Rethinking Ukraine: Putin and the Mystery of National Identity 579

The genocide in Gaza – or more precisely the major NATO powers’ active and practical support for the genocide in Gaza – has forced me to re-evaluate my views on Ukraine in a manner more sympathetic to the Russian narrative.

In particular, I was complacent in my dismissive attitude to the argument that the Western powers would back ethnic cleansing and massacre in the Donbass, by forces including some motivated by Nazi ideology. The same powers who are funding and arming Ukraine are funding and arming a genocide by racial supremacist Israeli forces in Gaza. It is beyond argument that my belief in some kind of inherent decency in the Western political Establishment was naive.

I apologise.

This does not mean that I was wrong to call the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian state illegal. I am afraid it was. You see, the law is the law. It has only a tenuous connection to either morality or justice. A thing can be justified and morally right, but still illegal.

The proof of this is that we have an entire legal structure governing transactions which is designed to achieve massive concentration of wealth. In consequence, the world is predicted to have its first trillionaires inside the next five years, while millions of children go hungry. That is plainly immoral. It is plainly unjust. But it is not only legal, it is the purpose of the system of law.

I am, however, content that the “Right to Protect” doctrine has not become accepted in international law, because it is in general application neo-imperialist. It was developed by the Blair government initially to justify NATO bombing of Serbia and the British re-occupation of Sierra Leone, and was used by Hillary Clinton to justify the destruction of Libya on the basis of lies about an imminent massacre in Benghazi. We should be wary of the doctrine.

(That is the major theme of my book The Catholic Orangemen of Togo).

The causes of the Russian invasion of Ukraine are plain. Alarm at NATO expansionism and forward positioning of aggressive military assets encircling Russia. The Ukrainian coup of 2014. Exasperation at Ukrainian bad faith and the ignoring of the Minsk accords. The continuing death toll from shelling of Russian speakers in the Donbass.

The suppression of the Russian language, of Russian Orthodox religion and of the main pro-Russian opposition political party in Ukraine are simple facts. These I have always acknowledged: until I saw the positive enthusiasm of leaders of the Western states for massacre in Gaza, I was not convinced they could not have been addressed by diplomacy and negotiation. I now have to reassess that view in the light of new information, and I now think Putin was justified in the invasion.

It is not that any of the arguments are new. It is simply that before I did not believe that the West would sponsor mass ethnic cleansing and genocidal attack on the Donbass by extreme Ukrainian nationalist-led, Western-armed forces. I thought the “West” was more civilised than that. I now have to face the fact that I was wrong about the character of the NATO powers.

The alternative to Putin’s action probably was indeed massacre and ethnic cleansing.

The urgent need now is for negotiation to put an end to the war. On that my position has not changed. The war is a disaster for the people of Europe. The American destruction of Nord Stream has devastated the German economy and resulted in huge energy price increases for consumers all across Europe, including the UK. There was a step jump in food inflation which has not been pulled back.

The continuation of the war will of course prime the pump of the military-industrial complex. Massive defence spending is the most efficient way to ensure kickbacks to the political class who control the flow of state funds, through both legal and illegal forms of corrupt reward to politicians.

As Julian Assange said, the object is not to win wars: the object is forever wars, to keep the funds flowing.

The truth is that the longer the war persists, the less generous Russia will be over returning occupied territory to Ukraine. The deal which was torpedoed by the West nearly two years ago (and in truth the US played more of a role than Boris Johnson – I was actually there in Turkey) ceded only the Crimea to Russia, with a Minsk plus deal for the Donbass which would have remained Ukrainian. That is unthinkable now. The major question is how large a coastal corridor Russia will insist on keeping westward from Crimea, and whether Putin can be persuaded to accept less than the historical dividing line of the Dnieper.

I do not share the Russian triumphalism at the dwindling manpower resources of the Ukraine. With the obscene billions the West is pumping into remote warfare in Ukraine, that is not the factor you might expect. But the political will of the West to continue to pump in these billions is plainly sapping, as it becomes obvious there will be no successful Ukrainian offensive. Put simply, Russia will outlast its opponents.

It has always been the case that the sooner Ukraine and the West settle, the better deal they will get, and that is more true every day. But prolonging the war is an end in itself to those who make money from it.

Putin’s historical disquisition to Tucker Carlson opened some Western eyes to another national perspective, and gave rise to widespread claims by Western media that Putin was factually wrong. In fact almost all of his facts were correct. The interpretation of them, and the position of other facts which were omitted or given less weight, is of course the art of history.

There is no question I find more fascinating in history than the formation and dissolution of national identities.

My own perspective on this – and there is no subject on which it is more important to understand the vantage point of the person writing – is governed by two factors in particular. Firstly, I am a Scot and come from one of Europe’s oldest nation states, which then lost its independence and struggles to regain it after being submerged in a new “British” national identity.

Secondly, as a former diplomat I lived and worked in the political field in a number of countries with differing histories of national identity.

These include Poland, a nation state which the historian Norman Davies brilliantly quipped “Has emerged from time to time through the mists of history – but never in the same place twice”.

It includes Ghana, a state with an extremely strong sense of national identity but which was an entirely artificial colonial creation.

It includes Nigeria, another entirely artificial colonial creation but which has struggled enormously to build national identity against deep and often violent ethnic and cultural differences.

It includes Uzbekistan, a country which also has entirely artificial colonial borders but which the western “left” fail to recognise as an ex-colony because they refuse to acknowledge the Soviet Union was a continuation of the Russian Empire.

So I have seen all this, as someone with a training and interest as a historian, who has read a great deal of Eastern European history. I have also lived in Russia and was for a time both a fluent Russian and Polish speaker. I do not write this to claim I am right, but so that you know what has formed my view.

Putin argued at great length that there never was such a country as “Ukraine”. The BBC has run a “fact check” and claimed this is “Nonsense”.

There are several points to make about this. The first is that the BBC did not, as it claimed, go to “independent historians”. It went to Polish, Ukrainian and Armenian historians with their own very distinct agenda.

