A Cult of Violence

Reporter, writer, and radio producer Jen Stout spent the early part of the summer in Ukraine. Here she reports on attitudes to the invasion and the terror being waged against civilians.

The celebrations to mark 31 years of an independent Ukrainian state couldn’t take place last week. A curfew was imposed because the risk of crowds being targeted by rockets and bombs was too high. This is life in Ukraine, now, and for the past six months. Russia can, and does, strike deep into central and western Ukraine, far from the front, blowing up shopping centres, bread queues, railway museums. And housing block after housing block after housing block.

I saw the evidence with my own eyes, all over the country. The little pits of cluster bombs, spread out across a sleepy courtyard, or randomly sprayed across the facade of a block of flats. The dried blood outside a shop across the road, some spring daffodils tied to the railing with a bit of string. Several people had died at that spot. They’d been buying food.

I could go on, and on, and on. Thermobaric bombs, cruise missiles, the craters of huge bombs dropped by planes on the old architecture of beautiful Kharkiv. Clear targeting of civilian infrastructure – of civilians – clear tactics of terror.

A burnt-out van in a northern Kharkiv district shelled heavily since February. Image credit: Jen Stout

But sometimes I wondered if I was shouting into the void, because I looked at some of the comments made by people back home, and am just totally speechless. ‘Why can’t they just negotiate?’ – this one gets louder each day as fuel bills spiral. ‘Isn’t Zelensky a bit suspicious, isn’t he playing the west for weapons that will end up god-knows-where? Didn’t Donbas actually want to leave Ukraine? Why should we get involved anyway? What about our fuel prices? This is a proxy war, this is NATO expansionism, this is US manoeuvring, Russia reacted understandably’… On and on.

Coming from people on the Left, people who ostensibly hate imperialism, this stuff is particularly strange. And I think, or hope, that a lot of this is due to basic misunderstandings about Ukraine, and about Russia. Because this war is about imperialism; a crumbling empire with a huge and terrifying military capability trying to wipe out a smaller, neighbouring country, its former colony.

To insist on negotiations now is to imply Ukraine should be ready to give away territory. What else could it mean at this stage, when Russia has occupied 20% of Ukrainian land? To ask this is outrageous; they’re not going to give up their citizens to an occupying power, especially one as brutal as that. Russia has no intention or interest in negotiations at this point. But if they start to lose territory – as well they might, given the dire state of the Russian army – they will be interested in negotiations. The war will of course end in negotiations.

Zelensky is largely seen as a national hero in Ukraine, not because they’re somehow duped or starry-eyed, but because by staying in Kyiv, by being a calm and quiet and steady voice of encouragement, not descending into hatred, keeping hopes up, he has genuinely kept people going in a time of unimaginable fear and uncertainty. For us in the UK to sneer at that is frankly revolting. Ukrainians have plenty of cynicism about their leaders, and about Zelensky too. They’re not idiots. They know he was named in the Panama papers.

The idea that a majority in the eastern regions of Ukraine (and Odesa, Kharkiv, etc) wanted, and would have voted, to leave Ukraine and join Russia or become independent is the number one Kremlin talking point, spread through ‘alternative’ media sites that so many people on the Left now read (because the ‘MSM is lying’, etc), and it’s nonsense. Please read about this complicated history, about what happened here in 2014, when dodgy men and thugs proclaimed ‘republics’ funded and directed by Moscow. If you think that’s a people’s liberation movement, you’ve got very odd politics. Even just skim a few polls. It’s not hard.

This war is not some murky conflict, where ‘both sides’ bear responsibility for the escalation. It is not that. What happened on 24th February was the culmination of many, many years of something utterly rotten brewing in Russia. Militarism, a cult of violence, pervades society thoroughly. Stalin is celebrated once more; all those years of struggle that the activists gave to unearth the archives, to document the gulag, to rehabilitate the victims – all that is going, nearly gone. Those organisations are shut down now, ‘foreign agents’ and traitors. Instead it’s back to the glory days, a never-ending, defiant celebration of World War II – but without mention of the shameful Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of course; the war only started in 1941 in this version – and anyone who questions it is a traitor. People are denouncing their own family members in Russia now.

