color regime change in January! Which was dealt with most efficiently within days. Powell, MI6, Levy …the Greenmantles galloping ever eastward repelled.

    Yes nato could be superior to Russian forces, probably was, but given that the Ukrainian forces are proxies of nato, regarding training, equipment and clandestine forces running the show it seems that the numerically equivalent force deployed by Russia has at least matched these proxies?

    I don’t know why anybody would have expected Russia to takeover a country the size of Ukraine – especially when they would have never accepted being controlled by the Russians; the soviet Red army force was a million men against 600k Axis, I understand, and neither side had precision missiles and such stand off weapons as today. The only people hoping for that are these who would have loved to see Russia Extended there and to disrupt the SCO and BRI which are changing the world into a non western imperial direction after centuries.

    My worries over Chernobyl not being maintained were addressed immediately. No stupid accident allowed which would devastate all of Europe if allowed with radiation poisoning. It was bad enough initially.

    The Dolla , IMF, World Bank, BIS hegemony is the major belligerent against the SCO – and whilst they may survive it is will be as in China centuries ago by withdrawing from the rest of the world to a mythical West. The replacement financial system is well on its way and will be implemented sooner than most May believe.

    The denizens of that fairy West. with us and our children, being cut off from that whole world in pursuit of at what seems a xenophobic future of white people against that RoW. To bide the time until being able to re-emerge in the future to yet again take on the burden of leading ‘Civilisation’.

    Hitler and Stalin and Mussolini and the despot kings of western imperialists have always claimed good and bad historical reputations. As does Putin, Xi and nato and the 800 US bases around the planet and now off-planet too!
    I have asked people to consider the time travel thought experiment usually alluded to but with Stalin and Hitler being in the room as we materialise into their meeting with a single bullet – which of the 3 brains in that room would that projectile be the best for the future of all humanity?

    I don’t want a future where we are walled off from 7 eights of that humanity. Even if it means that we are reducing our carbon foot prints quite drastically because of it!

    Feel free to shoot me down about any of the above – I am not an expert.

    • Jon Musgrave

      I think you’re mistaken about Babi Yar being undertaken by “Ukrainian nazism” – it was led and undertaken by the German Nazis – they may have used some local militias but it is very unlikely to have happened without the German invasion.

  • Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett

    There is of course a wider and deeper historical context to the current war.
    However, in a contemporary context ( by which I mean going back eight years) there seems to have been a catalyst with regards to a ‘civil war’. Direct discrimination and attacks upon the Russian speaking population concentrated in the Donbass region has much to say for the war as launched.
    I hasten to add, by reference to the UN Charter Article 2 (4) that in making my observation as I have done, I am not contending that the Russian invasion is legal.

  • Charlie Evett

    What a remarkable, thoughtful piece. Thank you so much for writing it. I wish we had American journalists with your insight and integrity.

  • Allan L

    That’s an excellent piece Craig, thank you for posting. When the quickly hushed up stories of racism at the borders of Ukraine in the early days of the war emerged, it was clear that there was more to understand about the culture within. For you to shine some light on that is not a justification for Putin’s aggression but good Journalism. Nor is it saying Ukrainians are racist.

    One thing I’ve been meaning to ask and now is maybe as good a time as any. What was Farage doing visiting Assange in the Ecuadorean embassy a while back? I know it’s slightly off piste from the topic of your piece, but it crops up now and again when the Trump-Farage-Banks-Putin theories emerge.

  • Peter


    Thank you very much for this piece. It is very valuable in terms of stimulating and encouraging careful and thorough consideration of both/all sides of this conflict.

    However, respectfully, I have to say I’m astonished at the gaping hole (except for a couple of sentences in your 6th last paragraph about the US MIC) you have left in your analysis where America should be.

    This is most surely a war that was engineered in Washington, not in Moscow.