The second is that these historians did not actually take issue with Putin’s facts. For a fact-check it does not really examine any of Putin’s historical facts at all. What the historians did was put forward other facts they felt deserve more weight, or different interpretations of the facts referenced by Putin. But none argued convincingly for the former existence of a Ukrainian national state or even the long term existence of Ukrainian national identity.

In fact their arguments were largely consistent with Putin. The BBC quote Prof Ronald Suny:

Mr Suny points out that the inhabitants of these lands when they were conquered by Russia were neither Russian nor Ukrainian, but Ottoman, Tatar or Cossacks – Slavic peasants who had fled to the frontiers.

Which is absolutely true: 18th century Russia did not conquer a territory called “Ukraine”. Much of the land of Ukraine was under Muslim rule when conquered by Catherine the Great, and nobody  called themselves “Ukrainian”.

The BBC then gives this quote:

But Anita Prazmowska, a professor emerita at the LSE, says that although a national consciousness emerged later among Ukrainians than other central European nations, there were Ukrainians during that period.

“[Vladimir Putin] is using a 20th Century concept of the state based on the protection of a defined nation, as something that goes back. It doesn’t.”

Which is hardly accusing Putin of speaking “nonsense” either. Prazmowska admits the development of Ukrainian national consciousness came “later than other Central European states”, which is very definitely true. Prazmowska herself has a very Central European take – the idea of the nation state in England, Scotland and France, for example, developed well ahead of the period of which she was speaking.

I should address the weakness in Putin’s narrative, around the origins of World War 2. Russian nationalists have great difficulty in accommodating the Stalin/Hitler pact into the narrative of the Great Patriotic War, and while Putin did briefly reference it, his attempt to blame World War 2 essentially on Poland was a low point. But even here, there was a historical truth that the standard Western narrative ignores.

The Rydz-Smigly–led military dictatorship in Poland after the death of Pilsudski was not a pleasant regime. Putin was actually correct about Munich: both the UK and France had asked Poland to allow the Soviet army to march through to bolster Czechoslovakia against Germany, and Poland refused (Ridz-Smigly did not trust Stalin, and frankly I don’t blame him). But this is an example of part of Putin’s narrative that countered the received Western tradition, that most well-informed people in the West have no idea happened, and is perfectly true.

The fusing back then of Ukrainian nationalism with Nazism, and the atrocities of Ukrainian nationalists in WW2 against not just Jews but also Poles and other minorities, were also perfectly true.

It is a simple and stark truth there never was a Ukrainian state before 1991. There just was not. Lands currently comprising Ukraine were at various times under the rule of Muslim Khans, of the Ottomans, of Cossack Hetmans (possibly the closest thing to proto-Ukrainians), the Polish-Lithuanian confederation and Russian Tsars.

As I have stated on this blog before, the boundary between Polish/Lithuanian and Russian influence became settled on the Dnieper. I have also published this map before, showing that history resonates through the current conflict.

There is also the case of third-party recognition of the Ukrainian nationality. I have read, for example, the letters and memoirs, both published and unpublished, of scores of British soldiers and civil servants involved in the Imperial rivalry with Russia in Asia. Many had contact with Russian officers or diplomats. They did clearly recognise different ethnic identities within the Russian Empire. The Russian diplomat Jan Witkiewicz was described repeatedly by British officers as “Polish”, for example. “Cossack” and “Tartar” were frequently used. I cannot recall any of these British sources ever using the description “Ukrainian”.

Nor did British officers who actually passed through Ukraine, like Fred Burnaby and Arthur Connolly, describe it as such in their memoirs. Now I am not claiming that if British imperialists did not notice something, it did not exist. But if there were a centuries-old recognition by the rival Empire of the existence of a Ukrainian national identity, that would definitely mean something. There does not appear to be such.

I should be interested to know where Ukrainian nationalists claim their cultural heritage lies as proof of early national identity. What is the Ukrainian equivalent of Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt speech, of Scotland’s Blind Harry, or even of Poland’s Pan Tadeusz? (This is a genuine question. There may be areas of Ukrainian historic identity of which I am unaware).

Putin was not wrong about history (apart from the dodgy bit about origins of the second world war). But the correct question is whether any of this matters.

It is not whether Putin’s historical analysis is broadly correct, it is whether this matters. I am inclined to the view that Putin is correct that there is little evidence that the people living in Ukraine, hundreds of years ago, ever considered themselves a distinct national entity.

But they are all dead, so they don’t get a vote. The only thing that matters is the opinion of those living there now.

It seems to me beyond dispute that there is now a Ukrainian national identity. I know several Ukrainians who consider themselves joyously and patriotically Ukrainian, just as I know patriotic Ghanaians and even patriotic Uzbeks. The question of how this identity was forged and how recently is not the point.

I should add there are undoubtedly a great many Ukrainians whose sense of national identity is not linked to Nazism. There is a historical and a current strain of Nazism in Ukrainian nationalism, and it is far too tolerated by the Ukrainian state; that is certainly true. But to claim all Ukrainian nationalists are Nazis is a nonsense.

The formation of national identity is a very curious thing. Ivory Coast has just won the African Cup of Nations at soccer, beating Nigeria in the final. The competition arouses huge patriotic fervour throughout the continent of Africa. But the boundaries of all the African nations, except arguably Ethiopia, are entirely artificial colonial constructs. They cut right across ethnic, cultural and linguistic boundaries.

Much of modern Ghana was the old Ashanti kingdom, but that extended much further into now Ivory Coast. The coastal areas were never Ashanti. In the east, the Ewe people’s lands are cut by a completely artificial boundary with Togo. To the north, largely Muslim populations live a much more rural lifestyle. Yet Ghanaians are fiercely proud of this imposed state of Ghana. They are proud it was the first African state to attain Independence, they are proud of its heritage of supporting African liberation movements including the ANC, they are proud of its education system. They have a real sense of national identity that goes far beyond the passionate support of its sporting teams.

Ghanaian identity is modern, ahistoric, within entirely colonial boundaries. But it is real and valid.