A recent film, ‘Broken Ties’, gives you a sense of the propaganda, of how people can sink so deeply into this mindset that they no longer talk to their own family members. In it, journalist Andrey Loshak interviews ‘split’ families – a mother and daughter, sister and brother, husband and wife – some still shouting, some existing in stony stalemate. It’s heartbreaking. It’s scary. One woman, living in London and horrified by the invasion, tries to understand what her mother has become. ‘Please understand that she is a good person,’ she begs, and you get to know her mother and can see that, of course, like most people, she is a good person. She believes in peace, in humanity. But she also believes that Russia is the victim here, the peaceful country forced to reluctantly act, and Ukraine is the aggressor. Because this is what the television has been telling her, 24 hours a day, every single day of the year, on and on and on.

Her daughter describes how the old woman’s voice changes on the phone. One minute she’s cheerfully slagging Putin for the miserly pensions and the state of the country. Sarcastic, forthright, funny – a real character. The next minute, when the daughter asks why she supports Putin’s war in Ukraine, she changes. Just repeating lines from the TV in a glazed way, a voice that isn’t even her own.

That’s terrifying. That’s a cult. And it’s so widespread. When I was in Ukraine I asked all the people I interviewed if they had family in Russia. More than half said yes. And then every single one said something like ‘They don’t believe me, they think I’m a fascist, we don’t speak any more.’

Every single one. I know it’s not a scientific sample but it was still very telling and still sticks with me. Imagine your own daughter on the phone: ‘Mum, they’re bombing us. Look, here’s the video from my balcony. Bombs falling around the apartment block’. And you say in response, to your own daughter, your child: ‘You’re bombing yourselves. You’re fascists’. This is absolute indoctrination, something the Soviet Union never even achieved – then, people largely still believed their own families over the authorities, despite the government’s best efforts to break those ties. But now? ‘You’re a fascist’. TV propaganda, fabricated atrocities, sheer repetition – it works. It always has. If the people are scared, if they are hungry for war, if they hate the ‘fascist’ enemy, they’re not going to complain about the searing poverty and inequality of modern Russia.

What’s happening in Ukraine, for many years now, is the rejection of all this. When they overthrew their old grey Soviet men, when they threw the ruler out of his gold-plated palace and turned it into a palace of corruption, it was a rejection of all that shit: the mindless TV propaganda; the culture of bribery and theft that had clung on for so long, that had made what should be a prosperous country so absurdly poor.

They tried to build their own state, their own society, in the model they hoped for. Something progressive, something more hopeful. All the Ukrainians I know my age and younger (and many older) were heavily involved in that effort, the volunteers and activists who are now so vital to the struggle to stop the invaders. They get food to the hospital and night goggles to the volunteer soldiers. They believe in this country they’re trying to build, and defend.

For Putin and his small circle that now run the Russian Federation, such a popular revolt, such a grassroots rebuilding of society, such an example to his own masses, cannot be allowed to stand. This is what Ukraine is being punished for – its independence. Not the Moscow-controlled sham independence, but genuine, make-your-own-mistakes sovereignty. In recent years corruption was finally being tackled. Living standards were rising. Ukraine was getting a sense of itself, despite all the strife and divisions of the past. And Putin was thinking: What if Russians see this?

That circle of people, who will one day be tried for war crimes, have been crystal clear on so many occasions about the point of all this. It is to finish the Ukrainian nation. They’ve written, and talked, very openly about the need to ‘re-educated’ or just wipe out people who ‘mistakenly’ think they are Ukrainian. Anyone who thinks Ukraine exists as a nation – because this, as Putin explained in his insane February speech, is a historical mistake, there should never have been such a country, it just came out of the 1991 chaos. So they’re just fixing the mistake, and unfortunately some Ukrainians have started to believe they’re Ukrainian so must be removed. Removed to Russia, removed to reeducation camps, removed from the face of the earth. They’ve been very clear. Bucha, Irpin, the mass rapes, the executions, the torture, soldiers telling women ‘I shot your husband, he was a Nazi’ as they storm into the house, drunk… These aren’t isolated incidents.

So this is not a ‘conflict’. It is an attempt to wipe out another state, the very idea of it, to bring back a colony. The history of Ukraine in the Soviet Union was one of brutal colonisation – and long before that too, under the Russian empire. Putin wants it back. This is just reheated Stalinism; look at what happened to Ukraine in the 1920s and 1930s. Try to read and understand the history here. Serhii Plokhy’s books are a great place to start.

Let me add that I am not ‘anti-Russia’. I spent all my adult life, since school, trying desperately to go there, reading everything I could, absorbing all the beautiful nuances of the language like a sponge. And I can say that ‘Putin is not Russia’, and it’s true; one day the country could be free, coming to terms with the imperialism and violence that its history has been saturated with (as has ours, and we are very very slowly coming to terms with it only now). But the rot in Russia is very, very deep. It is sinking into a terrifying darkness. The good people there don’t stand a chance of standing in the way of this, though they keep trying, my friends, brave people.

