Air Date 3/4/2022
[00:00:00] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome, or welcome back, to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast in which we should take a look at the history of Ukraine, as a Soviet state, war-torn state, famished state, independent state, westernizing state, energy exploring state, revolutionary state, annexed state, and invaded state. And we also look at the role of the West and NATO, as well as Putin's history and possible motivations for invasion as well.
Clips today are from Today Explained, Timothy Snyder speaking at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Vox, AJ+, Democracy Now!, TLDR News, RealLifeLore, The Gravel Institute, and The Mehdi Hasan Show, with additional members-only clips from WorldAffairs, The Empire Files, and The Muckrake Podcast.
The real and imagined history of Ukraine - Today Explained - Air Date 2-25-22
[00:00:57] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: The propaganda you're referring to, in part, is Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that Ukraine is not a country, that it was entirely created by Russia. What is the argument that he is making?
[00:01:10] TIMOTHY SNYDER: I'll address it, but I would first just suggest that it's much more a framing device than it is an argument. You know, it's like if I say that, you know, Canada is not a country, it's just a creation of the United Kingdom, it's going to sound ridiculous.
But the technical argument is that when the Soviet Union was created-- this is Putin's argument. I'm going to make it for him-- when the Soviet Union was created, a Ukrainian republic was... was established
[00:01:34] PUTIN: [TRANSLATED] : “ As the result of Bolshevik policy the Soviet Ukraine was created.
[00:01:39] TIMOTHY SNYDER: In that sense, Ukraine was created by the Soviet Union.
[00:01:42] PUTIN: [TRANSLATED] : “It is Ukraine created by Vladimir Lenin. He is its creator and architect.”
[00:01:50] TIMOTHY SNYDER - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: Now there are these three terribly wrong things about this argument. Number one, the Soviet Union is not the same thing as Russia. It was established deliberately as a non-Russian, but as an internationalist, project
[00:02:03] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: Hmm!
[00:02:03] TIMOTHY SNYDER: Number two, he's got it completely backwards; because the Soviet Union was created as a federation of national units precisely because everybody, including internationalists like Lenin, understood in 1917, '18, '19, '20, '21, '22, that the Ukrainian question was real.
A century ago, this was not actually a big debate, even on the far left. Several years of watching people being willing to fight, and die, for Ukraine convinced the Communists who founded the Soviet Union that there was a real question here, and they had to have a real answer for it.
So in that sense, it would be truer to say “Ukraine created the Soviet Union” because without the general acknowledgment of a Ukrainian question, the Soviet Union wouldn't have been set up the way that it was.
But then the third point, I mean, the third way this is just absurd, is that, of course, Ukrainian history goes way back before 1918. I mean, there... there are medieval events which flow into it,early modern events that flow into it, there was a national movement in the 19th century; all of that is, you know-- going back to your earlier question-- all that falls into completely normal European parameters.
So Ukraine didn't get created in any sense when the Soviet Union was created. It was already there, and it already had an extremely interesting history.
[00:03:18] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: And during the times of the Soviet Union, was Ukraine allowed to be its own country, in terms of language and culture?
[00:03:25] TIMOTHY SNYDER: It goes back and forth.
SCORING IN—SOVIET MARCH
When they set up the Soviet Union in 1922, the initial idea is: we're going to win over Ukraine. And the way we're going to win over Ukraine, is we're going to have policies of affirmative action, where we will recruit Ukrainian elites into the Soviet Union by promoting them, by opening up Ukrainian culture, by opening up jobs in the bureaucracy.
That goes on through the end of the 1920s.
But then when Stalin comes to power in 1928, he sees the situation differently. He is trying to transform the Soviet Union economically.
[00:04:05] 1940s DOCUMENTARY: “Here was a government trying to plan and carry out the complete transformation of the economy in five short years.”
[00:04:13] TIMOTHY SNYDER: He carries out a policy called collectivization, which basically means the state taking control of agriculture.
[00:04:18] 1940s DOCUMENTARY: “Private property was confiscated, and peasants were herded into collective farms.”
[00:04:23] TIMOTHY SNYDER: Ukraine is the most important agricultural center in the Soviet Union. It's the breadbasket of Eurasia, basically.
When his collectivization policy fails, and starts starving people to death, Stalin says, "No, no. This problem is caused by Ukraine. It's caused by Ukrainian nationalists. It's caused by Ukrainian agents funded from abroad."
Which is all complete nonsense, but what it does is, that, it turns the Ukrainian question around. And suddenly, all of these people who'd been promoted through the 1920s are ... are in show trials, are committing suicide, or executed, in the Great Terror.
Suddenly, Ukrainian traditional village life has been wiped out by a famine, which was not only entirely preventable, but which was basically, not just allowed, but determined to happen in 1932 and 1933.
So Ukraine is allowed to rise in a certain way, and then it's crushed.
[00:05:21] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: Can you tell us about the famine in Ukraine? Give us a sense of what happened, and what the outcomes were for people who lived in Ukraine.
[00:05:30] TIMOTHY SNYDER: The five year plan, from 1928 to 1933, was to turn the Soviet Union, which was basically a country of peasants and nomads, into a country of workers. And an essential part of that was to get agriculture away from private farmers, from smallholders, who were... who were very common in Ukraine, and get it under control of the state, because that would allow the state to control a source of capital, which you could then divert towards industrialization.
So the peasants would be put under control, the land would be put under control, the food would be put under control; and the idea was that this would allow the state to divert resources to what it really wanted to do, which was build up the cities, build up the mines, build up the factories.
So that's 1928, ‘29, ‘30. It doesn't really work very well. Collectivized agriculture doesn't work, in general, very well; and the transition to it can be particularly horrifying. In 1931, and especially in 1932, there's a transition to collectivization in Ukraine, there is a bad harvest, and then you have to interpret that.
And beginning the summer of 1932, what Stalin does, is he interprets it politically.
[00:06:40] HARVEST OF DESPAIR: “It was a spoken order, Stalin gave it.”
[00:06:44] TIMOTHY SNYDER: He says this is the fault of the Ukrainian Communist Party.
[00:06:48] HARVEST OF DESPAIR: “He said the Kulak wants to crush our Soviet government with the bony hand of famine. We will bend this bony hand back on the throat of the Kulak."
[00:07:01] TIMOTHY SNYDER: In other words, he gives a highly politicized interpretation of a failure which is, basically, about his own policy. And then he tries to make reality match his interpretation.
So the famine is not treated as real, or it's treated as the fault of the Ukrainians.
[00:07:18] HARVEST OF DESPAIR: “Russians came from house to house, and took all the food that people had in the house.”
[00:07:25] TIMOTHY SNYDER - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: Grain is confiscated from Ukrainians in 1932, and even into 1933, when it's clear that hundreds of thousands of people, or even millions of people, are going to die.
In November, December of 1932, especially, Moscow pushes through a series of extremely harsh policies. For example, that peasants are not allowed to go to the cities and beg; no one is allowed to leave the Ukrainian Republic; you know, things like this which basically make a kind of prison of the entire republic, so that starving people have nothing to do, and nowhere to go.
“I could buy for my salary two loaves of bread a month. So that’s only how we could survive. But the peasants were dying.”
So the result of all of this is, I mean, the greatest political atrocity in Europe in the 20th century, up to that point, and a nationally and politically directed famine in which, I think by the best estimates, currently, about 3.9 million people die, who did not need to die.
[00:08:24] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: Oh, my God. 3.9 million people die, who did not need to die. And at that point, is Ukraine essentially beaten into submission? I mean, how do people respond?
[00:08:34] TIMOTHY SNYDER: It happens over weeks and months. And as it happens, people lose their ability to behave politically, or in a way that they could protect themselves. They, very often, you know, lose the elemental aspects of what we would think of as human morality and... and decency.
So it's a very, very heavy weight on Ukrainian society. It's an unforgettable episode, and it is one of the things that marks Ukrainians now off from Russians.
And so, if a foreign government, you know, tries to deny it, or minimize it, or spin it in some way, as the Russian government has been doing, naturally, that causes a good deal of resentment and alienation.
[00:09:14] NOEL KING - HOST, TODAY EXPLAINED: What happens to Ukraine?
[00:09:15] TIMOTHY SNYDER: Ukraine is a constitutive part of the Soviet Union from its establishment in 1922 to its disintegration in 1991. The back and forth of how the Ukrainian question is treated continues after the Second World War, if in a less violent way.
So, during the Second World War, for a while, Ukraine is praised by Stalin, and that's because the war is being fought largely in Ukraine.
And by the way, Ukrainians suffer more than Russians in that war, not just relatively, but also in absolute terms. The civilians suffer more in Ukraine than in Russia.
But, during the war, because the Germans are trying to control Ukraine, Stalin praises Ukraine.
But, when it's over, that all turns around again, and the fact that Ukraine was occupied by the Germans is turned against Ukraine. Now, Ukrainians are suspected of being collaborators. They're more suspicious than Russians are.
When Stalin dies, there's a certain loosening on the Ukrainian question, which comes to its apex in the 1960s, where there's a certain relaxation, and Ukrainian culture is allowed to flourish a bit. But when Brezhnev takes control from the late 60s, and especially from the early 70s forwards, you have a policy of a very deliberate Russification in Ukraine.
And it's at that moment, the 1970s, that are so important for understanding the present, because that's when people like Putin grew up. You know, so Putin's perspective, that everything is basically Russian, and, like, you know, eveyone really speaks Russian, and even if they seem not to, they really want to. That's a very 1970s perspective on all of this.
From a Ukrainian point of view, the 1970s were very much a down point, which only really starts to turn around after the horrible nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.
[00:10:55] SOVIET TV 1986: “An official announcement from the council of ministers: there has been an accident at Chernoybl power plant station. One of the atomic reactors was damaged…
[00:11:06] TIMOTHY SNYDER: It's really only after Chernobyl, when Gorbachev and the Soviet leadership don't say anything about the spread of radioactive material, that things start to move in Ukraine. And a new kind of politics emerges in Ukraine, which starts to talk about Ukrainian autonomy or even Ukrainian independence.
The Soviet Union comes to an end in 1991, Contemporaneous with that, there's a referendum in Ukraine about independence, in which there's not only a very large majority across the country for independence, there's also a majority in every region of Ukraine, including the ones that Russia claims, or occupies, or says it's fighting for right now.
