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Blinkered visions of Putin’s misadventure

One struggles at times to make sense of the international support in some quarters for Vladimir Putin’s disastrous military endeavour, devastating in obvious ways not just for Ukraine but even for Russia. 

Mahir Ali | New Delhi |

One struggles at times to make sense of the international support in some quarters for Vladimir Putin’s disastrous military endeavour, devastating in obvious ways not just for Ukraine but even for Russia. 

This does not refer to the reluctance or refusal of much of the non-Western world — including India, China and some of Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East — to condemn Moscow’s aggression outright or to join the sanctions against Russia. For a variety of reasons, most of these are fairly logical responses guided by geopolitical self-interest, often combined with non-specific expressions of respect for the concept of national sovereignty. 

More disturbing is the tendency among scattered elements of the far-right as well as the deluded left to buy into the absurd narrative emanating from the Kremlin, and to interpret the depredations of the inefficient Russian war machine as a worthy crusade at any level. 

On the far right — predominantly, but not exclusively, in the West — this attitude tends to coincide with a longer-standing view of Putin as a saviour of white Christian civilisation. Even in that sphere, some have lately deemed it prudent to distance themselves from hero worship — while others in the same ideological domain are more inclined to empathise with neo-Nazi elements in the Ukrainian resistance. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are multiple factors involved, not least the idiotic idea that 21st-century Russia, as the pre-dominant Soviet successor state, deserves the same kind of uncritical support in international relations that the USSR received from its global band of devotees, even in the midst of transgressions such as the Warsaw Pact interventions in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968) and the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. 

There are some echoes of those military missions in the assault against Ukraine, not least the shock of unfortunate young conscripts, thrust into the maelstrom with inadequate preparation, upon discovering that they were not going to be greeted with flowers by the people they had been told they were going to ‘liberate’. 

There are arguably louder echoes of most recent travesties such as the havoc wreaked on Chechnya — which firmed up Putin’s path to absolute power, and during which the West, engaged in its own ‘war on terror’, generally turned a blind eye to the massacres it was replicating in other parts of the world. And yes, the horrors in Ukraine are also reminiscent of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Gaza. 

But pointing out all the crimes the US has committed in this century alone in the interests of reinforcing its hegemony can hardly be construed as some perverse justification for Russia going down a similar road. That includes the arrogance of seeking to lure former Soviet states such as Ukraine and Georgia into Nato’s embrace. 

The Biden administration’s evidently non-negotiable stance feeds into the present crisis. Sure, providing Ukraine with ever-more sophisticated weaponry can be made to look like a moral imperative, a means of stalling the Russian advance, which now appears to be focused on the Donbas region. But is that by any measure a means of ending the war? 

Russia’s embarrassing military failures have ignited the impression that, with sufficient Nato-supplied firepower on the other side, it can be defeated. That’s probably an illusion. At the same time, there have been accusations of genocide, threats of war crimes trials (from which Americans, mind you, are eternally immune), and indications that the sanctions will remain in place as long as Putin remains in power. 

So where exactly can Putin find an incentive to de-escalate and find a  way out of his monumental miscalculation, which has not just firmed up the Western alliance but persuaded traditionally neutral states such as Finland and Ukraine to contemplate sheltering under the Nato umbrella? 

It is undoubtedly hypocritical of US politicians and media to bang on about the murders of civilians in Bucha and elsewhere while ignoring the 50th-anniversary last month of the far more egregious My Lai massacre in Vietnam. At the same time, the fact that Putin is going where his American counterparts have gone before does not diminish his responsibility as a relentless warmonger. 

Ultimately, anyone on the left who fails to recognise the unacceptability of naked aggression ought to acknowledge their affinity with the other end of the ideological spectrum. There is no reason why recognising the hegemonic hypocrisy of the US cannot be combined with equal opposition to other forms of imperialism. 

As for Russians who either imbibe the Kremlin Kool-Aid or don’t dare join their anti-war compatriots on the streets, here’s a poignant Soviet-era message from the late poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko: “How sharply our children will be ashamed/ taking at last their revenge for these horrors/ remembering how in so strange a time/ common integrity could look like courage.”