The Defence Secretary’s “widely praised” article in response to Putin’s piece on Ukraine

This is the Guardian’s Diplomatic Editor:

Britain has a clear-eyed sense of the issues at stake – the defence of the security architecture stuck in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, all set out in the widely praised article by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, debunking Putin’s claims about Ukraine’s historic origins

Why is it that I know that the “widely praised” article will in fact be an embarrassment? (Hint; because Britain in its recent ‘diplomacy’ with Russia which amounts to threats and sending arms to one side in a civil war in violation of the spirit of the peace agreements designed to end that conflict shows that there is a total failure of political analysis in Whitehall). Also because Ben Wallace looks like a philistine.

This is a link to Putin’s article.

This is Ben Wallace’s “widely praised” take-down.

The ‘rebuttal’ shows the usual tendency to prefer reiteration of narrative lines over analysis. It also shows the characteristic need to be “in the right”. Putin is portrayed of course as designing and evil.

Putin’s article is pretty straightforward. He runs through Ukrainian history tracing it from the time of Kievan Rus – widely understood by Western historians to be the birthplace of the Russian Empire and thus modern Russia, through its various occupations for example under the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and then the Russian Empire (not presented by Putin as an occupation but as something requested by grateful Cossacks) to the present day. Based on my reading of the history of Russia this is all pretty standard fare. More contentious of course is how in his essay Putin finds a golden thread which connects the origins of Ukraine to modern day Russia. While some see it this way there will of course be a version of Ukrainian history which turns matters around; which sees the incorporation of Ukraine into the Russian Empire (and then into the USSR) not as a liberating moment but as an act of occupation. Still, Putin says he is expressing his opinion, and his version of history is consistent with the facts.

In terms of recent events Putin reminds his readers that the current coup-installed regime as soon as they came to power tried to downgrade the Russian language and have tried to deny through legislation Russians a valid ethnic identity within Ukraine. He also reminds his readers of the events in Ukraine in 2014 including the massacre in Odessa of Russian speaking/leaning citizens by Ukrainian nationalists.

I want to briefly comment on a few points in Wallace’s article:

“First, NATO is, to its core, defensive in nature. ” He goes on to make the tired and obvious point that countries have joined rather than NATO expanding. Since the effect is that NATO has expanded (and NATO could have declined to accept them) this is a moot point. NATO is not “defensive in its core”. In 2011 NATO carried out a disastrous destruction of the functioning Libyan government based on a sophist reading of a UN resolution which authorised the projection of civilians. In 1999 NATO carried out a terroristic bombing campaign on Serbia (during which it bombed a TV station, bombed the Chinese Embassy and in ‘mistakes’ massacred dozens of the Albanians it claimed to be saving) to force Serbia to withdraw from Kosovo. The rationale for the campaign was that Serbian forces had carried out war crimes in Kosovo. Subsequently this claim was found to have been wildly exaggerated. NATO far from being the “defensive” organisation of Wallace’s imaginings is an aggressive organisation constantly looking for a war. But the point to make here is this; rather than simply repeat what it says in the brochure about NATO why not try to see it from Russia’s point of view? True – not on its Central Asian borders but all along its European borders it now finds itself face to face with an organisation whose main reason for existence is conflict with Russia. NATO is no more ‘defensive’ than the light anti-tank weapons the UK has just flooded Ukraine with are “defensive”. I.e. if you arm yourself to the teeth and go and sit on someone’s border however sure you are that you are just being ‘defensive’ of course it makes them edgy. It is the point-blank refusal of these people to see this that shows us that we are not dealing with people in a rational mode.

“It provides the skewed and selective reasoning to justify, at best, the subjugation of Ukraine and at worse the forced unification of that sovereign country.” This is Wallace on Putin’s article. Of course it is “skewed” – Putin is after all Russian. There is zero in Putin’s article which would lead anyone to think he was talking about the “forced subjugation” of Ukraine. Zero. On the contrary the article is very clear; this is Putin’s understanding and he hopes that people in Ukraine will see it this way too. For example; “You want to establish a state of your own: you are welcome!”. (True; Putin then presents an argument which would justify the annexation of Crimea based on the borders which existed before the incorporation of the USSR – but we would expect him to do that). “We are natural complementary economic partners. Such a close relationship can strengthen competitive advantages, increasing the potential of both countries.” These are not the words of someone trying to “subjugate” Ukraine. Mr Wallace is making that up.