So, after that, Ukraine has to build everything anew. It has to build a state, it has to build an economy, it has to build a political system. And that's the phase of history that we're in right now.
Timothy Snyder ─ Ukraine and Russia in a Fracturing Europe - Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs - Air Date 5-3-1
[00:12:12] TIMOTHY SNYDER: You can really only understand Russia's policy in Ukraine, which was a whole series of miscalculations and blunders, if you accept as Ilyan accepts, as Putin accepts, that there really isn't a Ukrainian people, right? Because so many of the things that happened inside Ukraine -- the protests, even the war, which was largely an NGO effort -- only makes sense if you accept that there's a Ukrainian society which does things without some kind of external stimulus. Which does in fact happen to be the case. And it's only if you think that just intervening in Ukraine is going to bring the whole state down because there really isn't a Ukraine, that the policy itself can seem to make a kind of sense.
Of course, when you blunder into a war, you never ever, ever say I blundered into a war. You always blame someone else. And Ilyin is very convincing and very useful here. At the end, when they annexed Crimea, Putin gives a speech a few months later in which you he says Crimea is Russia's Jerusalem -- make of that what you will. And as the authority he cites precisely Ilyin.
But the point about Crimea is that that's the moment when they start saying that it's all about the Americans, right? That the Americans made us do this. We didn't have any choice. We had to do this because of the Americans. Which is all, which is Ilyin. Maybe they get it somewhere else.
But this idea that Russia is innocent no matter what it does, of which there are more spectacular examples, right? Like shooting down the Malaysian aircraft, when they shot down the Malaysian aircraft, which they did, they say, well, this was actually an assassination attempt on Putin, which transforms the real victims into Russia being the national victim, like immediately. And when I say immediately, I mean, literally immediately, three and a half hours after the event, it was already being reported on Russian television as an assassination attempt on the Russian head of state. We are innocent, no matter what we are doing, we are innocent. And it's the West, it's the West's fault.
Now, this also helps to explain, I think, something which is really important, which is the basic logic of Russian policy towards Ukraine. Russian policy towards Ukraine from the beginning has always been about Europe. And it has been openly characterized as being about Europe. The claim was that the Europeans were behind the Maidan. Right? The claim that was made from Russia to Ukraine was that the Europeans are forcing their Western ideas upon you. And when Russia tried to peel Ukrainians away from the protest, what they talked about was how things like if you wanted free travel in the European Union, you had to first accept gay marriage, right? Things like this. This was the kind of propaganda they offered. And since then, I mean, literally since then, Russia has unfolded a policy against the European Union, I think of which Ukraine is only one part.
When you invade Ukraine and you annex some of its territory, you're violating the fundamental norm of international law. That's fundamental. It shouldn't be forgotten.
But in addition to that, we've had all kinds of other interesting things, like funding separatists and national populists inside the European Union. Most prominently, the Front Nationale. Like using media resources, especially RT the big Russian television network to support separatism and national populism inside European Union states. Like deliberately bombing the Syrians into Germany after Merkel made it clear that they would be accepted.
And then, in manufacturing rape scandals involving Muslims inside Germany, which I think is particularly nasty, although not exceptional.
This is all part, I think, of a general policy or treating the European Union as the fundamental foe, a Russian policy which I think it is and which is hard to explain without some kind of ideological framework.
From spy to president: The rise of Vladimir Putin - Vox - Air Date 3-23-17
[00:15:29] SAM ELLIS: Vladimir Putin has been ruling on Russia since 1999. In that time he shaped the country into an authoritarian and militaristic society. He successfully invaded two of Russia's neighbors and strengthened ties with Syria and Iran. He's intent on pushing back against the Western world order, and it appears to be working. To understand how one man could have such a powerful influence on this country we need to go back to the chaos and corruption that gripped Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
When Berlin wall fell a 40 year old Putin was working as an undercover spy in East Germany for the Soviet security agency, the KGB. The Soviet Union dissolved into 15 new countries, including the new Russian Federation. In Putin's eyes Russia had just lost 2 million square miles of territory. He later called this a major geopolitical disaster of the century, lamenting that tens of millions of his co-patriots found himself outside Russian territory. The new government had to sell off nearly 45,000 public businesses, like energy, mining, and communication companies that had been run by the communist regime, and it was chaos. The Russian economy was in a free fall and all of these companies ended up in the hands of a few extremely wealthy men. Known. Today as Russia's oligarchs.
At the same time, the new Russian state was having a hard time establishing itself. Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, was wildly unpopular for cooperating with the West, and to make matters worse he was an alcoholic and many Russians thought he was an embarrassment. In order to stay in power he leaned on the support of these oligarchs, surrendering an immense amount of political power to them. This graph shows out inequality actually worsened after the fall of the Soviet Union.
This is where Vladimir Putin enters politics. He leaves the KGB in 1991 and becomes the Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg. Putin uses his position to give special treatment to friends and allies in the private sector. He helps them structure monopolies and regulates their competitors, quickly becoming a favorite among the oligarchs. Before long he's assembled a support network of oligarchs, crime bosses, and security officials, mostly fellow former KGB officers like he was.
With their help he rapidly ascends to the upper echelons of the new Russian state. In 1999 President Boris Yeltsin appoints Putin, still relatively unknown in national politics, to be the prime minister. A fierce nationalist, Putin feared Yeltsin was letting the US dominate Russia, and that NATO, the Alliance that worked for decades to contain Soviet influence, would expand into the new liberated countries and surround Russia. Putin's goal then became to build a strong Russian state, one that would be both stable at home and capable of exercising more influence over its neighbors, and he quickly got his chance.
During the post-Soviet chaos, there was escalating violence in Chechnya, a region that had informally seceded from Russia in the mid 90s. Chechen warlords and terrorists were pushing into Russian territory and attacking the border. In August, 1999, a series of deadly bombings killed more than 300 people in several Russian cities, including Moscow. Putin, the new prime minister, immediately blames Chechen separatists for the attacks.
He regularly appears on Russian television claiming he will avenge Russia. The population quickly rallies around him. Putin's approval ratings jumped from 2% before the bombings to 45% after the bombings. Journalists later uncovered evidence that suggests Russian security services could have been complicit in the Moscow bombings, perhaps knowing they would spark support for a strong man like Putin, but a closed state investigation quickly quashed any dissenting theories.
So Russia launches a popular and devastating war in Chechnya. The capital city of Graziani was leveled by Russian bombing, and some estimate close to 80,000 people died, and in less than a year, Russia successfully brings Chechnya back under its control. In December, 1999 Yeltsin suddenly resigns, making Putin the interim president. In May, during the bloody campaign and Chechnya, Putin wins the presidential election. He begins to shape the Russian state to his vision. Patronage and corruption remained some of his key tools, but he quickly suppresses the oligarchies under his rule. Those that support Putin are rewarded, those that don't are eliminated.
[00:19:44] NEWS REPORT: Once Russia's richest man, imprisoned Kremlin critic and former oil magnet, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was sentenced to 14 years in jail. This on a new conviction of embezzling oil.
This is effectively a vendetta from Vladimir Putin for Khodorkovsky getting involved in opposition politics.
[00:20:01] SAM ELLIS: With the oligarchy tamed Putin was now free to move his vision outside of Russia's borders. At the time relations with the US were fairly good, Putin, even vacationed at George W Bush's summer home.
[00:20:10] PRESIDENT GEORGE W BUSH: I looked the man in the eye. I found it to be very straightforward and trustworthy.
[00:20:17] SAM ELLIS: But things were about to change. In August, 2008, Russia invades, Georgia, a former Soviet Republic. It's a display of aggression and strength on behalf of pro-Russian separatists there. Russia quickly annexes two small parts of Georgia, drawing condemnation from all over the world. Interestingly though, Putin was not president during the invasion. See, the Russian constitution says the president can only serve two consecutive terms, but sets no limit on the total number of terms one can serve. So Putin took the prime minister role again, when his handpicked successor Dimitri Medvedev served as president. When Obama was elected US president in 2008, he attempts to reset relations with Russia, and they make some progress, most notably to limit both country's nuclear arsenals.
But Putin remains paranoid about US intentions and remains opposed to these new relations. He's particularly bothered by US interventions in the middle east, especially in Libya in 2011. He publicly criticized Medvedev for not vetoing the action in the UN Security Council. Putin announces his candidacy for president and wins the 2012 election by a preposterous margin.
Putin starts his third term, once again, amid chaos. He doubles down on his authoritarian governance style at home and his militaristic strategy abroad, but in both cases, he showcases a mastery of information. Since he first took office in 2000, putin has kept a tight leash on Russian television. Essentially all news outlets are state-owned propaganda machines. His regime decides which stories air and how, always depicting him as the strong Russian leader.
In 2012, he cracked down on human rights and civil liberties, making clear there was no room for dissent in his Russia. Using state television, for example he administered a blistering campaign against a feminist and gay rights music group, Pussy Riot.
[00:21:59] NEWS REPORT: The latest and the loudest such performance was the so-called punk prayer at the Christ the Savior cathedral, where they were yelling things which were rather profane to be yelled in church. Of course, three members off a punk group Pussy Riot were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
[00:22:15] SAM ELLIS: Putin has also bolstered his aggressive foreign strategy. He's used traditional military methods, like sending weapons and fighter planes to help dictator Bashar al-Assad fight a bloody civil war in Syria. But Putin's regime has also developed and fostered the most effective cyber army in the world, and he's used it to wreak havoc in the west. These hackers have stolen classified US information, hacked politicians' email accounts, even shut down Georgia's internet while Russian troops invaded. And of course they tried to sabotage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016. Russian hackers have also launched propaganda campaigns and supportive right-wing candidates in Europe. With this Putin hopes to exploit and deepen the political divide in Western democracies.
In 2014, the Putin vision culminated in the targeting of Ukraine, another former Soviet country. Ukraine's president was opening up to the west and Putin feared he would join NATO, so Russian hackers launched a propaganda campaign against him, stoking protests in the pro-Russia Eastern part of the country. He then sent in disguised Russian troops and before long violence erupts. In goes to the Russian military and in early 2014 Putin annexes Crimea. He continues to support the fighting in Ukraine, and as of 2017 over 9,000 people have died. The world erupts in protests, but Putin doesn't give in. See, his aggressive foreign policy successfully weakens his neighbors while also rallying Russians around him.