    Washington knew full well that extending Nato into Ukraine would provoke a Russian military response. Arnaud Bertrand’s Twitter thread – – very usefully lists many of the high profile US politicians, statesmen and academics who warned against it. Even Henry Kissinger warned against it in an extended piece for the Washington Post – . The Americans new exactly what they were doing in provoking Russia.

    The illegal, CIA supported coup of 2014 paved the way for an American puppet government. Famously, “f**k the EU” said Victoria Nuland, as she discussed who Washington should accept as the ‘leader’ of Ukraine.

    We now also know that Zelensky was told by America that he would not get Nato membership but, even as he campaigned for it, was forbade from saying so in order to maintain the provocation.

    Further, the ensuing, breathtaking, unprecedented programmes of propaganda and full scale economic warfare against Russia have to have been long in the making.

    Further still, the flooding of Ukraine with billions upon billions of dollars worth of weaponry was/is clear evidence of what was being prepared.

    America wants rid of Putin, not because of his undemocratic practices, but because he is the staunchly independent leader of a staunchly independent country that refuses to bow to US diktats and also just happens to sit on a rich reserve of natural resources. There are many commentators pointing out that America wants Putin gone and Russia balkanised so that it can be more easily controlled and exploited.

    The removal of Putin is the primary aim of this war and the creation of an Afghan-style quagmire is the primary means of seeking to achieve it.

    The war could have been very simply avoided by the negotiation and agreement of a security and defence arrangement that was acceptable to all. The Minsk agreements – which Ukraine refused to abide by – were very close to providing this and as we also now know European leaders were working very hard to bring this about. Just days before the invasion Olaf Scholz tried hard to get Zelensky to accept a role of neutrality. Yet even though he knew Nato membership was not on offer he refused – – almost certainly under US orders, thereby maintaining the provocation and the inevitability of war. Some leader.

    The rejection of this simple solution, after eight years of negotiation; understanding of the inevitable consequences; and the subsequent programmes of propaganda and economic warfare are clear indicators of where the origins of this war lie.

    They lie with a unipolar, globally dominating superpower, unable to accept that a multipolar world is rising, and that is determined to maintain its unipolar position whatever it takes, regardless of the cost in human lives, death and destruction – as we have seen frequently in recent years.

    • Courtenay Francis Raymond Barnett


      I have discussed with friends my economic and legal assessment of events in Ukraine. Sometimes I express my economic assessment by reference to US deficit – almost 50% of the entire US budget being defence spending – and of course the elephant in the room which is that China is the largest creditor nation while America is the largest debtor nation funded by bonds – treasury bills and the like – underpinned by the US dollar being the world’s reserve currency. The legal answer is easy for me – UN Charter Article 2(4).

      But, while I think I may have some legal ability – let me leave the big economic question to a truly respected and accomplished economist:-

    • karl

      Great comment !
      I would not have bothered to make mine had I seen yours as you make all the key points only more eloqently.
      I am proud to have been and to continue to be a financial and moral supporter of Craig and will continue to be so in spite of our differences on Russia/Ukraine.
      At the same time I must say I am disappointed by Craig’s lack of objectivity here.
      I seem to recall some discussion on twitter where he was unaware of how many Ukrainians had been killed in the Donbas. For someone of his intellect and stature, I found it shocking that he would not know this fact and it is hard not to conclude that his understanding of Ukraine is mostly sourced from the Western corporate media.

      • britzklieg

        This comment was originally far more extensive, yes?
        I am disappointed to find it edited now and believe you made several important points.

        [ Mod: Actually, the logs show that the comment hasn’t been edited at all. Perhaps you’re looking for this one? ]

    • Lysias

      I believe Zelensky was put up to indicating Ukraine wanted nuclear weapons by the Americans. When he said as much at the Munich Security Conference on Feb. 19, Kamala Harris was in attendance. Having so far failed to provoke Putin into attacking, they thought this would be the last straw for Putin. And it was. The attack came five days later.