“President Putin’s article completely ignores the wishes of the citizens of Ukraine”. Ah. Talk about ‘projection’. And the 4 million people in Donbass (and more further afield) in Ukraine who do not feel that the current brand of Ukrainian nationalism represents them? [1] But for people like Wallace this is not a problem – they have long since committed genocide against these people in their minds.

“Readers will not only be shocked at the tone of the article but they will also be surprised at how little NATO is mentioned. After all, is NATO ‘expansionism’ not the fountain of all the Kremlin’s concerns?” If anyone needed confirmation that Mr Wallace is not an intellectual this may be it. Putin’s essay is about Russia and Ukraine. It is titled (a clue) – “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. So that may be why it isn’t about NATO? Talk about an excessive sense of self-importance.

“Third, that anyone who disagrees [with Putin’s reading of Ukrainian history] does so out of a hatred or phobia of Russia.” I’ve just reread the entire article. He doesn’t actually say this – which is presumably why Wallace does not supply a quote to support his assertion. Wallace is setting up another ‘straw man’. In fact consider this (from Putin’s essay): “These [the divisions between Russia and Ukraine] are, first and foremost, the consequences of our own mistakes made at different periods of time.” In fact the principle culprit for dividing the Ukrainian and Russian people in Putin’s essay were the Bolsheviks and their localisation policy: “This Soviet national policy secured at the state level the provision on three separate Slavic peoples: Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian, instead of the large Russian nation, a triune people comprising Velikorussians, Malorussians and Belorussians.”

Putin does in fact talk about Russiaphobia – but not in the context which Wallace says he does: “During official negotiations, especially after being reined in by Western partners, Ukraine’s representatives regularly declare their ”full adherence“ to the Minsk agreements, but are in fact guided by a position of ”unacceptability“. They do not intend to seriously discuss either the special status of Donbas or safeguards for the people living there. They prefer to exploit the image of the ”victim of external aggression“ and peddle Russophobia. They arrange bloody provocations in Donbas. In short, they attract the attention of external patrons and masters by all means.” This statement is really unarguable. Even today Ukraine has rejected any kind of special status for Donbass and claims that some general law on decentralisation will cover Minsk. Unless Kiev is planning local parliaments, independent prosecutors and local and independent militias in all its regions then this claim is not true. And obviously Kiev is not proposing that. Indeed Kiev is doing what Putin says they are doing – paying lip-service to Minsk while convincing their Western backers that they will adhere to Minsk. And perhaps biding their time for when they will try to retake Donbass. Putin’s concerns are well-founded.

Wallace – (without showing a great feel for diplomacy) lectures Putin on what constitutes the Russian people: “But in reality, according to historian Professor Andrew Wilson in his excellent essay for RUSI entitled “Russia and Ukraine: ‘One People’ as Putin Claims?” they are at best “kin but not the same people””. (RUSI is a Western military linked think tank – its VP is an ex US general; it is funded by the EU, by Google, by BAE Systems, Airbus, the British Army etc.). Wallace is probably unaware that Putin is talking about the spiritual unity of the Kievan Russ people. He mentions this idea of “spiritual unity” fives times in his article. But Wallace seems to have missed all 5 references. (I am sure Putin is aware of the history of the East and West Slavs which is the point Wallace has latched onto).

Now Wallace gets into a real tangle and makes a complete fool of himself: “Ironically, President Putin himself admits in his essay that “things change: countries and communities are no exception. Of course, some part of a people in the process of its development, influenced by a number of reasons and historical circumstances, can become aware of itself as a separate nation at a certain moment. How should we treat that? There is only one answer: with respect!” I.e. Putin recognises that Ukraine is a separate country. (With a common spiritual heritage). Wallace says “However, he then goes on to discard some of those “historical circumstances” to fit his own claims.” – It isn’t clear what Wallace means here; this is because his argument has just collapsed. He has just quoted Putin as accepting Ukraine as a separate country but claims this is Putin contradicting himself. But it isn’t; Putin’s article is consistent and clear; there is a common spiritual space but Ukraine and Russia are separate countries. The contradiction is between what Putin says (Ukraine can be a separate country) and what Wallace says Putin says (“we are justified in subjugating Ukraine”). But the confusion is entirely Wallace’s. Putin doesn’t say anything about subjugating Ukraine.