In Central Asia, the boundaries of the “stans” are again colonial boundaries that cut right across the pre-existing Khanates. The boundaries of these ex-Soviet republics were carefully designated by Stalin not to be ethnically or culturally coherent, to guard against the development of national opposition. So the greatest Tajik cities, Bokhara and Samarkand, are not in Tajikistan but Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan has important similarities to Ukraine. Both are states with boundaries of Soviet republics, which have no relationship to any pre-existing state or nation. In both – and this may be a legacy of Soviet authoritarianism – the state has attempted to force national identity by compulsory homogeneity. So Russian language medium in education was first banned in Uzbekistan, and then Tajik. Ukraine has similarly banned the Russian language. This of course is nothing new in state behaviour, as Highland Scots well know.

Yet even in Uzbekistan, a passionate national identity has been created, even among Kazakhs, Tajiks etc who reside there. The alchemy by which this happens is mystifying; partly it seems to depend on a natural loyalty to whatever authority exists, which is a rather troubling thought. For Central Asia, Olivier Roy’s The New Central Asia, the Creation of Nations has some thoughts on the sociology of the process.

I am aware I need to read more on the creation of national identity, because most of my thought is based on simple observation. It is however entirely plain that national identity can appear, and can be genuine, and can do so in a period of merely decades. There is now a Ukrainian national identity, and those who subscribe to it have the right to their state.

That they have a right to the former boundaries of Soviet Ukraine is a different proposition. Given the reality that it is plain a significant minority of the population do not subscribe to Ukrainian national identity, that civil war broke out, and that this relates to historic geographic fracture lines, it seems that division of territory is now not only inevitable but desirable.

All people of good will should therefore wish to see an end to fighting and a peace settlement, of which the territorial elements are somewhere close to the current lines between the forces, with Russia giving back some territory in return for recognition of its gains. The alternative is more death, human misery and economic malaise.


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579 thoughts on “Rethinking Ukraine: Putin and the Mystery of National Identity

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  • Charles McGregor

    I tried to make sense of the writhing boundaries of Eastern European history for quite a while before kind of giving up as they were far more volatile than those in Western Europe and those of Western Europe can hardly be described as paragons of stability.

    So I’ll just brain dump my recollections and I should point out my 30,000 feet view begins way further back in time.

    Around 1100 years ago, Kyiv presided over a huge swath of Eastern Europe. It was not a country not even an Empire more just a conglomeration of numerous and various Kingdoms, Princedoms, Dukedoms, Tsarates and Khanates with some undefinable tribal/warlord vassal areas as well. It was a truly vast area which stretched from the Black Sea to the Baltic from the Khanate of Crimea all the way into Eastern Finland and included at least half of what is now European Russia. As a result Kyiv was almost certainly the richest city in Europe at that time.

    However, it was never known as Ukraine. In Medieval Western Europe, it was usually termed Ruthenia. In Eastern Europe it was usually termed Kyiv-Rus (or similar). Even at this greatest extent of Kyiv’s historical influence, most of the area East of the Dnieper was never included. Certainly not the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of the Donbass. There was an area East of the Dnieper close to Kyiv and also the Crimean Peninsula (Khanate) but the rest no, never.

    That high point of the history of Kyiv was not to last. Empires never do and looser conglomerates even less so. The main element in its demise was the disruptive influence of the encroaching Mongol horde. This left a political vacuum which was eventually filled by, what may be a surprise to most folk these days.

    The tiny Baltic state of Lithuania was, back then, a huge country which spread from the Baltic, almost to the Black sea. Sweden, back then, had considerable Imperialist interest in Northern Europe East of the Baltic as well (an ambition finally to be extinguished later by Peter the Great of Russia). Poland too was far more extensive than it was to become later. Northern Ukraine, as it is now, was mainly controlled by first a Lithuanian-Swedish alliance and then a Lithuanian-Polish alliance. Other areas were under Russian and Hungarian control. For example, the Western city of Lviv in modern Ukraine most will have heard of is actually regarded as one of the finest examples of historical Polish architecture.

    So as we progress towards modern history, with that background and an ever present backdrop of ethnically based hostilities between Tartars, Cossacks, you name it we come to the 20-th century. WWI and the Russian Revolution.

    After WWI and the Russian Revolution Russia’s main concern was HTF do we make a stable Soviet Socialist Republic out of this messed up area,? After military interventions the Russians, and Stalin was involved, decided to create the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine. For some reason I am not au fait with, they decided this would include all the land East of the Dnieper to the Black Sea.
    I guess, given the hubris that epitomises politicos, they envisaged that the Soviet Union would never break up so it didn’t matter. I am probably being naive here.

    Of course, as we know, the Soviet Union did break up. The result being that those ‘ethnic Russians’ in the East sadly came under increasingly nasty pressure from Kyiv. Banning the Russian language there (although I believe Russian and Ukrainian are mutually intelligible) and various other forms of discrimination and eventually an urging of those who felt Russian to leave finally the encouragement to do so by routine shelling resulting in the lose of thousands of lives, all before the current war began.

    That’s about it.

    If my overview perspective is in error please feel free to correct, I am willing to learn.

    • Tatyana

      Charles, you have a big gap between the Polish-Lithuanian principality and the Russian anti-monarchy revolution.
      During this period, the western part of Ukraine was part of Austria-Hungary, the same one empire from where classic Hitlerite Nazism originated. This is approximately Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and Ternopol regions (Zapadentsy). The other part of Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire, where it was called Little Russia (Malorossia). It’s also an important fact that these territories were a designated area for Jewish diasporas (the Pale of Settlement), so Hitler had more than one reason to attack these territories.
      The Poles constantly took advantage of either the revolution or the civil war in Russia, to bite off pieces for themselves (the same ones that Stalin occupied in 1939, and which the Poles bit out of the Russian empire some 20 years before).

