The orbit of Russian cultural influence

May 25, 2023
Ukraine map and donots is marking with Ukraine and Russia flags.

One of the stranger aspects of the current war, at least for this observer, is the sight of Ukrainian military commanders telling BBC cameras in perfect Russian of their anti-Moscow plans. They have yet to learn to speak Ukrainian. 

Moscow is supposed to be attacking Ukraine out of concern it will bring NATO to Russia’s borders. But Moscow initially made little mention of NATO. It gave other reasons for its attack.

It said it was conducting a ‘special military operation’ to counter Ukraine’s use of neoNazis to attack into Ukraine’s Russian-speaking provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Special military operations are not a Russian invention. They follow a tradition of ‘police actions’ or ‘necessary interventions’ etc. set by the US, UK, France and others who have seen fit to send troops into other peoples’ nations to root out communists, terrorists, or other alleged undesirables.

The US in recent memory sent troops into Panama causing uncounted damage and deaths simply to root out one alleged undesirable, Manuel Antonio Noriego. Many condemned the death and destruction. But no one accused the US of ‘invasion.’ It had sent in troops for a special purpose and withdrew them when that purpose was achieved.

In Malaya the British justified its anti-communist intervention as an ‘emergency’ even though the emergency lasted 12 years through to 1960. In Mali in 2012, France had its Operation Serval to root out Islamists followed by Opération Épervier in Chad. No one argued that these interventions were invasions of sovereignty. It was always assumed troops would be withdrawn after problems had been solved.

People only began to talk about ‘invasions’ when Cold War opponents were involved – China’s attack against India in 1962 after India’s movement of troops across the Himalayan MacMahon frontier line and Russia against Georgia in 2008 after the latter’s attack into Southern Ossetia. In both cases troops were withdrawn when problems were solved.

Moscow was in a similar situation over Ukraine. Under the Minsk 2014-5 agreements Kiev had promised autonomy for Lugansk and Donetsk. But it had then, together with its Western allies, broken that promise, by covertly training, arming and encouraging neoNazi elements – the Azov Batallion, Right Sector, Soboda, – to attack those territories, killing an estimated 18,000 people over eight years.

If that does not amount to an excuse for Moscow to intervene then we need to ask the US, UK and France to rewrite their history books.

Even moderate Russian commentators were already by 2016 beginning to call for intervention. It was Putin, whom the West likes to portray as a Russian Hitler, who refused. Naively he withheld intervention believing the West was genuinely seeking various formulas to enforce Minsk – the Normandy Format and so on.

We now discover they were all disguises to allow Western powers time to arm, train and integrate the neoNazi elements into the Ukrainian forces.

As in Georgia over Ossetia, Moscow should have intervened immediately after the attacks had begun in Ukraine, and imposed a system of peace keepers. Putin’s naive acceptance of Western promises guaranteed the mess we have today.

True, other factors were also responsible. One was the corruption and crudity of the Russian military intervention after years of inactivity. Then there was the expansion of Moscow’s claims – the demand for independence, and not just autonomy, and not just for Donetz and Lugansk but for the neighbouring provinces of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, followed by annexation into the Russian Federation.

One appreciates the historical basis for Moscow’s claims. But they were based on criteria which compete with today’s concepts of sovereignty transfer.

But most of all we have the sudden emergence of Ukrainian nationalism in the large areas of Ukraine that formerly saw themselves within the orbit of Russian cultural influence. One of the stranger aspects of the current war, at least for this observer, is the sight of Ukrainian military commanders telling BBC cameras in perfect Russian of their anti-Moscow plans. They have yet to learn to speak Ukrainian.

Incidentally those BBC cameras, which today serve as a pro-Ukrainian propaganda machine, eight years ago were telling us about neoNazi threats and the brave resistance of Ukraine’s Russian speakers to the entry to Kiev’s troops. I challenge the BBC to restore to You Tube its dramatic coverage of local resistance to Kiev’s forces in Slovansk in 2015.

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