Wallace ends his highly embarrassing misreading of Putin’s essay with this dramatic flourish: “So, if one cold January or February night Russian Military forces once more cross into sovereign Ukraine, ignore the ‘straw man’ narratives and ‘false flag’ stories of NATO aggression and remember the President of Russia’s own words in that essay from last summer. Remember it and ask yourself what it means, not just for Ukraine, but for all of us in Europe. What it means the next time…” That is the “malign” Kremlin is expansionist and evil and you are next. This is in geo-political terms total nonsense. Firstly Russia does not have territorial ambitions and secondly they know perfectly well that even if they did they don’t have the firepower for it. People who think about these matters understand this. [2]

(As for the Guardian’s Diplomatic Editor saying that Wallace has “debunked” Putin’s claims about Ukrainian history that is too embarrassing for words).

The intellectual level of this “widely praised” article gives us some insight into what the real problem is here. That this article by Wallace – with its embarrassing misunderstanding of Putin’s point about a common spiritual heritage with Ukraine, with its own lacunas (the 4 million people in Donbass), with its provable projections onto Putin (nowhere does he talk about ‘subjugating Ukraine’ – indeed the opposite) and so on would/should be torn apart by any history Professor if presented even at first-year undergraduate level; but it is touted as “widely praised”. The West has sunk into an intellectual morass.

[Addendum. 4-3-22. I would still stand by some of my criticisms of Wallace’s exegesis. But it seems that he read the overall import of the article correctly and I did not. I did not think that “one spiritual people” would permit the current operation].



Liz Truss demonstrates her diplomatic skills

The hopelessly out-of-her-depth UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has penned an article in the Telegraph outlining the UK’s response to “Russian destabilisation”.

The article demonstrates one thing; Truss is able to learn and repeat a mantra of power. That is she exhibits that she is on-side with the NATO-imperialist narrative. The text operates at the ‘mythic’ (pre-rational) level; it is a statement of loyalty to the tribe. Nothing more. Certainly no thought or analysis.

Truss has the nerve to cite the Minsk agreements on Donbass as she lectures Russia and carries out the obligatory manoeuvre of presenting the Western position as being on the right side of the law. (It is a vital part of the brand that the West follows ‘international law’; when they break it as in the murderous and devastating 2003 invasion of Iraq they just have to have a lacuna). Of course Kiev has done zero to implement the Minsk agreements and far from pressurising them to implement them the UK has been bolstering their refusal to do so by providing military support for them to fight a war in Donbass. It is the UK which is against the Minsk agreements (which incidentally they had no part in creating in the first place).

Truss refers to an online essay by Vladimir Putin about Russia’s relations with Ukraine. She abbreviates a quote from the essay: “However, President Putin made clear in his manifesto last summer – ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians’ – that he believed ‘the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia’. We cannot turn a blind eye to any attempt to impose that partnership by force.” However – the essay repeatedly makes it fully clear that Putin is expressing what his personal view is and that he also believes that the choice is one for the Ukrainians to make. He repeatedly acknowledges that Ukraine is a separate and independent country and he looks for partnership with Ukraine. He believes that a partnership and close relations with Russia is the true spiritual destiny of Ukraine and he argues this is in Ukraine’s economic interests. He argues that Ukraine is being led astray by radical nationalists and Western powers eager to asset-strip the country. But again – he accepts that it is a matter for Ukrainians to choose. Truss simply displays her crudity when she uses this essay to suggest that Putin wants to “impose that partnership by force”. (As for Donbass Putin makes the point; given the direction Ukraine is taking with its anti-Russia stance and laws which deny Russian ethnicity to Russians [1] do they really want Donbass? Certainly the recent law about shop-keepers having to greet customers in Ukrainian would be unworkable in Donbass). As usual with these people there is no attempt to engage with Putin’s arguments; simply they take one line and use it to reinforce their preconceptions.

There is the necessary claim that Russia is repressive. Truss cites Memorial – a human rights organisation which has recently been shut down in Russia. It was shut down a by court order because it had been (under a legal process) required to indicate to its audience that it received funding from aboard. (One of its media partners was US propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe). It had violated this law and the prosecutors argued that this was not an accident but was deliberate and evidence that it was indeed a foreign funded organisation trying to subvert Russia. It is true that in Russia foreign-funded liberal media outlets are under sustained pressure from the state. But the part that Truss disguises is that such organisations are indeed funded by Western agencies with the express aim of changing Russian society. It was just such a campaign – of funding NGOs in Ukraine – which facilitated the events of Maidan. When Russia shuts these organisations down that is described as evidence of ‘repression’. The claim itself is part of the op.