  • Ewan

    The comments here on the military campaign are based on what military training & expertise or information? A certain humility is in order. Seek out military men. Serving officers will be no better than the MSM, just with more medals on their chest when interviewed on TV. Likewise retired military men paid by the MSM or government. Retired & not beholden to power are more likely to give a fair & professional assessment. Those I have come across give a very different version.

    • Jimmeh

      > Seek out military men.

      Pundits who are “military men” (including retired) give a very one-dimensional view of geopolitical situations. They are usually fighting “the last war”, in this case the Cold War. They are pro-NATO and anti-Russia, and they assume that’s the consensus. And they tend to be a bit dim and unimaginative, IME.

      I find military historians much more interesting than ex-generals.

      • Ewan

        I would suggest you listen to Douglas Macgregor & Scott Ritter, for starters. There are also former CIA men like Larry Johnson & Philip Giraldi. They are all old-school Republicans, or further to the right, but they all know their stuff. Scott Ritter did a very useful thread on war of manoeuvre a few days ago. There are also former diplomats and intelligence analysts etc.

  • RodgerDodger

    A huge, thorough and well-argued piece. It must have taken much effort – thanks for writing it. May peace come as soon as possible.

  • karl

    “How Russia might have progressed from this strong diplomatic position we shall never know.”

    I’ll take a stab at that one. UN general assembly votes are meaningless and are routinely ignored by the permanent members of the Security Council. So this putative “strong diplomatic position” carried no weight whatsoever.
    One major omission from Craig’s piece is any mention of the disdainful rebuffing of Russia’s demands for security guarantees prior to the invasion. This was the clear opportunity to settle the dispute diplomatically on the basis of implementing the Minsk accords and guaranteeing Ukraine’s non NATO membership. If, as Craig claims, NATO membership was never a prospect, and further given that the Minsk accords were co-sponsored by France and Germany then surely NATO/the West could have acceded to these key demands from Russia?
    In reality, what would have happened had Russia not invaded Ukraine is a continuation of the daily murder of Dobas residents by Ukrainian forces, a continuation of the de facto NATOisation of Ukraine, up to and including the probable placement of offensive nuclear capable missiles on its territory, the ongoing and increasing attacks on ethnic Russians and Russian speakers within Ukraine, and the eventual attempt by Ukraine to retake Crimea and the Donbas by force with the full support of the West/NATO.
    Try as Craig might to be balanced I’m afraid, for me at least, his Russophobia comes through regardless. To take one prominent example; the ubiquitous fronting of all things Russian with ‘Putin’ perfectly echoes the Western imperialist playbook of reducing states to the whims of their ‘dictators’. Russia has clear geo political interests as do all states, and these interests do not depend on the current political leadership but rather the latter are a reflection of them. Depicting Putin as some aberration, some mad dictator hell bent on dominating his neighbours, implicitly and explicitly encourages the view that were it not for Putin this war would never have happened when in fact Putin is actually moderate in the spectrum of the Russian political landscape.
    A limited military operation in the Donbas by Russia would have solved nothing as the West would have poured weapons into Ukraine, sanctioned Russia anyway, and the ensuing war would never have ended whereas for this one at least that possibility exists.
    A few more omissions: the withdrawal by the U.S. from key nuclear arms control agreements, the siting of nuclear capable missiles in Rumania and Poland, the never ending economic and information warfare conducted against Russia through ever increasing sanctions and other attempts to undermine it, the full spectrum vilification of Russia, Putin, and all things Russian by the Western corporate and state media for the last couple of decades , the key role of the Russiagate fabrication in the same, the reneging on commitments not to expand NATO to after the fall of the Soviet Union, the complete abrogation of France and Germany’s responsibility to pressurise Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements, the blackout on objective reporting of the war in the Donbas, and the hypocritical support for an independent Chechnya but the failure to acknowledge the Crimea referendum, and the probable majority of Donbas residents who support independence or joining the RF.
    Zelensky as an ‘excellent war leader’. I would suggest an honest attempt to untangle the Western corporate and state media propagandast depiction of Z from the reality on the ground. There is no indication as far as I am aware that Zelensky has made any substantive military decisions or that Ukraine has had any significant military successes against the invading forces. I daresay whoever were in charge in the Ukraine would have become an ‘excellent war leader’ as nothing less would serve the interests of the Western corpo military industrial complex.

