The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left most people in the West terrified. And while many citizens keep asking how a war like this could happen in Europe in the twenty first century, others raise the question: did the West do too little to avoid the Russian attack? Has the West been too weak and cozy towards Russia? Has the West, living in the end of history, relaxed too much and lost its guard, while Russia, the revisionist power, was preparing for yet another war? Against this background, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led many to call for a more aggressive approach by the West, which some consider the civilized world tout court, towards Russia.
Since the beginning of Russia’s military intervention into Ukraine on 24 February, many have argued that Russia’s attack happened because Putin saw the West as weak. The West should have been more confrontational and less peace loving. People arguing this seem to be vindicated by Russia’s attack, not without pride hitting listeners and readers with a proverbial “I told you so”.
Yet Russia’s attack did not happen out of nothing. The US had been warning about a Russian invasion at least since November. The US told the world that the danger was real, and an invasion was imminent, at same time purporting to stand for a diplomatic solution. When Russia asked for guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia would not join NATO, the US dismissively rebuffed every single Russian point as a non-starter. The word “non-starters” was used across the vast majority of media reports. The West could not give in to Russian demands, on principle. All demands were non-starters. But if the US knew that the potential of a Russian invasion was a very real one, then one needs to infer that the US preferred a Russian invasion to giving in to at least some Russian demands.
Now that the attack has happened, people are wondering what to do with Russia. How should the West respond? Is Russia at war with the West? Shall the West declare total war on Russia? Western civilization, or rather the myth about Western civilization founded on the concepts of rights, democracy and freedom, and Russian civilization, founded around autocracy and aggressive imperialism, seem to be absolutely irreconcilable. Should the West fight Russia until the end now?
If Russia is always bound to be in her essence hostile to the West and the forces of democracy, the rights of the people and freedom, shall the West bring the current Russian regime to a quick and painful end? If Russia is quintessentially evil, and the remnant of a past and more barbaric age, shall Russia be destroyed?
if the US knew that the potential of a Russian invasion was a very real one, then one needs to infer that the US preferred a Russian invasion to giving in to at least some Russian demands.
The new Ukraine which took shape after 2014 seemed to be aiming at precisely that. People in Ukraine have been belligerently longing for a break-up of Russia since the loss of Crimea and the conflict in the Donbass. The logo of one of the Ukrainian Security Services has a sword planted in the middle of map showing Russia.
Or should people in “normal countries” hope that Russia can just transition to democracy and become a normal, civilized, and peace-loving country? It is often argued that democracies don’t wage war at each other: is this also true? What is a democracy and what is not a democracy? Can democracies, by definition peace-loving and non-warwaging countries, fight wars if this serves the case of democracy against tyranny?
The wars for democracy of the last three decades since the end of the first cold war and the demise of the Soviet Union seem to prove that wars for democracies have been a disaster. Twenty years of war and occupation did not bring democracy in Afghanistan. The Iraq War for democracy did not stabilize Iraq and Iraq has not been miraculously transformed into a thriving democracy.
People now are being told that Russia is waging war on Ukraine just because Ukraine wants to be democratic and free. Yet democratic and free Ukraine for the past eight years has waged war on a large part of its population, alienating, demonizing, and disenfranchising the rights of Ukraine’s Russian speakers. The problem was not just about the language. Over the last eight years Russian-speakers in Ukraine, many of whom now hold Russian passports too, have been demonized and denounced as a Russian fifth column in Ukraine. Those unlucky enough to live in the Donbass have systematically been dismissed as “zombified” (the term has become extremely common) or brainwashed if they responded to the appeal of the “Russian world”. The notion that people can simply be brainwashed is primitive and itself dehumanizing, yet it became common currency in Ukrainian public discourse. If one was “pro-Russian”, one was automatically zombified.
This produces the impression that some people can be sacrificed at the altar of higher goals – high and goals like the European Union, Transatlantic unity, NATO, the “civilized world”. The lionized Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov called for Ukraine to return the Donbass territories but not its people, because the people, probably brainwashed people in his opinion, would vote for the pro-Russian opposition and hinder Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO. The Ukrainian president Zelensky told people to pack their stuff and go to Russia. To paraphrase a famous past US high official, when is the price worth it?
The EU and the US, always very concerned about the rights and violations of rights against all kind of minority groups, did not for once raise a single concern about the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Why is that? Why this kind of selective preoccupation? Did the rights of Russian-speakers in Ukraine (let’s call them like that) really matter nothing? It is millions of people. If a similar thing had happened in China or Russia, the EU and the US surely would have expressed infinite concern and outrage. When this happened in Ukraine, they chose to ignore the problem. Why? Are some people less worthy than others?
The EU and the US firmly say the Russian attack was entirely unprovoked and the only person responsible for this is Putin. The EU, with its usual posture, suggests that this claim is indisputable. Anything suggesting otherwise is nothing but lies. Was the constant dehumanization of Russian-speakers in Ukraine over the past eight years really just an invention of Kremlin propaganda? Anyone who has even just passing knowledge of Ukraine cannot seriously say that. Yet the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed the accusations of genocide against the Russians in Ukraine with a laugh.
If Russia cannot be a democracy because it has never been a democracy, does Russia deserve to exist as a country? And do only democracies have a right to exist? And who decides what’s the democratic threshold for a country to exist? Because clearly no country is a perfect democracy. Having some elections every now and then is clearly not enough for a country to qualify as a democracy. Have democracies the right to wage war against non-democracies? Can the world ever reach peace until all major countries do not choose to be good and go down the path of democracy? Is this a realistic expectation? Shall democracies wage war on non-democracies to bring forever peace to the world? This is of course utter nonsense.