Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a war crime, but if we were to apply the Nuremburg rules to warring presidents every American president since Harry S. Truman would be facing a world court for war crimes. Too many people like to ignore that Putin has been pleading with the West to respect Russia’s borders since he was elected president of Russia, and to keep Russia’s strategic neighbours NATO free, something the USA managed to do for less than a decade before the American hawks decided ownership of Russian wealth was worth a few thousand deaths of innocents and millions in forced migration.
Khrushchev was forced to respect America’s borders when the (then) USSR backed down from from sending weapons to Cuba to protect it from US invasion. After that humiliation, Russia watched the US invade, illegally, so many countries it is hard to keep count. No sooner done than the US declared itself free from sanction or prosecution. Leaders in the West were happy to acquiesce in that self-serving edict.
During the cold war, western Europe and the US (CIA exempted), welcomed Russian intellectual, culture and sports figures, seeing them as a force for mutual understanding and potential reconciliation. Shostakovich and Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich, Kasparov and Akhmatova were feted in the West. No matter what one thinks of Russia now, the West, revelling in mass censorship, such as blocking transmission of Russian Television and Russian artistic and sport talent, will have to come to a peace deal with Russia one way or another if we are not to allow a proxy war destroy the rest of us. For a start, Ukraine ships thousands of tonnes of grain to Europe. When bread doubles and trebles in price, or disappears from supermarket shelves, we will let our elected leaders know how we feel.
“An unseasonal spike in grain shipment between the US and Europe has seen 718,000 tonnes of grain shipped across the Atlantic in May as of yesterday, according to data from Braemar ACM. This compares to just 64,000 tonnes in the whole of May last year, and shows the stark realities of how Europe has had to rush for alternative grain sources with Ukrainian ports being shut since Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces in at the end of February.” Splash Newsletter
In the case of the ‘support Ukraine’ lobby no matter the truth, blogger Iain Lawson is a model of that species we call a right-wing hawk. Such a black and white view is blind to avenues for peace. He has not been shy in warning us that Russia is truly the ‘Evil Empire’ and it does not ameliorate his antagonism when he adds he does not mean ‘all Russians’.
His argument is an unreconstructed Tory capitalist view, emboldened to a degree by living and working in Russia for a time. But it remains thoroughly crude Cold War ideology. It’s a wonder he has not called upon Obi Wan Kenobi to come to our aid against evil Darth Vader, so myopic is his one-sided opinion. It is not as if he is offering a new scenario from the West. He offers no alternative. What does the West want that will supplant the vote of the Russian people? We are left to surmise it is Russia as a satellite state of the USA.
His diatribe has been answered by a fine piece of research from Jason Michael McCann pointing out how Ukraine has been a buffer state exploited by East and West for decades. To know what needs done to achieve a peaceful solution, one first needs to know, understand and acknowledge both sides of the argument.
One has to put aside hatred and partisanship to find a solution both sides will accept. One day, we and they will have to come to a handshake and a signature whether the USA likes it or not. But as long as the West resists peaceful co-existence with Russia, the more we risk all-out war and the planet the ultimate victim.
ROSY-EYED FONDNESS FOR THE SOVIET UNION
By Jason Michael McCann
Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, ‘should be opposed by all independence supporters who believe in the rights of self-determination and national and personal freedom. Making excuses for Putin is a very damaging look for those of us who seek the independence of Scotland’
(Iain Lawson’s article can be read here: 25 April 2022.)
This is the assessment of my colleague Scottish independence activist and former friend (a sad state of affairs I would prefer to see remedied), Iain Lawson. As a candidate for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Iain served as an honorary consul for the Republic of Estonia in Scotland — a ‘local staff member’ of the Estonian consulate who does not perform the diplomatic functions of a consul proper. Naturally, this positionality colours his understanding of the current situation in eastern Europe; something to which he readily admits in his recent article when he writes that his views and opinions ‘are formed by [his subjective] life experience.’
Iain and myself (and others) have crossed swords in recent weeks over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and so I feel quite justified in seeing much of what I have said in these conversations reflected in his Imagine it was Scotland article. Iain’s criticism of myself and others is that we have no experience of eastern Europe, and that our positions — our criticisms of the United States and the NATO alliance — are shaped by academic rather than personal experiences. In this, he is perfectly correct. I have never been in the employ of a newly independent eastern European state. What I bring to the discussion is a postgraduate in Conflict Studies, an academic fellowship in History, and an expertise in the development and execution of the Holocaust in eastern Europe.
