"News about the Ukraine crisis has in large part degenerated into propaganda. It is a confrontation between good and evil, between the simple hobbit-folk of the Shire against the dark lord of Mordor plotting to end their freedom and rule the world. Any suggestion the other side might have real grievances is ignored. . ."
Image Source: Denis-Auguste-Marie Raffet – La Caricature – Public Domain
Anti-Russian feeling has a long history and it is easy to foment Russophobia, whereby all Russian actions are prejudged as evil and any pretence to a balanced approach to a crisis in which they are involved is abandoned.
The very word “jingoism” comes from an anti-Russian song sung in British music halls during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78:
We don’t want to fight but by Jingo if we do
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too
We’ve fought the Bear before, and while we’re Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople!
We are a bit short of ships, men and money, but otherwise the sentiments are much the same these days, though substituting Kyiv for Constantinople creates scansion problems.
Less than a century later, Bob Dylan sang of the anti-Russian mood in America in the 1960s.
I’ve learned to hate the Russians
All through my whole life
If another war comes
It’s them we must fight
To hate them and fear them
To run and to hide
And accept it all bravely
With God on my side.
God is having his work cut out once again. News about the Ukraine crisis has in large part degenerated into propaganda. It is a confrontation between good and evil, between the simple hobbit-folk of the Shire against the dark lord of Mordor plotting to end their freedom and rule the world. Any suggestion the other side might have real grievances is ignored.
These grievances may be exaggerated and the Russian response to them mistaken or wrong, but they need to be taken seriously if the crisis is ever to end.
Russia says, for instance, that it is threatened by Nato expanding eastwards and potentially including Ukraine as a member. The response of the Nato powers is to say that its door should remain open to all and, more privately, that Ukraine is unlikely to join the organisation in the foreseeable future, so why is Moscow objecting so strongly?
But there is a perfectly rational Russian response to this, which is to point to the furious American response to Soviet missiles being based in Cuba that almost led to a nuclear war in 1962. The Russians can also reasonably ask why, if Ukraine’s Nato membership is such a distant prospect, Nato powers are so insistent on keeping open the option, even though, by doing so, they increase the chances of a shooting war.
Asked about what is happening or likely to happen, pundits take refuge in evasive manoeuvres along the lines of “who knows what is happening inside Putin’s head?” Everything is attributed to his malevolent power, though when Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin in the 1990s, Russia was equally opposed to Nato expansion eastwards.
By now Ukraine is almost sinking under the weight of would-be war correspondents, but with little fighting for them to report. The result is a shift towards graphic and often blood-curdling descriptions of what might happen rather than what is actually happening. One American network reporter kitted out with helmet and flak jacket was to be seen on air last weekend standing in an otherwise empty trench. Asked if war had started, he said that it “felt” like war, though there were no sounds of gunfire or explosions.
This is scarcely surprising because, for all the expectations of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine predicted as imminent by President Biden and Boris Johnson, this has not occurred. Supposedly, Russians commanders leading 190,000 Russian troops had received definitive orders to attack at the weekend, and by now their tank columns should be racing towards Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, but in fact they have not moved.
What did happen was Putin recognising the independence of the pro-Russian separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and promising Russian troops and tanks to support them. Putin is reported as saying that Russian forces would extend their authority to the area the republics claim which is larger than the area they currently control.
It is perfectly legitimate for Western governments to describe this as the invasion of sovereign Ukrainian territory. But it is so far in an area that was totally under Moscow’s control since the separatist leaders are Russian proxies and, whatever term one uses, it is not the all-out military assault that Biden and Johnson were talking about, which may be still to come, but has not come yet.
Russophobia leads people automatically to assume the worst of the Russians. This may on occasion be entirely correct, but it also leads to an acritical or positive view of any opponent of Russia such as Ukraine.
Going by the picture of the country presented by almost all political leaders and news outlets, it is a democracy not too dissimilar from Norway or Denmark. Putin is supposed to fear that his people will be tempted to dispense with his rule because they will prefer democratic Ukraine over Russian autocracy.
But Putin may not have to worry about this for some time since Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe. Kyiv newspapers print lists of members of the Ukrainian parliament, giving the names of the oligarchs to whom they owe allegiance.
Domestic political struggles in Ukraine are frequently ferocious and hard fought, but are seldom mentioned in reportage of the present crisis, perhaps because it spoils the image of Russia being the only threat to democracy.
This projection of an image of a battle between demons and angels is a characteristic of most conflicts, but Russia almost invariably finds itself selected as chief demon. This gives a skewed vision of what is really happening on the ground.
Because Russian grievances are assumed to be without merit, their actions appear irrational or demonic. They may be true, but assuming that this is the case from the beginning only deepens the crisis and makes it more insoluble.
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