      A few more facts from more recent history that directly affect today’s events may help you:
      – Russians and Ukrainians, if not one people, are in any case very close fraternal peoples and behaved accordingly until recent times,
      – after the USSR defeated Hitler, Ukraine received significant territories. If they weren’t part of the USSR, they wouldn’t now own what they have,
      – after the death of Stalin, the USSR was headed by Khrushchev, an ethnic Ukrainian,
      – Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukraine, and also allowed those who fought on Hitler’s side to return to the USSR,
      – a significant part of the Ukrainian pro-Nazis, traditionally called Banderaites, returned to Ukraine.

      With the collapse of the USSR, the friendship of the countries did not stop, until NATO laid its eyes on Ukraine, and the prospect of becoming a member of the EU lit the fire of hope for a better life in Ukrainian hearts (who never built their own successful post-USSR economy). Hence their slogan “Украина це Европа” *Ukraine is Europe
      One does not simply walk into Mordor NATO as long as you are loyal to Russia. Because NATO is an anti-Russian military alliance.
      Ukraine began to build its new national identity on the basis of the denial of everything Russian in its history and mentality, and here good old Nazi propaganda came into play. Their American transgender army spokepokemon Sarah Ashton Cirillo put it all quite simply – Russians are not Europeans, but Asians, Russians are not people but subhumans etc etc

      In general, regarding the issue of the new national identity of Ukrainians, which Mr. Murray mentioned, my opinion is this – they are trying to find a new national identity acceptable for membership in the EU and NATO. The bad thing is that this implies an anti-Russian sentiment, and even worse is that this identity is forcibly imposed on all people living in Ukraine. It is not surprising that the Russian part rejects this idea.

      • Charles McGregor

        Thank you Tatyana. I agree I did ‘fast forward’ from circa 1600 CE t0 1900 CE 🙂
        The diminution of Polish and Lithuanian influence in that area did indeed subsume to that of Austro-Hungarian Imperial influence during that period as both Poland and more particularly Lithuania, shrank.

        I would dispute, however, that ‘Hitlerite Nazism’ had its birth in that area because of that, albeit that Hitler was himself was of Austrian origin.

        For me, the vile concept which underpins Nazism began with the Theory of Eugenics. The Theory of Eugenics is two pronged.

        First it asserts that the intervention of society to assist ‘inferior’ humans to the point where they procreate will lead to an inevitable over all decline in the human species. Second, that we should therefore have counter measures to prevent that,

        Selective breeding, sterilisation etc.

        The originator of this theory was Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin (they shared the same grandfather, Erasmus Darwin).

        This theory, which, prima face, was based on scientific logic, quickly gained ground elsewhere especially in America and Germany, Galton’s protégé Karl Pearson who was a Germanophile took those ideas with him to Heidelberg.

        It was put into actual practice. e.g. ‘undesirable’ women were sterilised in various countries.

        It was such an accepted idea in the first third of the 20th century that Karl Pearson was offered a Knighthood in 1936 (which he declined).

        • Tatyana

          Charles, I cannot argue, and I agree that there may be inaccuracies in my reasoning. I’m not a professional historian, I’m a linguist, so history was a ‘side course’ for me; also it was too long ago 🙂

          Back in 2020 I had to update my knowledge of Russian history, checking my every statement, for the commentators of this website. So I can offer one ‘ancient Russia short’ comment, which I’m prettty sure is true.

          As to nazism and its origin, my latest thorough update was in 2020, when a dispute arose about the connection between the words Slav and Slave.

          In search of historical information, I came across the names de Gobineau and Kossina, and an interesting study about the origins of racial theory in Great Britain, which later provided the ideological basis for “practical” application in Germany.

          • Charles McGregor

            Thanks again Tatyana, those links were very illuminating and educational for me.

            Like you, I am not a ‘professional historian’, I am a retired physicist, although physicists never really retire.

            History, to me, is not a cloistered topic. As long as anyone who delves into history does so with the principle of basing their deductions on a rational interpretation of the known facts then that deduction is valid whether an academically qualified historian or not.

            Though not a linguist and by no stretch even a natural polyglot, I have painfully studied Gaelic, Spanish, German and the history of the English language as part of my attempt to ascertain the importance of language in regard to cultural identity.

        • elkern

          Just want to thank Charles McGregor and Tatyana for filling in some more History here with high-quality information and civil discourse (both of which are woefully rare these days!).

          And of course, thx to our host here for creating and maintaining this forum, and specifically for this particularly deep Post.

        • Абакар АСАДУЛЛАЕВ

          With all due respect to Craig Murray, I want to note that there is no reference to obvious facts in his narrative. The invasion of Iraq was based on false facts. Serbia, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. – there is a false narrative everywhere. Does Russia have the right to defend its interests if negotiations have clearly reached an impasse, as the West does? Yes, absolutely. Russia has repeatedly warned about its red lines – and the West has always crossed them considering itself stronger. You sow the wind, you reap the storm.” The West has lost its competence and here we are.

  • Jack

    West is out of touch with reality, is there any way back for these people? They are brainwashed by their own propaganda and groupthink.

    Now they even frame escalation as something normal/good!

    ” NATO troops in Ukraine can’t be ruled out – Macron
    The French president has insisted that everything necessary must be done to ensure that Russian forces lose ”
    Macron noted that the allies who say “never, ever” today about direct troop deployments to Ukraine are the same ones that previously ruled out escalations of military aid that were later granted, including long-range missiles and fighter jets. “Two years ago, a lot around this table said that we will offer helmets and sleeping bags, and now they’re saying we need to do more to get missiles and tanks to Ukraine. We have to be humble and realize that we’ve always been six to eight months late, so we’ll do what is needed to achieve our aim.”

    They are stuck in this well-known fallacy of zero-zum game that one party most lose and the other win – same idiocy that set off unnecessary escalation in the Vietnam war for some decade!
    It is not about someone must win or lose it is about to create a solution that both parties could live with – or escalate and not only risk WW3 but trigger it.

    • Stevie Boy

      This little French twerp is just talking complete BS. If NATO officially enters the proxy war against Russia then every NATO country involved becomes a legitimate target. And, the reality is that the USA would just order in a huge amount of popcorn so that they could sit back and enjoy the spectacle of Europe destroying itself.
      Meanwhile, the bully boy Shapps in talking about the upcoming D Day celebrations compares the ‘current war in europe’ to WW2. Shapps is, another, complete idiot totally out of his depth.