But he has done all of this at the expense of his own people. His invasions have prompted harsh sanctions from the West, barring Russian businesses from trading in Western markets. Russian currency has plummeted in value and the energy industry that Russia relies on is collapsing. It's hard to imagine russia can continue under these circumstances. But the election of Donald Trump brings new hope for the Putin vision. Trump's rhetoric has been notably soft on Russia. He could lift sanctions and weaken NATO, potentially freeing up space for Putin's Russia to become a dominant power once again.
What Russia And Putin Actually Want With Ukraine - AJ+ - Air Date 2-17-22
[00:24:24] NARRATOR: The coverage of this crisis tends to downplay the role of one central thing, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, also known as NATO.
[00:24:33] ANATOL LIEVEN: If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had stuck with providing basic security, against Russia or anyone else, for its original membership of the west European countries, we would have no crisis today.
[00:24:48] NARRATOR: Unpacking NATO is key to understanding Russia's actions. You see, NATO was born right after World War II as an Alliance against the Soviet Union, it's growing influence, and its massive army. In the west, it's often forgotten that it was the Soviet Union that made the biggest contribution in defeating Nazi Germany. Around 27 million Soviets died in the second world war. This almost unimaginable death toll is crucial to understanding why the formation of NATO made Russians feel like the world betrayed them.
We'll get to that in a bit, but first, a little more about NATO. The NATO treaty has a section, Article 5, that says that an attack on one member country should be seen as an attack on all, which is a useful deterrent if you're worried about being invaded by the Soviet Union. Now the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 without article five ever being invoked by any of NATO 16 member countries, but since the Soviet Union ended this historically anti-Soviet Alliance has doubled to 30 members. Three decades on that includes some countries that were part of the Soviet Union and others, right on Russia's boarder. Understandably, some of those Eastern European countries had brutal experiences living under Soviet domination and the fear of Soviet tanks rolling across the border. Joining NATO and keeping it alive was seen as a good buffer against repeating that history.
[00:26:14] ANATOL LIEVEN: So they mobilized ethnic lobbies, in America in particular, to agitate, to press, for the expansion of NATO to their countries.
[00:26:24] NARRATOR: But the United States ..As the biggest member and the primary weapon systems provider in the Alliance, also has its reasons for growing NATO.
[00:26:32] ANATOL LIEVEN: During the cold war NATO existed to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union, and of course the Soviet Union never attacked NATO/Western Europe, so NATO never had to fight. Now, after the end of the cold war, unfortunately, what you've got was very much just as a desperate way of finding a new reason for NATO to exist when it's actual reason to exist had vanished. You've got this phrase, "out of area or out of mission," and then NATO began to cast around for places to do things. This was also a way, of course, of pleasing the Americans in order to keep the Americans in Europe.
[00:27:08] NARRATOR: Remember a little earlier we talked about Russia's sense of betrayal, well, this is where it comes from. As early as 1990, US diplomats reportedly promised not one inch eastward of NATO expansion, but this promise was actually never written down, so the US says there was no formal agreement. Russia insist that there was a verbal agreement and that it believed the US, and it's not like NATO wasn't aware of what growing the alliance could mean. Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first post-Soviet president, warned even back then that any expansion would trigger, "the flames of war bursting across the whole of Europe." Well, we know what happened next.
[00:27:50] ANATOL LIEVEN: Well, NATO has expanded to take in former communist states in Eastern Europe and three former Soviet republics of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. In 2007, the United States, and a couple of other NATO countries, pressed for NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia as well.
[00:28:11] NARRATOR: This belief that the Russians have, that they were tricked after the fall of the Soviet Union, is where that sense of betrayal comes from. Now whether it's justified or not is a matter of opinion, but what does matter is that this is a big reason why relations between Russia and the west are the way they are, and why there's so much mistrust between them. As long as there's a tug of war over Ukraine and deep mistrust between Russia, the US, and NATO, there will always be a chance for war to be break out.
[00:28:41] ANATOL LIEVEN: What you must not do in a deeply divided country is face it with a clear and unavoidable choice between Russia and the west. Neutrality, in my view, is an entirely feasible solution and one, which by the way, does not prevent Ukraine from developing as a free market democracy. The problem is Biden administration is so scared of its domestic opposition, not just the Republicans but also within the democratic party, that this obvious compromise solution and peaceful settlement are not possible for the west, but that is a profound tragedy.
Journalist Andrew Cockburn & Historian Timothy Snyder on Ukraine, Russia, NATO Expansion & Sanctions - Democracy Now - Air Date 3-1-22
[00:29:33] AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn back to a comment on Democracy Now! in 2014 made by the late historian Stephen Cohen about how NATO expansion in Eastern Europe could lead to war.
[00:29:46] STEPHEN COHEN: When we took in, “we” meaning the United States and NATO, all these countries in Eastern Europe into NATO, we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that, but we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders, the Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war, and I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential.
[00:30:39] AMY GOODMAN: That’s historian Stephen Cohen, the late historian, speaking in 2014 on Democracy Now!. We’re speaking now with Andrew Cockburn, Harper’s Magazine Washington editor, his new book, The Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine, and Yale University professor of history Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny and The Road to Unfreedom. Andrew Cockburn, can you respond to this? And then we’ll get the response of Professor Snyder.
[00:31:06] ALEXANDER COCKBURN: Well, Steve Cohen, he was exactly right. What he said would happen has happened, so I don’t hardly need to argue about it. I’m sure that the whole story of NATO expansion will become further encrusted with myth, but it is certainly the case that we did — there were promises made to Gorbachev and the then-Soviet leadership at the time of the German reunification at the end of the Cold War, that NATO would not expand beyond Germany. The Russians agreed that all of Germany would be in NATO, but they did say they wouldn’t expand further, and for some reason the Soviets believed them, though they didn’t have much option, of course.
There has been then the further expansion of the — was in Poland, the first tranche came in '99 and then in 2004, and the Russians complained continually, and then it came up again in 2007-08, when there was talk at that point of Ukraine and Georgia joining. And at that point, in 2008, remember, now, we hear — it's glibly said, “And then Russia invaded Georgia.” Well, actually, yes, they did, but that was preceded by a very deliberate provocation or initiative by the Georgian leader, Saakashvili, to move into what was a sort of Russian, whatever you want to call it, protectorate of South Ossetia, with the aim, and I know this from having talked to a lot of the people who were involved both in Georgia and in Washington at the time, with the aim, as one of them said, of flipping — Misha Saakashvili wanted to flip us into a war. And actually, at that point, Bush himself and Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, the National Security Adviser, went to some lengths to tamp that down, to tell Saakashvili they were not going to intervene on his behalf, not going to support him in his efforts, in Bush’s words, to start World War III.
We have to say, of course, what Putin has done is absolutely disgraceful, but it’s kind of easy to understand. There has been sustained efforts to push NATO forward, to appear in what to Russians might seem like, Russian leadership, might seem like a threatening posture. People say, there’s a saying that NATO exists to deal with the instability that its own existence creates.
[00:33:49] JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I’m wondering if Timothy Snyder can respond to this issue of the NATO expansion, but also, I happen to be, unfortunately, old enough to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when President Kennedy was ready to go to war, if necessary, with the Soviet Union over the fact that the Soviet Union was putting missiles in an independent country, Cuba. But the United States felt threatened by the ability of the Soviet Union to enter its sphere of influence. I’m wondering if you see any parallels with the mentality of Putin right now.
[00:34:27] TIMOTHY SNYDER: Let me roll back to the history, and I’ll end with Cuba. When Germany was unified, the Americans and the Soviets did make an arrangement about West Germany and East Germany. That arrangement, however, did not foresee and had nothing to do with the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. We’re talking about something that happened in 1990. In 1991, to everyone’s surprise, the Soviet Union no longer existed. And after that point, it’s very important to remember that the world isn’t just about Washington and Moscow, it’s also about other sovereign states and other peoples, who can express their desires and have their own foreign policies.
So, when we speak of NATO enlargement, I mean, that’s a bit of a misnomer. NATO was not there to enlarge, there wasn’t much willingness on the part of Western Europe or the US to enlarge, it was the East Europeans themselves who pushed the process forward. I mean, we can decide that they didn’t understand their own national interests, but that’s how the process unfolded. It came from the East Europeans, and there was never an understanding between the United States and Russia after 1991 that this wasn’t going to happen. It’s true that the Russians objected, but it’s also true that their understanding of NATO has changed drastically after NATO expansion halted and with the reelection of Mr. Putin.
In the 1990s and 2000s, Russia and NATO cooperated, not least in Afghanistan, where the Russians tended to insist that the Americans and NATO had to take a harder line than they were taking. Mr. Putin himself referred to NATO, well into the 21st century, as a defensive alliance. He himself has changed drastically the way that he speaks about NATO. He uses it essentially as a way to try to rally the Russian population.
Now, I would distinguish between what Mr. Putin says about this war and what the Russians think. It’s very hard to find, at least as far as I can read the data, a Russian opinion that somehow Russia was threatened by Ukraine in 2022. I’m not seeing that. But in an important and fundamental way, this entire discussion is moot, because now we know, given the way that the Russians are prosecuting this war, that it never had anything to do with the ostensible motivations that they cited in late 2021. Given the way that they’re prosecuting this war, we know that it’s about the destruction of the Ukrainian state, given what they say and what they’re doing.
I think it’s important to also give the Russians agency, to give Mr. Putin agency, to understand that he might have motives which go beyond things that we do or go beyond the things he says, that he thinks we’ll understand.
Now, on Cuba, Cuba encourages me in an odd way, because in Cuba the Americans made a deal. We pulled our missiles out of Turkey. That was the deal. I think there are arrangements that can be made to stop this war. I think there are compromises that can be found.
Is the West to Blame for Russia's Invasion? (no) - TLDR News - Air Date 2-27-22
[00:37:20] JACK KELLY - HOST TLDR NEWS: If you search the word Ukraine on YouTube, the second-most viewed video is a speech by John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago, titled "Why is Ukraine the West's fault."
At the time of writing, mearsheimer's speech has been viewed an astonishing 8 million times, which is especially impressive given that it's 75 minutes and pretty academic. And it's only second in popularity to Ukraine's 2021 Eurovision entry.
While Mearsheimer's opinion isn't mainstream, it's clearly not a fringe opinion, either. Politicians of all stripes have recently taken to Twitter to blame Russia's invasion of Ukraine on NATO expansion. And given that this opinion has gained some traction, and is in itself pretty interesting, we thought it'd be worth doing a video on.
