Russia's flawed case for invading Ukrainetext_fields
Why did Russia invade Ukraine in 2022? And what are the justificatory arguments posited by the Kremlin?
Ukraine is part of Russia.
Any Ukrainians who do not accept this are fascists.
Russians in Ukraine are suffering genocide.
The enlargement of NATO is an existential threat to Russia.
Ukraine’s allies have done bad things.
1. In 2021 Putin published a monograph entitled On the Historical Unity of Russia and Ukraine. In this, he argued that Russia had always been one nation and one state. Putin is no scholar and no historian. You can bet your bottom Ruble that he did not pen it himself. But it is reflective of his views.
There is a certain logic to Putin’s case. The birthplace of Russia is Kyiv, not Moscow. St Volodymyr (or St. Vladimir if you are Russian) in the 10th century AD decided to abandon paganism. He received missionaries from various faiths. He rejected Islam because of circumcision, and the ban on pork and alcohol. To think that Russia could have been an all-Muslim country! He shunned Judaism because of its burdensome rules. Again, Ukraine and Russia could easily have become Jewish! He turned down Catholic Christianity because of its emphasis on fasting during Lent. He embraced Orthodox Christianity because it said fasting was supererogatory and its priests were willing to turn a blind eye to his many concubines.
The Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church were not officially separate at the time. There was officially ONE Christian Church organization. But the ‘Catholics’ were in Western Europe and the ‘Orthodox’ were in Eastern Europe. It was not until 1054 that there was a schism between them.
The Russian language emerged at this time. As Russians adopted Orthodox Christianity they accepted the Cyrillic alphabet that was invented by two Macedonian (or would that be Bulgarian?) monks: St Cyril and St Methodius. This is based on Greek. Greece was the centre of Orthodox Christianity.
The Vikings later conquered Kyivan Rus. They founded the Rurikid dynasty.
Poland became mighty in the Middle Ages. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth conquered what we now call Ukraine and Belarus. Russia shifted its capital to the east. It settled in the city of Vladimir and later in Moscow.
Ukraine means ‘at the edge’ in Russian because of its liminal position. The Ukrainians acquired many Polish accretions. These loan words amounted to a different language. Some Ukrainian words are sui generis. The perennial puzzle for linguists is the dividing line between a language and a dialect. It is disputable. The quip runs that a language is a dialect with an army.
The Poles even briefly took Moscow in the early 17th century. Then the Russians drove them out.
After a few centuries under Polish rule Ukraine was reconquered by Russia. Or would that be liberated? It is questionable to what degree a Ukrainian national identity had emerged by that time.
Was it better for Ukraine to be under Polish rule? Poland was the most technologically, scientifically and politically advanced country in Central Europe. A third of the men there counted as aristocrats and thus had the right to vote. Any man with the suffix ‘ski’ at the end of his surname was an aristocrat. Many Ukrainians have a ‘ski’ suffix.
Because the Poles once ruled Ukraine, Russian propaganda has told some conscripts that Poland has invaded Ukraine. Russians who are captured by Ukraine often say that they thought they were fighting Poland. It seems surreal but it is not as silly as it first appears. Moreover, after 1918 when there was a resurrection of independent Poland there were some Polish ultra-nationalists who openly boasted that they would recreate Poland at its zenith in the 18th century when it stretched from Riga to the Black Sea.
Some Ukrainians signed a 17th-century treaty with Russia. Putin takes this as Ukraine voluntarily uniting with Russia.
Russia introduced serfdom in Ukraine. Most peasants were semi-slaves. The law said they could not be sold as chattels but some were.
Some serfs in Russia ran away to the Don River Basin. The tsars later accepted the freedom of these people in return for military service. They were known by the Tatar word for free which is ‘Kazak’ or in English ‘Cossack’. These hardy warriors were some of Russia’s best.
Tsarist Russia did not recognise Ukraine as a distinct entity. The empire was divided into dozens of provinces. Several of them comprise what we call Ukraine. In tsarist times they called it ‘Little Russia’ or ‘Black Russia’ because of its dark soil.