      • Jack

        Indeed, the europeans are so obsessed with the idea of not becoming occupied by Russia, an idea that in itself on par with a psychosis, paranoid twisted idea but in the mix the europeans have actually become occupied by the americans and now are increasingly pushed to be used as a cannon fodder as you say. How can people become so brainwashed? Seems like majority of europeans have developed some severe type of Stockholm-syndrome/false-conscience-type-of mentality. Especially people on the left of things that increasingly support this idiocy going on. Just like the prelude to WW1 many of the critics of the warmongering folded.

        • Jack

          Macron keep escalating by the minute:

          France creates coalition to arm Ukraine with long-range weapons
          The aim is to enable Kiev to “carry out deep strikes” amid flagging US support, President Emmanuel Macron has said

          How could the west not realize that if Ukraine start bombing targets deep inside Russia proper, Russia will do the same against Ukraine and Russia will always have the upper hand versus Ukraine.
          Total maniacs
          Not to mention, Putin will not always rule Russia; the next leader of Russia will of course be an emboldened type of “Putin” not some pro-western leader that the west keep dreaming about.
          One should of course also remember that the biggest critics inside Russia against Putin is not from the peaceniks but from hard-line segment of russians wondering why Putin move so slow in Ukraine, so when west keep escalating like this, they make sure a hardliner will be the next leader of Russia.

          • Jack

            Russia is already bombing targets deep inside Ukraine and has been for some time now.

            Not really compared to what’s to possibly come, if Ukraine starts bombing deep inside Russia, Russia will escalate their attacks on western Ukraine and also pick more vital targets. Probably government buildings, the homes of military top/political command etc. Thus Ukraine will only lose by escalating by carrying out deep strikes into Russia.
            Russia have also said that the longer-range missiles given to Ukraine, the further Russia will move to the west of Ukraine.

  • harry law

    Macron must have a Nepoleon complex or he plans on using the Force de Frappe. He and Stoltenberg are delusional, Stoltenberg has just said “Ukraine will be part of NATO”. Putin has said repeatedly he does not want to invade other European countries, in my opinion if they join Ukraine as co belligerents with long range missiles, that certainly changes the equation. Medvedev might say “go ahead clowns make my day”.

    • Tatyana

      Medvedev has stopped being shy and now uses rude speech. I personally have mixed feelings about this, because I think that this style of speech is suitable for people from stand-up comedy and should not come from the mouths of politicians representing my country,
      but I will translate for you his comment about Macron (published in Medvedev’s Telegram). Apologies in advance.

      “People have different illnesses.
      Some people have urinary incontinence. About others who are prone to rash reactions, they say “they suffer from cerebrovascular urinary stroke.”
      But the current President of France, Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the French Armed Forces and Prince of Andorra, Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frederic Macron, has two problems at once: first, urine probably hit him in the head, and then oral diarrhea occurred.

      He stated that Europe needs the defeat of Russia for security, and therefore it should send extended-range missiles to the Nazis in Kiev and consider the issue of sending troops of individual NATO states into the Northern Military District zone. Coupled with his recent desire to share France’s nuclear arsenal with all willing Europeans, it appears that Macron’s oral diarrhea has become a lingering and painful problem. The owner of the Order of the Legion of Honor does not take care of himself. Or it’s time to change his diet: oysters and champagne are a good thing, but he isn’t that young anymore. Verbal enuresis at his age is dangerous.

      Also, people around may not like it either. The smell, you know…”

      • Jack

        Exactly, I am also disappointed with Medvedev, he have become increasingly emotional/vocally past years but one cannot lose ones cool during these times. Look at Putin, keeping his emotions in check – always.
        The other week Biden called Putin a ‘son of a bitch’. Instead of using the same slur back Putin stepped back and acted like an adult about it:
        Putin replies to Biden’s “rude” comment about him
        Very impressive and a very good trait – I think this very trait is what infuriate the emotional western leaders – Putin is untouchable, he cannot be provoked by their school-yard slurs and bullying.

        • Tatyana

          I think that much of this reticence comes from the fact that Putin is simply not emotionally involved in the attitude that Biden expressed in his words.
          I judge by myself. This happens when I basically don’t care. Someone can bark until they’re blue in the face, spewing insults at me, but I don’t give a damn. Like, if a mad dog is barking behind the fence, then I don’t intend to get on all fours and bark in response.
          I call it “a communication format that isn’t acceptable for me, humiliating my honor, dignity, self-respect and reducing the entire civilized part of my personality to the level of animals”.

  • Coleen Rowley

    Craig Murray is an excellent historian! And his fascination with how national identity comes about, and how it doesn’t always (maybe only rarely) dovetail(s) with prior ethnic, racial, religious or other group identities is worth pondering. The question is a subset of the issue of all group dynamics.

    But let me quibble with his “no ifs, ands or buts” characterization of Russia’s “special military operation” as being illegal. I would agree that the recently concocted “Right to Protect” doctrine which wasn’t that well accepted–certainly not by the “Global South”– even when minted and now has been more fully exposed as this rather flimsy, recent neo-imperialist ploy–using “human rights” cover– around the much more solidly engrained “Nuremberg Principle” forbidding “wars of aggression” (aka military force that cannot be otherwise justified, aka “just war” theory aka jus ad bellum). We definitely need to be wary of R2P as any country’s or military alliance’s justification for war, as a way to exercise unilateral military force when there is no United Nations’ authorization and especially when the country or military alliance wishing to invade or use force unilaterally is the more militarily powerful. But Russia might have a decent legal argument combining the far older, and simpler right to self-defense (given the increased shelling and build-up of Ukraine invasion forces after years of militarization on ots Donbas border). The argument would blend a country’s right to self defense, even including to slightly pre-empt an enemy’s planned military invasion, R2P (made more valid given the factual reality that the conflict was/is actually between two military superpowers, with far-weaker Ukraine as a mere proxy) instead of for example, Hillary’s- NATO’s flimsy excuse to carpet bomb poor Libya.

