Former Ambassador, Human Rights Activist
You are conditioned to believe that killing more people is a better solution than negotiating a compromise. This is despite the fact that it is self-evidently a psychopathic notion. Let me give you a homespun analogy.
I have this week been dealing with an incident where somebody feels their share of a limited income should be increased, due to the amount of work they have put in. Others felt the person was underestimating the amount of work they had also put in. It became quite a difficult discussion. Happily in the end a compromise has been reached that everyone can live with. At no stage did anybody turn to me and say “we should kill them, that will solve it”. (And to anticipate the trolls, no I do not get any income myself from it).
There may be differences of opinion within a village on whether a wind turbine should be built next to it. The matter will be resolved, one way or another. Nobody suggests the answer is to smash anybody into bloody pulp on the ground with bombs and automatic weapons fire.
Yet when the question is whether that village ought to be in Ukraine or in Russia, inflicting horrible, painful death on those who disagree is seen not only as legitimate, but as heroic and noble. Boasts are continually being made by both sides about how many of the “enemy” have been killed, as though they were orcs rather than human beings with their own hopes and dreams, no different to those they are fighting.
I do not wish to understimate the differences between being in Ukraine and being in Russia. But they pale compared to the difference between hundreds of thousands of people being alive, or hundreds of thousands of people being dead. The problem is much more comprehensible when you accept that there are a significant minority of people within Ukraine’s official borders who really do want their district to be in Russia, and in some limited number of eastern localities they are a majority. That is not a Russian invention.
Diplomatic solutions to territorial solutions always end with a certain amount of population movement to areas where people can be with “their” side in perceived greater safety and comfort. The second world war shifted territorial boundaries and moved populations to an incredible degree. Western Ukraine was historically Polish. Western and much of northern Poland was historically German.
The simplistic narrative that the Donbass is Russian is just untrue. Pre 2014 the urban populations in the Donbass were very largely Russian. Urban populations are more visible and easier mobilised. But a substantial minority were Ukrainian, almost all rural. While only a small percentaage of those Donbass Russians come from families settled there pre 1946.
The Crimea is even more difficult. The population was historically majority Tartar – Crimea was within living memory a Muslim land – and the Krim Tatars were deported brutally by Stalin. This is not ancient history. Much of the deportation did not happen until the 1950’s. I cannot understand those who join me in wanting the Chagos Islanders to get their country back, but do not take the same view of the rights of the Krim Tatars.
(The same people tend to dismiss the human rights abuses against the Uighurs. Muslim Central Asia is a serious blind spot for many on the left).
Thankfully, diplomatic channels to Russia through Turkey remain open in the Ukraine war, as witness the recent prisoner exchanges. I am happy to see the British mercenaries back home safe in the UK, not least because now we won’t need to hear any more lies about how they were not mercenaries but new Ukrainians who had permanently settled in Ukraine.
Western powers should have used the limited but real advances made by the Ukrainian military in the last fortnight to reach out to Putin at a point where he might have been persuaded to accept a deal based on the ceasefire lines as they existed in 2021. Instead, they have ramped up the Russophobia another notch and persuaded themselves that the total destruction of the Russian army can be achieved and Putin brought down by a colour revolution.
The grim response from Russia, with mass mobilisation, is all too predictable. I am afraid that the notion that opposition to the draft will see Putin ousted is totally unrealistic. It underestimates the power of nationalist propaganda within Russia, and misreads the national psychology.
It really doesn’t help when the Ukrainians paint swastikas on tanks.
Do you believe that the Russians are propagandised into supporting this war but westerners are not? Here is an interesting experiment you can repeat. Go to google and do a google image search on “Swastikas on Ukrainian tanks”. I get this, and I suspect you will get something very similar:
Google Image Search “Swastikas on Ukrainian Tanks”
The large majority of those images link to articles claiming that the “Z” symbol used by the Russian forces is a (previously unnoticed) Nazi symbol.
The one thing google does not give you is any swastikas on Ukrainian tanks, which is what you asked for.
Now go to yandex.ru and enter an identical image search for “Swastikas on Ukrainian tanks”. This is what I get:
Yandex Image Search “Swastikas on Ukrainian Tanks”
That is a rather strikingly different set of images, is it not?
Now which one looks more like what I asked for?
Crucially, the first two images top left on the yandex search link to the German NTV station report that captured the swastika on the Ukrainian tank which Max Blumenthal had tweeted about. That is what I was searching for, to check on Max’s facts. Google hides this; I have no doubt whatsoever that this is deliberate.
It is also worth noting that while the Google results totally exclude any material about Nazi symbols used by Ukrainian troops in the current conflict, the yandex.ru search does include images from pro-Ukrainian sites that claim to debunk these images, rightly or wrongly.
In other words, while the google search results are highly censored to exclude the Russian viewpoint, the yandex results include pro-Ukrainian viewpoints and appear to be much more what you would expect on a random, uncensored internet search on the subject.
