Discussions / War Against Ukraine

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

They Told You So

From early 2014, as the Euromaidan Revolution unfolded, Ukraine’s citizens were forced to respond to countless editorials and articles in western publications, all of which assumed that they were a divided country: eastern and western regions, Russian and Ukrainian speakers, pro- and anti-Russians. Remember all those maps neatly showing fissures and dividing lines? Journalists who visited Kyiv already knew what they were expected to write. As they drank coffee on Independence Square they only posed questions about supposed neo-Nazis, antisemitism, and the possibility of ethnic violence. No amount of explanation could shake their belief in these phantoms. How foolish this looks today! How little interest journalists showed in warnings of Russia’s infiltration, manipulation, and aggression! These warnings were dismissed as the obsession of local nationalists. Putin’s speech last week prior to the invasion of February 24 made his genocidal intent clear: neither Ukraine not its people, in his mind, have a right to exist. The signs, however, had been there much earlier.

            This week the accusations of neo-Nazis and victimized Russian speakers suddenly look ridiculous. Obviously they were part of the Kremlin’s disinformation playbook, required to manipulate foreign and domestic media. In the last few days the vast majority of Ukrainians, whatever language they speak, whatever their race, religion, or political views, have put up a strong resistance to a brutal invader who is killing them and destroying their society. President Volodymyr Zelensky, who is of Jewish origin and whose family died during the Holocaust, has performed admirably with the support of the entire citizenry.

            But why did it take eight years for the penny to drop? Why were western politicians and opinion-makers unable to hear what Ukrainians were telling them? Why did analysts and professors of Russian studies remain silent, or speak only about Putin’s legitimate concerns, his grievances over NATO expansion, Russia’s security concerns and sense of humiliation after the Soviet state collapsed? No NATO country ever threatened Russia. Today even Sweden and Finland are considering joining; they too have security concerns. And if Ukraine’s security had been considered, an earlier stress on deterrence would have prevented the present situation. We are now dealing with a much more dangerous world and an individual accustomed to ignoring international rules and agreements. But should this not have been clear after the invasions of Crimea and the Donbas in 2014? After the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight, the Polonium poisonings in the UK, the cheating at the Olympic games, the interference in American elections, and the massive cyber attacks against governments and banks?

            Ukrainians already knew whom they were dealing with when Putin tore up the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, at which Kyiv gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security guarantees from the US, UK and Russia. Ironically Putin is now threatening both Ukraine and the west with nuclear strikes. So, yes, Ukrainians have a right to say “We told you so.”

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