Truss’s article is what we would expect. She tries to establish that the UK/West is on the right side of the law and that Russia is malign; “What happens in Europe matters for the world. Over 30 years ago, we joined our partners in Moscow, where we agreed that fundamental freedoms like human rights are ‘matters of direct and legitimate concern to all’. That same principle drives us today to stand steadfast with Ukraine in support of its future as a free democracy”. It is Russia who is violating agreements. (Nothing here about NATO’s expansion; nothing here about how the West interfered with and even set in motion the illegal coup in Kiev in 2014 which saw the ouster of a legal government; nothing here about how the EU then signed a partnership agreement with a government which came to power in said coup – in violation of all the norms of ‘democracy’; nothing here about the totally undemocratic attempts to enforce Ukrainian language in Russian-speaking areas in modern Ukraine [2]). I don’t know about the history of Ukraine. No doubt it is possible to understand that history in terms of a Western-leaning destiny for Ukraine. But as far as recent events go it is Putin’s analysis which seems to be grounded in facts. The West is destabilising Ukraine and seeking to bring it into its own orbit at any cost (including civil war in Donbass). We would add that we all understand that Truss’s “fundamental freedoms” is a code-word for a free-for-all for Western financial interests.



Cancelled for speaking the truth and other news and analysis on Ukraine

This is an absolutely amazing story in the Guardian. The chief of the German navy – a vice-Admiral, not some low ranking officer – has said (I am repeating the Guardian and Al-Jazeera reports [1]) that the idea that Russia wants to invade Ukraine is “nonsense” and that all Putin wants is “respect” which he “probably” deserves and giving someone respect is low-cost. (Al-Jazeera reports the vice-Admiral’s remarks at more length; apparently he said that even the idea that Russia wants to take Donbass is “nonsense”).

Not surprisingly the vice-Admiral has tendered his resignation. He is off-message, out of the psychotic group-think, and had to go. Not a good idea to tell these people the truth.

Of course Russia does not want to invade Ukraine. It is incredible that people can (if they are genuine) really delude themselves into believing this. Think it through; what would a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine look like? Firstly; there would be a lot of fighting and thousands of Russians and Ukrainians would die. Putin thinks of the Ukrainians as part of the Slav family – of course they don’t want to kill them! An invasion would cost not just thousands of Russian lives but also a lot of money. The Russian domestic population would be utterly bewildered. And then – once they had ‘won’ they would be faced with ruling a country where they are loathed by the majority, at least in the centre and West of Ukraine. They would face a partisan war and would only be able to rule like the Nazis – with constant terror. The Russian population would not stand for it. And what would they gain? Ukraine is a poor country (far poorer than Russia) with no noticeable resources to steal. (Ukraine gets a lot of income from transit of Russian gas; of course that income would end and indeed the pipelines would probably be shut down). Europe would almost certainly stop buying Russian gas transited through an occupied Ukraine, which would be a catastrophe for the Russian budget, even before any new sanctions. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, said it would be a “quagmire”. She hasn’t thought it through; it would be far worse. It would be a total disaster. If the supposed aim would be to defend Russia’s borders from NATO – all they would have done is shift the border further West, and extended it, making it harder to defend! Of course that would be an illogical military strategy. It might well result in the end of Putin’s government. Of course it is complete nonsense.

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Not learning the lessons of history

This is the absurdly out-of-her depth British Foreign Secretary lecturing Russia (quoted in the Guardian):

She urged Vladimir Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake”. The Kremlin, she said, “has not learned the lessons of history” and an “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”

The same Liz Truss who recently saw fit to pose in a tank in Estonia and threaten Russia from there.

It is hard not to get angry with the sheer irresponsible stupidity of all this. Don’t they realise all this makes them deserve to be invaded?

She probably thinks “desist” is a big word and she is being clever. Of course; there is nothing for Russia to ‘desist’ from. They are positioning troops near Ukraine on their own territory. Almost certainly to be ready if the authoritarian and corrupt regime in Kiev, buoyed up by UK [1] and US weapons and training, decides to finally throw the Minsk peace process completely and finally out of the window and attack Donbass. They may also be there to augment their negotiating position in Geneva, to send a message: “if you don’t meet our demands to pull your forces away from our borders this is that your future is going to look like”.

Continue reading “Not learning the lessons of history”