    Finally, Craig’s comments on the military situation are interesting. I trust he has some independent sources which confirm that Russia has been wantonly attacking civilian targets in Ukraine, that Russia expected a quick military victory etc. It is widely accepted that the Azov etc. have been using human shields so the inevitability of civilians being killed as so called collateral damage but that is quite different from intentionally targeting them.

    • Martinned

      One major omission from Craig’s piece is any mention of the disdainful rebuffing of Russia’s demands for security guarantees prior to the invasion.

      Why does Russia need security guarantees beyond the general rules of international law? The only country in Europe that’s invaded another country in Europe this century is Russia. The countries that need security guarantees are Russia’s neighbours.

      • Ewan

        If someone as aggressive as the US planned to put missiles next door would you be happy to rely on the international law the US repeatedly breaks? If the missiles were to be placed in a state already chock full of US weaponry & run by aggressive racists who like killing Russians who were preparing an assault on the Donbas would you be minded to respect that state’s security or your own & the safety of your kin? Surely it’s not as clear cut as you say?

        • Martinned

          If you’re not interested in a reality-based discussion, I really don’t know how to help you. But to take the obvious one, WTF have you been smoking if you think that the US might launch an invasion of Russia from, say, Estonia?

          • Ewan

            Oh, my! You will know that to defend itself from Iran (sic) the US put missile-defence systems in Romania & Poland (I think) that can without detection be converted to offensive nuclear missiles, flight-time to Moscow 10 minutes. Installed in Ukraine, flight-time 5 minutes (too short a time for response). Ukraine is already incorporated into the NATO military. Why Poland & Romania, but not Ukraine? The US considered Soviet missiles in Cuba cause for nuclear war. Why should Russia be happy with US missiles on its borders? (I don’t think whatever the Joint Chiefs were smoking caused them to believe the Soviets might launch an invasion of the US of A from Cuba.)

      • DunGroanin

        You do know BrexShit was all about Europeans invading likllewikkleplucky Britain, until we sent them all home!

        What exactly would be the need for Russia to invade Europe? They have plenty of land and resources and hardly the population density that has ANY pressures to go west! It seems s simple propaganda bullshit. If they felt threatened that the Europeans on their West had designs upon all the Russian riches – well they are surely justified in defensive measures against that.

        I also suggest inherent racism in selectively not counting the many areas just outside of Europe that nato and Brits have active military presence and supplying weapons, training ,command and control and daily culpability from Whitehall.

        Yemen is the current greatest crime by ourselves. We destroyed the MENA. Africa has been ravaged for centuries as has Asia and South America.

        Using the crass parameter setting of Europe and this century is about as newly mouthed excuse as would come out a naughty child caught red handed trying to avoid blame.

        Utterly outrageous. Russophobic and plain racist – do you think it ok to have some such good friends and family, even fascist and Nazis as long as they are only a minority?

      • Lysias

        The Western powers have shown how little attention they pay to international law. It offers no protection to a country like Russia.

      • Steve

        “International law” is not respected by the USA or, by default, NATO or the EU. Blinken was schooled by the Chinese when he stated that China was ignoring the “rules based system” America’s rules of course. The Chinese said clearly that they obey laws, not rules.

    • Dee Drake

      Thank you, Karl, for so eloquently pointing out some of the most telling omissions in Craig’s argument. As for providing us with his personal background, all of us post-WWII babies in the West were nurtured on a steady diet of Russophobia. But some of us have chosen to look to the east and the global south and listen their experience to gain a much needed perspective on Eurocentrism and its barbarity.