Russians adopted some Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian shirts became popular in Russia as did the hopak dance, the balalaika instrument and borsch soup. But it is questionable if these were originally Russian. It becomes hard to disentangle the two. It is like distinguishing India from Bangladeshi history.
There was a small Ukrainian independence movement in the 19th century. Russia attempted the Russianisation of Ukraine. All education was in Russian and Ukrainian was strongly oppressed as a language. Some Russians moved in, especially to east Ukraine and big cities.
The very west of Ukraine was under Austrian rule in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Austrian Emperor demanded that all Christians become Roman Catholics. In West Ukraine, the Orthodox got around this. They formally submitted to the Pope (leader of the Roman Catholics) in return for the pope allowing them to continue to worship in their own manner and their own language. Thus the Ukrainian Catholic Church was born. But most Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians.
In the late 19th century Tsar Alexander III had a triptych: autocracy, orthodoxy, and nationality. He was heavily oppressive. He was not too bad to Ukraine which largely accepted its place in the empire. The tsar was much more vicious toward Jews and Muslims.
When the First World War broke out some Ukrainians in the Austrian Empire were drafted into the Austrian Army. Most of Ukraine was in the tsar’s empire and so men were drafted into the Russian Army.
In October 1917 the Bolsheviks (communists) seized power in Russia. The communist leader was Lenin. He said all non-Russian nationalities had the right to independence. The Ukrainians took it. They proclaimed their independence and set up embassies abroad. They were recognized by some countries.
There was a strong anarchist movement in Ukraine. Prince Vdovichenko was one such leader.
The Bolsheviks fought a civil war in Russia. Lenin then changed his mind. He ordered the invasion of Ukraine. Some people in Ukraine wanted to be part of the new communist state. Lenin proclaimed the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Putin laments that Lenin invented Ukraine and it had not existed before. This contention is largely bogus.
The Red Army conquered Ukraine. Some people there welcomed this particularly ethnic Russians. It is tricky to figure out who is Russian and who is Ukrainian as many people are of mixed ethnicity. Moreover, if a Russian family lives in Ukrainian for several generations at what point do they become Ukrainian? And vice versa. The very frontier of Ukraine was unclear.
Defeated Ukrainian nationalists fled abroad. They formed a government in exile. They did not abandon hope of the resurrection of the Ukrainian nation. There were organized Ukrainian communities in Canada and the USA.
The USSR was formed in 1922. The Ukrainian language was allowed high status. However, under Stalin in the 1930s it was severely downgraded. Stalin appointed governors of Ukraine who were usually Russian.
In 1932 the Soviet Government started a famine in Ukraine that killed at least 3 million people. This was entirely governmental made as the state-controlled every morsel of food.
Stalin abominated Ukraine because it had been briefly independent. Moreover, he loathed anarchists.
In the Second World War, a few Ukrainians fought alongside the Germans. That was for various reasons. Some Ukrainian Prisoners of War faced a slow death from malnutrition and overwork if they did not turn their coats. Others did it for nationalist reasons. There were Russians, Indians, Britons and in fact, men of all nationalities who did this. But Ukrainians had every reason to abominate the Soviet State that had deracinated them and deliberately starved so many of their countrymen to death.
There was some ill feeling between Ukrainian hardline nationalists and Poles. They sometimes killed each other’s civilians. This may seem odd to outsiders. The Poles and Ukrainians are almost indistinguishable. With many nationalisms, it is the narcissism of small differences. Their languages are very, very similar. They are kindred people. The two peoples are Christian almost without exception. The Jews were not considered real Poles or real Ukrainians. The Ukrainians are Orthodox Christians mostly and the Poles are Roman Catholics. But saying it is puzzling that their sororal nations fought each other is like saying it is incomprehensible that Bangladesh fought against Pakistan.
Some Ukrainian partisans fought against the Germans and the Red Army. Such resistance continued in the forests into the 1950s.
In the USSR any advocacy for independence was severely punished. Those who wanted to achieve independence peacefully were traduced as Nazis.
In 1991 Ukraine voted 92% for independence. Admittedly that is partly because the Russian ethnic minority (about 30% of the people) mostly boycotted the poll. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all agreed to dissolve the USSR in the Belozheva Accords in 1991.
