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A Sober Look at Ukraine War Narratives
There are cycles of the new “thing,” and for a while it was Ukraine, and it has also been covid, George Floyd, MeToo, and now the protests in Iran. However, there is now some degree of fatigue and weariness about the Ukraine war from the public, rather than the original gung-ho support. While there is less hysteria about Russia than this spring, there are still signs that the war could further escalate. Regardless, the conflict will have long lasting geopolitical ramifications. I waited to write about the war, and while it might be less timely, now is a good time to take a more sober look at the conflict.
People often get accused of being Russian shills for nuanced or “both sides” takes. Certainly Russia is the aggressor and has blatantly violated international law with the invasion. However, there are complexities from a geopolitical standpoint, and it is dishonest to imply that Russia could not have been negotiated with prior to the invasion. Also the unprovoked narrative lets the US and NATO off the hook, due to the push for NATO expansion eastwards, which Russia alleges was a renege upon an agreement at the end of the Cold War. A hypothetical comparison has been made to how the US would flip out if Mexico became part of the Sinosphere, with Chinese military bases in Baja. John Mearsheimer has made the case that the best way to have prevented war, was for Ukraine to have become a neutral buffer zone, aligned with neither Russia nor NATO, and built up economically, doing business with both Russia and the West. However, that would have required agreement from Ukraine, the West, and Russia, and Ukraine assured that it would not be economically isolated. While Western leadership deserves blame for exploiting Ukrainian resentment against Russia, and sabotaging chances for diplomacy, the narrative of Ukrainians as just pawns of a geopolitical struggle, denies Ukraine agency. For instance Ukraine actively lobbied the West for support and Ukrainians wanted to be part of the West for protection and economic benefits, looking at how neighboring Poland became prosperous after joining the EU.
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There are comparisons to McCarthyism, in how countering Russian propaganda was used to justify censorship and fact checking. Though canceling usually occurs in waves and then simmers down, and is now less severe than at the beginning of the war, though censorship could ramp up again if there is escalation. There were demands from state officials, such as Victoria Nuland, that tech companies censor certain Ukraine stories, there have been calls to prosecute Russian propagandists as accomplices to war crimes, and some European nations such as Czechia considered imprisoning those who expressed support for the invasion. Though more recently there were mass protests in Czechia demanding neutrality due to the energy crisis. There has also been collective punishment in discrimination against Russian citizens in Europe, which sets a precedent that is radically anti-liberal. However, more recently there has been a softening of anti-Russian xenophobia, such as sympathy for military deserters, with the overall objective to encourage Russian opposition against Putin.
Both sides of the war have propaganda, which is a given in any conflict. Certainly there is Russian propaganda, but it is important to make the distinction between more nuanced points critiquing the establishment narrative and outright Russia propaganda. There are historic cases where falsified information was used to justify war, such as the Kuwait incubator allegations against Iraq during the first Gulf War, which turned out to be fabricated. Certainly there are cases that are suspicious, such as the destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline, which the US had the strongest motive as a culprit, or cases where there was a rush to conclusion, such as the Ukrainian missile landing in Poland, which was initially blamed on Russia, risking a triggering of NATO Article 5. However, there is a lot of blatantly outlandish Russian propaganda, such as alleging that practically every single massacre of Ukrainian civilians is a false flag, and flat out denying any Russian atrocities against Ukrainians. Healthy skepticism of the establishment narrative is good but many dissidents fall into this trap, of opposing any information that aligns with the establishment, which is anti-intellectual, even if the establishment often does lie. While Russia-gate is largely nonsense, Putin’s speech on Two Wests pandered to the Western Right in rhetoric, perhaps to exploit political fragmentation. The Russian state has also adopted woke anti-racist rhetoric against America.