    I would also say that “law” usually begins, before there is any law enforcement, as ethical principles. When consensus arises that whatever minimum ethical standard is pragmatically of benefit for ALL parties and should therefore apply equitably, reciprocally, no matter who’s in or out of power or despite varying levels of power, then it tends to become “soft law” which is what international law mostly is (without much international law enFORCEment). We think of our domestic “law” which is mostly enforced through hard (and sometimes deadly) force as the only form of “law” but there are varying degrees and it begins as mere ethics. And the natural law process is never static but always in flux.

    International law or soft law is not as equitable or reciprocal which means exploitation by the most powerful and “established” legal principles often giving way to power, aka some “victors’ justice.”

    • harry law

      Thanks for the thought provoking comment Coleen, Otto Von Bismark in 1862 in his famous ‘Blood and Iron’ speech said this… “Since the treaties of Vienna, our frontiers have been ill-designed for a healthy body politic. Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood (Eisen und Blut).”
      Then Chairman Mao Zedong said this..
      “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” is a phrase which was coined by Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong. The phrase was originally used by Mao during an emergency meeting of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on 7 August 1927, at the beginning of the Chinese Civil War.
      The US and Vassals in NATO are using both these leaders phrases as their business models, i.e. do as we say, or we will break your legs. Could it be that ‘power’ was always like this, and the only way to maintain credibility?

    • Tatyana

      I’d like to comment on the legality of these military actions. I don’t understand why the “right to protect” doctrine came into discussion. Official comments from the Russian government and president point to international law.

      Namely, in accordance with the UN Charter, Donbas and Lugansk had the right to declare their independence.
      In accordance with the UN Charter, Russia had the right to recognize their independence.
      After that agreements on military assistance were signed, and I see no law forbidding that.
      Russia sent troops to provide these newly-created republics with military assistance to protect the population from the actions of the Kiev regime (which clearly did not give them autonomy, much less independence. Moreover, oppressed the Russian population in language, history, civil and humanitarian rights, and also committed open military aggression against them. And quite openly admitted that the supposed diplomatic settlement via Minsk agreements is a fake in order to gain more time to accumulate more forces for the subsequent “final resolution of the Donbas issue” by military means.)

      Before the war Russia recognised those regions as parts of Ukraine, that is clear. The Minsk accords were to give them autonomy within Ukraine. Right to Protect is irrelevant as to the start of the war, I think.

      • harry law

        Every thing the Russian Federation did in Ukraine was legal and in line with International law, as regards Crimea, the residents of Crimea voted for independence as was their right under the UN charter i.e. all peoples have the right to self determination, after the referendum was completed Russia accepted the will of the Crimean people to join the Russian Federation, as my earlier post indicates this is how lawyer Reinhard Merkel sees the situation. In his article, he came to the conclusion that the secession of Crimea and the subsequent referendum were held quite in accordance with international law, and not at all in violation of it, as most countries claim. However, Merkel makes a reservation: both the secession and the referendum were violations of the Ukrainian Constitution. However, this is not a matter of international law, and since the Ukrainian constitution does not apply in Russia, Russia had the right to agree to the entry of Crimea into its composition.
        The same principles were applied to the other breakaway provinces all perfectly legal under International law.
        As an aside, many observers were of the opinion that after the coup in 2014 the Ukrainian constitution was null and void. Putin also used the Kosovo precedent when both Germany and the US recognized the independence of Kosovo, even without a referendum.
        .When the KLA started its campaign to secede from Yugoslavia (as it was still called) the matter was taken to the ICJ by Yugoslavia (Serbia). They argued that, in international law, the right to secure borders meant that Kosove did not have the right to secede. The Kosovan argument was that, in international law, the right to self-determination meant that Kosovo did have the right to secede The ICJ agreed that the two were contradictory and they would need to rule on which had precedence. They ruled that self-determination was more important than secure borders.
        N.B. The administration of Kosovo declared independence without going to a referendum but the ICJ ruled that, since they were a regional government, they could be said to be expressing the will of the people of Kosovo. [are the SNP listening?]
        Applying the, now, established principle to Ukraine would mean that Crimea had the right to secede and ask to join Russia (even if they hadn’t bothered with a referendum), and that Lugansk and Donetsk had the right to declare independence ……. and later to apply to join Russia.

        • Tatyana

          Something that Western countries will never never ever admit is that anyone is free to apply to join Russia 🙂
          And no argument about historical or cultural unity matters to them. In principle, they are extremely reluctant to admit that anyone in this world can be free in their choice. In their heads there is only one “correct” scheme for everyone and they consider themselves the only model to follow, and the only source of “permission” for any changes.

          • Tatyana

            Wrong comparison.
            The correct is – everyone is free to apply to join the European Union.
            NATO is a military alliance and joining it is not a question of self-determination of the people, but a political question of participation in a military bloc. There are restrictions here, like those for countries that gained sovereignty after the collapse of the USSR on the condition of non-alignment with military alliances. Well, you know, like Ukraine 🙂

          • Pears Morgaine

            I don’t recall Ukraine or any ex-Warpac nation having to swear to eternal neutrality in exchange for freedom. I do remember Ukraine giving up its share of the former USSR’s nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees over its sovereignty; which we’re now told never existed.

  • D

    Pears : re anyone is free to join nato : 1999 Istanbul agreement – ‘no country can strengthen its own security at the expense of others’

    • Tatyana

      Helsinki Act in 1975, from which OSCE and Human Rights Watch originated.
      Then the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, in 1990, when we in Europe agreed to reduce both Nato and Warsaw Pact military power, and reconfirmed we act in the spirit of the Helsinki Act.
      That all to move to mutual trust, to avoid wars, to understand that peace in Europe is our united effort.
      Now Pears jumps out of nowhere with a truly naive suggestion about joining NATO 🙂
      It just doesn’t work like that, Pears.

