Russia’s cold war with Ukraine is about to escalate
The Russo-Ukrainian war is once again topical. Not content with its annexation of Crimea – when will an aggressively expansive imperialist country be content with Crimea once it has it in its pocket? – Russia has amassed an invasion-sized force on the Ukrainian border and is working to mobilize enough reservists to provide an occupying force.
The usual voices of experts can be heard discussing the geopolitical implications of the build-up, sifting through tea leaves and undisclosed sources to explain why this is just another training exercise (official explanation by Russia), or how Putin and Russia were provoked by the aggressive expansion of NATO. to the west, and why the Budapest Memorandum wasn’t legally binding, or how Ukraine has always been Russian anyway, so why shouldn’t they just grab it and something about spheres of influence .
The effect – perhaps the point – of all this cynical, boring talk is that Americans and others with minimal interest in the subject raise their hands in frustration and say “Let it be.”
This would be a mistake, especially for observers who feel a certain intuitive connection with a group of people who fight and have repeatedly fought for their freedom and independence from the Imperial Lords (Poles, Austro-Hungarians , Lithuanians, Ottomans, Russians, Nazis Germany and USSR) since the 17th century. It would also be a mistake at the wrong time; the lies justifying the US invasion of Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan were based on a powerful truth – that the cause of freedom-loving peoples is always the cause of Europe and of America. If one believes that there is one good worth defending with his army in the world as an American, surely it must be as well.
And this good is the basic truth in Ukraine.
“Either Russia is conducting a training exercise designed to simulate an invasion of Ukraine, or it is preparing to invade Ukraine, and neither option looks particularly reassuring.
When I left Ukraine at the end of 2017, after having lived there intermittently since the spring of 2015, I wanted to leave behind the puzzle of worrying about a paradox over which I had no control. There it is perfectly normal to live knowing that Russia can attack at any time. Since 2014, when (for them) the unthinkable happened, every Russian statement and training exercise has been an explicit reminder of what happens when you let your guard down. Living in Kiev from 2016 to 2017, the volume of threats involving a mixture of invasion, assassination, destabilization and cyber hacking was enough to make me react every week.
Ukrainians seemed used to the beating of Russian war drums. Not comfortable with it – how can you be comfortable when a powerful and hostile neighbor is making threats in a city with no police? – but used to. This is not something most civilized people can put up with unless they grew up with it, just as people who live by the ocean or in the mountains treat wildlife as a nuisance to be respected. rather than a tragedy that awaits under every wave or behind every tree. .
Russia is not a bear or a shark, it is a nation ruled by people who act according to discernible logic. In this case, either Russia is conducting a training exercise designed to simulate an invasion of Ukraine, or it is preparing to invade Ukraine, and neither option is particularly reassuring. The military only train to prepare for future operations – if not, why waste money, time and energy that could be productively invested elsewhere? Even in the best of circumstances, Ukraine cannot be thrilled.
This impulse to think of Ukraine and Russia in abstract terms is as attractive as it is unnecessary. All the words and thoughts poured into understanding movements, posture, and likely actions elude a basic truth, which is that if Russia contemplates a conquest, it will cause extraordinary damage on a scale not seen in Europe since 1945.
This summer’s horrific spectacle, with crowds of Afghans rushing to escape the Taliban dominating the news and headlines, will seem simple, mundane, compared to what will happen in Ukraine and Europe. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people will die as the Ukrainian military struggles to retain its territory, hoping against all hope for reinforcements, and millions of desperate survivors will flee west. If, as many now suggest, the invasion occurs during the winter, the loss of life and health of innocent civilians will be greatly magnified by the vicious cold, not to mention how it will help fuel the pandemic by Classes.
In eastern Ukraine, I met some of the few people who were left behind when war hit their country. Elderly people, mostly women, who could barely afford enough charcoal or wood to heat their homes on paltry monthly pensions. The elderly slept on their stoves to warm up. Couples who had moved to what had once been a quiet suburb to pursue the rest of their lives in a peaceful retreat and who had stubbornly but naturally decided that they had been uprooted enough.
Several older people had survived WWII and had memories of the Germans, and then the Red Army, passing through the area like waves collecting on the beach during a storm. Things didn’t get much better when I was there on trips to work on a report for the Center for Civilians in Conflict, or later on my own, hunting down individual stories. The boom in heavy artillery and the chatter of machine gun fire are things that I couldn’t get used to as a civilian, even though it was part of my life as a soldier in the US military.
Why do we allow war? When we have the capacity to stop it, shouldn’t we do whatever is necessary to say “war will not come to this land”, like Gandalf telling the Balrog “you will not pass”? The bet we made at the end of our war in Afghanistan was extraordinary; extraordinary because it was made on such flawed premises that no one knew the weakness of the government until its president was on a plane to Doha with bags full of money under each arm, and even more extraordinary because that the Taliban seem to have (against all odds) refrain from the massive bloodshed and orgy of revenge killings that were feared.
Perhaps much or most of the Taliban’s expected thirst for revenge has been redirected to the urgent and demanding work of governance, but in Ukraine the Russian opportunities for evil will be rife. It will take great violence to dislodge the Ukrainian army from its positions in the east of the country, positions that I have seen; it will require the kind of heavy bombing and bombardment that tear the landscape apart and make no distinction between retiree and soldier. It will take much more to dislodge veterans and volunteer-filled paramilitaries from Ukrainian cities. This is not a guess, this is how Russia and Ukraine have faced each other since 2014.
An invasion of Ukraine will result in untold death and suffering. Why? So can Russia “rebuild the USSR?” Or bring back his Empire? Is it worth a single skull – the skull of a child or an old woman – let alone a pyramid of them? In the United States, as Iraq approached, my friends and I vehemently protested America’s going to war for the wrong reasons. It was obvious to us, as recent college graduates, that the Bush administration had absolutely failed to advocate for a war against Iraq. The idea that all reasonable paths must be followed when it comes to avoiding war and bloodshed is just as obvious to me now.
Perhaps we have forgotten that there is no good reason to invade another country. It took the Americans nearly two decades to recover most of their military in Iraq and Afghanistan. At this precarious time when the world seems to be on the brink of a serious ground war in Europe, wise and visionary leadership can build on the lessons of the past year, decades, and prevent avoidable disaster.
Inaction – ours, that of the Afghan government – has doomed this country to destruction. There is still an opportunity to stop a similar calamity in Ukraine, and we must use our power to prevent it.