The War in Ukraine Isn't Our Fault and Believing Putin's Lies Won't End It
(Part 6 of my exchange with Noah Carl)
This is the final article in a 6-part exchange between Noah Carl and myself. The subject of our exchange is whether the West is following the right strategy in Ukraine. Noah and I have previously discussed the issue on his podcast, as well as on Twitter. We are now doing so via this Substack exchange. You can read his last contribution below:
Dear Noah, thank you for your last contribution to this discussion. I particularly appreciate the title of your last piece given how neatly it maps onto a similar phrase about how “Real Communism hasn’t been tried”.
The thrust of your position, which is shared by a surprising number of people I respect and hold in high regard in Western heterodox circles, is that “if we could negotiate with Putin, wouldn’t that be better than war?” And I agree: if we could negotiate with Putin, that would be better than than war. But I’m afraid it brings to mind a rather “transphobic” saying we have in Russia:
“If grandma had balls, she’d be grandpa.”
Forgive me, but I’m afraid you’ve forgotten who we are talking about.
In 2008, shortly after Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia, Vladimir Putin explained that “Crimea is Ukrainian. It is not disputed territory. Russia has long recognised and accepted the borders of today’s Ukraine”. When pushed, he further explained that [the suggestion that Russia would invade Crimea] “reeks of provocation”.
Three months before the annexation of Crimea, in December 2013, Vladimir Putin told journalists that the idea of Russia sending troops into any part of Ukraine, including Crimea, was “complete nonsense that cannot and will not happen”.
In March 2014, when asked about the presence of Russian troops in Crimea he famously said “их там нет” (Our troops are not there). When challenged on this by a journalist who pointed out that Crimea had been taken over by soldiers wearing uniforms remarkably similar to those used by the Russian army, Putin suggested that they were “local self-defence forces” who had “purchased uniforms in shops”.
A month is a long time in geopolitics, however, and by April 2014, the story had changed. Putin now proudly declared that these were, in fact, Russian troops. By November, he happily admitted that Russia had annexed Crimea and explained that “of course these were our troops and we never denied this” (emphasis mine).
Having consistently lied that Russia had no intention of annexing Crimea, and later denied that Russia was annexing Crimea as it was happening, Putin then issued a special medal for the “return of the Crimean peninsula”. As noted at the time, the time period for this operation was interesting:
As you can see, the medal suggests that the operation started on 20 February 2014, when Putin’s puppet, President Yanukovich, was still in charge of Ukraine. In other words, the annexation had been pre-planned, a fact that is obvious without this medal given the scale and nature of the operation.
You will remember that Putin’s justification for this year’s invasion of Ukraine was that the People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk “had asked for help in stopping genocide”. Weirdly, he then went on to invade all of Ukraine and recently proclaimed the annexation of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions which are 500 km and 300 km from Donetsk respectively, and even further from Luhansk.
You are concerned about nuclear escalation. You are concerned about war in Europe. You are concerned about the energy crisis. You are concerned about strengthening China’s hand. And you’re right to be concerned - these are all genuinely threats to our prosperity, stability and physical survival.
But in seeking to deal with these worrying possibilities, far too many people in the West have fallen for two types of lies.
The first type are the lies peddled by totalitarians like Vladimir Putin. In your piece, you quote him and his servants extensively as if their words can be taken at face value. Let’s be clear - Putin is a serial liar whose claims are frequently the exact opposite of the truth. Please understand, this is no expression of moral outrage, merely an observation of a factual reality. When negotiating with Russia, you are dealing with people who will lie with a straight face in order to get what they want.
But it is the second type of lie that has so permeated Western minds that it affects even smart, independent thinkers. In truth, at some level, it affects all of us. The idea that the war in Ukraine is the West’s fault is so incredibly appealing to Westerners because we have been bombarded for decades with non-stop messaging designed to produce what I call “Western guilt”. We’ve been too rich, too comfortable, too colonial for too long. The West’s history is uniquely evil. When we talk about slavery, we mean only slavery conducted by Europeans, ignoring the fact that it was happening everywhere else at exactly the same time, and was frequently more brutal, as I discuss in my book. The notion that our history is comprised of evil patriarchal tyranny, which Jordan Peterson railed against for years, again, reinforces in our minds the notion of guilt and responsibility for historical crimes. Endless conversations about race and racism suggest that our focus must be on atonement for past sins.
When in Britain we have the most ethnically diverse cabinet in history, filled with the descendants of immigrants from faraway lands, we do not celebrate this as a triumph of integration. We argue about whether these people are themselves racists.
But when China fills its Politburo exclusively with elderly men of one ethnicity, we say nothing. When China attempts to deflect criticism of its enslavement and oppression of minorities on religious and ethnic grounds by citing George Floyd, this is not met with roars of incredulous laughter in the West.
As you know, Vladimir Putin appointed Dmitry Rogozin to the post of Russia’s Ambassador to NATO in 2008. Rogozin has since been Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and now heads Russia’s equivalent of NASA. This is him in 1994 - the placard reads “Whites of the World Unite”. I trust his hand gesture requires little explanation.
And he didn’t grow out of it either:
But when Putin claims he invaded to “denazify” Ukraine, led by their Jewish comedian Fuhrer in President Zelensky, this is not met with ridicule in the West. When Putin claims he is saving the residents of Donbass from genocide by invading Kiev and Kherson hundreds of miles away, this is not met with the clear understanding that a serial liar is lying again. Instead smart people sit around attempting to interpret his words for hidden meaning.
I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, I really am, but Putin’s desire to rebuild the Russian Empire and throw the West off its pedestal isn’t our fault. Yes, that means it will be more difficult to resolve because we’re not dealing with an aggrieved party whom we’ve offended - we are dealing with a hostile actor. As he himself explained. The great irony in all of this is that so many people in the West will happily believe Putin when he’s lying about the reason for his invasion and completely ignore him when he is telling the truth about his real intentions.
We have to stop pretending we don’t understand what is going on and act accordingly. This does not mean mindless nuclear escalation: as you know, I was advocating for a settlement as early as March.
But in pursuing negotiations, we musn’t fall into the trap of thinking the conflict is our fault or that we are dealing with a good-faith actor. We are not.
If allowed, Putin will bite off as much of Ukraine as he can now and come back for seconds later if we let him. Any negotiations must be based on the understanding that “peace at any cost” will mean more war down the line - this is why I have consistently argued that any settlement must provide long-term security for Ukraine. Until Russia is willing to agree to this, negotiations will continue to fail.
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