      • Pears Morgaine

        Just pointing out that being free to join Russia isn’t a unique selling point. Interestingly most if not all of the former Warpac states have now joined NATO, most in the last 25 years.

  • Alf Baird

    Language is a central feature in relation to national consciousness and hence in regard to national identity (Fanon). It is no accident that almost all peoples in self-determination conflict are linguistically divided, in which a subordinated ethnic group is subject to ‘linguistic imperialism’ by another group. The enduring feature of a Ukrainian ‘people’ must therefore be their own language. So the ‘identity’ question must relate to the history and development of that language, and most importantly the group who continue to speak and use it.

    Much as the enduring feature of a Scottish people today is oor ain braw Scots language, and I don’t mean Gaelic. Gaelic, at one time spoken by perhaps approx a third of the population at the time of colonisation in 1707, was virtually wiped out (just 50,000 speakers left in 2011). Its present influence on national consciousness is therefore limited. However Gaelic has recently (since 2005) been permitted statutory authority by the UK-Scot Gov, whilst the Scots language spoken by the majority of Scots is left ignored. That looks like a typical colonial divide and rule cultural procedure aiming at fostering division between native groups, whilst ensuring continued colonial (i.e. Anglophone) rule over the totality of the nation seeking self-determination, who mostly comprise Scots language speakers.

  • Jack

    The cockyness by the balts looks so stupid, if they were not in Nato they would not act erratic and hostile regarding Russia. They are truly unhinged, generally there is way too little media coverage of these senseless leaders in the baltics, always posing as victims too, sigh.

    NATO member backs ‘boots on the ground’ in Ukraine
    Estonia wants all options on the table, PM Kaja Kallas has said
    “We shouldn’t be afraid of our own power. Russia is saying this or that step is escalation, but defense is not escalation,” Kallas told Sky. “I’m saying we should have all options on the table. What more can we do in order to really help Ukraine win?”

    On Tuesday, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis urged NATO to “think outside the box.” Meanwhile, the country’s ambassador to Sweden, Linas Linkevicius, said the bloc would “neutralize” the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad if Moscow “dares to challenge NATO.”
    Of course in a conflict between Russia and Nato, these baltic states is the first ones to be targeted by Russia.

    I am not a fan of the russian invasion but these small cocky western emotional leaders need to calm down, it is like they are all hysterics especially compared to the more sobered and stoic trait that Putin represent. It is like these states are too immature to have their own states if the only thing they focus on is warmongering against their much much bigger nuclear armed equipped neighbour!
    And if there is a war, Kaja Kallas would of course take the first flight out of Estonia.

    • Tatyana

      Just today I was thinking about the idiotic position of the Balts. They play the game ‘oh, we are so small and we are afraid of such a big Russia.’
      Hello, Kallas, in Russia we are neighbors with the giant China and the giant India. Each of these countries has a population ten times larger than us, and each is a nuclear power.
      We are also neighbors with Asia and the Turks – the descendants of the Great Mongol Empire, under whose occupation we lived for almost 400 years.
      So, hello, Balts, try to be friends with your neighbors once in your live. Perhaps you won’t feel threatened if you yourself stop being hostile and stop inviting our enemies to our doorstep?

      • Jack

        Indeed, and now Finns have started the same idiocy, Finland always had a calm attitude and good relations with Russia but as soon as they joined Nato, their warmongering soared just like that:

        Ukraine free to attack Russian territory – newest NATO member
        Kiev is within its rights to use Finnish-supplied weaponry as it sees fit, Helsinki has said
        Ukraine is free to use the weapons it has received from Finland however it sees fit, including for attacks on Russian territory, senior officials in the NATO member state said on Thursday.
        They do not seems to realize how stupid they look with this posturing. Like small children trying to pick a fight with a person 30 times their own size. Why!?

        • Tatyana

          Jack, didn’t you write essays in school? Or, maybe you played in an amateur theater?
          In this play, their role is a scared little lamb shaking with fear in a dark forest full of dangers. The lamb is then saved from the big bad wolf by a brave hero in shining armour.

          • Stevie Boy

            Unfortunately, the reality is that the ‘brave hero in shining armour’ is actually a crazed, dribbling, hair sniffing psychopath with dementia – and everyone knows it.

          • Tatyana

            Hey, you’re supposed to be an engaged viewer, and you’re expected to applaud and shout Bravo! rather than criticize the show!

    • Pears Morgaine

      Yes since Sweden’s accession the Baltic has become a ‘NATO Lake’ which is clearly rattling the Russians.

      • Jack

        Baltic sea do not belong to any organisation, but as you said yourself, Nato believe the Baltic sea is their territory now.
        Apparently some states are allowed to claim spheres of influence…

  • Jack

    Lets see how this story develops:

    Bundeswehr considering strike on Crimean Bridge, leaked audio purportedly indicates

    It is tragic, Germany went from their anti-war position (Iraq War 2003) to today some 20+ years later, pondering attacking Russia!

    Almost the day Merkel left the scene some years ago the Germans totally lost it and have been taken over by complete pro-transatlantic warmongers.

    • Tatyana

      The transcript is published, I shared it it the Forum
      quite interesting what they say about British and French activities:
      ” if we talk about delivery methods… I know how the British do it. They always transport them in Ridgback armored vehicles. They have several people on site. The French don’t do that. They supply Q7 with Scalp missiles to Ukraine.”
      and also this part:
      “After all, it is known that there are many people there in civilian clothes who speak with an American accent.”

      in the comments to this news, people are discussing that it would be nice to now publish negotiations of some Russian military men discussing nuclear strikes on Berlin

      • Pears Morgaine

        Bit of a mistranslation there, the word used was ‘reachback’ not Ridgeback, reachback is a military term to describe how intelligence, equipment and support from the rear is brought forward to units deployed on the front.

        The conversation was conducted over the public Webex platform and not a secure military network. It’s almost as if they wanted the Russians to know.