Moscow and Kyiv recognized each other. There can be no doubt about Ukraine’s sovereign independence. You might say that Ukraine should NOT be independent but that does not change the fact that it IS independent.
Russians sometimes say that they only recognized Ukraine when Russia was weak. But that is unmeritorious. The agreement still stands. Pacta sunt servanda – that is a cardinal principle of lex Gentium. Moreover, Ukraine has always been much feebler than Russia. As Ukraine had less bargaining power is it absolved from observing its obligations? Ukraine bent over backwards to accommodate Russia. It had Russian as a co-official language for years. It allowed Crimea to be a special autonomous region. It permitted the Russian Black Sea Fleet to be stationed in Sebastopol.
In fairness, if a fair plebiscite were held most people in Crimea and some eastern regions would vote to join Russia. But that does not alter the fact that legally this land is Ukrainian. Only the Ukrainians or the UN could hold such a poll.
As we have seen Russia is in breach of ius cogens when it launched this war of choice. The Russian Federation bogusly maintains that this war was imposed on them and they are fighting for mere self-preservation.
2. This argument is preposterous. Fascists get 2% of the vote in Ukraine. In Russia, the openly hyper-nationalist party the misnamed Liberal Democrats get 10% of the vote. The United Russia Party is arguably fascist too and often claims 50% of the vote. Russia is far more fascistic than Ukraine.
There were indeed a few Ukrainian fascists in the Second World War. But that does not delegitimize Ukraine now. A few Indians were fascists in the 1940s and no one doubts India’s right to independence.
A high majority of Ukrainians wanted independence. They are liberals, conservatives, socialists, environmentalists and a smorgasbord of political outlooks.
Even if a Ukrainian is a fascist he is still Ukrainian and has the right to defend the independence of his nation.
In the 1990s there was some revisionism in Ukraine about those who had resisted Soviet rule. Were those who had assisted Germany necessarily wrong? As the genocidal USSR practised state terror on an absolutely unprecedented scale, surely Ukrainians were permitted to seek succour from any quarter? What would you do in a life-and-death struggle for your people?
There was a spirited debate in Ukraine commemorating Ukrainians who had made a common cause with Germany. Some Ukrainian nationalists reviled this and said it was right to fight for the USSR despite the USSR denying self-determination to Ukraine.
Pravy Sector and the Azov Battalion are seen as fascists. Russia hugely over-emphasized them. That is despite Russia backing genuine fascists abroad. The ruling United Russia Party has fraternal links with white supremacist parties abroad.
The Tatar indigenous ethnic minority in occupied Crimea is not keen on their peninsula’s illegal and forcible reincorporation into Russia. They have bitter memories of their deportation by Moscow into deepest Siberia and further Kazakhstan. The Tatars are the most secular Muslims. But those who raise their voice against the illegal military occupation are reproached as Islamist extremists by the Putin regime.
Ukrainians are fighting to save their democracy from a cruel totalitarian foe. Ukrainians are anti-fascists.
Even if a Ukrainian is a fascist he is still a Ukrainian and is unconditionally entitled to fight to defend his homeland from a foreign invader.
As for fascism, the Russian Federation boasts that it is a successor state of the USSR. Moscow should acknowledge that the USSR started the Second World War. The USSR signed the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression Pact without which Germany would not have invaded Poland. The USSR invaded Poland without provocation the same month that Germany did. The USSR was an ally of the Nazis in 1939.
3. This is an outright lie. This pure calumny provides no corroborative particulars. Who was slain? When? Where? By whom? How? There are no images. In war, civilians are always killed. This is always lamentable and militaries are obliged to strive to minimize civilian deaths. Because of the fog of war necessarily mistakes are bad. People are misidentified. That is why there is so much friendly fire. Moreover, collateral damage slays civilians.
Ricochets and suchlike also kill members of the civil population. But this is very different from willfully killing a civilian knowing him or her to be a civilian when one was not attempting to target military forces or objects.
It is a crime under the Genocide Convention to make such a false allegation. False accusations do a great disservice to real victims.