      • Lysias

        As a child of the Cold War and of parochial school education, I was certainly fed a steady diet of Communistophobia. But not Russophobia. In school, we constantly prayed for the conversion of Russia.

        Well, those prayers were answered. Russia is now more Christian than the countries of the West are.

    • Yuri K

      This one has an obvious answer: Putin’s proposals were ignored because any dialog along these lines would be considered as a “weakness.” And “our country is strong”, as W used to say.

  • G. Freiter

    As for the wider history: there is no House of Hapsburg. The rulers you have in mind are those who originate from Habsburg in Aargau, Switzerland. The old castle is still in rude health.

    • karl

      One other point worth mentioning I think, namely, Russia has a well founded fear of Nazism given the millions of casualties and mass devastation it wreaked on them during WW2. For Russia, this is not ancient history as virtually every family can recall at least one relative who was killed in WW2. Ergo the rise to prominence and power of the Nazis in Ukraine does instill fear of a repeat performance, especially when the crimes of those self same Nazis perfectly echo their antecedent cf the burning alive of the ethnic Russians in the Odessa Labour Union building.

      • Martinned

        I’m sure a fair few Ukranians can recount similar stories about decades of Russian/Soviet occupation too. Not sure why that would justify invading a sovereign nation though.

        • Ewan

          Are you suggesting the Soviets did to the Ukraine what the Nazis did? And have you read your Russian and Ukrainian history?

          • Ewan

            The “Holodomor”. There was famine in Tsarist times. At the time of the first 5-year plan, there was famine outside the USSR. There was famine in other republics. It was not something directed by human agency at Ukraine. The famine was made worse by Soviet industrialisation & collectivisation. The Soviets thought (correctly) their survival against attack from one or other Western power required rapid industrialisation, which required feeding a vastly increased industrial workforce, which (they thought) required collectivisation. Radical reform of agriculture, with grain requisitioning & elimination of kulaks (arguably including the best farmers) at a time of famine is a recipe for catastrophe. Stalin may have had a particular animus for Ukrainians. I don’t know. I don’t think the record shows special treatment of Ukrainians, as distinct from other grain-growing regions. Like Stalin’s penchant for transplanting populations with no regard for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, this is the price paid by the peoples of the Soviet Union for the Revolution & for survival against the Nazis. There has to have been a better way. As for 70 years of “occupation” by the USSR as akin to Nazi rule, you need to give some detail of what you mean & explain how Ukraine ended up the most affluent of the republics. I visited a few times during the Soviet era. The mass killings were well hidden. What is it about Soviet Ukraine you think merits comparison with Nazi occupation?

        • Александр

          Just because – good or bad, Soviet Union have rules, laws and government attempting to care for population.

          You are not allowed to establish private company which use hired labor, you are not allowed to (publically) speak bad for communist party –

          You do need to expect death by random thugs just because you speak different language or have wrong nationality.

          Now, in Ukraine ukrainian majority try to exterminate russian minority.
          If possible, “converting” to ukrainian, forcing to not use Russian and pose as “ukrainian”.
          If not possible – physically.
          Moreover, Soviet/Russian? Really?
          Do you mean Nikita Khrushchev or Leonid Brezhnev – both Ukrainian nationality?
          Or, Joseph Stalin – Ossetian/Georgian?

          May be, it’s Soviet/Georgian or Soviet/Ukrainian occupation of Russia?

          USSR was international project, always have a deep international elite.

          If you dig deep enough, most public political presecutions were in 1920-1940 years, and a very significant part of the ruling administration of this time was Jewish.

          Personally, I think that the most reason for this is that USSR at this time lacks simple literate people of other nationalities, but you are free to think that it’s a Jewish conspiracy to kill Russian and Ukrainian nations by using starvation and forced industrialization.