The explanation for pro-Russia sentiment among dissidents is simple, the politics of friend-enemy distinction, as dissidents share the common adversary with Putin, the GAE (Globalist American Empire). While there is a segment of the dissident right that are vehemently anti-Ukrainian, overall they mostly detest the Western elites, who back Ukraine. This also applies to much of the anti-imperialist left, known as “Tankies”. However, many dissident figures who were previously pro-Putin have since denounced Putin, even if just for optics reasons, and some dissident rightest and identitarians support Ukraine on ethnonationalist, pro-European grounds. Overall American dissidents are so demoralized by institutional capture by their political enemies, as well as the ongoing decline of the West and a broken democratic system, that they are willing to look to the outside for allies, even if just symbolically. White identitarians in particular feel like a stateless people and see hostile elites flooding their countries with non-western immigrants, anti-White discrimination in jobs, and crackdowns on free speech, so their gut reaction is to be pro-Putin, or live vicariously through Russian nationalism. While dissident rightest are pro-White, they ironically also have a third wordlist bent, in response to how engrained liberalism is with the West. Putin does challenge the interests of the “Globalist American Empire,” yet is also directly responsible for the deaths of White European civilians, which puts dissident rightests in an awkward position. While one need not be patriotic to the American regime, that does not mean that dissidents should worship any regime that is anti-American. There are parallels with the alienation from America that leftists and Black activists felt during the Vietnam and Cold War, who thus sympathized with the Soviets. Though pro-Soviet Leftists were marginalized and usurped by the New Left, who were backed by the Deep State.
Unfortunately, the war has been framed under symbolic Marvel-like narratives, as a proxy war for our own domestic political ideologies, culture wars, and online discourse, transposed upon a region without respect for its history. For instance having a Russian or Ukrainian flag on one’s Twitter bio is a tribal marker. Besides a lot of boomers and boomer politicians who are still stuck in the Cold War, Putin has increasingly become a symbol of the right due to Russia-Gate. The American liberal establishment views Putin, Trump, and Jan 6th, as inter-connected as part of a global rightwing conspiracy, and associates all pro-European and American nationalism with Putin. Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin stated that Moscow "is a world center of antifeminist, antigay, anti-trans hatred, as well as the homeland of replacement theory for export," and Raskin practically called for a progressive holy war against Russia. This is absurd and ignores Putin’s Third Worldism, and that Ukrainians are about as conservative on issues of race and LGBTQ as Russians. Regardless, Ukrainians have practically been given honorary POC victim status by the liberal establishment, to the point of becoming the George Floyd of nations, which just further shows how symbolic geopolitics have become and the ultimate sign of living in the simulation.
A video of Ukraine's women-warriors' address to Russians proclaims that "The genetic fund of our nation is reliably protected," was promoted by a journalist tied to mainstream media networks. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to protect one’s “genetic fund” from hostile adversaries. However, it is ironic that many of those calling for a domestic war on terror to end the scourge of White Supremacy in America are cynically backing Ukrainian ultra-nationalists, which goes back to having a common enemy. There are further ironic parallels between Russia’s agenda of “denazification,” that denies Ukraine’s right to self-determination on the grounds that Ukraine is “fascist,” and the Democrats’ post-Trump agenda to purge America of its “fascist” elements.
There is a Russian narrative that Ukrainians are just Russians, and Russia would like to see Ukrainians totally assimilated into Russian identity. While it is true that Russians and Ukrainians are related culturally and ethnically, they are two distinct peoples. Russia has also alleged the persecution of ethnic Russians within Ukraine, though Russia lost moral leverage on defending Ukraine’s Russian minority, when they went beyond protecting the separatists, to attack the core of Ukraine. How borders are drawn often does not perfectly align along ethnic lines, which has been the case with many ethnic sectarian conflicts. Also much of the West’s narrative is framed about defending liberal democracy rather than just Ukraine. While Ukraine’s government is not a liberal democracy, in that it has banned opposition parties, liberal democracy should not be a prerequisite for self-determination. The right to self-determination matters, but is also counter-balanced with geopolitical realities about power, alliances, and demographics.
Since both sides are European, “No More Brother Wars,” the idea that Europeans have learned the lessons of WWII is out the window. While Russia is European in a racial sense and has contributed to Western civilization, there is also a case that Russians are Europeans apart from the West, and that Orthodox Civilization is its own distinct civilization apart from the West. The conflict accelerates the isolation of Russia from the West, and Russia is now much more linked to China and the Global South. The White Western world is uniting behind Ukraine to form a new geopolitical block that is more Euro-centric, and perhaps less concerned for the Global South. There is even growing anti-UN sentiment among liberal internationalists, because Russia and its allies can influence UN security council decisions, and there is growing support for a return to a League of Nations mode of the more “civilized world.” However, so far the conflict has not seriously undermined woke politics, though who knows if it will, if the war accelerates. The one exception might be for Poland, which is being allowed to be nationalistic, while there was previously an attempted color revolution against Poland.