The Russian Army’s record is egregiously bad. It has slain so many of its own citizens in Chechnya even in the last 20 years. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, Memorial (which is Russian) and other human rights organisations have extensively documented Russia’s utterly abysmal misconduct.
4. The USSR was bordered by two NATO countries from the 1950s. These were Norway and Turkey. Since the demise, of the USSR, Russia has not had a frontier with Turkey. Four more countries that have joined NATO are adjacent to the USSR. These are Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland. All have been under Russian occupation for much of their histories. They do not wish to be invaded by Russia again. As the Russian Federation borders five NATO member states what difference does one more make?
It is menacing to Russia that there is NATO encroachment. NATO wounded founded as an explicitly anti-Soviet alliance. The USSR had taken land from Czechoslovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland Germany, Poland and Romania in the Second World War. As the USSR was hyper-aggressive other states wished to coalesce against the USSR.
In the 1990s relations between the West and Russia were fairly cordial. The Occident did not wish to see the Russian Federation become a failed state. If Russia was fragmented into several nations then it would balkanize. It could spread disorder and instability. There would be no telling what would happen to its extensive arsenal of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These could be sold to anyone. Indeed, the US and Britain were the midwives of the deal that had Ukraine hand over its nukes for free to Russia in return for guarantees of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity. This is the Budapest Memorandum. Moreover, the USA also encouraged Kazakhstan to give its nuclear arms to Russia which the Kazakhs duly did.
But one has to see it from a Russian perspective. It does seem threatening that NATO has more and more borders with Russia. NATO started with a dozen members. It now has 30 members. It has aspirations to include Georgia and Ukraine.
Imagine if the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) expanded well beyond the quondam USSR. The CSTO currently comprises Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. Notably of the 14 other former USSR states 9 chose not to belong to the CSTO. Imagine the CSTO persuaded Canada and Mexico to join. That would be very menacing to the USA. Washington DC might consider the Bahamas joining to be crossing a red line.
India already faced encirclement from deadly foes as China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are allies. Supposing that the Chinese purposed to convince Bangladesh to become a formal military ally. Then the People’s Republic of China persuaded Sri Lanka to allow them to set up military bases on that resplendent island. That would spook India.
But Russia should ask itself which countries adjacent to it feel compelled to join NATO. It is because they have been so brutalized by Russia. And this is not in the past. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova both have land illegally occupied by Russia. Russia will not even tell the truth about this. Russia recognizes illegal regimes called Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia on foreign soil. The Russian illegal occupiers call themselves peacekeepers. Russia is the one that started the war by invading these nations. The United Nations Organisation has not authorized these soi-disant peacekeepers.
Russia did not seek permission from Ukraine before Russia formed the CSTO which included another nation-state that borders Ukraine, namely Belarus. Ukraine is a sovereign nation. It has the unfettered right to determine its own destiny. Ukraine is permitted to conduct foreign policy as it sees fit. As an independent country, Ukraine is allowed to form military alliances with whoever it so pleases. One can perceive why Kyiv seeks obliged to find allies. That is because Ukraine sits beside an extremely aggressive country rule by a brutal tyrant.
Ukraine is a threat to Russia? This is moronic. Who has invaded whom? Russia outnumber Ukraine 3.5:1. In tanks, planes and artillery Russia outnumbers Ukraine 10:1. Russia has weapons of mass destruction and Ukraine does not. If Russia is allowed to invade Ukraine because of false claims of Ukrainian WMD is Ukraine allowed to invade Russia because Russia often boasts that it has more nuclear weapons than anyone else?
Russia’s modus operandi is projection. It falsely accuses others of its own sins. It is victim blaming.
5. Russia’s foes have transgressed.
It is true to say that Russia’s adversaries have sometimes been iniquitous. This is unsurprising. It is also a meritless argument. Moscow is saying that two wrongs make a right. What aboutry is pathetic.
All the wickedry of the NATO nations that arm and fund Ukraine are not Ukraine’s fault. Yes, Western nations have ill-used others. They have practised slavery. Their legions have perpetrated atrocities. Most of this is decades or even centuries ago. We cannot undo the past.
NATO nations usually acknowledge their wrongdoing. They have sometimes apologized and some have disbursed asythment.