          • jrkrideau

            Thanks Александр.

            It is amazing the number of people that forget that Stalin was Georgian and I never thought to check Brezhnev’s nationality.

            I think in the English speaking world most people tend to use USSR and Russia interchangeably and not do not realize the diffidence. Most probably think that Stalin was the dictator of Russia!

    • David

      There is no House of Hapsburg in the sense that it is in the past? You appear to be in a minority of one in denying the role of the Hapsburgs, based in Austria since the 13th century?

  • Rob Brown

    Not surprised it took you three weeks to produce this post, Craig. There are at least three different (thought-provoking) articles mashed together in this one. Editorial tip from a former journalism prof: keep your rumination as brief and focussed as possible. That way you can also ramp up the frequency of posts, which are too sporadic on this site.
    It’s really frustrating to return here repeatedly and see the same old post still up. You seem to be leaving it to a small coterie of below-the-line commenters to keep your blog on the boil. But most of them have a tendency to go off on a tangent even more than you do. Hope you find this feedback helpful.

    • Twirlip

      It’s a long read, but not a difficult one, not even for me (and I struggle to get through long articles, as a rule.) You seem to think that is a mish-mash, but I found it coherent and compelling. (But then, I’m only a reader, not a professor of journalism.)

      • Rob Brown

        Numerous studies have shown that frequent posting is a key factor in maximising and maintaining a blog’s popularity, something I would like to see Craig achieve (even though I frequently disagree with his views). Personally, I sometimes slip out of the habit of returning to this site because, often when I do so, the freshest post was from several weeks back and has turned stale or been rendered irrelevant (or even foolish) by fast-moving events. That is something I find frustrating and I imagine many of his most ardent followers feel the same on such occasions.
        I also believe brevity is the soul of blogging, especially midweek when many people are too busy to fully digest and reflect upon an essay of this length and density. Craig’s reflections above on the Finns constituted a fine op-ed in itself, especially the compelling and moving way in which he combined personal memoir with geopolitical analysis.
        It is, of course, up to Craig to decide whether the advice of a former journalism prof might be worth listening to or not. Maybe he believes the views of a former British ambassador on this, and everything else, are more valuable.

    • DunGroanin

      You have a good general point but I don’t feel it is wholly valid for this blog.

      Brevity and frequency has its own platform- Twitter- which is so effective that it is controlled by deepstate operatives who control its reach for certain people such as CM.
      He has plenty on his plate – I am awed that he has time to even give us what he does.
      I don’t expect churnalism here or from other such knowledgeable bloggers.

      News addiction is an addiction that has been injected into western consumers like all of our other daily ‘needs’.

      • Rob Brown

        Tweets and interminable essays are only two ways of expressing political arguments. There are a lot of other options between these two polarities. Tightly-focused posts that kick off a lively (and hopefully equally focused) conversation would be my personal preference, that’s all.

          • Rob Brown

            I found it interminable, which the Cambridge dictionary defines as “continuing for too long”. Yet it was also not long enough, for it tries to cover far too much ground in a single post. It would take several books to make full sense of the war in Chechnya plus our species’ propensity for war in general, never mind all the other aspects of contemporary history and complex geopolitical issues that are rolled in here. My last word on this matter is: rein it in a bit, Craig, and make your blog even more popular and impactful.