Russia isn’t sinking into this mire because of NATO or because the US wants to be the big power, as I’m often told by people on the Left. It’s just incredibly naive to think this. This is about an empire mired in a culture of violence and brutality, lashing out. It has done it before and will keep doing it. In Moldova, in the Baltics, in Finland, people are scared – and angry, because they’ve been warning of this for so long, there on the very border with the empire. Putin has explicitly mentioned these countries as ‘harbouring Nazis’, as mistreating Russian speakers – nonsense, but he’s saying this for a reason. These are the TV talking points on the nightly chat shows on Russian TV, all the channels of which Putin controls. If he says a country is harbouring Nazis and mistreating the Russians there, its population will fear what might come next. Naturally. They’ll want protection. They want to join NATO. For people in the UK to turn around and tell them they shouldn’t want this is absurd. It’s their decision. They have agency.

And lastly, most importantly, Ukrainians have agency. They have agency. They are not pawns of some nefarious US policy, or NATO, or Soros. They know the odds and fought against Russia anyway, on principle and, as they often put it, ‘for peace in Europe’ not just in Ukraine. This is an anti-imperialist fight. The odds are grim and so we are helping them. The alternative is to let an aggressor, one with genocidal intent and (actually) fascist rhetoric, storm into a smaller country, murder many of its inhabitants and install a brutal regime. Sometimes you have to fight for peace. You can hate war, and still believe this.

Comments (43)

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  1. BSA says:

    Great article. Thanks.

  2. John Wood says:

    Yes, Putin wants to restore the Russian empire; it was a terrible blow to national pride when it fell apart. Yes, Russia has a history of autocracy going back centuries. Yes the western part of Ukraine was part of the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth. But Kiev / Kyiv is essentially where Russia started. And the Crimean peninsular was part of Russia until the 1950s when it was transferred to Ukraine by Kruschev (who was Ukrainian).

    I don’t hold any illusions about Putin or his ruthlessness and violence. But let’s get some perspective here. This piece is completely one-sided.

    The US claims a ‘manifest destiny’ to rule us all. It has always hated the fact it couldn’t control Russia, there was a Cold War for decades after 1945, and the US and Russia just divided Europe between them with their Iron Curtain. Ukraine certainly does want to be a free and independent country, but it has been used by the US to provoke Russia, and as another site for a proxy war. Remember Afghanistan, another country that the US and Russia fought over. And in the end, the Afghans defeated both of the superpowers, even though the west has abandoned them and left them to starve.

    Russia can’t ‘win’ this war; and military failures have led to the fall of previous regimes there, and Putin knows it. He is desperate, and this makes him more and more dangerous. But the US cannot win this either. For all its military might and expenditure, the US has failed to gain a victory in every war it entered since the 2nd World War depended above all on Russia. The US would do well to get right out of Ukraine – and the rest of Europe too.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      The US claims a manifest destiny to rule us all?
      No fan of the USA but really?
      Going back to the article Russia is a declining empire and empires don’t go down without a fight.

      1. 220830 says:

        The US imperialist doctrine of manifest destiny has its origins in the American Revolution. As part of their prospectus for independence from the UK, the revolutionaries claimed a moral duty to expand capitalism and democracy across the continent, which westward expansion was prohibited by the Crown. The phrase itself was coined by John O’Sullivan, the editor The Democratic Review, in 1845 in support of the annexation of Texas for ‘the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions’. In this respect, it’s similar to the German imperialist doctrine of Lebensraum, which was realised in consists the policies and practices of settler colonialism that proliferated in Germany from the 1890s to the 1940s.

    2. JP58 says:

      I am no lover of the US and there is plenty of hypocrisy in their foreign policy but what you have written doesn’t stand up to any critical scrutiny.
      You state that the ‘US & Russia (USSR) just divided up Europe after WW2.
      Please explain why:
      USSR invaded Hungry in 1956 & Czechoslovakia in 1968 to evict the. local governments.
      Why a wall had to be erected in Berlin by authorities in Soviet controlled sector.
      Why the countries of Eastern Europe all threw off Soviet puppet governments at first opportunity.
      Why the population of not one country in Western Europe voted to join Soviet block after 1945.
      The US (& UK )have much to answer for in its foreign policy but to conflate that with Putin’s imperialistic invasion of a sovereign nation makes you appear an apologist for the murderous actions outlined in article.