So we're gonna split this video into two parts: pre-Crimea; and post-Crimea.
For this, we're actually going to use Mearsheimer's article rather than his speech, focusing on a 13 page article on the topic in Foreign Affairs. In the second part of the video, we're going to argue that, while there's space for debate about the appropriate division of blame pre-Crimea, post-Crimea, Putin only has himself to blame.
So, let's get into the first part of the video: the Ukraine crisis pre-Crimea.
As we said, most of this video is going to deal with Mearsheimer's article, which was published in October, 2014, and, therefore, mostly deals with the pre-Crimea tensions. As we read him, Mearsheimer makes three claims in his article: one, the west made a mistake in not heeding Putin's warnings; two, that Putin security concerns are legitimate, or at least more legitimate than the west imagines; and three, that the west's Ukraine policy is in no one's interest.
Let's start with that first claim. Mearsheimer claims that the west has made a mistake in ignoring Putin's demands vis-a-vis Ukraine. Despite protestations from Moscow, the west went ahead with westernizing Ukraine via NATO expansion, EU expansion in the form of the Eastern Partnership, and investment in civic institutions.
Now, there is some truth to this. Clearly, the west didn't take Putin's threats sufficiently seriously. And in retrospect, Europe's energy dependence on Russia looks a bit naive.
Nonetheless, the west might argue that it's not so much that they didn't hear Putin's demands, but they considered them illegitimate. Putin was asking for a veto over Ukraine's foreign policy, and the west just weren't willing to accept this.
Which leads us nicely onto and Mearsheimer's second argument, that Russia security concerns were legitimate.
Mearsheimer motivates this claim with three sub claims: firstly, he argues that Ukraine has historically acted as a necessary buffer between the Napoleonic France, Imperial Germany, and Nazi Germany. And so, it's unsurprising that Putin wants to avoid it becoming, quote, "Western;" Second, Mearsheimer argues that America has similar security interests. It's hard to imagine the U S, for example, tolerating Canada or Mexico joining a China-led military alliance; Third, Mearsheimer argues that this is just real politic. States will just offend their security interests, even if it means violating the west's so-called "liberal principles." And we shouldn't see that as illegitimate; that's just what states do.
Mearsheimer's argument here isn't watertight, though. Let's start with his first claim about Ukraine's historical military importance. For starters, the history is a bit questionable. Napoleon actually crossed today's Belarus, not Ukraine. But more importantly, how is the history of Ukraine actually relevant to Putin security concerns? South America is of great historical importance to Spain, but so what? Lots of countries share military histories. This doesn't mean that they get to have a say in one another's foriegn policy.
Mearsheimer's second claim is more interesting though, that the U S behaves in a similar way. This is pretty much undeniably true. The U S wouldn't accept Mexico joining a China-led military Alliance, and in 1962, Kennedy resisted the Soviet deployment of ICBM's in Cuba. Mearsheimer notes another instance of Western hypocrisy in the West's support for the 2014 Maidan Uprising; which to be fair, did essentially amount to a coup against a democratically elected president.
This sort of reasoning-- "It's all right because the West did at first--" is very popular among Russia contrarians, but it's just bad reasoning. Just because " the West did it first," doesn't mean that it's right. Instead, it might just be that it wasn't right in either case. It's not all right that Russia thinks that can veto Ukraine's foreign policy. And it's not all right that America thinks it can, hypothetically, veto Canada's foreign policy. Essentially Mearsheimer's argument here only works if we accept the implicit premise that the West is perfect, and, well, most people just don't believe this.
Mearsheimer's third claim. That this is just what states do, and we should accept it, is only plausible from a realist perspective. Liberals would instead argue that we should expect states to abide by rules-based order, and a failure to do so incurs blame. Essentially, the plausibility of Mearsheimer's appeal to realism would depend on whether you fall on the realist-liberal axis.
But you get the point. There's definitely space for debate as to whether Russia security demands were legitimate. But Mearsheimer ends his essay by arguing that, either way, the West should change its course, because its policy of westernizing Ukraine is in no one's interest. Mearsheimer argues that the policy is creating an unnecessary divide between Russia and the West, which is in neither of their interests, as well as claiming the encouraging Ukraine to resist Russia is a bad idea from Ukraine's perspective-- because at the end of the day, according to him, the West won't protect Ukraine. Instead, Mearsheimer recommends that Ukraine should become quote, "a neutral buffer, akin to Austria in the Cold War."
Now, in retrospect, Mearsheimer was clearly onto something. Russia and the West really weren't getting on with one another, to mutual detriment. And, as predicted, Ukraine is currently fighting a war against Russia without direct NATO support.
But Putin's recent behavior makes it questionable as to whether Ukraine could really have ever existed as a neutral buffer. Mearsheimer argues that Putin isn't motivated by Soviet-inspired neo-imperialism, and so, will accept a neutral Ukraine. Putin's recent speeches and behavior certainly suggest otherwise.
Essentially, while Mearsheimer's argument looks prescient, it's an open question as to whether Putin would have accepted Ukraine as even a neutral buffer.
So, that's pre-Crimea. Arguably, there is a debate to be had about the legitimacy of Putin's security concerns, and the prudence of the West's Ukraine policy.
But post-Crimea, Putin doesn't have a leg to stand on. For starters, even if you think that Putin's concerns were legitimate, his illegal annexation of Crimea was arguably disproportionate and definitely stupid. This is an important point. Legitimate concerns don't justify a disproportionate response. If your brother kicks you in the shins, you're not justified in shooting him in the face. While there were mitigating circumstances-- polls consistently found that the majority of Crimeans wanted to return to Russia, for example-- the annexation of Crimea was a flagrant violation of international law, and arguably disproportionate.
But, perhaps most importantly, it was just stupid. In annexing, Crimea Putin accelerated the westernization of Ukraine, the precise thing he didn't want to happen. This was for two reasons: firstly, and most obviously, their annexation made Ukrainians wary of Russia, because, well, no one likes having that country invaded and annexed. Pre-Crimea, polls consistently found that less than 25% of people wanted Ukraine to join NATO. After Crimea, that jumped a 50%; but secondly, Putin changed Ukraine's electoral arithmetic. Crimea accounted for 5% of Ukraine's population and reliably voted for pro-Russian candidates. By annexing Crimea Putin gave the pro-Western candidates a new electoral edge.
You got the point then; we can argue over whether Putin's annexation of Crimea was disproportionate, but more importantly, it was just really stupid. It made the further westernization of Ukraine-- which has been happening since 2014-- utterly inevitable.
And given this, Putin's argument that the West has left him with, no other choice is farcical. Putin's concerns post-Crimea are almost entirely self-inflicted. And his subsequent war with Ukraine is terrifyingly disproportionate and morally appalling.
This might sound biased or anti-Russian, but there's literally no plausible moral theory that wouldn't consider Putin's war utterly awful.
Why Russia is Invading Ukraine - RealLifeLore - Air Date 2-26-2022
[00:46:45] NARRATOR: The biggest thing they want of all is energy. Well, their overall economy is little larger than Spain's, but Russia remains a global superpower through the lens of energy resources, and it's specifically oil and gas that is the most critical component to understand about Russia's worldwide ambitions.
Across multiple vast oil fields, Russia is the world's second largest producer of oil, ahead of even Saudi Arabia. While at the same time, Russia also possesses the world's largest proven reserves of natural gas, largely across Siberia, which has enabled Russia to become the world's leading exporter of natural gas. The revenues gained from the sale of all these oil and gas exports are the literal foundation for the modern Russian state and Russian power, because they provide as much as 50% of the entire Russian government's budget and represent about 30% of Russia's entire GDP.
Russia has used the vast money earned from selling oil and gas abroad to fund their military, pay off debts, save cash, and finance its own restoration as a global great power. Russia is therefore effectively a petrostate, just like Saudi Arabia or Iran, and is the only petrostate located in Europe, at least for now. For you see, despite these massive geological blessings, they also come with a number of geographical catches from Moscow's perspective. Most of their gas is sold off to the hungry customers in the European Union, so much so that 35% of the EU's entire gas supply comes from Russia alone, including Germany, the world's fourth largest economy who imports nearly half of their natural gas from Russia. This flow of gas towards Germany and Europe across this complex system of pipelines provides critical revenues for the Russian government to function and provides critical heat for European cities during the winter. And so both sides heavily rely upon the other here. Any disruption in this trade relationship would be disastrous from Moscow's perspective, and Ukraine is the most likely place for such a disruption to happen in the future.
Back during the Soviet times when Russia and Ukraine were both one country, pipelines were built across Ukraine, almost like a bridge that transported gas directly from the Siberian sources to the customers in Europe.
But then all of a sudden, after the USSR's collapse, Ukraine was an independent country who's demanding tariffs to the tune of billions of dollars a year from Russia in order to continue using their country as a gas bridge to Europe. And Russia had no other choice but to agree, because the pipeline infrastructure anywhere else didn't yet exist. As late as 2005, 80% of Russia's gas exports heading to Europe were still flowing across pipelines through Ukraine. But in the decades since, Russia has sought to solve this over-reliance on Ukraine by building multiple new pipelines that avoid Ukraine entirely, like Yamal-Europe across loyal Belarus, Nord Stream One and Two beneath the Baltic that go directly from Russia to Germany, Moscow's largest single customer, along with South Stream, Blue Stream, and Turk Stream beneath the Black Sea.
By 2024, Russia has plans to completely cease all of their gas exports through Ukraine entirely. And the government will save billions of dollars in tariffs as a result. But that is hardly what has been so threatening about Ukraine recently. Significantly more menacing to the perspective of Moscow was the discovery for the first time in early 2012, that Ukraine's exclusive economic zone within the Black Sea may contain more than 2 trillion cubic meters worth of natural gas, largely concentrated around the Crimean peninsula.
To make matters even more interesting, further technological advancements in the early 2010s that enabled the successful drilling of natural gas and oil from shale rock unlocked the potential shale gas hotspots for Ukraine around Donetsk and Kharkiv in the east and around the Carpathians in the west. Beginning in 2012, there was suddenly a very real possibility that almost out of nowhere, Ukraine had the world's 14th largest reserves of natural gas, just behind Australia and Iraq.