Blunt opinion versus historical facts
His and mine are very different sources of knowledge, and to a great extent we must respect these differences. However, neither of us are entitled to our own sets of facts and our own corresponding idiosyncratic and imposed sets of meanings established from these personal facts. What I aim to do in this critique of his work, then, is to perform a surgical deconstruction of his argument and — in light of the actual facts — consign it to the trash can of pseudo-intelligentsia where it belongs. Why is this important? This is not a personal assault on Iain Lawson. He is a good man, who I sincerely believe believes what he says. Rather, this demolition of his argument is important because it is in effect a succinct reiteration of the western government and media narrative of the conflict in Ukraine; a political narrative which is highly distortive and propagandistic in nature. Blind acceptance of this narrative, considering the influence it has on western electorates (whose consent is required for a war with Russia), is pulling us ever closer to a catastrophic global nuclear conflict.
Iain’s article opens with a simple and indeed simplistic statement — or slogan — affirming his belief in the right of eastern European states to be independent and their right to ‘exercise freedom of choice.’ He signs this credo off with an exclamation of his support for Ukraine. Wonderful. Here, I think, he and I are in perfect agreement. As a democrat and as someone who wholly subscribes to Karl Popper’s political philosophy of the Open Society, I too — and without reservation or equivocation — support the right of eastern European states to independence and state sovereignty. I too support Ukraine. But the fly in the ointment is, of course, in the nuance; what do we mean by ‘independence,’ ‘sovereignty,’ and support for Ukraine. Iain appears to rest on a naïve conception of these terms; independence as a form of isolation, sovereignty as the power to do anything within one’s own realm, and support for Ukraine as unwavering and uncritical loyalty to the cause of the Ukrainian state.
This child-like take on the terminology is problematic to me. It is over-idealistic, unrealistic, and lacks any awareness of Realpolitik (qua politics contingent on the material realities of the world). Independence cannot be and has never been — anywhere — a form of socio-political hermetic isolation. This was expressed in the early seventeenth century by the English poet John Donne:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
Co-operation or conflict
Our independence is a separation in relation with others. Ukrainian and Estonian independence, like the independence of western European states, is a political and social separation within their own territorial boundaries in relation with their neighbours. Europe — the peace and security of Europe — is made the less when clods are washed away, when neighbouring states shut themselves off from one another. In 1814, at the Congress of Vienna and through the period of the Concert of Europe, the statesmen of this continent understood well the need for a balance of power across Europe that involved and included all of the major powers. This fundamental arithmetic of power and peace on the international stage has not changed. A world in which there is only one great power — a unipolarity (such as exists right now with the United States) — is an extremely dangerous one.
Sovereignty too is a concept with which Iain seems to struggle. Only in the most rare instances in history does sovereignty — as the sovereign or divine right of the state to do as it pleases without restriction within its own territory — mean what Iain thinks it means. This l’etat, c’est moi notion of the state (à la Louis XIV) is largely fictitious; existing only in some superpower states and their most favoured clients. It almost exists in the United States and is to a large degree extended to its most strategically important client states Saudi Arabia and Israel. Everywhere else, sovereignty is a negotiated sovereignty.
North Korea is a ‘sovereign state,’ for example, but we all know what would happen if Pyongyang were to exercise that sovereignty by constructing a viable nuclear missile. The same is true for Germany. Germans voted to have US nuclear weapons removed from their country, only to discover that they do not in fact have the sovereign right to impose their will over the military and strategic interests of the United States. Normative sovereignty is the right to play music in our own homes as loud as we want, but in the sure and certain knowledge that over a certain volume and after a certain time a larger neighbour will come knocking.