  • Terry Lawrence

    Glad to see you finally coming to understand why Russia was obligated to come to the rescue of Donetsk and Luhansk by pre-empting the planned Ukraine/NATO attack scheduled for late March, 2022, Craig. Maybe having heard Merkel and Macron confess that they never had any intention of honouring the Minsk Agreements played a role also.

    Further, Zelensky had expressed an intention to acquire nuclear weapons and invade Crimea. Ukraine had the uranium, knowledge, and industrial capability to build both nuclear weapons and missiles, having nuclear power plants and having built some of the Soviet ICBMs. Russia couldn’t tolerate a nuclear armed hostile NATO state under the de-facto control of Russia-phobic neo-Nazis who were actively killing their Russian speaking citizens a five minute missile flight time from Moscow. It had (and has) to be disarmed and de-Nazified.

    • Pears Morgaine

      ” planned Ukraine/NATO attack scheduled for late March, 2022, ”

      That’s a new one! Got the slightest bit of proof?

      Given that Russia began massing troops on the border months before the invasion they must’ve been warned well in advance.

  • Jack

    Hopefully this woman is not to be elected for this top position in the EU:

    EU state’s PM ‘too hawkish’ on Russia for top job – Politico
    Estonia’s Kaja Kallas is reportedly viewed by some leaders as too aggressive toward Moscow to become the bloc’s foreign policy chief

    And unfortunately but I think we have to dispel the idea that women are more peaceful than men. Kallas is not the only one that have proved way too hawkish on foreign policy issues lately, quite a few female politicians within the EU have stepped forward during Russia/Ukraine with the most hawkish of attitude …. Then we have the obvious og hawks of Clinton and Albright, Thatcher.

  • Jack

    Not to downplay war crimes but come on now? Russians face arrest warrants by ICC for…targeting electronic structure in Ukraine.

    According to the (ICC) statement, Kobylash and Sokolov were complicit in a barrage “against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least October 10, 2022 until at least March 9, 2023.”

    Apparently targeting electronic infrastructure is apparently more severe of a crime than targeting 13000+ kids in Gaza.

    Again it took mere DAYS for ICC to declare they opened a case against Russia, still ICC is nowhere to be seen on Gaza. The word hypocrisy is not enough to describe this double stanrds being played out for everyone to see.

    Also why are Russia so incredibly slow themselves? Set up a court and declare arrest warrants against ukrainians being involved in war crimes.

  • Beware the Leopard

    CM: It is beyond argument that my belief in some kind of inherent decency in the Western political Establishment was naïve.

    I commend the host for this acknowledgement.

    CM: This does not mean that I was wrong to call the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian state illegal. I am afraid it was. You see, the law is the law

    However sympathetic I might find this line of argument, it is disputable on a number of grounds.

    Here is one of those grounds: Is the law really the law, when it is not enforced? Is it the law when it is selectively enforced, depending on who the offender is?

    Who among the so-called architects of the Iraq invasion have been held to account for the illegal war they prosecuted? Who among those who instigated the demolition of the Libyan state, or the dirty war in Syria, have been held to account?

    What credible efforts have been made, to bring these criminals to account? If, as you say, “The law is the law,” then surely it is without teeth.

    A law with no consequence is no law.

  • Murdo Ritchie

    Essentially Frederick Engels addressed many of these points in his concept of “non-historic nations.” The main “non-historic nations” that he focussed upon were in Eastern Europe, though the concept later took on more global dimensions. These, he saw, failed to undergo the processes that produced national identities that were expressed in the lead up to and during the national revolutions of 1848.

    The pressures to assume national identities grew largely more coherent after this period. The dominance of Russia obstructed and held back this process. That is why Vladimir Lenin could call Russia of this time as the “prison house of nations.” This did not imply coherence within the entities striving for a national identity, and faced the massive dilemma of where a modern state should should draw its national borders.

    The Brest-Litovsk negotiations assisted Poland to re-appear, albeit not with the same boundaries as the last incarnation of the Polish Commonwealth. The Baltic States took on an independent appearance, rather than as parts of bigger entities. and Ukraine came into existence with undefined border. Indeed, during the inter-war years there were two separate Ukrainian republics. Border clashes between these states were inevitable, especially between Ukraine and Poland.

    Since the French Revolution their has been a greater congruence between peoples. languages and religions, allowing greater identification within nations. Previously a form of parochialism, overseen by an external state power, frequently of peoples speaking other languages and from other cultures made up the “body of armed men” that made up the state e.g. the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman empire, even the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The modern nation state almost always has problems reconciling itself with its own internal minorities, Jews, other Christian denominations or other languages.

    Interestingly, the Yalta borders gave Eastern Europe its longest period of peace. Stalin’s iron fist removed internal tensions and border disputes. Indeed, the boundaries made some sense allowing national identity to develop in Poland and Ukraine. Most nineteenth century writers living in what became Ukraine tended to write and speak in Russian, often looking down on the Ukrainian language as a backward parochialism e.g. Gogol, Trotsky etc. Even Andrei Kharkov, a Ukrainian nationalist today, mainly writes in Russian.

    It ought to be amusing that Volodymyr Zelensky, putting aside the anomaly of Crimea, is essentially fighting for the retention of Stalin’s borders.

    Like you, I also find the formation of nations, national identities as well as state formation fascinating. In the world dominated by great powers and imperialism this frequently takes on many new features.

    A fascinating article. I hope you develop this theme.

  • Tom Chivers

    I missed this post at the time but read the “I now think Putin was justified in the invasion” quote in Private Eye and thought I’d come for the explanation.

    What a let down. If your position is justifying the invasion but not the conduct of the invasion – smashing up society in Ukraine and killing the citizens – it’s weak. If there is some other aspect of your position, you haven’t managed to get it across, here which is odd because you’re a very good reporter and writer.

    When you change your mind, you change it big time and in pretty quick time. That might suggest that you’re not really getting to grip with the question in enough depth in the first instance. You’re older and cleverer than me but these are very big fuck ups – SNP from being the answer to being the problem, invasion of Ukraine from unjustified to justified.

    I wish you good luck but think again about this. If you have to spin around, again, you’re going to need a really good article to explain it.

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