Russian disinformation about Ukrainian Nazism

Someone was alluding to Russia’s claim that the invasion of Ukraine was to tackle Ukrainian Nazism.

If we had called out Zelensky, American support for Ukraine would not have been there and America would be involved in one less “New War[s]”.

In direct reaction to that comment, I spent three hours reading up on Zelensky, accusations of Nazism in Ukraine, accusations against military units and political parties in Ukraine and comparing what has been said from different sources. I read up on the American position, the Israeli view, the view of Ukrainian Jewish groups and the Jewish international media.

I have no axe to grind here, it was genuine impartial curiosity.

Apart from Russian disinformation, there is nothing of any significance in what this person was alluding to. Various media, government, NGO and social groups have looked at what had been going on in Ukraine regarding Nazism, far right politics, treatment of Jews,involvement of Jews in Ukrainian government and military and the like and concluded there was nothing going on that is unusual for 21st century Europe.

The American government did indeed discuss and analyse the accusations about Zelensky and Ukraine and concluded the accusations did not stand up and decided continued support was the right thing to do. This decision was later supported by Jewish academics, media and Ukrainian Jewish groups.

So, what this person was wishing for, did indeed happen, and it concluded continued American support for Ukraine was appropriate.

In short, the reason for the Russian invasion of Ukraine was false.

The reflective part of this is that I am so pleased I did my undergrad and Master’s degrees.  Between the lecturers, librarians and other support and training I had, my already-existing research skills were strengthened by the ability to find counterarguments, be open-minded, evaluate sources, understand political and media biases and find an answer for myself in which I can be confident.  Although my conclusion above is lightweight and unreferenced, in three hours I covered a heck of a lot of different sources very efficiently.  I’m please I can do that.

 

Understanding International Relations Theory

I’ve just completed and passed a 12 week course “Understanding International Relations Theory” on Coursera run by the HSE University, Moscow.  It was written four years ago, so well before the invasion of Ukraine. It has been on my To Do list since I completed my Masters in Conflict Resolution and Peace Studies, essentially an international relations course, but I wanted the perspective of a Russian university on the subject.  I got round to doing it when I did because a small number of people were saying the invasion of Ukraine was inevitable and were predicting the nation of its escalation of not addressed.   I also felt it was predictable and based on Russia feeling unheard in its objections to Eastward NATO expansion, not being heard on the world stage beyond its power of veto at the UN and its objections to how regime change was being conducted by the West.

Anyway, the theory is just the same: Realist, Liberalist and Marxist paradigms of interpreting international relations, with their modern neo- versions to accommodate their failings, and the special theories like Democratic Peace Theory, Regime Theory and the delightfully named Liberal Transnationalism or Complex Interdependence Theory.  Also, the critical theories of Constructivism, Postmodernism and Feminism. As expected, it starts with the Peloponnesian Wars, goes through the philosophers like Hobbes and Locke and the Westphalian view of state sovereignty, the League of Nations, the Great War, WW2, the United Nations, the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union and almost up to the present day.  All as expected.

But the interesting bit was toward the end: the analysis of Russian foreign policy.  It is entirely a Realist policy, so very different from how the West operates.  And using the Realist paradigm of a desire to balance power, of great powers operating in a ‘concert of nations’ and Russia expecting to be the most influential state in its region, the behaviour of Russia was indeed entirely predictable.

While many were saying Putin is mad, that he intends to invade and conquer Europe, that it is all to do with internal Russian politics, had got it wrong.  The invasion of Ukraine is – like most violence at any scale – all about humiliation.  Russia resents being treated as insignificant on the world stage, resents the encroachment by NATO and the EU into its sphere of influence, resents not being involved in decision-making about world issues such as the Arab Spring (hence its involvement in propping up the Syrian regime to show that it can) and that it was not defeated and eliminated when the Soviet Union collapsed.  Russia wants to be seen as what it sees itself as and has been for centuries: one of the great powers in the Eurasian zone.

All conflicts end with communication.  And communication starts with listening.  We need to stop treating Russia as a defeated opponent or an enemy to be crushed by an ongoing unofficial Cold War and try listening.

Nuclear weapons threat, end of German pacifism, NATO expansion and the arms race and censorship

I went to bed reminded of living as a child of the bomb, not expecting to reach adulthood because of the permanent threat of nuclear war and obliteration.  No point working for the school exams or planning a future, because there would not be one.  And now there are news stories looking breathlessly at nuclear escalation as an exciting prospect.

This is why we should have got rid of nuclear weapons by now.  We are still living in fear of total destruction which is supposedly there to protect us.

So the post WW2 constitutional attitude of Germany being a peaceful nation in Europe is over.  It feels like we’ve gone back 90 or more years in European peaceful negotiation and concepts.  Once again a militarised Germany in the centre of Europe, throwing its weight about.  And providing the arms for a war in another country: great way to get back into the game, Germany, by supporting a proxy war.  Start out at a low level, why don’t you?