  • Ewan

    Would a proper account of NATO activities not help explain events? NATO membership is less important if NATO is in any case incorporating the Ukrainian military into its ranks. The best Ukrainian regiments are now interchangeable with NATO’s. The Ukraine has become a forward base for NATO offensive weaponry. The US was busy refitting ports to take US navy vessels. It has installed sophisticated radar covering the Black Sea and Russia as far as the Urals. NATO helped Ukraine build its impressive fortifications on the Line of Contact, and trained the troops in Western Ukraine and Poland to send to the front (60-100000 of them) – which makes the notion that all Russia needed to do was reinforce the breakaway republics militarily infeasible. Would a more detailed consideration of intensive Russian diplomatic efforts over the past couple of decades to persuade the West to honour its commitments to mutual security not also help. Votes at the UN on promoting Nazism, and general tooth-sucking at the Ukrainian refusal to implement Minsk, may impress professional diplomats as tremendously significant, but Russia, faced with a hostile military alliance building up its armaments on its borders, not so much. The West has planned a military, economic, and propaganda war on Russia. Russia has responded. Whether it has fallen into a trap, as the US thinks, or has pre-empted unacceptable threat to its security, remains to be seen.

  • SJS

    It is indeed a complex situation with rights and wrongs on both sides: there are no saints here.

    But I’m curious, you make the statement “You can see the line of thinking by which nations which had been suppressed, or risked suppression, by the Soviet Union, or by Russia before it, might see an alliance with Nazi Germany as an opportunity.” Does that not include the USSR itself, when it collaborated with the Nazi’s to kick off WW2 and carve up Poland between them? An event which caused my Polish Grandfather to end up in the UK in early 1940. I suppose I can’t complain – if Stalin hadn’t, it is highly likely neither I or my family would exist.

    However, I get quite fed up hearing from the Russians how it was mostly them that won the war in Europe (I guess they did), and how they were the bastion against Nazism, and how they suffered and paid a huge price for it (and I don’t disagree that they did): but they helped start it ( or at least Stalin and his henchmen did) – along withe UK’s own policy of appeasement with them.

    Now, I certainly have no sympathy with Nazis or Neo-Nazi’s in Ukraine, but you didn’t quite cover the other reasons (apart from anti-antisemitism) why they collaborated with the Nazi’s: maybe it was something to do with the millions deliberately starved by Stalin in Ukraine in the 30’s. That is not something a peoples will forget quickly – even almost 90 years after the event.

    • Squeeth

      @SJS Why do you think that there was a Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939? I suggest you look to the alliance between Britain, France and Germany the year before and the strong-arming of Czechoslovakia by the French and the British to deny Hitler his war against Czechoslovakia by granting him Sudetenland, his pretext for a war that needed the USSR with the westenders to defeat Hitler. You might want to look further back to the Nazi-Polish pact of 1934 and the Polish invasion of Russia in 1919. Having been let down by the British and French, Stalin appeased Hitler and recovered western Belarus and western Ukraine for next to no casualties. This doesn’t get nearly as much publicity as the first period of the war against Finland or the border war with Japan in 1939.

    • Kerch'ee Kerch'ee Coup

      If only Pilsudski could have laid off the drink a bit, Poland would never have signed on with France and Britain against an attack only from Germany. Nor would he have accepted the Yalta surrender of the country to the USSR. I met several Ukrainians back in the sixties who survived the enforced famine and claimed to have fought along with Makhno against Deniken and then Trotsky.
      I am curious how Ukrainian speakers as compared to Poles have been regarded by Russian nationalists .It seems they were long looked on as boorish whereas there is grudging admiration for Poles in 19th century literature.

    • David

      Stepan Bandera had already been sentenced to death for the terrorist murder of a Polish Minister in 1934. Rather a quick and misdirected action against Stalin’s alleged famine? Large parts of Poland had been stolen from Germany and Russia by the meddlers of Versailles and these were the first parts recovered.

      • jrkrideau

        Stepan Bandera had already been sentenced to death for the terrorist murder of a Polish Minister in 1934. Rather a quick and misdirected action against Stalin’s alleged famine?

        Rather unlikely. He personally would have not been affected by the famine as he was not in the USSR. He wanted an independent Ukrainian state. At the time he was was a Polish citizen living in a mainly Ukrainian part of Poland.

        I think , at least as a first step he wanted independence from Poland. Hence the Minister’s assassination.

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