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Much of the American media (and many of us in general) see the Ukraine in terms of the old Soviet Union, either leaping to a defense of Russia or to total hostility to it (as if we are re-fighting the Cold War).
There is no sense of history. Not even a longer range sense of European history in which at one time Sweden had an empire and Russia was a minor power (some of the spices used in Swedish cooking reflect the old trade routes from Asia, across Africa, to Sweden), or the times when Poland occupied much of what is now Ukraine and Russia.
We have simply ignored the fact that long before Stalin, Napoleon burned Moscow, that there are no natural barriers of mountains or broad rivers that protect Russia. We generally forget or never knew that the Soviet Union lost 27 million people in World War II and had every city and village, every dam, airfield, railroad station, and factory destroyed on a line from Leningrad in the North through the outskirts of Moscow (if you fly in, I suspect you will still see the anti-tank emplacements between the airport and Moscow) to Stalingrad in the South.
Stalin no doubt wanted to bring his version of “socialism” to Eastern Europe but he also wanted buffer zones. We have forgotten that Finland, which was allied with Hitler, and had troops in the field against the Soviets, was let alone after the war (though Stalin took some important bits of Finnish territory) because it was truly neutral, that the Soviets left Austria (which had been under four power post-war rule) once it was agreed Austria would be truly neutral. We have forgotten (or never knew) that Stalin did not incorporate East Germany into the Soviet Bloc until the West rejected the Soviet effort to unite Germany as a neutral, demilitarized state.
And it is abundantly clear that US and British commentators have no sense of the desolation of the former Soviet Union after the collapse of the USSR. The spread of AIDS, the appalling rate of alcoholism, the loss of national identity, the demoralization of the veterans from the Afghan War. If Putin is popular it is because he has given Russians some sense of pride.
There is much about Russia which I deplore – often bitterly. The homophobia of Putin, the corruption of the government, the rule by oligarchs (not so different from here or Britain), the lack of a vital and democratic civil society.
But to see in Putin a man who is trying to rebuild the old Soviet “empire” is worse than folly. To fail to grasp the fear Russia has of NATO (why in God’s name didn’t we dissolve NATO when the USSR collapsed?) – all of this drives me nuts. To hear, day after day, the distortions by our commentators, the failure even to remember something as simple and basic as the fact that the party which was ousted in the coup (a corrupt party – both main parties were and are) had its voter strength precisely in the Eastern part of Ukraine.
We must not give up – there are no “good guys” in this bloody mess which has taken over 5,000 lives. But in God’s name let us realize that Germany and France want to achieve a settlement (as I think Putin does) but the US war party seems determined to see more dead and dying.
Former chair, War Resisters International (and on this matter expressing my own views, not those of any organization)