And Germany has committed to providing 2% to NATO, so NATO’s budget goes up as a result of Russia’s actions.  Well done NATO for coming out the winner in this.  The most powerful state in the world with a national flag, national anthem, guaranteed budget paid by taxpayers elsewhere and with no democratically elected leaders.  Amazing.

Lots of countries are promising to send weapons of various sorts.  Russia is on the outskirts of Kiev.   By the time they have been found, ready to be boxed up, it will all be over.  But the contracts and orders with the arms manufacturers will still go ahead.  It is just throwing money at the arms industry that will have no effect.  What are they going to do with them when they are ready for shipment in a couple of months – send them to the Russians occupying Ukraine?  “Oh, these are items in the stores!”.  They have to be gathered up, boxed up, transport arranged, receipt arranged, training booked, maintenance arranged, documentation provided … it won’t happen.

And the censorship has begun.  During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan I found it very interesting watching the mainstream news and listening to the BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Moscow and comparing the different versions of events.  By tracking what each was saying about the front moving back and forth in my school atlas, and keeping track of the losses and gains reported on each side, I was able to work out which was utter bobbins and which seemed reasonably accurate, albeit with some spin.  The Voice of America was utter bonkers fiction; the others were generally aligned.  Fake news and lies in the media are not a new thing.  Censorship in the West is.

What an unpleasant weekend.  How quickly politicians will re-instate a Cold War and military escalation when given the opportunity, rather than trying to sort their problems out.

Welcome to living with fear.

Ukraine – prevention

I feel that if there were more money and effort spent on building international relations and conflict prevention, this (the invasion not just of disputed territories but the whole of the Ukraine by Russia) need not have happened.

The criticism of NATO’s continued existence as an offensive military organisation (as opposed to a mutual defence treaty) once the Warsaw Pact had collapsed is not a new one. I can understand Russia’s concern about it. And I have seen many suggestions being made for diplomatic solutions which could have addressed or at least challenged Russia’s demands for not having NATO on their borders. For example, a buffer alliance of East European states not in NATO or Ukraine joining an alliance of neutral states.

Our own national posturing and feeble threats did nothing to prevent what has happened. Nor have our sanctions spread to a whole list of things that any geezer down the boozer could come up with: impounding their ships and aircraft; expelling the 900 Russians who bought an express UK citizenship; banning all trade with Russia; confiscating any containers or goods bound for Russia; instructing every investment house to freeze the assets of every Russian investor or risk being struck off. I’m sure there are many more people with more knowledge can think of, especially for dealing with the Russian supply chain.

Photos of UK politicians wandering around Kiev wearing a furry hat (on a day when it was warmer than Manchester) might get votes but has absolutely zero impact on reality.

It’s another case of a country with some demands (going back 30 years) being ignored and challenged as if to say “We dare you”. But Russia has a cultural tradition of strong and brave leadership: they would respond with a strong and brave response. Which they have. Big surprise. Not.

There’s also the cultural issues in the region which go back a thousand years. The history is really complex and we learned during the Paris Peace Conference a century ago that self determination is really important. If people in a region feel they do not want to be governed by a different peoples, then that needs to be listened to or it will eventually escalate. Since then, and especially in the past 30 or so years, we have learned an awful lot about conflict de-escalation and how to create societies with imbalanced powers that actually work. Instead of waiting for this to go horribly pear-shaped, like we did when Yugoslavia fell to bits, we (European states, mostly, but also the UN) could have done more to help resolve the Ukraine / Crimea / Russia situation by thinking of the people, power structures, how to reorganise society and the history instead of nation state politics.

I don’t think international politics or relations is easy. Well, it is if you ignore it and wait for it to go belly up and wait for it to be a military problem, I suppose, rather than dealing with it. I don’t suppose it is any easier for a national politician in the UK to go and say “Can we help?” than it is to get involved when the neighbours are shouting at one another in the street. It’s easier to draw the curtains and hope it goes away.

But I thought the point of the United Nations was to stop this sort of thing, to create a safe environment to settle issues. Maybe that is where to look for the failure here. In what way does the UN need to change?

And where the heck were the UN peacekeepers? Instead of NATO posturing and behaving like a belligerent nation itself with its leader making threats and demands on the world stage (did you vote for him? I didn’t.), NATO could have offered to provide the peacekeeping force to the UN. To protect the border, from invasion, not as a NATO attack force but a UN peacekeeping force. They have the resources and money for a war, surely they have the resources and money for not a war?

Yes, it’s sad. Unimaginative and weak leadership, more concerned in posturing and local votes than making the world a better place. But then, isn’t that politicians the world over? Me, me, me, me, me.

It does not take a strong person to start a fight. It takes a strong one to stop one. And that strength could come from investment into further research into conflict management, raising awareness of the methods, publicising success when it works and promoting its application when the neighbours are having a falling out. Hmm. I wonder where the money could come from to pay for that?

How about starting with the management of NATO. Scrap NATO as an organisation – but leave the sensible mutual defence pact Treaty in place – and use the money saved for managing international relations in a peaceful way?