No Mr. Hitchens, Russia is not acting peacefully

A recent comment article in the Daily Mail struck me as just one of the many misguided views of the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Mr. Hitchens appears to be convinced that it is the EU which has acted aggressively, not Russia; on closer examination such arguments are not particularly convincing.

For one, there are plain factual errors. Mr. Hitchens writes that “since 1989, Moscow, the supposed aggressor, has – without fighting or losing a war – peacefully ceded control over roughly 180 million people, and roughly 700,000 square miles of valuable territory.”

Mr. Hitchens appears to be either forgetting that the Soviet Union did not simply decide to liberate its member states; it experienced a total economic collapse, leaving disintegration unavoidable.  

The word ‘peacefully’ is a surprising choice. Take the example of Chechnya; the Russian Federation fought two wars to prevent its independence– one of which it did lose, costing the lives of around 100,000 Chechnyan civilians according to human rights groups. Very peaceful indeed.

Other errors are rife. This is perhaps one of the few instances where conflating NATO and the EU is a mistake, given that the two have disagreed over the pace and scope of sanctions.

Stating that the EU wants Ukrainian wheat is a nice subtle way to accuse the EU of imperialism (going after a country’s natural resources is, after all,  commonly seen as one of the main reasons prompting imperialism), but is also a bit of an odd claim to make; the EU produces over seven times more wheat than Ukraine, and wheat is hardly one of the world’s most valuable commodities.

There is however a point to be made concerning the acquisition of resources. The current conflict area contains around fifty advanced Ukrainian arms factories which can produce weapons compatible with Russia standards and, before the crisis, helped supply that country’s military. One incident overlooked by Western media is how the ‘aid convoy’ sent by Russia this summer returned home carrying large quantities of factory equipment it had stolen from Eastern Ukraine.

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However I am probably being too harsh on the writings of a single person, so it might be useful to consider the pro-Kremlin stance in general. Much is made out of the fact that the EU has supported the newly elected Kiev government (usually known by some combination of the words ‘fascist,’ ‘western’ and ‘Junta’ to those opposed).

Perhaps the best way to counter this is to compare the scale and method of foreign involvement. The Western world has largely declared open support for Kiev, has provided it with aid to avoid total economic bankruptcy, and has frequently considered arms sales to Ukraine.

Meanwhile Russian involvement in Ukraine includes tanks, hundreds of Russian ‘volunteer’ soldiers as well as intangible Russian aid such as training the rebels. While tanks are easy to spot, the presence of soldiers is harder to confirm, as, according to the BBC and various human rights organizations, the fallen Russians are buried in secret.

The Scottish comparison

Mr. Hitchens illustrates the EU’s presence with an example of Russian politicians appearing in Edinburgh to urge Scottish independence (presumably according to Mr. Hitchens both Scotland and Ukraine naturally ‘belong’ to England and Russia respectively, which enables the comparison to work).

The example can be built upon. Imagine that Scotland had voted for independence, but that the Shetland Islands had remained strongly against. A week after the referendum, English forces land in the Shetlands, remove the Scottish administration from there and forcibly pass a local referendum which annexes the Shetlands to England. The one pro-Scottish radio station on the island is silenced and its journalists are intimidated before the vote.

Encouraged by the Shetlands and financed by England, rebels in Dumfries and Galloway– a border area where the majority want to remain in the UK– rise up and throw out the Scottish administration. Worried about a pending disintegration of the country, Edinburgh (a.k.a. the ‘fascist Edinburgh junta’ by those who reject the referendum result) decides to send in soldiers to recover control of the area.

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Following initial defeats the rebels are saved at the last minute by the miraculous appearance of tanks, military equipment and friendly ‘volunteers’ from the south of the border. After months of bitter fighting which leaves parts of southern Scotland devastated, a ceasefire is agreed under which English influence over Dumfries and Galloway is de facto recognized.

In the following year, despite the ceasefire, thousands more are displaced or killed as English backed forces continue their offensive, intended to cripple Scotland and thus destroy its legitimacy as a nation on the international stage. Eventually a full peace deal is negotiated, under which Dumfries and Galloway become an autonomous and quasi-independent part of Scotland. The road is now set for the area to be fully annexed by England in future.

Of course the above scenario would not have occurred had Scotland become independent, as it was clear all sides would respect the result. However it does provide a more functioning analogy to Ukraine than Mr. Hitchen’s one.

To be entirely fair on Mr. Hitchens, he does succeed in making one correct statement in his article. Mr. Hitchens is entirely right in saying that comparisons between Hitler and Putin made by “stupid, ill-informed people” are cheap clichéd ways to make President Putin seem more ‘evil,’ even if admittedly both share a common theme of nationalism, restoring a once-fallen Empire through military means and exploiting ethnic tensions to fulfil territorial goals, all while acting callously towards the democratic world.

It would have been nice had Mr. Hitchens also spoken out against those calling the Kiev government ‘fascists‘ and ‘Junta,’ — some kind of confused attempt to link the government with General Franco’s one during the Civil War.

That said Franco and the Kiev government do share one similarity, namely that they are both up against Russian troops and ‘volunteers.’

The original comment article by Peter Hitchens can be accessed here