      1. John Wood says:

        I am certainly not an apologist for Putin! But let’s not have any rank hypocrisy. Putin claims Ukraine is part of Russia. It’s the dying gasp of an Empire. Britain didn’t exactly let its empire go without a fight either. The number of independent countries that the US (supported mostly by the UK) has invaded or subjected to ‘regime change’ , installing dictatorships and worse, is a long one.
        From Napoleon to Hitler Russia has suffered from a series of devastating invasions from Europe. They suffered terribly in World War II. In 1945 Russia withdrew from Austria; it was determined to keep a line of buffer states in Eastern Europe to protect itself from us. And it divided Germany to prevent it becoming a threat to them again. But the US has pushed NATO right up to Russia’s border, and installed offensive weapons all along the border. If that’s not provocation, what is?

        1. JP58 says:

          I don’t disagree with a lot of what you say about US & UK imperialism but what had this to do with Russia invading a sovereign nation and inflicting war crimes on innocent civilians.
          Whitabootery of epic proportions to try and apologise for a bully.
          While we talk about NATO were the independent countries in Eastern Europe forced to join?that Why did the Baltic States voluntary join NATO?
          Why are the Scandinavian countries now applying to join NATO?
          Why does Ukraine want to join NATO?
          Little to do with US imperialism but far more to do with Russian and especially Putin.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @JP58 there is one vital reason that countries on the western border of Russia might want to join NATO that has nothing to do with supporting NATO. It is simply that if they don’t, the premise of nuclear-armed NATO was to bomb Russian forces invading those areas. So the Baltic states might join NATO to stop NATO from bombing them.

            Although to an extent the fireplans of NATO are classified, a major reason Ukraine along with Belarus and Kazakhstan (see Lisbon Protocol to the 1991 START treaty) gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons was to gain assurances that its cities, ports, airfields and other installations would be no longer targeted by NATO’s strategic nuclear arsenal (a British government decision from 1994, I’m told).

            However, this does not mean that NATO would not use battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons against Russian forces moving through those countries towards Europe. Whether membership of NATO would really be any protection against NATO’s weapons of mass destruction is doubtful and contingent (after all, as Daniel Ellsberg has revealed, much of Europe and indeed the world was conceived of as a disposable buffer zone by early NATO warplanners). But it seems a rational calculation that NATO would be much more likely to use weapons of mass destruction in those border regions than an expansionist/irredentist Russia.

        2. “I am certainly not an apologist for Putin! But…”

          Love it.

          1. John Wood says:

            Ah, so to call out Western hypocrisy and warmongering is to ‘apologise’ for Putin? It’s simply ridiculous.
            The truth is, it takes two to tango. And an eye fir an eye, as Gandhi said, makes the whole world blind.
            Putin cannot ‘win’ this war. He cannot afford to ‘lose’ it either. And the same applies to Ukraine and to NATO.
            We have to look at the context and find a way to stop this horror before it destroys us all.

          2. I just find that line hilarious and redolent of much of the comments on here. ‘It takes two to tango’. There is so much false equivalence here that flies in the face of the known facts. A country (gangster-capitalist dictatorship) has invaded a neighbouring sovereign country and is acting out atrocities against civilians. These are simple facts. If you want to equivocate and are unsure what side to take, then take a long hard look at yourself.

          3. Kevin Mulhern says:

            “A country (gangster-capitalist dictatorship) has invaded a neighboring sovereign country and is acting out atrocities against civilians.”

            Who are you talking about, the one you support with your work and taxes, or the one half way round the world which you don’t.

            That is an important difference, I see a lot of people in the mainstream, i mean this article wouldn’t be out of place in the Times, who are waxing lyrical in an effort to dehumanize a whole nation, while also being largely silent on the crimes we support and perpetrate round the world, historically and presently.

            This is not a false equivalence it is understanding your responsibility and pointing out hypocrisy.

          4. Hi Kevin
            two quick things. You say “waxing lyrical in an effort to dehumanize a whole nation” – and yet the author is at pains to point out her love of Russia, and articulates the pain and anguish of broken and divided families.
            Second you accuse us of being “largely silent on the crimes we support and perpetrate round the world, historically and presently”. This is not true. Would you like me to point you to the hundreds of articles we have published denouncing British imperialism, aggression and criminal behaviour? I’d be happy to. Just don’t post things here that are patently and verifiably false.

          5. kevin mulhern says:

            I’m not able to comment on this then. Wow.

