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HomeNewsLittle Ukraine v Big Bad Russia? It’s more complicated than that

Little Ukraine v Big Bad Russia? It’s more complicated than that


AS with the response to Covid 19, a dominant narrative about the conflict in Ukraine is being promulgated by western governments and the mainstream media. Similarly to the Covid era, even the slightest dissent from the state- and media-approved viewpoint will have you pilloried as a conspiracy theorist or a patsy for Putin’s regime.  

On a superficial level there is much truth in the official version of what is occurring in Ukraine. Russia has indeed invaded the country and is violating its sovereignty and killing civilians as part of its military campaign. Russia’s aggression is unjustifiable and the invasion’s effects on civilians is reprehensible. The horror being unleashed on ordinary Ukrainians is one hundred per cent the responsibility of Vladimir Putin.  

However, as with any conflict, its causes are often complex and cannot be explained at the surface level. Unfortunately, much of the media’s analysis is offering the public a very shallow and unbalanced view of the factors that have contributed to this conflict. The war is currently being portrayed as Ukrainians versus Russians without any significant emphasis on the fact that a sizeable proportion of Ukrainians are either fully or partially of Russian ethnicity and seek closer ties to Moscow. It would be as if most of the media’s reporting on the Northern Irish troubles only occasionally mentioned the fact that a large proportion of Northern Irish people also view themselves as British. 

Similar to Ireland’s complex relationship with Britain, there are deep ties of culture and ancestry between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian presidenial election of 2010 delivered victory to the ethnic Russian Viktor Yanukovych. The election was deemed to be fair by observers from the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe). Initially, Yanukovych tried to bridge the divide between those who sought closer ties to the EU and the West and those who wanted to maintain close links with Russia. Towards the end of his presidency, he abandoned plans for associate membership of the EU that he had eagerly sought. This decision sealed his fate.    

In 2014, the Maidan Revolution led to the overthrow of the democratically elected Yanukovych by protesters keen on EU and Nato membership. Russia have asserted for years that they view Ukrainian membership of Nato as a threat. This didn’t stop senior American officials openly walking through the streets of Kiev offering their support to the protesters. After Yanukovych’s ousting, Russia annexed Crimea with its large ethnic Russian population and funded Russian-speaking separatist militias in the eastern Donbas region. There has been an ongoing conflict there since 2014 with more than 14,000 deaths, and both sides have been accused of human rights violations. 

The West have been supplying weapons to the Ukrainian state and Russia to the separatists, and there you were thinking that the Cold War ended in the early 90s.  

Most of the Western public are not being presented with the complex internal politics and geopolitical manoeuvring that has led to the conflict in Ukraine. They merely see Russian military aggression inflicting immense suffering on innocent Ukrainians and they are rightly horrified. Unfortunately, Western public revulsion will have no bearing on Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Nor will ludicrous virtue-signalling fuelled by anti-Russian hysteria that has seen the cancellation of TV ads with fictional Russian meerkats as well as the 19th century composer Tchaikovsky as if they were somehow complicit in the invasion of Ukraine. We are quickly reminded after every jihadi terror attack that it’s ‘not all Muslims’, but it seems collective guilt is fine for Russians. 

If cancelling the meerkat ads doesn’t terrify Putin into retreat, we are left with two options. Firstly, the West intervenes militarily. The US and Nato have ruled that out in order to avoid World War 3 and a potential nuclear apocalypse. The second option involves dialogue and compromise with Russia. Hopefully for the sake of Ukraine a protracted conflict can be avoided and a peaceful settlement can be arrived at quickly. 

A diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine will have to involve both Russia and the West ceasing to foment existing divisions within Ukraine for their own gain. It will better serve the people of Ukraine to commit to being a neutral country outside of the EU and Nato that buffers east and west. Proposing this as a solution leads to accusations of caving in to Putin’s demands by people who argue that if a majority of people in Ukraine want to join Nato and the EU they should have a democratic right to self-determine their own future. This naive idealism fails to acknowledge the geopolitical reality that smaller countries in the orbit of a more powerful country risk conflict with their neighbour should they enter a military alliance which the more powerful country views as a threat to its security. Ask Cuba how they got on with hosting Russian nuclear weapons in 1962. It doesn’t matter whose side you are on, or which country’s values you believe are more virtuous, to understand this geopolitical power dynamic. Regarding the Cuban missile crisis, what Cuba or its people thought or wanted was largely irrelevant. The situation was resolved when the two dominant superpowers reached a compromise that saw the USSR remove its nuclear warheads from Cuba, and the US agreed not to invade the island as well as removing its warheads from Turkey. 

As I sometimes struggle with life in this era of unparalleled material comforts, I don’t think I’d cope too well on a diet of radioactive rats in a post-nuclear apocalypse. So, from a self-preservation perspective, I’m hoping diplomacy will bring an end to this conflict before it spirals into something worse.

At the same time, it really is quite sickening to see how the West have used Ukraine in their own geopolitical manoeuvring, but are now showing themselves to be utterly spineless in the face of a rival willing to use force. By leading Ukraine on that they could join NATO and the EU, the West were encouraging them to pick a fight they can’t win with a better-equipped and brutal neighbour. Putin is now flexing his muscles and the lives of ordinary people are being literally blown apart as the West ‘stands with Ukraine’ from a cowardly distance while updating their social media accounts with Ukrainian flags and refusing to drink vodka at dinner parties. If the West is ever directly involved in another conflict, I suspect that instead of deploying troops it will be the virtue signalling corps who are on the front line, waving rainbow flags and shouting slogans about non-binary bathrooms at bemused enemy soldiers.  

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Andrew Devine
Andrew Devine
Andrew Devine is an Orwell Prize winning writer & blogger

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