Making Sense of the Ukraine Conflict

Editorial 2

What is happening in Ukraine? The British government and its media outlets would have us believe that the hostilities that began on the 24th February were an unprovoked aggression launched by Russia for the purposes of territorial expansion. No evidence is offered for this claim.

The reality is different. The Ukrainian army concentrated on the borders of the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk republics with a view to overrunning them after 8 years of conflict which have seen the death of some 13,000 civilians in these republics. These events and the projected assault on them by the Ukrainian armed forces are the basis of the claim of Russia’s president that Ukraine is practising genocide against the populations of these republics. Unfortunately our press, radio, television and government sources ignore this inconvenient truth. 

Furthermore, 8 years after the violent coup against the legitimate government of Ukraine, its armed forces have been integrated into Nato command structure and use Nato doctrine, equipment and surveillance and communications equipment. Ukrainian troops train with Nato troops. De facto Ukraine is a member of NATO. In assessing these facts there are two points that need to be accounted for.

First the fledgling republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The populations are largely Russian. After the 2014 coup in Kiev they and other Russian speaking populations in Ukraine felt themselves to no longer be safe in the state in which they were located. They feared not just discrimination, but also destruction of livelihoods and even death. The state whose function it was to protect them not only was failing to do this but was actively attacking them. In Crimea, which Ukraine claims as its own, they have cut off the water supply to those they deem their own citizens. Liberals who revere John Locke and the 2nd Treatise of Government but think that the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk are unjustified in their actions, would do well to revisit sections of that work, in particular 225:

Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient Laws, and all the slips of humane frailty will be born by the People, without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of Abuses, Prevarications, and Artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the People, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and see, whither they are going; ’tis not to be wonder’d, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which Government was at first erected; and without which, ancient Names, and specious Forms, are so far from being better, that they are much worse, than the state of Nature, or pure Anarchy; the inconveniencies being all as great and as near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.”

If this is good enough for the aristocracy and gentry of 17th Century England why is it not good enough for the contemporary populations of these regions misgoverned by Kiev? 

If this were all that there is to the dispute between Russia and Ukraine, then one would expect nothing more than a pre-emptive war to defend these states and to restore them to their proper administrative borders. However, there is a further complication. Ukraine is a de facto member of NATO with designs on becoming a de jure one as well. NATO is hostile to Russia and would like to destabilise and dismember the Russian state. See the report commissioned for the US government by the RAND corporation for more on this:

The north eastern border of Ukraine is approximately 200 miles from Moscow, a trifle for a supersonic ballistic missile, difficult to detect and intercept in the few minutes of its flight. Russia might reasonably assume that this outcome of an entry of Ukraine into NATO would be unacceptable, hence the ultimatum given to NATO in late 2021 which was ignored, with consequences that we can now see. States, if they are able, will take steps to ensure that regions that threaten their security will be invaded or made neutral. In the words of the British imperialist and statesman Lord Curzon: 

“Beyond those walls… extends a glacis of varying breadth and dimension. We do not want to occupy it, but we also cannot afford to see it occupied by our foes. We are quite content to let it remain in the hands of our friends; but if rival and unfriendly influences creep up to it and lodge themselves right under our walls, we are compelled to intervene, because a danger would thereby grow up that might one day menace our security… He would be a short-sighted commander who merely manned his ramparts… and did not look beyond; and the whole of our policy… has been directed towards maintaining our influence, and to preventing the expansion of hostile agencies on this area…”  

Curzon was referring to the northern boundaries of India, then a British imperial possession and arguably not a vital British interest. He did not live in a world in which hypersonic missiles existed. Ukraine is on Russia’s doorstep and instruments for the destruction of Moscow within a few minutes of launch could be placed there. Western commentators need to revisit their own doctrines and make the mental effort to see the world from the point of view of Russia in order to understand what is going on in Ukraine. So far there has been a lamentable failure to do so which may yet have undesirable consequences for Europe and its populations.

So what should happen? Labour Affairs will refrain from speculation about the military outcome of the Russian operation. A few things are, however, clear. The war represents a failure of Russian statecraft, even if an unavoidable one, given the malevolence of NATO. A preferred Russian solution would have been a collective security treaty which could most easily have been secured by Russian joining NATO, thus guaranteeing itself from attack by NATO powers. It is difficult to see why the informal overtures to join NATO were rejected by that organisation since they would have secured Europe and Eurasia for all the countries within that vast region. The suspicion must be that the US, which dominates NATO, did not want another power to impede its domination of its European subordinates. Another, even more uncomfortable suspicion is that the long-term goal of the US, under the auspices of NATO, is to undermine and eventually attack Russia with the help of its NATO subordinates.

Failing a collective security arrangement, the neutrality of Ukraine would have been an acceptable option for Russia. This was proposed in late 2021 and in effect rejected by NATO with no serious attempt to consider Russian proposals. There were also further provocations such as the well-founded suspicion that the US was conducting biological warfare experiments near Russia’s borders or Ukraine’s stated desire to acquire nuclear weapons, which was not rejected by NATO, not to mention the build-up of Ukrainian forces on the borders of Donetsk and Lugansk in preparation for a campaign to retake those regions. Since neutrality did not seem to be an option it seems that the Russian state decided to exert military pressure on Ukraine to declare neutrality as well as to secure the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. Ukrainian neutrality is a major war aim for Russia and a secure neutrality, properly observed and policed would probably satisfy Russia. However, if the US continues to manipulate affairs in Ukraine so that peace negotiations are impossible or even so that the country collapses into anarchy, it may be that Russia will try to set up further independent republics in Russophone areas, for example along the Black Sea, an area of strategic importance for the Russians. They do not wish to occupy Ukraine in whole or in part, realising what an economic and politically debilitating move that would be. The US would be delighted by such an outcome.

It is difficult to see why Britain and the EU states have gone along with a policy of such hostility towards Russia. They stand to lose their own economic well-being in an energy and resources crunch resulting from the sanctions which they themselves are imposing on Russia and to increase their dependency on energy from the US. One can see why US interests would greatly benefit from the dependency of Europe and the overstretching of Russia but there cannot be anything in this policy for the working population of Europe. The sooner they wake up to what is being done in their name the better.

See an in-depth study of the question in this special issue of Irish Foreign Affairs:

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