Our support for Ukraine
Now we come to this knotty question of our support for Ukraine. Like Iain, I support the right of Ukraine to be an independent and sovereign state. I support its right to not be attacked by a neighbouring state. More so, I support the right of the Ukrainian people not to be bombed, displaced, and forced to leave their country as refugees. Yet, support for any country’s right to these things does not and cannot demand uncritical support for a political regime. One can be a loyal critic of a country and its ‘free choices’ without being a supporter of an aggressor state. Iain is entirely incapable of grasping this nuance. His life experience as an employee of the Estonian state has persuaded him that the truth of the nation is the narrative of the state. This leaves no room for dissent and — and he might want to consider this — is totalitarian in nature. True freedom allows for dissent from the state narrative. Meaning, the narrative of the state is distinct from the truth of the nation. We can support Ukraine without being uncritical of the Ukrainian government and state.
Throughout his article Iain makes repeated and problematic references to the past as though the histories of eastern Europe have an absolute and determinative effect on the present. This is an abuse of history. He makes a number of references to the Soviet Union and to the Russian Empire — and he really is confused here. He does not appear to know that these are different episodes from Russian and eastern European history. Then, in order to relate Ukrainian history to Scotland, makes an awful comparison between the British and Russian empires. So, some disambiguation:
The Russian Empire began and ended with the Romanov dynasty (1721–1917) — ending with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II — and the Soviet Union was the revolutionary state formed in 1917 and dissolved in 1991. These were historical regimes in the proper political sense. They were not, as Iain Lawson argues, Russia. Russia is a nation and a geography, whereas the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union were state polities — the regimes which ruled over this nation and its geography. It is vastly important to understand that no regime is interchangeable with the concept of the nation.
By stating on social media that ‘changing the curtains does not change who owns the house,’ Iain is denying this reality. The Russian Revolution and the dissolution of the USSR definitively changed who owned the house. These regimes were completely disbanded. Unless one subscribes to the racist assumption of the essential wickedness of the Russians as a people — which many in the collective West do (see Russophobia); suggesting that the Soviet Union bore responsibility for the crimes of the Russian Empire and the modern Russian Federation bears responsibility for the crimes of the Soviet Union is no different to the suggestion that modern Germany is the same as the Nazi regime of the Third Reich. Historical, ethnic, and racial essentialism litter everything Iain has written about Russia and eastern Europe, no doubt reflecting the revanchism of the state narrative he was taught in Estonia. But this is not how real historians do History.
Cold War ideology
This inane and highly polemical diatribe, plagued in all quarters by his outdated Cold War ideology, leads him to make a comparison between what is happening today in Ukraine with British imperialism. I hope that by now you can see the problem. The Russia right now invading Ukraine is not the Russian Empire. The Russian Empire, like the Roman and Mongol empires, no longer exists. The state that was the Russian Empire is dead. This is completely unlike the state that was the British Empire — it very much still exists in the guise of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This British state was not checked and disbanded. It is merely diminished. Where London can be held to account for what happened in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, India, and in so many other places around the world, Moscow is categorically not to blame for the 1932–33 Holodomor (the Ukrainian famine) as he insists. This is fallacious nonsense. Stalin and the Soviet Union were responsible for this catastrophe — not the Russian people and not the Russian Federation.
This, however, does not stop him using the Holodomor to explain and even justify Ukrainian ultra-nationalists (whose political origins pre-date the Soviet Union) murdering Jews at Lviv and Babi Yar, assisting the SS murder squads, becoming members of the SS, assisting the Nazis in the death camps, and perpetrating — without the instigation of the Germans — not one but two genocides:
…it is true around 250,000 of them joined the German army in 1941. No doubt because in the 1930’s the Russians stole and emptied Ukraine’s food stores creating a major famine where 3.8 million Ukrainians starved to death.
This is an outrageous and disgusting attempt at historical analysis. It is revolting. Even his benign use of the term ‘German army’ works to downplay what actually happened in 1941. These Ukrainian nationalists did not join the German army, the Wehrmacht. They joined Ukrainian SS battalions, both Waffen SS (fighting units) and SS-Einsatzgruppen (murder squads). The SS was never part of the German army. His unawareness of this basic fact underlines his grotesque ignorance of this history, yet we are to imagine his opinion is somehow expert? This is like playing chess with a chimp.
His historical pilpul continues apace with his recitation of a set of statistics about the Ukrainian losses in the Second World War and the numbers for Ukrainian enlistment into the Red Army. Now, I will trust the figures he provides (which, considering the foregoing, is probably not a good idea), and explain these figures with certain details of the war in Russia and eastern Europe.