          6. Niemand says:

            You just have and at length. The editor is asking you not to lie about the output of this blog.

          7. Kevin Mulhern says:

            Regarding my last post, I guess it just took a while for this to be checked, I’ll be more patience next time.

            The article’s title is ‘A Cult of Violence’ and talks of ‘rot’ in the country, the rot in Russia is in every country, we are willing to apply this narratives to other nations but actively deny the application to our own nation, this is what dehumanises, it invokes the belief they are not like us, which is patently false, this is what Prashad talks of when he speaks of a colonial mentality.

            When I say ‘largely silent’, I am pointing to the wider press not specifically Bella or Jean, people who I have seen pushing this type of narrative around the Russian-NATO proxy war in Ukraine are generally not people who have been fighting imperialism, I’d also like to point out that taking a side in this conflict is not fighting imperialism.

            My problem with this is when you ridicule perfectly valid challenges, like you did to John, then also mischaracterise what I am saying. you could just let the comments be, and let your readers take them as they are. I don’t think anything I posted is patently or verifiably false.

            I’d like to hammer home the point I was making though. When we materially support NATO – and let us not whitewash what NATO is, it is an aggressive military alliance to forward the crumbling US hegemonic position – act all apoplectic when other nations do what we have been doing for decades, then tell people pointing this hypocritical position out to ‘take a long hard look at themselves.’ Maybe that is what they are doing.

          8. John Wood says:

            Thanks for ‘loving’ my comment. Even if it does represent a complete misprepresentation of what I was saying.

    3. Peter Edwards says:

      Drawing a comparison between the Soviet occupation of Eastern/Central Europe and the Baltic States with US influence in Western/Northern Europe is ridiculous and offensive to those who endured the occupation and are once again menaced by their former colonial oppressors.

      1. JP58 says:

        See Sleeping Dog above who seems to think that Baltic Stated joined NATO out of fear of NATO.
        I suppose using Sleeping Dogs logic Sweden & Finland have, after years of neutrality, have now joined NATO because Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made them even more fearful of NATO.
        I was going to say you couldn’t make it up but some Putin apologists on here obviously can.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @JP58, I did not say fear of NATO was the primary reason, but it would be a valid one to join if you were in a buffer state between nuclear superpowers.

          In Chapter 9: Questions for the Joint Chiefs: How Many Will Die? of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner, insider Daniel Ellsberg (who worked on these NATO plans) wrote that the projected deaths included 100 million in Eastern Europe where the plan was to nuke all radar and AA defences on flight path, another 100 million from fallout including neutral countries and, wind-dependent, up to 100 million allies, from NATO weapons alone (not including Soviet retaliation strikes). He called such a graph a “depiction of pure evil” p138.

          I find Ellsberg’s testimony persuasive as he puts it not only in historical context but shows evidence again and again that NATO planners had an extremely callous (and even bloodthirsty) approach to the casualties they planned to cause. As an example, Ellsberg writes that only Marine commandant David M Shoup objected to a plan for murdering 300 million Chinese in what might not even be their war, because there was only one warplan, which assumed the Chinese would be Soviet allies in any war.

          I would argue that there is value in using games to bring these decisions into focus. Players can see what Fireplan Warm Puppy means in Theatre Europe, while in the classic Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour campaign, there is a mission where China (one of three primary warring factions including USA and Global Liberation Army) use nuclear weapons against the GLA, causing many civilian casualties and upsetting global opinion, so they have to promise not to use them again in Europe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Command_%26_Conquer:_Generals_–_Zero_Hour#China

      2. John Wood says:

        “Drawing a comparison between the Soviet occupation of Eastern/Central Europe and the Baltic States with US influence in Western/Northern Europe is ridiculous and offensive” I don’t think I drew such a comparison. Please don’t take offence where none was intended