But as a relatively poor country, Ukraine lacked the finances, the technology or the equipment to successfully harvest any of these resources in any large quantities. But that all changed when shortly afterwards, the Ukrainian government began granting exploration and drilling rights to the likes of Shell and Exxon. It was suddenly possible that within a few years, these western companies would enable Ukraine to transform into Europe's second petrostate, which would have not only been a direct and serious competitor to Russia's own gas supply to the European Union, and thus at the same time, a major threat to the Russian government's budget and GDP, but would have also provided the easy path of eventual Ukrainian admission into the European Union and NATO as well.
And this is what's really, in my opinion, what this whole situation is truly about. In 2012, at the time when these discoveries were initially made, the man in charge of Ukraine was Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russian politician who is keeping Ukraine more politically aligned with the interests of Moscow. So long as he was president, these discoveries were not directly threatening to Russia. But when suddenly in February, 2014, his government was toppled in a pro-EU and pro-western revolution in Kiev. Moscow was very quick to take the opportunity to invade some of Ukraine, seize the Crimean peninsula, and annex it in the name of historical claims and protecting ethnic Russians.
But by seizing Crimea, the Russians also took direct control of two-thirds of Ukraine's coastline, and by extension, the vast majority of Ukraine's maritime exclusive economic zone, and most critically, an estimated 80% of Ukraine's potential offshore oil and gas reserves. In addition, billions of dollars worth of drilling equipment and other assets in the peninsula were seized by the Russians, all of which completely crippled the Ukrainian government's future potential to challenge Russia's guest supremacy in Europe.
To make matters even worse from Ukraine's perspective, the areas of Ukraine that are the most rich in shale gas are located very near to the most major conflict zones, encouraged and funded from Moscow with the Donetsk and Luhansk rebellions here, and the Transnistria breakaway republic in Moldova over here. Which, in my view, is not a coincidence.
As a result, Shell and Exxon both backed out from all of their contracts with the Ukrainian government shortly afterwards, leaving Ukraine with no capability to extract the remaining resources themselves, and no capability to challenge Russia's occupation of Crimea.
From the perspective of Putin and his regime, these were all mandatory actions to take in order to curb a western-oriented Ukraine from ever selling major supplies of gas to Europe that would threaten his own regime's primary source of wealth and power.
Ukraine had to be dismembered to protect himself and the other oligarchs who are in power, but there's more. Under Putin, Russia can't ever give Crimea back to Ukraine, because it would surrender the entire exclusive economic zone, and all of the gas resources within it, back, along with the strategic port city of Sevastopol, one of the very few year-round, ice-free ports that the Russian Navy can use and needs to operate throughout the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.
If Crimea was ever returned to Ukraine and Ukraine joined NATO, they would regain their ability to threaten the Russian government's primary source of revenue and the Russian Navy's most geostrategically valuable port would be lost forever.
America, Russia, and Ukraine's Far Right - The Gravel Institute - Air Date 2-18-22
[00:54:42] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Let's start in 1991, when Ukraine became fully independent from the Soviet Union and independence was tough. After the fall of communism, the economies of post Soviet republics were falling apart. State institutions were being hollowed out, a so-called gangster capitalism was becoming dominant.
So in the 1990s Ukraine's economy and quality of life collapsed, and it's never really gotten better. Adjusted for inflation, Ukraine's GDP per capita was higher in 1990 than it wasn't 2020. Health outcomes or abysmal. In 2019, the life expectancy of Ukrainian men was lower than in Syria, Iraq, and North Korea, and as quality of life collapsed, nationalism flourished. Some people turned to extremist politics, and that was partly because Ukrainian nationalism, formed in opposition to the Soviet Union, tended to have a strongly right-wing flavor.
To understand that, we have to look at a crucial figure and Ukrainian nationalists history, a guy named Stepan Bendera. You see, in the 1930s and 40s Bandera wanted Ukrainian independence from Poland and the Soviet Union, so when the Nazis invaded Bendera allied with them. His followers massacred a huge numbers of Poles and Jews. But in spite of this legacy, Bandera is still viewed as a hero in the west of Ukraine. There are Stepan Bandera streets, museums, and monuments. In 2010 Bendera was even named an official hero of Ukraine, but Bendera is hated in the east where Soviet identity was historically a lot stronger, and that east west divide was a big fracture within Ukraine.
In Western Ukraine, there was more stress on a specifically Ukrainian identity, closer to Europe. In Eastern Ukraine, meanwhile, people were more. Likely to stress their historic ties to Russia and the Russian language. Fast forward to 2010, when Ukraine elected a relatively pro Russian politician named Viktor Yanukovych as its president, with strong support from voters in the east. Yanukovych pursued a regionalist and Russia friendly agenda, which angered people in the west, and in 2013, Anna Covich announced that he was suspending discussions on Ukrainian integration with Europe.
That decision sparked a protest movement centered in Kyiv called Euromaidan, after the Maidan Square, where it took place.
In Kyiv thousands
[00:57:17] NEWS REPORT: of Ukrainians continue to protest against the government's decision to hold off on signing a deal with the EU.
[00:57:24] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: In the west, euromaidan was seen as a peaceful pro democracy movement, and most participants really were ordinary people who are angry at the government. But as the protest grew, encouraged by a harsher pressure from the police and a brutal sniper attack that killed dozens of protesters and police alike, a new more sinister element merged and began to hijack the movement. The ultranationalists came on the scene.
It is often
[00:57:50] NEWS REPORT: the nationalists who were the loudest and the most violent.
A group calling itself the Right Sector is perhaps the largest, its members can be seen marching around Kyiv in columns of about a dozen.
[00:58:05] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Groups like the "Right Sector" of the ultranationalist Svoboda party, originally called the Social National Party of Ukraine, try turning those words around, acted as a small, but influential organized minority within the protests, and those extremists played an important role in exacerbating the protest by encouraging violence and more radical rhetoric. There are allegations that the sniper attack was actually orchestrated by the Right Sector and its co-conspirators. By early 2014, the government lost the ability to control the protest...
[00:58:42] NEWS REPORT: in a rapidly evolving political crisis, President Yanukovych has been voted out by parliament, forced to leave Kyiv.
[00:58:51] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: ...and the US recognized interim government that replaced him had a significant far right faction. The Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, and others were all from that far right party, Svoboda, and this led to backlash in the east, because Eastern Ukrainians were horrified at what they saw as a far right seizure of power, with veneration of Bandera and elimination of equal recognition for languages like Russian.
[00:59:18] NEWS REPORT: Service industry workers have since January been obliged to talk to customers in Ukrainian, unless clients specifically asked to switch.
If I work, pay my employee salaries, and my taxes, it's none of your bloody business which language I do it.
[00:59:33] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Antigovernment protests broke out across the east. In the Eastern peninsula of Crimea, people were furious. Many of them talked about joining Russia, so the Russian government saw an opportunity. They wanted to encourage a surge of Russian nationalism for its own benefit, so Russia, annexed, Crimea, and held the disputed referendum to legitimize the decision.
[00:59:56] NEWS REPORT: As many as 95.5% of the electorate in Crimea have voted to join Russia. We are going back home. Crimea is in Russia.
[01:00:09] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: Energized by the annexation and supported by Russian armed and military personnel, the antigovernment protests became a full blown secessionist movement. Eastern provinces like Donetsk and Luhansk held separatists referendums, and declared independence. The new government branded these rebellions as "terrorist actions". Ukraine entered a civil war, which was also a proxy war with Russia. But after decades of austerity and corruption, the Ukrainian army was totally unable to fight, so a lot of the action fell instead of the people who are the most violent, the ultranationalist.
So a new paramilitary emerged, it was called the Azov battalion, and unlike the official Ukrainian military, Azov's volunteers were willing to go the distance. But Azov wasn't just any random organization, it was a pretty disturbing far right group. It had come out of neo-Nazis street gangs that had been used as muscle by Ukrainian elites in the 90s and 2000s. Azov members regularly sported tattoos of swastikas. Their symbol was based on a Nazi emblem. Their leader declared that their mission was to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade against the Semite-led untermenschen [subhumans]."
But Azov's neo-Nazi-ism turned out not to be such a huge concern to the Ukrainian government, because in 2014 a guy named Arsen Avakov became Interior Minister, in charge of police and security. Avakov had been a long time patron of the neo-Nazis gangs, and when he was a regional governor he used them as enforcers. So when he became Interior Minister, Avakov had the Azov battalion incorporated into Ukraine's National Guard. Ukraine is the only country to have a neo-Nazi formation in it's military.
So as the war was heating up, the US government announced it would start helping the Ukrainian government.
[01:02:08] PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We're upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small by opposing Russian aggression and supporting Ukraine's democracy and reassuring our NATO allies.
[01:02:20] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: It would send money, training, and "defensive lethal aid", weapons. And as all that flowed in, Azov became a beneficiary. The research group Bellingcat showed that Azov was receiving access to American grenade launchers. The Daily Beast investigation showed that US trainers were unable to prevent aid from reaching neo-Nazis and Azov itself posted a video of the unit welcoming representatives from NATO.
Some in the US we're concerned about all of this. They warned that arming neo-Nazis would pose a threat to Ukrainian minorities and to Ukrainian democracy, but whenever Congress tried to ban funding for Azov, the Defense Department had those provisions removed, so the US continued funding Azov for years. It wasn't until 2018, that funding was banned, and that the State Department labeled Azov a "nationalist hate group".
Ukraine is still mired in a war on its territory, and the Russian government likes to use Ukrainian nationalists in its propaganda, part of its practice of painting all Ukrainians as Nazis. Of course, those claims aren't really true, but Ukraine still does have a serious and militarized neo-Nazis problem, and Western support extends beyond Azov. Even today, far right groups continue to benefit from training by Western countries. American politicians have met with far right leaders.
[01:03:45] SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: People of Ukraine, this is your moment.
[01:03:52] HADIYA AFZAL - ADVOCASY ASSOCIATE, JUST FOREIGN POLICY: During the protests, american Senator John McCain made a public appearance with the leader of the far right Svoboda party, this guy [Oleg Tyahnybok]. He had previously been kicked out of Ukraine's parliament for extreme anti-Semitism, and here's that same guy meeting with then vice-president Joe Biden.
So since the 2014 uprising, Ukraine's far right, has become increasingly powerful. Azov veterans have been given high positions in the security services. In 2016, Andriy Parubiy, pictured here when who is leading a Neo Nazi party in the 90s, became speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, even as he continued to offer praise for Adolf Hitler. Here's Parubiy meeting with John McCain.