It is important to have a realistic portrayal of Putin. Putin is not a White Nationalist, Fascist, nor a Bolshevik, nor is he some great visionary either. Putin is basically a reactionary conservative, who’s political basis is a revival of the 19th Century Russian Empire. Putin’s past record is mixed, such as his crackdowns on corruption from the Yeltsin era benefiting Russians economically, and cracking down on Salafist terrorism in Syria. However, the Ukraine war was a blunder that tarnished Putin’s legacy and has done tremendous damage to Russia. Putin had other tools to gain leverage on opposing NATO expansion, such as energy, so Russia’s argument that Ukraine was an existential threat is nonsensical.
There was a window of opportunity for better relations between America and Russia, but due to Russia-gate, American leadership viewed Putin as a Stalin or Hitler-like figure, who could not be negotiated with. We can pontificate different scenarios and how diplomacy could have prevented the war, but the conflict has reached a point where chances for a diplomatic resolution are dwindling, and the US and Russia are beyond the point of no return, as far as having good diplomatic relations. Overall America’s objective is not humanitarian nor about defending Ukraine’s sovereignty, but rather about maintaining US geopolitical hegemony or the “rules based international order,” and to weaken Russia to foment regime change. Even pro-establishment political scientist, Ian Brenner, stated that the war is about NATO vs. Russia, not Ukraine, and former CIA Director, Leon Panetta, stated that, “We are engaged in a conflict here. It’s a proxy war with Russia, whether we say so or not.” However, recently the US changed their tune on being open to diplomacy, which could be due to the energy crisis, but the US could also be bluffing.
My prediction for the outcome of the war is somewhere in between the mainstream media who are very optimistic about Ukraine defeating Russia, and alternative media outlets who were predicting a total Russian victory, and expecting Russia to take half of Ukraine, with a rump state left in western Ukraine. Ukraine has had more military successes than many anticipated, pushing back the Russian military to the eastern periphery. This is in part due to a home turf advantage of defending their homeland, while Russia’s military shows signs of demoralization. Regardless, Russia still has the advantage of a much larger military. Russia seems unlikely to launch another largescale ground invasion anytime soon, but will likely continue targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure this winter, in order to devastate Ukraine’s economy, exacerbate the refugee exodus, lower morale, and put pressure on Europe to cave in on sanctions.
While the chances of the war escalating to direct confrontation with NATO, and use of nuclear weapons are slim, any possibility of that scenario is catastrophic. I predict an eventual stalemate, in that Ukraine will maintain most of its territory, while Russia holds onto Donetsk and Crimea. Ukraine will likely be economically devastated and depopulated from the refugee exodus, though may eventually join the EU. More likely than direct confrontation is a series of proxy wars between the West against Russia and China, in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. For instance Egypt vs. Ethiopia, Morocco vs. Algeria, Armenia vs. Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan vs. Tajikistan. Also Russia’s decline is leaving a power vacuum in many of these regions.
Overall Russia, Ukraine, and the EU, are all losers of the conflict. If Russia is devastated by the war, it could become a Chinese vassal state, which is terrible from a pro-Western standpoint. While many dissidents were predicting the demise of the US at the beginning of the war, US hegemony has actually strengthened, exploiting Europe’s demise with the energy and financial crisis. The UK and EU could become vassals of the US, unless there is an effective nationalist/populist backlash. The war has harmed European nationalists somewhat, such as the AFD in Germany, who were perceived as too friendly towards Russia. However, the energy crisis is a much bigger political issue now, and could energize populist and nationalist politics in Europe. The war has not harmed American nationalist anti-war figures, such as Tucker Carlson, as some had anticipated, though GOP hawks are attempting a comeback in the new congress.
The question is whether one can be pro-Ukraine but also acknowledge other geopolitical factors that portray the West or Ukraine’s government in a negative light. Ideally it should be possible to be for defending Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and denounce Russia’s invasion, but also be able to criticize the US and NATO for exploiting the conflict. Both Ukrainians and Russians have agency and their own histories, and many people who could not point to Ukraine on a map, have made it into a proxy war for their own political tribe. Regardless, in times of crisis and war, polarized narratives often win out.
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