The Invasion of Ukraine

In answer to my friends on the left who are holding the US as primarily responsible for the invasion of Ukraine, I would respond as follows: Yes, we need to concede that the US broke agreements made with Russia after the Cold War, after German reunification and the collapse of the Soviet Union – a nation that is the guardian of the memory of the worst assault on any nation in human history, which saw the Nazis take the lives of over 20 million Russians. The US did expand NATO up to the borders of Russia when, in fact, there was no longer any need for NATO to exist after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But arms manufacturers saw massive profits in making former Soviet Bloc countries upgraded militarily to NATO standards (thanks to the generosity of loans provided by US arms manufacturers), and they needed an enemy in order to do so, and we know the outcome of that story which goes by the name ‘Cold War.’ And look at the stock market right now – arms manufacturers are making profits heads over heels while Ukrainian civilians are literally flying head over heels as targets of Russian artillery fire. We can bring up the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the like. Or bring up the argument about spheres of interest. Yes, we know that an integration of neighbouring countries into U.S.-led military partnerships – bringing NATO to the doorstep of Russia – has helped fuel the crisis. And we can understand the security threat that the US-backed NATO alliance poses to countries bordering Russia, especially when Ukraine is also increasing its commercial ties with the European Union. Yes, we can be critical of the post-Maidan regime – since 2014, the US has been governing Ukraine in a de facto sense, and we know about the nationalist radicalization and the presence of neo-Nazis in Kyiv, the Azov Battalion, for instance – but let’s remember that they are not supported politically by the majority of the Ukrainian people. They have been integrated into the National Guard. There is more political support for the far-right in Germany and France than in Ukraine. All this we know.

But, at the same time, we must denounce Putin’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine as illegal and barbaric, even if this means siding with the US and NATO. Putin chose war. This is Putin’s war. We remember what Putin did to Grozny in 1999-2000, completely destroying the city. Is Ukraine part of a Grozny option? Will Kyiv become another Dresden flattened to rubble? In denouncing Russia’s invasion, we need not be a supporter of NATO or the imperialist history of the US. The US has little moral credibility left, certainly after the fiascos of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. And let’s not forget the Cuban missile crisis. And the more recent NATO missile base that exists in Poland (Aegis SM-3 Block IB missiles for Poland are already on-site, only a hundred miles from Russian territory and 800 miles from Moscow). But let’s be clear, Russia clearly needs to pull back its troops. Leave Ukraine. Demilitarize Donbas and Russian border areas. Ukraine needs to be made a neutral country, and the US must acknowledge this. Give it a status similar to Finland.

But, at the same time, we need to understand why this war broke out. Understanding the war does not mean we are justifying this war. We are watching if not the first TikTok war, or the first war that is being viewed overwhelmingly through social media, in Twitterspace and Facebook, then at the very least a military conflagration that constitutes the first major Internet war where the power of social media is being felt to a greater extent than in all previous wars, in terms of scale, scope, evolution and the quality of the virtual experiences fed to the public. It is being brought to the world through live streaming, high-quality video, tweets and retweets and massive online platforms. More people are using the Internet than ever before, and there is a growing popularity of non-news sources and thus potentially more narrative control by the victims (Cuciu, 2022). We do have the issue of information being manipulated photoshopped, and that is and will be a persistent problem. Listening to many news reports that have decried the bloody violence inflicted by the Russian military in Ukraine reveals a disturbing trend: there appears to be a flagrant ethnocentricity and racism at work. Some pundits appear to be upset with the Russian attack on Ukraine mainly because (as they shockingly proclaim) it’s a war between prosperous middle-class people, between peoples that you would never find in Third World populations in Latin America or Africa, between ‘civilized’ people, people who ‘look like us’ – fashionable victims, unlike those unfashionable victims being bombed in, say, Yemen. If they were reporting on a war between tribal factions in Africa, they would not be nearly as emotionally invested. Those are the pundits whose demands for NATO to impose a no-fly zone are the loudest. But a physical engagement between Russia and NATO would be guaranteed to bring about mutually assured destruction.

Social media accounts of the war raise our emotions to a fever pitch. But we cannot lose our capacity for sound, rational judgement. And that means that those of us in the West must continue to challenge the imperialist playbook of NATO, as we continue to challenge Putin. And we must challenge the insanity playing out in the margins of the culture wars by Trump’s QAnon followers making the claim that Trump and Putin are working together to destroy the infrastructure of Ukraine because their actual goal is to destroy a bioweapons lab set up there by Dr Anthony Fauci. What about religious messianism playing out behind the scenes in this conflict? Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed that Ukraine ‘is an inalienable part of our own history, culture, and spiritual space.’ Since Putin has used the ‘defence of Orthodoxy’ argument to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we need to inquire as to the religious implications that stem from this ecclesiastical nationalism – ‘the Church tethered to the nation (autocephaly)’ – in this case, from Russia and Ukraine sharing the same Christian origins, that of the baptism of Prince Vladimir in 988 (De Gaulmyn, 2022). According to Isabelle de Gaulmyn, it ‘is a story that Vladimir Putin used in a speech tinged with Christian messianism. The Russian president’s spiritual confidant, Metropolitan Tikhon of Pskov and Porkhov, advocates for the unity of the peoples born of the baptism of Rus’ against a “decadent” West. This fits with the political views of many in Russian Orthodoxy.’ However, Isabelle de Gaulmyn (2022) writes that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarch (UOC-MP), which opposes the invasion of Russia, is beginning to distance itself from Patriarch Kirill (Kirill is a Russian Orthodox bishop who became Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’ and Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church on 1 February 2009). She notes that ‘[t]he patriarch has nothing to gain by encouraging the bombardment of Kyiv and its spiritual heritage, such as the Monastery of the Caves, where all the Russian saints have passed.’ Pope Francis, the first-ever Roman pope to meet the Patriarch of Moscow, is sending a message through his diplomacy that by supporting Putin, The Russian Orthodox Church will lose not only Ukraine ‘but every bit of its influence in the Christian world.’ But how much difference will this make? Especially when the mass media are treating the war as a spectacle, with little room, it seems, for rational manoeuvring in the theatre of dialogue and peace-making.

Russia must pay for its criminal invasion. We must use every means available to support Ukraine, while at the same time trying to save the planet from nuclear devastation. This is a complex and difficult challenge, especially when we see babies that have been cut to ribbons by Russian missiles. The people of Ukraine are fighting with an unflinching heroism. We must try every means to combat the Russian imperialist aggression against Ukraine. We must hold all imperialist regimes accountable for their crimes the world over. That is why socialist internationalism is so important, especially at this inflection point in history. We must provide shelter and support for the refugees who have escaped this imperialist war that was initiated by the Kremlin. Putin must be placed in the dock for war crimes. And Putin’s bloody regime must be overthrown. All imperialist regimes must be consigned to the dustbin of history.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2022). The Invasion of Ukraine. PESA Agora.
Ideas are Open Access, freely available for readers to download and copy with proper attribution with a CC – BY – ND licence

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.

Article Feature Image Acknowledgement: Screenshot of Ukraine Twitter account