  3. Richard Bijster says:

    What a fluff propaganda piece. The usual cheap, badly researched, utterly biased and hysterical anti Russian nonsense. It’s all rabid Russophobic ranting from Ms. Stout. No mention of the Kiev governments deliberate shelling and murdering of over 13,000+ of its own citizens in the Donbas and Lugansk regions since 2014. No mention of the restrictions on the Russian language and removal of rights of Russian speakers by the regime in Kiev since 2014. No mention of the cold blooded burning to death of 30 civilians by Ukrainian Right Sector neo-Nazi’s in Odessa during the 2014 coup, for which there is film evidence. All these Ukrainian citizens murdered by their own so-called government simply because they didn’t wish to have anything to do with the illegitemately installed post coup 2014 government. A complete denial of Ukraines well documented Nazi & neo-Nazi problem, which before February 2022 was mentioned regularly in the collective West main stream media. No mention of the Ukrainian government never implementing the signed Minsk agreements promising the Donbas & Lugansk regions more autonomy. No mention of the EU as a signatory to the Minsk agreements not demanding that the Ukrainian regime implement the Minsk agreements. No mention of Zelesky banning most opposition parties in Ukraine and his banning of media companies (radio & TV) that don’t agree with him. Also, no real background as to the true history that has brought Ukraine to the point it is now at. What an utterly partial piece of copy. The amount of deliberate omisssion is astounding.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      ‘True history’.
      Does such a concept exist?

      1. Richard Bijster says:

        No, I don’t think absolute true history exists. However, to understand why we are where we are, it’s not difficult to research the reasons that have brought things to this point and how the current situation could have all been avoided by the Minsk agreements being fully implemented.

      2. JP58 says:

        A rather chilling term indeed.
        Much loved by authoritarian regimes rulers and Richard B apparently.

        1. 220830 says:

          Chilling indeed. True history is undecidable. What passes for true history is only the interpretation of events that the powerful assert in legitimisation of the whole matrix of official and social relations within which their power is (or, in the case of those who aspire to power, would be) exercised. All such claims to ‘true history’ should be met with incredulity.

    2. BSA says:

      The thrust of the article was Russian imperialism, the nature of Putin’s regime and his terrorist war on civilians, all of which seem reasonably credible to the average citizen. Nothing you say about Ukraine matches or explains that, let alone justifies it, even if you were to evidence the 13,000+ murders or any other of your claims. The same goes for criticism of the West’s treatment of the issue.

    3. Liam says:

      No mention of these things Richard, because they are Russian propaganda lines. That don’t hold up to scrutiny – either flatly false, or highly partial interpretations.

      I don’t have time to refute them all, but to take your first two:

      – Many citizens have died in the Donbass since 2014. Who bears the primary responsibility: Russia for fomenting the war there, or Ukraine for defending themselves?

      – Last time I was in Kyiv, Russian language media was predominant on every newstand. We spoke Russian to our friends there. No one felt under threat. Its a confidently bilingual country.

      The rest of your post is similarly nonsense.

      Many people across Scotland are fundraising, supporting and housing Ukrainian refugees. We could use your help, instead of what you currently offer.

    4. Derek says:

      Got any references for that?

  4. John Monro says:

    There’s so much to argue against in this opinion piece.

    But I’ll stick to this one example. You state Ukraine tried to build their own state. Well, so in what way is the US expenditure of $5 billion was this Ukraine building its own state. In any case, what Ukraine? A seriously corrupt administration and society, a powerful extreme right wing ideology in parts of the country and in the army, and a seriously divided country socially and linguistically. How many more billions has the US and NATO spent on re-arming Ukraine, expanding and training its army into a significant fighting force, right on the borders of Russia. Yet NATO is a peaceful military alliance? Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Libya, Syria, many millions of dead who if they could speak might disabuse this claim. Do you think Russia doesn’t understand this?

    I strongly believe that the US and NATO do indeed need to share more than a little blame for what is happening in Ukraine. Russia shares a large amount too. But so what? How does blaming NATO or Russia help Ukraine, or us for that matter. Nowhere in this article is there any stated though at all that all our efforts should be to stop this war now, not to prolong it, a possible road to utter disaster for us all.

    You offer no workable solution. So Ukraine should continue to fight, and we should “support” them. How? Should we declare war on Russia? What if Ukraine loses? What would an unlikely Ukraine “win” look like? What if the entire West loses? What bet would you place for a social breakdown this winter in Europe and the US? How valuable then our support? All wars end in in some sort of agreement. Did not WW2 basically end in Yalta, when Churchill had to allow Stalin’s USSR to take over half of Europe, totally repugnant, but the only realistic option. It’s called statesmanship. There is neither realism or statesmanship now. This article provides no comfort for Ukraine or anyone else for that matter.