As I said at the start, if you are in the west you are being conditioned to support the war, to at least as great an extent as people are being conditioned to support it in Russia. That little experiment with google is the tip of an iceberg of suppression: on twitter, on facebook, by paypal defunding, and by all of western TV, radio and newspapers.
On any matter relating to any aspect of the Ukraine war, you are seeing one side of a story. Russians are seeing only another side. The space for truth is very limited, as the world crashes into full dystopia.
I might add that the chilling effect is so great that I personally have serious qualms about publishing this article, in case its querying of aspects of the western narrative lead to cancellation of social media and paypal accounts.
Many of my regular readers are annoyed when I point out that Russia is far too weak a country to be a military superpower that can challenge NATO. It has an economy the size of that of Spain or Italy, and a military crippled by corruption. It has an economy that is not only small but woefully undeveloped and reliant on raw commodity export, be it energy, cereal or mineral.
To historians, the most significant thing about Putin may be his failure to develop manufacturing industry at a time when China raced into world manufacturing domination.
What limited military power Russia does command was used very effectively in Syria, where I credit Putin for ending the momentum of Wahabbist jihadi violence, promoted by the USA and Saudi Arabia, that had so traumatised the world for the first two decades of the twenty first century. But those who extrapolated that into a general ability for Russia to counterbalance the USA were very wrong.
For my entire lifetime, the western military industrial complex and its national and NATO functionaries have exaggerated systematically the “Russian threat” in order to justify their own bloated budgets. I have explained this throughout the Ukraine crisis and again and again I have said that Russia does not have the ability to conquer Ukraine – it is therefore utterly ludicrous for NATO propagandists to claim we have to squander fortunes to defend against Russia sweeping through all of western Europe.
What I have always found bitterly amusing is western left-wingers who do the NATO propagandists’ work for them by exaggerating Russian power.
The logical fallacy of western politicians cheering Ukrainian advances around Kharkiv, and in the same time saying that still trillions more need to be spent on defence against Russian invasion by the USA, Germany, France, UK and others, would be obvious to a five year old. Yet peculiarly I don’t believe I have ever seen or heard the fallacy queried in the media.
Putin’s reaction appears to be escalation. The conscription is a huge statement internally which probably does make major military reverse not politically survivable, even for Putin. The proposed referenda in occupied districts also make any backtracking very problematic.
No reasonable person can believe that a time of war and military administration can be adequate conditions for a referendum vote. The situation now is even more extreme than when the Crimea “referendum” was held in 2014. No doubt we would see similarly risible 97% referenda results should Russia go ahead. In real life, in a genuinely free vote you would not get 97% on a referendum for free ice cream. Yulia Timoshenko won about 18% of the vote in Crimea in the Ukrainian presidential election of 2010, on a stridently Ukrainian nationalist and pro-western platform.
While I knew the Russian military to be far weaker than we were being told, what is more surprising is the spectacular failures of Russian intelligence services, which were traditionally very good.
The spectacular failure to predict the Ukrainian counterattack around Kharkiv is worth considering. Given the scope and range of modern surveillance techniques available, from satellite, drone and aircraft imagery through computer hacking and communications intercept, that Russia did not pick up the build-up of Ukrainian forces for the north-eastern attack is, in this day and age, very strange.
It follows the massive Russian intelligence failure at the outset of this invasion, where both the strength and morale of Ukrainian forces around Kiev were massively underestimated, as was the attitude to invasion of the Ukrainian people. Vast sums given to the FSB to bribe key Ukrainian politicians and officials proved to be wasted (and the Kremlin believes to a sgnificant extent the funds were purloined by corrupt FSB personnel).
So what is the solution? Borders are not immutable. The borders of sovereign Ukraine only lasted 21 years before Russia annexed Crimea. A Ukrainian victory that retakes Crimea from Russia would involve a long war and a death toll rising into the millions.
There really are – and remember I worked over twenty years in British Foreign Office, six of them in the senior management structure – people in NATO, and in all western governments, who have no problem with the notion of hundreds of thousands of dead people, particularly as they are nearly all Eastern Europeans or Central Asians. They are not even particularly perturbed by the risk the conflict could turn nuclear. They are delighted that the Russian armed forces are being degraded and vast sums pumped into western military budgets. That is worth any number of dead Ukrainians to them.
I do not believe the USA, UK nor NATO has any political will for peace. This is a disaster. The question is whether the economic pain their populations will feel this winter will force the western politicians to consider the negotiating table. This war can only end with at least de facto international recognition of Russian control of Crimea, and with some kind of special status for the Donbass. The alternative is a war so destructive as to bring disaster across the entire world economy, with the possibility of nuclear escalation.
China remains remarkably unassertive on the world stage as it increases its economic dominance. If there were ever a time for China to assert international leadership it is now. There are no signs of such initiative at present.
How many thousands of people is it right to kill for control of Izium? How many millions of people worldwide should plunge into dire need for the same cause?
There is a solution that leaves a free and now much more united Ukraine with the vast majority of the territory it has enjoyed in its very short current existence, and lets go some populations who determinedly do wish to be Russian. People need the courage to say so.
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