The new Ukrainian government even made it a criminal offense to deny Bendera's heroism. And in 2021, the United States and Ukraine were the only two countries to vote against a UN resolution condemning the glorification of Nazi-ism. A climate of impunity has developed around far right violence. Attacks against Roma and gay people go unpunished. A 2018 report found that Ukraine had more incidents of anti-Semitic hate crimes than all other post-Soviet republics combined.
So that's the story of how the far right helped cause the country to fracture, but it's also a story about America. How America support helped legitimize the far right, and allowed it to build influence. And that's a pattern you see over and over in American foreign policy. Getting involved in place that we don't really understand and supporting groups, lesser evils, that we think serve our interests. And then being surprised when a blowback hits us in the face. In central America, in the middle east, in Southeast Asia, and now in Ukraine.
Putin's Bogus Claim To "Denazify" Ukraine - The Mehdi Hasan Show - Air Date 2-25-22
[01:05:46] MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: In Vladimir Putin's rambling war declaration on Thursday morning, he threw everything at the wall in hopes that something might stick. He didn't just say the Iraq war the Balkans, the US intervention in Syria. He didn't just perform his usual rewriting of history, claiming Ukrainian land is Russian land. He also said this, and I quote, "We will seek to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine." Later he addressed Ukrainian soldiers directly saying, quote, "Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common motherland to allow today's neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine." All of which seems awfully weird since Ukraine is not a Nazi country.
So what in the world is Vladimir Putin going on about? Well, it's part of a Russian propaganda narrative, one that's long found currency among the American far right, and part to the far left, a lie told in bad faith, but one that almost a decade ago held a sliver of truth.
It started in 2014 when Ukrainian demonstrators forced the Russian-aligned president, Viktor Yanukovych, to flee the country. Putin responded by invading and backing Russian separatists across Ukraine. And in the fighting, far right fringe militias joined other Ukrainian elements to defend their homeland. Chief among them was the Azov Battalion, a paramilitary formed by, yes, neo-Nazis. But other far-right groups came and went too, with names like Right Sector, Patriot of Ukraine, and White Hammer. Few made much of an impact on the fighting or on Ukrainian society. But even back then, Putin was falsely claiming that the neo-Nazi groups ran Ukraine. Nevermind the fact that in Ukraine's most recent election in 2019, the country's ultra nationalist far-right coalition gained just over 2% of the vote and zero seats in parliament. These guys don't run anything in Ukraine, with one notable exception: the Azov Battalion still enjoys status as a national guard unit, one that US and Canadian militaries refuse to work with when they're training Ukrainian troops. In fact, you may have seen them recently in viral photos showing Azov soldiers training regular Ukrainians, including a grandmother, for possible insurgency fighting against Russian invaders.
The vast majority of Ukrainians have little in common with Azov extremists, but with the constant threat Russian invasion, they don't mind the help. That's according to Michael Colborne, a Bellingcat researcher who literally wrote the book on Azov. This week he told the Israeli paper Haaretz that if you ask Ukrainians what do they think of Azov's politics or mentioned that they are far-right extremists, many people will say, I don't really care about that. I don't share those views. I'm more interested in what they can do to defend Ukraine. That's disconcerting, but also on some level, understandable. If there were a foreign state invasion of the American mainland, a lot of armed US liberals might suddenly find themselves shoulder to shoulder with Proud Boys on the ramparts.
Then again, maybe not if the invading force was Russia, because, you see, few national leaders today lean on military support from neo-Nazis as much as Vladimir Putin. Back in 2014, US intelligence showed Russia let thousands of far-right volunteers flock to eastern Ukraine to fight against the Ukrainians, including elements from Russian National Unity, a neo-Nazi group with a literal swastika in their logo. And Rusich, a private military neo-Nazi unit that has been accused of war crimes in Eastern Ukraine, as well as in Syria, according to multiple reports. And just last month, the Daily Beast reported that members of that far-right militia hinted that they were soon headed back to the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where yesterday explosions could be heard as the Russians advanced.
Is that how Putin plans to "de-Nazify" Ukraine? With neo-Nazi irregulars of his own?
Meanwhile, in the supposedly pro-Nazi Ukrainian parliament last week, lawmakers passed a bill that would make hate crimes against Jews punishable by up to eight years in prison. The bill now awaits signing by Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is Jewish and whose father's family was decimated by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Yes. That's the guy Vladimir Putin says is a Nazi stooge.
Who in the world is he trying to convince? And why does he think it will work? Joining me now to discuss this are Steven Pifer, former ambassador to Ukraine under Bill Clinton, now William Perry Fellow at Stanford, and author of The Eagle and the Trident: US-Ukraine Relations in Turbulent Times, and Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale University and author of How Fascism Works. Thank you both for joining me this evening.
Steven, let me start with you. You just heard president Zelenskyy there responding to these charges, and members of the sizeable Ukrainian Jewish community are calling Putin's claims appalling. You served as ambassador there for two years. When you hear people say Ukraine is shot through with Nazis, how do you respond?
[01:10:40] STEVEN PIFER: It's simply not true. I mean, this is a country where, when they have elections, the far right typically gets less than 2% of the vote. It's a country that in 2019 elected a Jewish president with 73% of the vote. But what this gets to is it's really aimed at the Russian public.
Vladimir Putin has built the defining narrative for Russia and the Soviet Union was the defeat of Nazi Germany.
And so to the extent that he can try to portray Ukraine as somehow nazified, he hopes to generate public support in Russia for what he's doing. And judging by the protests, maybe a lot of the Russians are really coming to question this attack he's launched.
[01:11:27] MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: And Jason, separate to your own a best-selling book on fascism, you also wrote a book titled How Propaganda Works. Is this just projection from a propagandistic Putin? I mean, we know that he himself directly supports far-right politicians in other countries, Marine LePen, for example; and Russia's military leans on neo-fascist militias too. So what is he going on about saying, look at the Nazis in Ukraine?
[01:11:52] JASON STANLEY: Putin's regime and Putin are among the global leaders of the global fascist movement. And what we have here is an instance of what I call undermining propaganda. When you use words in an inverted way, you use an ideal to undermine itself. Think about the horrific claim that they are going to de-Nazify Ukraine. What they mean is they're going to take all the democratic leaders and imprison them, or kill them and replace them by fascist stooges. That's what they mean by de-Nazification. This is undermining the language of democracy and freedom, and it's trivializing the language of the Holocaust.
[01:12:33] MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: It's a very good point. And Steven, I want to be unambiguous here. Azov these other groups on the far right are clearly not good people. And they have provided a training ground for the global far right. In a 2020 New York Times op-ed, congressman Max Rose and former FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan point out that several organizers of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, and the Christchurch mosque mass shooter, traveled to Ukraine to train and fight with neo-Nazi groups there. Now of course, none of that justifies Russian brutality or as an endorsement of Russian smears about Nazis running Ukraine, as we've discussed. But should we in America not be insisting to Ukraine that they at least take this one unit out of the national security structure and make sure that Western weapons that we may send that don't end up in neo-Nazi hands?
[01:13:20] STEVEN PIFER: Well, I think actually that has been in fact the US position, which is that the US, which has been providing training to the Ukrainian military now for a number of years, it is making very clear that it will have nothing to do with the Azov Battalion. So I think that that position is in place.
But again, it's important to recognize that this is a very small part of what's going on in Ukraine. And the Russian effort to tar Ukraine writ large as a Nazi state is just laughable. And it's just a perversion of the term.
[01:13:52] MEHDI HASAN - HOST, THE MEHDI HASAN SHOW: So it is laughable and it is a perversion of the term, but it has been picked up by some on the far right in America, some on the far left. And Jason, you tweeted recently, quote, "I'm on the left. When I went to Kyiv to speak in 2017, many of my friends on the left assured me that Ukraine was a fascist state and only US propaganda said otherwise. When I returned, after spending days talking to politician to journalists, I realized those claims were nuts." Tell me a little bit more about what you found and why is this happening now in some parts of the left?
[01:14:22] JASON STANLEY: I think it's the -- I mean, our country in the United States is of course done terrible imperialist crimes. And too many people on the left think that imperialism is only something the United States can do. And so they fall into believing anyone who is criticized, they fall into believing the opponents of the United States in any conflict. Often that's justified, but in this case, we must recognize the left condemns imperialism, whether it's by the United States or by any other country. And there's no question here: fascism is an imperialist ideology, and Russia is suffused -- Putin is a Russian nationalist who is a classic nationalist imperialist who seeks to expand his country in the name of domination.
So that is something the left should criticize.
[01:15:18] STEVEN PIFER: But there's also, I think, another factor at play here, which is that for Putin, having a westward-oriented, democratic Ukraine, and if they get the economy right, that's a threat to the very regime in the Kremlin. Because that kind of Ukraine is going to cause Russians to ask, why can't we have the same political voice, the same democracy that they have in Ukraine?
So this is about regime survival, very much driven by Russian domestic politics, as well as Putin's geopolitical concerns.
A Young Country With An Old History - WorldAffairs - Air Date 1-31-22
[01:15:50] EMILY CHANNELL-JUSTICE: Ukraine is a country that has been seen as a borderland for a long time. It's been a contested territory over basically its entire existence. And modern day Ukraine is made up of borders that were established recently. So it's a new country. But what makes Ukraine really special is that when it was established as a country, the idea of who was Ukrainian and who believed in the country of Ukraine was defined by the people who lived in that territory. It wasn't defined by a language, by an ethnicity, by a race. It was defined by the people who live there, who voted for independence. So what makes up Ukraine today? And since 1991 is the people who live there and who decided that Ukraine was an independent country?
[01:16:37] RAY SUAREZ - HOST, WORLD AFFAIRS: Well, over the long haul, Katherine Younger, has there been for a much longer time than there's been a Ukraine, people who, if you were in that part of the world and you said, Hey, what are you, would have answered, I'm Ukrainian?
[01:16:52] KATHERINE YOUNGER: Well, this is actually a very complicated question. And what I would say is that there has been a sense of some uniqueness to this territory, a sense of a territorial integrity that has gone back centuries. But the point that I would point to is in the 19th century, when a real sense of Ukrainianess begins to emerge. And this begins right as it does across Europe as a sort of romantic nationalist project, with the recapturing of something that's meant to be essential: Ukrainian folklore, Ukrainian folk music, a sense of a shared culture, a shared past, a shared imagining of that past. And out of that, beginning of a sort of cultural national idea, that then develops over the course of the 19th century into a more politically motivated idea.