Russians will cite Afghanistan as an example of Western wrongdoing. The Afghanistan intervention was a United Nations mission that Russia voted for! Russia actively assisted with briefings for NATO officers. Moscow encouraged Central Asian states to allow the US to use air bases on their territory.
The Putin regime sings the praises of the Taliban regime which is the most oppressive on earth. That is strange as Putin said the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the right thing to do
Moscow says Iraq is an example of Western aggression. We could argue till we are blue in the face about Iraq. The US-led intervention in Iraq was in pursuance of UN Security Council resolutions that Russia voted for. A second resolution in March 2003 was vetoed by France as well as Beijing and Moscow. So not all Western nations are guilty of Iraq. The coalition of the willing said the second resolution was desirable but not necessary. The earlier 2003 resolution from the UNSC said that there would be ‘’serious consequences’’ if Iraq did not immediately, fully and unconditionally comply with the UN weapons inspection. As Iraq was already suffering regular air strikes the only thing more serious would be a ground invasion.
Even if the United States and other nations were wrong to liberate Iraq from a genocidal tyranny, there is an arguable case. There is no such arguable case over Ukraine. There are no UN Security Council Resolutions that Russia can point to as justificatory. There are no UN General Assembly Resolutions. Nor did Moscow try to get them.
We know Iraq had WMD in 1991. It declared them in an inventory. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Ukraine has WMD.
Russia helped Iraq evade sanctions. Russian politicians heaped praise on Saddam Hussein right up to his fall.
In Western lands, one can demonstrate against wars. One can demonstrate the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia is so oppressive that calling a war its proper name is punishable by 15 years in jail. Telling the truth about the crimes the Russian Army is committing is also a crime. Stating the fact that Crimea is Ukrainian is also a crime.
Ukraine also aspires to join the European Union. Russia is dead against this. Few states wish to join Russia’s pathetic answer to the EU: the Eurasian Economic Union. Ukraine has been made a candidate member of the EU during the war. This was a setback for Russia. Ukraine asked the EU to grant full membership because then Moscow would already have failed in one of its war aims. When it became plain that the EU was about to confer candidate member status on Ukraine, Putin said he did not object since Ukraine is an independent country. For once he told the truth. But Putin’s whole mindset is a negation of Ukrainian rights.
Ukraine is a standing rebuke to the Putin regime. Ukraine is a democracy with free and fair elections; free speech; freedom of assembly; freedom of conscience; fair trials and an independent judiciary. All this worries the Putin kleptocracy. Democracy cannot be allowed to succeed. If it does, then even more Russians will ask why they cannot have the same. There are significant problems with corruption in Ukraine. Putin cited this as a reason to invade Ukraine. But world rankings show that corruption in Russia is even more endemic than in Ukraine.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as minuscule former Soviet states bereft of natural resources. Despite that, they have prospered through good governance and rule of law. They have a higher per capita GDP than Russia. That underscores the execrable misgovernment and outright robbery perpetrated by the Putin junta every single day.
In briefest summary, the Russian case for war is shot through with lies, false analogies, hypocrisy and at best half-truths. That said, there is little logic and only a smidgeon of justice to its claims. There probably never was a conflictual situation where the turpitude of one party was 100% and the rectitude of the other was 100%. This applies to casus belli, ius ad bello as much as ius in bello.
None of the arguments posited by Moscow withstands much scrutiny. There are no sufficient justificatory arguments for this war that Russia began.
Russia would like to conquer the whole of Ukraine and fuse it with Russia. But failing that Putin would settle for the absorption of as much land as he can get away with. An ambiguous status for some regions might be temporarily tolerable for him. Guaranteeing that Ukraine shall never join the EU and especially NATO is what he wants. He would like a marionette in Kyiv. He wants to see a defenceless Ukraine so that he can visit his barbarity on the long-suffering Ukrainian civilians. V V Putin would like Russian reintroduced as a co-official language. Moreover, he wishes to ensure that the Black Sea Fleet can remain in Crimea forever. This would all be preparatory towards more wars of conquest aimed at Russia’s other neighbours.
The author is a political analyst from the UK. He can be watched on YouTube: George from Ireland