    Whether we like it or not, Russia saw NATO’s expansion to its borders as an existential threat, they are actually entitled to say this, just as the Monroe doctrine allows the US to interfere in any part of the American continent if they see the US security at risk, the Russians kept telling us this. the US and NATO earlier earnest commitments that NATO would not expand eastward abandoned, the billions of dollars spent on Ukraine’s army and armaments since 2014, all this military expansion on Russia’s very borders, a madness, the neocons continued (and admitted in many articles and manifestos) wishes and efforts to bring down Russia or cause regime change in Russia, the interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs in the so-called Maiden Revolution, the continued sanctions on Russia, the total refusal to any meaningful security umbrella for Europe with Russia for many years, basically the deliberate undermining of all efforts at diplomacy, the wish to continue this war to the “end” (ie the last Ukrainian soldier and the last standing brick wall), Ukraine now fighting proxy war against Russia for the US, it’s despicable and totally immoral, the bullying of Europe to commit economic suicide with shock and awe economic sanctions on Russia, whereas Russia seems to be managing them pretty well, indeed the sanctions are not supported by the majority of the world’s population (in China, India, Africa S America, Asia) isolating the West and bringing us great precariousness, the profiteering by Western armament industries etc etc.

    The US and NATO have precipitated a horror that they can now longer control, and the sanctions, seriously backfiring on our own economies, are going to cause major economic and social dislocation in the .entire world. Time to batten down the hatches, methinks. Our economic and social problems have been building for years however, blaming Russia for our travails is absurd. Covid has exacerbated and brought economic disaster closer. But this war and our suicidal response is the last straw and every effort should have been made to prevent this war. Merely agreeing to Ukraine’s neutrality, the Russian re-annexation of Crimea (which the citizens of this region overwhelmingly support) and observing the Minsk agreement might have prevented all this horror. Can anyone honestly say now that what we have now is better than this?

    The summary of my posting is one sentence. .NATO promised Ukraine,, be with us, and ensure your safety, because we’ll stand right behind you, but this promise was the one thing that brought about the very thing the promise was supposed to prevent. What we have in Ukraine, their misery, is a failure of the West just as much as an invasion from Russia. . Many sage observers have warned that NATO has been playing a very dangerous game. eg https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/28/nato-expansion-war-russia-ukraine or Prof Mersheimer provides a very sobering video presentation, he says that the US and NATO have led Ukraine up the primrose path. His arguments are powerful, and I accept them without much in the way of reservation. I strongly believe than in some year’s time, Ukrainians will understand all this, and will turn to spit on us as much as they’ll spit on Russians. https://ukrainecrisis.org/242486086-ukraine-war-follows-decades-of-warnings-that-nato-expansion-could-provoke-russia or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrMiSQAGOS4 or that matter the 1.4 billion people who live in China, they blame NATO too, or at least their government does.

    1. Liam says:

      Right now, Russia has stripped its military presence bare at its border with NATO. Logically, it does not see NATO as a threat.

      What NATO membership in Eastern Europe does is strip Russia of the ability to terrorise its neighbours. That is what gets imperial Russia in a twist.

    2. John says:

      > Ukraine now fighting proxy war against Russia for the US

      This and the rest of your post is exactly the kind of propaganda Putin’s minions are sharing in the West. “Russia and the Ukrainians are the poor victims of the US/NATO! They did all this to them!” Maybe you should listen to the Ukrainians for once. These people /want/ to fight this war for their independence.

  5. John McLeod says:

    I really appreciated this article by Jen Stout, which is a timely reminder of the awful things that are happening in Ukraine and the need for us to retain solidarity with the Ukrainian people (and with those in Russia who are resisting Putin). Some of the posts in this discussion thread have sought to discredit the article by highlighting the complex and troubled history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, the involvement of the USA, EU and NATO in that relationship, and the hope that the Minsk agreement might have represented a peaceful way forward. My own reading of Jen Stout’s article was that she was not trying to address the factors that lead up to the invasion of Ukraine, but to report on what is happening now.

      1. john maxwell norman macleod says:

        I think the story of how Jen Stout, a relatively young Russian speaking journalist from Fair Isle just got off her backside and went to put herself in harms way and reported what she saw should inspire us all.
        However it is also worth pointing out the paucity of so much of the early reporting of the war in which it was repetitively and erroneously implied that it was all a case of Putin being a bullying devil and that the bulk of Russian people just had no idea what was happening and would rise up if they did. I commend Bella Caledonia for allowing a dialogue on the contextual issues, about which I , and so many others know too little due to the collapse of so much of the newspaper industry.

  6. Paddy Farrington says:

    The fact that the Versailles treaty contributed to the rise of Hitler in no way diminishes the appalling nature of his regime’s crimes. Nor is it in any way appropriate for accounts of these crimes to be ‘balanced’ by reference to ‘context’.

