13 February 2015

#Putin, the dissident in an annexed world


If state-sanctioned Russophobia over the Ukraine crisis hasn’t shocked you, the eagerness of our anciens régimes to launch a destructive war over the Crimean issue should.

Usually, military adventures hinge on some kind of alleged existential threat. Whether the spread of communist rule according to the so-called domino effect in Indochina in the Cold War, or the alleged biological weapon factory trucks of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the War Party likes to tell you that you live on a knife’s edge. “The West”, whatever that means, is always being told to “stand up” to a succession of apparent villains categorized as “terrorists” or “dictators” (conveniently, neither word has a consistent definition and just tends to be stamped on the forehead of anyone the government dislikes).

The latest villain in their cartoonish picture of world events is Russian President Vladimir Putin, appealingly portrayed like a world-conquering villain from a James Bond movie. It is not a coincidence that he is portrayed thus at a time when the state is having so much difficulty justifying the paranoia of its out-of-control security services.

The US and Britain’s escalating spying and global military interventions, and their failures to justify either, are common knowledge. So too is their reliance on exaggerated world-threatening problems, ranging from Ebola to the Russian Federation, as a desperate excuse to portray themselves as vanguards of civilization before their credibility could disappear. These alleged threats are their only tickets to justify their illegitimate hostility and demagoguery towards other poles of power and independence in the world, in their fear that they might otherwise have become irrelevant and unwelcome.

Sadly, much of the press now engages in chauvinist caricatures of humanity, representing anyone deemed hostile to the so-called West as an aggressor or a barbarian. It seems that the so-called civilization of the “West” is now so immaterial and confused that it can’t envisage any identity of its own other than by opposing Islam on the one hand and Vladimir Putin on the other. This is how petty we have become. It isn’t restricted to pyromaniacs of the military industrial complex, either. Even moderate to left-wing publications demonstrate this profuse colonial attitude towards what they see as the inferior countries and cultures – the ones who apparently need to be tamed by humanitarian bombs.

What is most disturbing, to me at any rate, is the extent that Europeans and Americans make arrogant value-judgments in advance of the other eighty-five percent or so of humanity, wherein they indulge in fascist reflections about the apparent vulnerability of their own civilization in the face of other cultures. In their despair about the internal paradox and confusion of a so-called “West”, a civilization that now has no basis for solidarity other than a series of weapons contracts, they resort to blaming pacifists, the left, and primarily Muslims for all of society’s problems.

Such fascist musings, which are now the norm even in supposed liberal publications in the English-speaking world, try to hide behind ostensible anti-fascist historiographies, portraying those who oppose wars and rampant phobias against other cultures as “appeasers” and traitors. Are appeasing Islam, a religion consisting of over a billion worshippers and the fastest growing faith in Europe, or appeasing the nuclear-armed Russia inside its own sphere of influence, even bad ideas?

The reactionary argument that one is “appeasing” a power such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Russian Federation by refraining from militant policies of confrontation and aggression against them is bogus. For those who insist on rewriting history, we must remember that appeasement, in the context of the Second World War, referred to a diplomatic and not military error. The military disasters that led to Germany’s conquest of Poland and France bear no relationship to appeasement, and occurred despite Germany having an unfavorable situation when the war broke out. Appeasement is not faulted because it failed to cause war on less favorable terms for Germany (who were at any rate surrounded, outgunned and expected to lose at the time the War broke out anyway) but for causing misunderstandings that helped to cause the War in the first place.

Appeasement, like the Versailles Treaty, was one of the mistaken diplomatic settlements that increased Germany’s appetite for war. Appeasement usually refers to the settlement at Munich in which Germany was allowed to occupy parts of Czechoslovakia, interpreted by Germany a green light for taking further territories in the future. The settlement misled Germany about Britain’s intent, thereby making the outbreak of war more likely. Germany actually disbelieved that Britain would declare war on it when it did, so Britain bears much of the fault for failing to make its intentions clearer.