So culture transitions to an increasing sense that, Hey, if we have this shared culture, if we have these shared past, maybe that means that we should have some sort of shared political project as well.
[01:17:50] RAY SUAREZ - HOST, WORLD AFFAIRS: Emily Channel-Justice, is history being manipulated now, used as a tool in debating current political realities? Is president Putin using history when he talks to his own people about Ukraine?
[01:18:06] EMILY CHANNELL-JUSTICE: Well, I think history is always a political tool. I mean, we can see that everywhere. The difference in this particular case is that president Putin is relying on a version of history in which Ukrainians don't have their own. And that's simply not true. As Katherine just pointed out, these conversations about what makes somebody Ukrainian and what makes Ukraine, they go back centuries. Ukraine has always had a history. It's been contested. It's a very complicated history. Its borders have shifted all over the place. But it has a history. And the way that Vladimir Putin likes to use this history is by claiming that because the Keivan Rus', which is an empire that was built far before any of our modern-day nation-states existed, because the capital of Kyiv, which is the capital of present-day Ukraine, was the center of that empire out of which Putin alleges the Russian empire grew. That's the claim that he is making that says Ukrainians are really part of Russia. We're brothers, you know, Slavic brotherhood is the most essential framework here. That's a manipulation of history in order to claim Russian dominance over an entire geographical area that in fact was contested throughout history.
[01:19:17] RAY SUAREZ - HOST, WORLD AFFAIRS: Katherine Younger, so we get the idea that this is a really old predecessor country. The Kievan Rus' is often coming up in conversations about this current problem. But is it possible, or are we from the beginning overselling the significance to 2022 of ninth century battles between Eastern Slavs? If you're watching the ruble drop like a rock in St. Petersburg, or worried about heating your home in Lviv, or worried about being driven from your home in Sevastopol, in the Crimea, are you thinking about the Kievan Rus'?
[01:19:59] KATHERINE YOUNGER: It's a really important point, a really good point, and one that I think brings home something that I've been thinking about a lot, which is that when there isn't a good vision for the future, the past often gets pushed on you as a substitute. Right? When there isn't necessarily -- and this is particularly true in the Russian case, right? -- Putin doesn't necessarily have a positive narrative for the future of the Russian people, of the population of the country of Russia today, that he can sell to them. And so what can he sell to them? He can sell them stories about this Kievan Rus', about over a millennium ago. Whereas I would argue that in the Ukrainian case, there actually is a vision for the future -- one that's been getting built actively by the people of Ukraine, since Ukraine's independence, since before Ukraine's independence, but especially in the years since Maidan in 2013-2014, when people have really come together, decided that they've committed to this project of Ukrainian state, and work to build that state.
And so there is this future and that's why these narratives of the past may not have the same hold for the Ukrainian people.
[01:21:06] RAY SUAREZ - HOST, WORLD AFFAIRS: I checked before we came on the air, the median age of a Ukrainian is 44 years old. So in the living memory of today's Ukrainians, the majority of them grew up, lived, came to consciousness in a world with an identifiable Ukraine, and with the recent memory of parents and grandparents of a place called Ukraine, briefly independent, then part of the Soviet Union as a constituent Republic, a charter member of the United Nations. And then after the USSR fell to pieces, a country.
So today's Ukrainians are about three-quarters of the more ethnically Ukrainian, or would tell you they're ethnically Ukrainian. They grew up with a flag and a parliament and a capital and a currency. How does that inform what we're going through now? Is Putin's attempts to undermine Ukraine in 2022 made harder by the history since 1991 or since 2014? Are Ukrainians more Ukrainian than they were in those earlier decades?
[01:22:28] EMILY CHANNELL-JUSTICE: Yeah. I think that this is a really important way of looking at this particular problem because we have often talked about the Euromaidan protests and the movement that came out of that as a kind of young people's movement, right? Young people were the motivating drivers of a lot of those protests. They established that they wanted a participatory democracy, and they saw it through in a way that was unseen in Ukraine before, at the same time that you have their parents' generation that lived through the Soviet Union -- not just live through, right? A lot of these younger people are born at the tail end of the Soviet Union. But I mean, their parents lived through the fall of the Soviet Union. They lived through this incredible moment where Ukraine's identity starts to be solidified and it starts to come to fruition. And I think that that moment and the kind of inclusive way that lots of different voices were included in bringing that democracy about, that's one place that Ukraine really differs from Russia.
And that makes, I think, Russia, and especially Vladimir Putin, so angry about Ukraine, because they have this kind of idea that has brought generations together that isn't really nostalgic for the Soviet Union. Whereas a lot of Russians in the 1990s, they had a lot of economic troubles, political troubles that made people feel nostalgic for the certainty of the Soviet period. Ukraine also certainly had its own issues, economically and politically in the nineties, but has come out of that period with a very strong Ukrainian identity.
And I think it's really important to point out, a very strong Ukrainian identity that is inclusive of many different people, lots of different ethnicities within Ukraine, it's inclusive of Russian speakers. You are able to be a Ukrainian who speaks Russian. I know a lot of ethnic Russians who consider themselves Ukrainian, who speak Ukrainian and who speak Russian. And that kind of multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-identity country that is also a democracy, that really threatens Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Ukraine: Questions for the Anti-War Movement - Empire Files - Air Date 2-27-22
[01:24:23] BRIAN BECKER: To your question about Putin's speech: it was an extremely revealing speech. He made it February 21st. He made... he's made three speeches, I believe, this week, now: February 21st, which is the day before the coup, eight years to the day before the coup, that changes everything in... in Ukraine.
And he gives, basically, a historic explanation for why it's a... it's, sort of, a... a grievance... it's a long grievance about Russia's relationship with Ukraine. And he, basically, blames Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks for the current crisis, and for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Which is phenomenal, given the fact that the man who appointed Putin to be his successor, Boris Yeltsin, who was a capitalist counter-revolutionary, wasn't what... was, in fact, the person who literally dissolved the Soviet Union, on December 16th, 1991, when he signed a decree illegally and arbitrarily ending the union. He was the president of Russia at that time.
So... so Putin doesn't condemn Boris Yeltsin, the capitalist counter-revolutionary; instead, he... he condemns... he condemns Lenin! So, and... Lenin's... Lenin's sin, according to Putin, is twofold: one, that Ukraine was created as a... as a separate Republic by the treaty of 1922 that forms the Soviet Union in 1924 in the constitution.
So, there's a treaty signed between a few republics, there's four at the time: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus... Um, they formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. And in that constitution that ratifies that in 1924, it's also stipulated that each of the republics has the right to secede, meaning the right to be self-determining, the right of self-determination, the right to leave the union, if they feel the union is not, you know, doing what it needs to do for the people of that Republic.
So, Lenin insisted on this right of self-determination because he said "Our problem in building socialism in the former... in the territories of the former... former Russian Empire is "Great Russian Chauvinism," meaning that Russia, which was the prison-house of oppressed minorities, and minority peoples, and ethnicities, and nationalities, cultivated the equivalent of, kind of, a white supremacy against the other non Russian peoples.
And Lenin said, "To build solidarity between Ukrainian, and Georgian workers, or the workers of the Baltics, or the workers of any of the former Soviet... Russian Empire, we have to show we're... We're past that. We're... we're past that, and as a matter of fact, not only are we past it, but your connection, or federation, or union with us, with us, Russians, will be based on your right to divorce, your right to say, "The marriage isn't working."
You know, the right of self-determination, the right of secession is for republics what the right of divorces for couples. It means, at a certain point, if you feel the relationship isn't working, you can leave. If all the power is one side of the relationship, and there's no power, no ability for the other side to leave, then it's not a real marriage; it's a subjugation.
And Lenin said the only way to build international solidarity between the various working classes of different ethnicities and nationalities is the guarantee, and the right, of self-determination.
And Len... and Putin demagogically says, "This is... if you want to call Ukraine anything, you could call it, Vladimir Lenin's Ukraine" he said; because, by creating Ukraine, and allowing it to be independent from Russia, uh, that meant that they sowed the seeds for the later dissolution of the Soviet Union.
And he said, basically, this is a theft the Bolsheviks of Russian land from Russia.
So, that's important, because when we heard that speech, on February 21st, we in the PSL [Party for Socialism and Liberation], and in the left, we were like, "What the hell?" We've never fully heard Putin develop his anti-Leninist positions so fully.
But, obviously, Putin, I mean, Putin says Lenin made a mistake at Brest-Litovsk, meaning, when they signed the treaty-- this is part of his speech-- he said, "He gave away Ukraine to Germany. He gave Ukraine to Germany." The treaty that was signed in March, 1918 between the Russian Revolutionary Government and the German empire in 1918 at Brest-Litovsk allowed Germany to, basically, annex Ukraine.
But Lenin's position at that time was, "We had a revolution. We no longer have an army. We're being invaded by 14 imperialist armies. We can't fight a war against Germany. So, we'll sign a treaty. It's a humiliating treaty, but we don't have any option. We can't do it."
And... and so Putin demagogically denounces Lenin for having signed the treaty, which was absolutely necessary for the Russians to do. He also denounces Lenin for having the position of revolutionary defeatism.
It's clear that revolutionary defeatism meant that the Bolsheviks took the position, "We prefer the defeat of our own Czarist government, or bourgeois government, in an international imperialist war than its victory, because our real enemy is at home. Our real enemy are the capitalist here. They're not in Germany, or France, or Britain, or the United States. We're fighting the class struggle here."
And he also recommended that the German comrades, and the French comrades, and the British comrades, and the American comrades take the same position. Everybody take the position of aband... not defending their own imperialist bourgeoisie in the war.
So, Putin denounces Lenin for revolutionary defeatism, he says that's unpatriotic, it gave away Russian land; he denounced this him for Brest-Litovsk; he denounced his him for creating Ukraine; and he denounced him for the right of self-determination.
That can only be understood by anybody who's paying attention to history and politics that Putin's appeal, uh, the day before he's about to invade Ukraine, is not to the left-- it's not to the workers, and to the peasants of Ukraine-- this is an appeal to the Russian right.
And I think it's really important for the left, including the left that sees NATO is the aggressor, to not follow Putin, not to put Putin on a pedestal, not to follow this anticommunist, core, sort of, Russian chauvinist orientation towards non Russian peoples.