‘Ukrainians made up over 40% of the Soviet Union casualties in WW2.’ The Soviet Union lost somewhere approaching thirty million people during what the Russians call ‘the Great Patriotic War,’ which would, according to Iain’s forty percent, mean Ukraine lost about twelve million. Ukraine before June 1941 was the heart of the Jewish pale of settlement with — along with Poland and Belarus — the highest concentration of Jews in the world. German and Ukrainian Nazis killed almost all of these people. Ukrainian nationalists murdered the Roma population and enacted a genocide against the ethnic Poles in the Volyn region (February 1943). This holocaust, perpetrated by the Ukrainians themselves, already brings us into the millions of deaths in Ukraine.
The German invasion did not get past St Petersburg, Moscow, and Stalingrad; meaning that the overwhelming majority of the conflict and the genocides happened in western Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine — so, roughly forty percent of Operation Barbarossa was fought in Ukraine. Simple maths would then dictate that sixty percent of Russians fighting in the Red Army were fighting to liberate Ukraine — and too often from Ukrainian Nazis. Still, this does not put Iain off manipulatively deploying these statistics to construct the false impression that the Soviet Union was using Ukrainians as cannon fodder against the Germans. The cold hard reality was that both Russia and Ukraine were struggling in an existential war against the Nazis that was largely fought in Ukraine. It only stands to reason that more Ukrainians joined the Red Army.
A meandering thesis
Things do not improve when Iain Lawson meanders into the modern context of the war in Ukraine either. He insists, as he has always insisted, that Ukraine was and is ‘no threat’ to Russia; conjuring up a poor man’s reductio ad absurdum – an image of a tiny and defenceless Ukraine against the astronomical might of Mother Russia. In essence, this is indistinguishable from the ‘Remember Belgium’ propaganda of 1914–18. It only works with a liberal application of whitewash. At the outbreak of World War One, Belgium was far from innocent. The colonial crimes of Belgium in Africa reached a magnitude of horror, had they taken place today international action against the kingdom would have been necessary. Even by the standards of the early twentieth century – which were not good – Belgium’s behaviour was odious. Likewise, the construct of Ukraine as innocent in this conflict is pure propaganda.
The US State Department’s interference in Ukrainian politics prior to the 2014 Maidan coup is well known. How can people like Iain insist on the sanctity of Ukrainian state sovereignty in light of US politicians, diplomats, and CIA operatives working with extreme far-right Ukrainian paramilitary organisations and openly Nazi political groups to undermine and bring down the legitimate and democratically elected government of the country? Just what kind of sovereignty is this? In his article, Iain states that ‘they [the Ukrainians] like democracy,’ that ‘they chose the government they wanted.’ Indeed they did. In 2010 the majority of Ukrainians elected — in free and fair elections — Viktor Yanukovych as their president and head of state. During his term of office he decided to pull back from political and economic entanglements with the European Union which his government did not feel served Ukraine’s national interests well. This was a democratically elected government in an independent state exercising its state sovereignty.
On being pro-Russian
Yanukovych did not break the law or violate the Constitution in order to do what he did, but in the United States and in the EU he was immediately branded as ‘pro-Russian.’ Can democratic sovereign states not be pro-Russian? Is friendship with Russia the limit of state sovereignty? Iain’s argument is that eastern European countries, as sovereign states, have the right to join any military alliance they want. Surely, then, it must also be their right to align with Russia if they want? Iain and others like him simply do not have the intellectual wherewithal to see the massive contradiction in their position. As insulting as this may sound, it is better than the only alternative to this position — that they support the antagonisation of Russia by the United States. The next contradiction is the nature of the 2014 coup. Iain writes of Yanukovych: ‘…under the previous mega corrupt President who left in a hurry in 2014…’ He offers not a single shred of evidence to support this accusation of ‘mega’ corruption and neither does he address the details of why he ‘left in a hurry.’