A similar policy of appeasement by the United States led to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, as US diplomat April Glaspie said the US “does not have an opinion” on Iraqi claims to Kuwait. Saddam Hussein interpreted this as a green light to take Kuwait, just as Germany is known to have read British and French diplomacy as the green light to take parts of Poland on the eve of World War Two. Declaring war on Germany, or Iraq, at an earlier juncture, isn’t posited as a “solution” envisaged by historians of either conflict. Avoiding misleading diplomatic settlements, avoiding misreading the behavior of the other side, and avoiding making erroneous settlements that suggest a “green light”, like the Munich Agreement or Glaspie’s statements on Kuwait, is the real solution. Greater bellicosity by France and Britain would not have prevented World War Two, but would have made the War happen sooner and on exactly the same terms, unfavorable to Germany as they were, that it actually happened.

There exists a great deal of media and political criticism of Russia’s alleged “annexation” of its tiny peninsula of Crimea, even comparing that action to actions by Germany that contributed to World War Two. However, Russia’s possession of Crimea is a fait accompli and was achieved by a nuclear-armed power, so it does little good to complain about it now or imagine how it might have been prevented. Despite this, usually credible analysts, including at the well-balanced US private intelligence firm Stratfor, seem to believe it is a realistic ambition that Russia will be deprived of the Crimean territory as a result of overt military pressure from NATO countries. From Stratfor on January 25th:
“blockading Crimea would be relatively easy for the United States, Ukraine and other allies… There is a connection to Crimea over the Kerch Strait from Russia proper of course, now based on ferry traffic but with plans for a bridge. But if war were to come, such tenuous links can easily be closed by a capable enemy. They are useful in peacetime, but vulnerable in war and near-war situations.”
Why are Stratfor analysts weighing up the advantages of NATO attacking and destroying Russian links to Crimea in order to put the peninsula under starvation, as if this were a viable or sane option? Let us not be under any illusions. This messianic aim to take Crimea back from Russia at all costs is not only misguided, but dangerous to anyone who would like to keep their iPad and doesn’t want to live in the Stone Age. This is outright insanity, and could get most of us killed for what most of us abundantly don’t care about. We should be thoroughly surprised to read about such pyromania anywhere, much less at a distinguished journalistic source such as Stratfor.

Russia considers Crimea to be part of its territory. To avoid catastrophic misunderstandings, we must agree with them. The territory, and the links from Russia to it, are under the de facto umbrella of Russian nuclear retaliation, so attacking either or cutting links to Crimea with military force would elicit the same devastating response as bombing Moscow itself.

Crimea obviously means a lot to the Russian people. But does it really mean more to Ukrainians, or for that matter to the British and Americans whose NATO armies would be expected to fight alongside the Ukrainians to take Crimea back, risking all our lives in the process? From the arguments of some commentators who at first appeared to be balanced, you might expect them to soon be trumpeting the charge to global thermonuclear war over the Crimean dispute. I will leave it to the readers to make up their own minds, but I am much happier to let Russia keep Crimea than I am to become a blackened skeleton. I can only hope that cool heads prevail, and that we leave Crimea alone.

Furthermore, who are we, the United States and the United Kingdom, to call Russia’s possession of Crimea an atrocity, or liken it to colonialism? Third World Forum director Samir Amin recently had this to say at Monthly Review, in response to the hostile British and American narratives about alleged Russian colonialist behavior:
“The expansion of the Tsarist Empire beyond the Slavic regions is not comparable to the colonial conquest by the countries of Western capitalism. The violence carried out by the “civilized” countries in their colonies is unparalleled. It amounted to accumulation by dispossession of entire peoples, with no hesitation about resorting to straightforward extermination”
Surely, the real height of colonialist aggression was not the reunification of Russia with its historic peninsula, but the creation of the United States by white conquerors, who plundered and exterminated indigenous peoples? The US also hasn’t left this settler legacy in the past, as it continues supporting and legitimizing the Israeli settler regime despite its crimes against the Palestinian people. There is no parallel to these acts of invasion or oppression in Russian history, and nor will alleged Russian or Soviet imperialism ever be as obscene as the imperialism of arrogant Anglo-American “civilization”.

We must all try to be mature enough to praise Putin’s opposition to hegemony, instead of defining nationalistic “Western” privileges through a rejection of Putin and others who are humble dissidents against the US government’s annexation of the world.


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