I mean, he says other things that are not chauvinistic, but nonetheless, he was making this really unique historical argument for why Ukraine could be reincorporated into Russia as it had been under the czar.
And then, the invasion happens, and it's clear, what's the purpose of the invasion? What is put in actually trying to do? He's trying to make it:
One, we have to be very clear about this. Putin is trying to make it clear to NATO, Ukraine will never be part of NATO. And that's... that's obviously what he's saying;
Two, he says, he's going to denazify the country, meaning, the fascists who are attacking the people in the east are going to be captured, and they're going to be put on trial, or they're going to be killed. That will be popular in Russia. That will be a very, uh, popular talking point in Russia. Unfortunately, some people in the west think that all of Ukraine is nazified, which is not true. That's not what Ukraine is. That's not a correct, objective, accurate assessment;
And the other thing is, that he's signaling to the west, and this is very important, that the period of appeasement between Russia and the West that's existed since 1991, when they appeased them on Iraq, they appeased them on Libya, you know, they stopped appeasing on Syria, but now the appeasement has ended. He said, basically we wanted to have a negotiated settlement, but you said, "No," we're done with negotiating. We're now going to show you that Russia is a great power.
And so that's... that's why this has changed global politics. Cause it's the reemergence of Russia under a bourgeois leadership demonstrating that it is a major world power and willing to use military force against NATO or NATO inspired machinations.
That's... nothing like this has happened in world politics since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Crimean War, Putin, and the War Over Reality - The Muckrake Podcast - Air Date 3-1-22
[01:33:20] JARED YATES SEXTON - HOST, THE MUCKRAKE PODCAST: A large part of the Russian population started to believe in the New World Order conspiracy theory, in part because they had been told that the Soviet Union was the pinnacle of the world, and, "My God, how could it ever fall?"
They had been taught that, Lenin and Stalin were perfect, unimpeachable, that they had been-- almost-- Gods on earth. How could that project ever fail? ,
And the Bolshevik influence in Russia told them, over and over again, "Don't worry. We have this." And, meanwhile, created this illusion that they were all powerful, and invincible.
There's this idea that there was a hyper-normalized society within Russia, where everybody knew that Russia was falling apart, but no one could really wrap their heads around it.
And something like this happened in the United States as well. You, actually, had a ton of experts who were paid to observe the Soviet Union, and understand it. The soviet... sovietologists were... were paid to spend their entire careers to understand what was going on in Russia. And even they, despite all of the evidence that they were given, couldn't believe that the Soviet Union would ever fail.
When it did, it needed an explanation.
The New World Order theory had already started to take off at that point. It was being used by reactionary conservatives who were witnessing the birth of a-- all lower case, by the way-- new world order, as phrased by people like George W. Bush.
This was going to be neo-liberalism, is what it was. It was going to be a global free-market push in which the governments of the world would stop worrying so much about the social projects and the fates of their own people, and they would spend most of their time spreading capitalism around the world, and ensuring that markets remained free and untouched by regulation.
Well, they were successful with that. Or, at least, partly successful with that. This market did go ahead and circle the world, but it didn't work exactly the way that some of the people thought that it would.
In Russia, it succeeded in creating a class of oligarchs and rocketing Vladimir Putin, a former KGB agent-- which... it always makes me laugh a little bit when we have to call him "a former KGB agent," because there's really no such thing as somebody who leaves the KGB-- this former KGB agent takes over in Russia, and immediately gains power from false-flag attacks, and fake terrorist attacks, in order to create this new dictatorial regime in which this gangster, this criminal, is in charge of the country, and more or less decides, every single day, whether the oligarchs continue to be rich and powerful, or, I don't know, if they suddenly disappear and fall out of a window.
The New World Order conspiracy theory was useful for Putin. Still is. The story was that the Soviet Union had been destroyed by the New World Order, that there had been a conspiracy; (and, again, notice how this thing just continues to reverberate) that there had been a conspiracy within the country of corrupt people who wanted to destroy the Soviet Union; and that there were people outside of the country-- particularly the United States and the neoliberal order, this New World Order-- that had conspired to destroy the Soviet Union.
This was really useful for Putin. He bases his entire power base and structure on promising that he is fighting the New World Order. He has to have dictatorial power. He has to stay in power; elections shouldn't matter, you know? Whenever somebody comes out with a protest sign, they... they... they are obviously being paid by people like George Soros, who is the modern stand-in for the anti-Semitic puppet-master.
That's how Vladimir Putin has maintained power. That's how somebody like a ViKtor Orban has maintained power. Orban's entire thing is going after the New World Order and George Soros. This is how somebody like a Donald Trump can do it. Donald Trump wouldn't say "The New World Order." He said "The Deep State," "The swamp..." these are stand-ins for the exact same conspiracy theory.
Now, now that we understand the New World Order, what it is, how it works, what it's been about; we need to talk about why that has anything to do with Ukraine and Vladimir Putin, and where it is that we're heading.
Ideologically, this invasion of Ukraine is seen as one of the theaters in which Vladimir Putin would strike against the New world order, dismantle, or begin to dismantle, the American empire, and create what he, and some of the people around him-- just some, not all-- what some of them believe will be a new multipolar world.
Now, for those who believe in the New World Order, they see it as an American-led project, in America, of course, white supremacists see it as America being sold out. Around the world, they see it as an American project through which these Jewish puppet-masters are able to do what they want to do.
The entire point of Vladimir Putin's plan-- and this is one of the reasons why he and China have been able to talk about this, and obviously, sort of, cooperate to a certain extent-- the idea is that the American order-- hegemony-- over the world, is ready to be challenged. And by creating a multipolar world, Russia would have its sphere of influence, China would have its sphere of influence, and America would begin to recede.
And there've been so many operations to try and set this in place.
I've talked a little bit about it on the podcast; I've talked about a little bit elsewhere; um, a lot of this is laid out in the ideology and thinking of a guy named Alexander Dugin, a neo-fascist who absolutely worships at the altar of esoteric Nazism, uh, this bizarre amalgamation of Nazism and Bolshevism. (Uh, National Bolshevism, by the way is... is what this has been called, if you want to go look at it, and get, just, absolutely nauseated).
The entire point was to separate Great Britain from the European Union-- check; to go into the United States, uh, via disinformation, misinformation, propaganda, PSYOPs, and pit us against one another, and de stabilize the country-- check; at some point that eventually involved getting Donald Trump elected president-- check; hurting NATO-- check; going into Ukraine, annexing it and starting to create the multipolar world.
Well, that's where we are. And I want to be very clear about what that means. Because there have to... there has to be some people who are listening to this, and like, "My God, that sounds nuts." And that's fine. But the way in which the world, and the future of the world, is determined is through narrative.
Reality is malleable. So, for instance, what I think and what you think, maybe it intersects, and maybe it runs parallel, and maybe it goes in opposite directions. We might not live in the same reality. There might be somebody listening to this right now who thinks that this is absolute horseshit, and there's absolutely nothing to be gained from it, and I'm living in some sort of a paranoid... paranoid world, even though all of this stuff is... is just out there to be immediately found, and absorbed, and understood. It just so happens that people in major media outlets either don't know about it, don't care about it, don't appreciate it; or it runs counter to what they think.
But reality is more or less a collaborative effort. And the reality people live in is determined by one version of reality wins out, in terms of cultural, political, economic warfare.
What Putin has tried here, is something very bold. Something very ambitious. By using the New World Order conspiracy theory, and the idea that American global empire, and capitalist global empire; the idea that it is vulnerable, and that something like this invasion of Ukraine-- in which Vladimir Putin believed that he would be able, probably, to overtake Ukraine in a couple of days, and then force Western powers to accept it, and start to break up the order that lasted before-- is something that people have tried over and over again.
If you actually look at something like World War I, or World War II, what you see here are moments in which nation states, and the people who lead them, decide that the world order is ripe to be changed. World War I happens because Germany, as an emerging nation state, wants to shake up the Etch-a-Sketch of the world order, and find its place in the sun.
World War II happens because Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini-- the Nazis and the Fascists-- decided that it was time to destroy liberalism and liberal democracy forever, and institute a new, hierarchial, trenchocracy, in which military... militant societies, fighting on behalf of racial purity, and racial superiority, or just outright white supremacy were the ones who determine... should determine the future of the world.
Both of those efforts failed, but they could have succeeded. And had they succeeded, what would have happened, would be that the new reality would replace the old reality. That's what we're watching right now.
Final comments on why you should probably listen to all that again
[01:44:45] JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Today, Explained going through the deep history of Ukraine. Timothy Snyder, speaking at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, explained Putin's understanding of Ukraine's independence as basically illegitimate. Vox went through Putin's history from obscurity to the presidency. AJ+ looked at the role of NATO expansion in ratcheting up tensions. Democracy Now! also discussed the role of NATO. TLDR News explained why, even with NATO provocation considered, there's still no moral rationale for Putin's invasion. RealLifeLore on YouTube explained the oil interest in Ukraine that could be playing a role in Russia's motivations. The Gravel Institute looked at the history of the far-right militia groups in Ukraine, and the support they've received from the US. And The Medhi Hassan Show looked at Putin's claims of Ukrainian nazification and separated the kernel of truth from the propaganda.
That's what everyone heard, but members also heard bonus clips from WorldAffairs doing an even deeper dive on how Ukraine's complicated history is being manipulated for propaganda purposes. The Empire Files broke down the anti-Lenin aspect of Putin's recent speech blaming the Bolsheviks for Ukraine's independence. And The Muckrake Podcast did a macro analysis of world orders and the cultural narratives that force them to change.
To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly into your new members-only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at BestoftheLeft.com/support or request a financial hardship membership, because we don't make a lack of funds a barrier to hearing more information. Every request is granted. No questions asked.
And now, basically, I recommend rewinding to the beginning of this show to hear it all again. I mean, who knows what you missed that you'll absorb the next time through? Of course, if you've already heard me say this at least once, you're free to continue with your life beyond this show. I wouldn't want anyone getting stuck in an infinite loop.
As always, keep the comments coming in at 202-999-3991 or emailing to me to [email protected].
That's going to be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin Clayton, both for their research work that went into this episode, as well as their participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic, Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken, and Scott for their volunteer work helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at BestoftheLeft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple Podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC, my name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly, thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from BestoftheLeft.com.