Maidan is the great lacuna in Iain Lawson’s analysis of modern Ukraine. He fails to mention that the Yanukovych government stipulated that police were not to use force against the demonstrators or that US senators and members of Congress had been liaising with the organisers. Furthermore, he fails to mention the inconvenient fact that the Kiev government reached a deal with the protesters and that the far-right paramilitaries completely refused to participate in the talks or accept any deal. Their objective — which aligned perfectly with the objective of Washington — was to bring down the government. Nothing of this gets a mention from Lawson. He would rather stick to the narrative of demonstrators being ‘murdered’ by Yanukovych’s government. But this is another whitewash. At the time Ukrainian police and soldiers started firing on demonstrators, these demonstrators were armed insurgents — armed by the United States, Britain, Canada, and Israel. Clearly, as court proceedings in Jerusalem have shown, this was a planned anti-government insurgency. What Iain will not accept (in this instance) is that it is the duty of the state, even a democratic state, to use force to protect the state from those who are actively attempting to bring about its destruction.
Insurgents and fascists
What Maidan demonstrated was the exact opposite of what Iain Lawson has said about the Ukrainians; that there is a powerful element in the country (powerful enough to bring down a government by force of arms) that does not have such a great liking for democracy, press freedom, freedom of religion, and the Open Society. The Maidan interim government was not elected by the people. This far-right government integrated Nazi paramilitaries into the armed forces of the state, positioned Nazis in key positions of the state civil service and the military hierarchy, and created an auxiliary police unit in Kiev tasked with ‘cleaning up the city’ of Roma people. Since the Maidan coup, the SBU — the Ukrainian state security services — has been placed on the US State Department’s list of human rights violators, and has routinely attacked journalists and Ukrainian Orthodox priests who have spoken out against the regime. So much for this love of press and religious freedom!
This coup government introduced an ethnicity category to national identification papers and passports, took steps to remove the status of Russian — the majority ethnicity and language in most of the east of the country — as an official language, supported the massacre of ethnic Russians in Odessa, and dispatched Nazi units of the army to Mariupol to wage a war of terror against the ethnic Russian population of Donbass when they asked for greater autonomy within Ukraine. Lawson deliberately sidesteps the fact that it was the Russian president who dissuaded the people of Donetsk and Luhansk from seeking independence. Their ‘separatism’ — a term used by states to legitimise the murder of their own civilians — was a development brought about by the violence of the Kiev regime.
Lies and more lies
In spite of the fact the US ambassador to Russia in 2014, Michael McFaul, boasted on a televised interview that the US lied to Ukraine and Russia about Ukraine becoming a member of the alliance — a deception designed to threaten Russia and provoke a response, Iain continues to place great stock in the role of NATO in preserving the peace and security of eastern Europe. Firstly, NATO, as a Cold War anti-Soviet nuclear military alliance, should have been disbanded like the Warsaw Pact at the end of the Cold War. Its continued existence is and is intended to be a threat to Russia. Secondly, immediately prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the United States made a commitment to Russia that NATO would not expand further to the east (the NATO-Soviet agreement, 9 February 1990) — a commitment the United States has not kept. Yet, this agreement alone gives the lie to Lawson’s repeated assertion that eastern European countries can join whatever alliance they want. Indeed they can, but this does not mean the US or NATO has to allow them to join. The expansion of NATO has been, as Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright have both said, the most significant contributory factor in the rising tensions in eastern Europe.
Throughout the article he makes a number of other spurious arguments, which are all as easily swatted away. Lawson is not an intellectual heavyweight by any measure. He bases almost everything he writes on his subjective opinion — arrived at from his personal experience of newly independent Estonia in the 1990s, a place that quickly became a hub for sex tourism when it was opened up to westerners (so much for western values). And this experience of Estonia qualifies him to speak for the people — or certain of the people — of Ukraine, whose country also became a hub for sex tourism after it was opened up to western Europeans and Americans. It also became the premier location for western Europe’s search for surrogate mothers — ‘wombs for hire.’ No wonder so many in the West have such a soft spot for these countries, they’re cheap. This is exactly what the US has exploited. It realised early that Ukraine could be bought and sold, and that Ukrainians could be paid to make the ultimate sacrifice to further US imperialism. What does Iain Lawson have to counter my criticism? That I have a ‘rosey [sic] eyed fondness for the Soviet Union.’ Whatever!
NOTES: Jason Michael McCann Journalist and blogger based in Dublin. Writing on politics and society. Author of the ‘Random Public Journal’. @Jeggit
(This site is open to publish a reply from Iain Lawson.)