Why the Ukraine war cannot be justified: In response to Dan Sillett
By JAMES BALDWIN
This article is written in response to Daniel Sillett's piece, published on 1st March. That article can be found here.
Who doesn’t love a bit of editorial conflict? I recently edited Dan Sillett’s piece on why Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine could be justified if we look through the eyes of the dictator.
Dan and I are good friends. So, I’m not about to call him out for a boxing match, he’ll be glad to know. But I also disagreed with his stance in the article.
Don’t get me wrong, it is true that Putin’s history certainly gives some pretext to the invasion itself. The entire conflict is mired in his lust for Russia to once again become what it once was – a colossal union of states, spanning thousands of miles from Berlin to Tashkent.
But to even try and consider justifying such a brutal invasion is something that we should not do, especially when Putin is evidently a rather nasty individual with an immense desperation for power.
Dan makes a lot of claims in his piece. Firstly, that Putin’s seething anger and devastation as “the big bullies in the West” came and stole all of Russia’s friends post-Cold War – leaving the country as “Billy No-Mates” – formulated his belief that an invasion was necessary. This poses questions for the West on realist, Mearsheimer-esque terms.
But Billy No-Mates had ample opportunity to make friends with the West. Russia, then, is like the irritating child who complains they have no mates, despite not actually trying to make friends in the first place. Western leaders were more than open to co-operation in the early-2000s. Russia was part of the then-G8, anyway, showing that its interests were catered for. But then it decided to start picking fights within the friendship group. That isn’t really the fault of the West.
In any sense, Russia’s former pals actually went up to those Western ‘bullies’ first and asked if they could join the party. No pressure was ever exerted on them to join NATO. In fact, nations who are now trying to join the organisation – Sweden and Finland, for example – are having difficulty even beginning to get in. Joining the friendship group is not as simple as the West swooping in and stealing everyone; rather, it is quite a complex process.
A couple more points are made by Dan – including one about American and Western double standards. This is true in many cases, I agree. But not when comparing NATO intervention in Kosovo to the Russian invasion of Georgia. Serbia was committing quite blatant war crimes in Kosovo, including ethnic cleansing. If the West didn’t get involved, millions could have perished on the European continent. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I don’t recall any such incidents like that in Georgia. It was just another instance of Putin’s greed.
Dan also says that the West sending weapons to Ukraine is like a snooty neighbour “stopping you from cutting your lawn by threatening to blow up your house”. But this relegates Ukraine to being part of Russia’s lawn – something which it has not been since 1991.
See it this way instead: I have a big house and a massive garden. Suddenly, because of my own financing issues, I cannot pay for this big garden anymore and must sell some of it to a developer. Developers then decide to build a new housing complex around me but, because of my previous choices, there is nothing I can do. A new family moves into the house opposite. I want to stay friends with the family who now live there. But, over time, there is some growing tension between us because of my own actions in the ensuing years, and the family starts to pull away. I then decide that enough is enough and, because I owned the land thirty years ago, I have every right to barrage my way into the home, try and kill the family living there, and claim it as mine again. I don’t think it’s fair to then argue that, when the family calls the police, the emergency services wrongly get involved.
Russia, and Putin, have themselves to blame for Ukraine trying to distance itself from them. I actually believe that there does need to be an honest debate about Donbas and, even more so, Crimea. It is clear that citizens in those parts have sympathies toward the Kremlin. Ukraine should not consider conducting a counter-offensive in those regions because it could aggravate tension. There is also a debate to be had about the West’s ongoing supply of more and more weapons to Ukraine, which could have the same effect.
But to try and justify Russia’s attempts to conquer the whole of Ukraine, because poor old Putin is upset that the USSR is no more, is not correct, nor is it moral. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in this invasion, including a huge proportion of Russians.
Even if, accepting Dan’s argument, you feel it is correct for a madman like Putin to launch such a war because of his perspective, this view is, at this point, a rather isolated one in Russia. Discontent has been present since the onset of war. Thousands of Russians have tried to avoid the partial draft. And, even on the front lines, Russian morale has been low – partly explaining their initial failure to storm Ukraine in a couple of days.
I appreciate Dan’s argument, as always. But Billy No-Mates needs to get a grip and come to terms with its modern-day position, which does not include an indiscriminate invasion against another state. That much, I am sure, we can all agree on.
Image: Flickr / manhhai