    With this in mind, the priority just now is to maintain solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and their resistance against unprovoked aggression. Thank you, Jen Stout, for contributing to this.

    1. JP58 says:

      Well said Paddy and the reference to Versailles and end of Cold War is quite apt in this case and in both cases is no reason to excuse Nazi invasions and atrocities in WW2 or Russia’s invasion and atrocities in Ukraine.
      Very refreshing in comparison with some of the posts here whose dislike of US & NATO is so great that they cannot see the wood for the trees in Ukraine and means they come across as apologists for Putin and all his atrocities.

  7. Meg Macleod says:

    Is this the same jen stout who works alongside the gates foundation?

    1. 220830 says:

      No, yon Jen Stout’s frae Seattle. Oor Jen’s fi Shetland.

  8. Politically Homeless says:

    Look, to be honest this isn’t that complicated. The tankie problem all goes back to the failure to perceive that the USSR was simply not socialist in the way Marxists ought to envisage socialism, namely as a society built around industrial democracy.

    Having failed to perceive this, the US’s influence, as the 20th c. counter-hegemon to the USSR. became an absolute evil, and resistance to the US became an absolute good. Putin is filling the role of the USSR in the minds not just of the tankies but of the broader left who in a loose way buy into their very-simplistic programme.

    Yet, though this is a problem with its roots in the 1930s, we seem to have the same patterns of tribalism and dogmatism repeating on the left throughout subsequent history. So today you’ve got people addicted to fantasies like powering the whole world on renewables, creating a utopia of identity politics or the kind of technocratic dictatorship that we saw come into existence throughout covid, censoring the internet and forcing everyone to do the absolute whim of scientists. All of it a massive distraction from electing governments who will redistribute wealth and perhaps create a liveable socialism.

    1. 220903 says:

      The Marxist definition of socialism comprises several distinctive features:

      1. production is managed for the sake of the product’s use-value (i.e. direct satisfaction of economic demand or human needs) rather than for the sake of its exchange-value (its monetary worth as a commodity);

      2. distribution is managed equitably, in accordance with the principle of ‘to each according to his needs’, which principle becomes increasingly realisable as capitalism increasingly abolishes scarcity;

      3. the means of production (land and and the labour by which we transform its natural resources into objects for our use) is held in common rather than in private ownership and self-managed through cooperative rather than coercive enterprises;

      4. the transformation of capitalism into socialism is immanent (occurring necessarily, from within the system of capitalism itself) rather than transcendent (occurring voluntarily, as an effect of some agency that lies outside that system itself); hence the distinction between Marxist ‘scientific’ socialism and bourgeois ‘utopian’ socialism;

      5. that transformation will occur when the immiseration produced by the cumulative crises experienced by the system becomes so unsustainable that the impoverished rebels against it as a class and establishes a dictatorship that removes the means of production from private ownership and transfers it to the commons;

      6. the task of socialists is to enable that transformation by a) drawing forth capitalism’s immanent deconstructive crises through industrial action and ideological critique, and b) empowering the impoverished to fulfil their revolutionary role through community development

      Marx wrote very little on socialism and neglected to provide any details on how it might be organised. Presumably, the ‘how’ would be determined by the dictatorship that the agents of revolution would establish in response to the material conditions into which they were ‘thrown’ in their own particular time and place. Marx’s theory is remarkably unprescriptive.

      Numerous social scientists have since used Marx’s theory as a basis for developing their own models of socialist systems. The system that thus evolved as the Soviet Union is one of those models and is entirely consistent with Marx’s theory. Unfortunately, that system ceased to evolve with the transformation of the material conditions it effected and eventually collapsed under the weight of its own increasingly unsustainable crises, despite Gorbachev’s best efforts at reforming it.

      Marx’s theory itself, however, is still viable as a conceptual frame or ‘understanding’ by which we may order our political praxis and, thereby, the social world itself. Other frames are available.

  9. Niemand says:

    Imagine it’s the 1930s:

    It’s all Western propaganda and ‘MSM’ lies! ‘Uncle Joe’ is great, building a socialist utopia! He needs to be strong and face down the opposition. Means justify the ends and he needs us comrades in the West to stick by him against the disgusting anti-Russian Western media.

    Hitler? Well, ‘I’m no apologist for him, but’, it’s the West’s fault for all those reparations after WWI, so let’s focus on that exclusively. We should not get involved, it is understandable he feels the need to protect Germany by invading Poland who probably had it coming anyway, and we know the Jews secretly control everything so there will be consequences.

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