On the Russia-Ukraine conflict

Image: Hamilton Grimaldi


Despite its effort to adapt to the Western ideological-political consensus, Russia – even after the end of the USSR – continued to be considered an aberrant actor in the international system..

As the Russian occupation of Ukraine – and I say “occupation” to use the term applied to invasions that have the blessing of the established powers: occupation of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Palestinian territories, etc. – spreads, the questions about the nature and meaning of this operation multiply. From the outset, the alleged “truths” and “proofs” provided by the western press from their command centers in the United States and Europe must be completely discarded, because what these media disseminate is blatant propaganda.

Of course, from a strictly military point of view, it is true that Russia “invaded” Ukraine. But, as “war is the continuation of politics by other means”, recalled von Clausewitz, this military deployment must be qualified and interpreted according to the political premises that give it meaning. This is what we will try to do next.

And these premises are very clear: Russia adopted this exceptional measure, which in the abstract deserves to be condemned, as a response to thirty years of attacks launched after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some time ago, Vladimir Putin, with his usual bluntness, told Western leaders: “You were not content with Russia's defeat in the Cold War. You humiliated her.” The political (and military) struggle is not an abstract exercise or a contest of gestures or rhetorical phrases. Therefore, the way in which things are presented with absolute clarity and without cracks in the comfortable level of intellection; in the raging struggle in the mud and blood of history, the “invasion” in question appears with an entirely different meaning: as a defensive reaction to endless and unjustified harassment.

After the disintegration of the USSR, Russia dissolved the Warsaw Pact, established a political regime in the style of European democracies, restored a deeply oligarchic capitalism with mafia methods, opened its economy to foreign capital and even toyed with the idea of ​​incorporating itself into the NATO. However, despite all this effort to adapt to the Western ideological-political consensus, Russia continued to be considered an aberrant actor in the international system, just as it was in Soviet times, as an enemy from which it must be protected and, at the same time, prevent it from protecting itself, because if international security is not negotiable for the United States and its European allies, such a privilege is not recognized for Russia.

The military operation launched against Ukraine is the logical consequence of an unfair political situation, or the end point of what Boaventura de Sousa Santos diagnosed as “the absolute inertia of Western leaders” to realize that there is not and will not be European security if it is not also guaranteed for Russia. The inertia of a European leadership that also deserves other qualifications: short-sighted, corrupt, ignorant and submissive to the point of ignominy in the face of US hegemony, which will not hesitate to wage new wars in Europe or in its backyard in the Middle East whenever it suits its interests.

This inability to lead led them first to despise or downplay Russia (expressing a pervasive Russophobia that does not go unnoticed by many Russians) and then to demonize Putin, a process in which Joe Biden has gone to unimaginable excesses in the field of diplomacy. In fact, in the middle of the electoral campaign and to demonstrate his attitude towards dialogue, he characterized him as the head of an “authoritarian kleptocracy”.

In a note published shortly after the 2014 coup d'état, Henry Kissinger, a war criminal but, unlike Joe Biden, a deep connoisseur of international realities, wrote that “Putin is a serious strategist, in line with the premises of the Russian history”, despite being systematically underestimated by the West. And he concludes his reasoning by saying that “for the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi to cover up the absence of a policy”. In that same article, highly recommended for the increasingly confused postmodern left, both in Latin America and Europe, Nixon's former secretary of state provides a necessary reflection to understand the exceptionality of the Ukrainian crisis.

For Russians, “Ukraine can never be a foreign country. Russia's history begins in what is known as Kievan Rus”. And that is why even such bitter dissidents of the Soviet system as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Josep Brodsky “kept stressing that Ukraine was part of Russian history and therefore of Russia”. None of the Western leaders seem to have the slightest idea of ​​this historic legacy, which is decisive for understanding why Putin drew NATO's “red line” precisely in Ukraine.

These references, which seem to encourage an escapist or denialist attitude in the face of the horror of the current moment, are essential for understanding the conflict and, eventually, for resolving it. Therefore, it is worth reading what an American internationalist, John Mearsheimer, wrote in 2014, when Washington staged, together with Nazi gangs, the coup d'état that overthrew the legitimate government of Víktor Yanukovych.

In that article, the University of Chicago professor said that the Ukrainian crisis and Putin's retaking of Crimea is "the West's fault" for its clumsy treatment of relations with Moscow. He also added that any US president would have reacted violently if a power like Russia had precipitated a coup d'état in a neighboring country, say Mexico, deposed a government friendly to Washington and installed in its place a deeply anti-American regime. (Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault”, Foreign Affairs, vol. 93, nº 5, September-October 2014).

In short: appearances do not always reveal the essence of things, and what at first glance appears to be one thing – an invasion – when seen from another perspective and taking into account contextual data, can be something completely different.

*Atilio A. Boron is professor of political science at the University of Buenos Aires. Author, among other books, of Minerva's Owl (Voices).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published in the newspaper Página12.

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