Thunderous Western denunciations of Putin’s actions over Ukraine ring hollow in the light of a decade of utterly unprovoked aggression against Iraq, let alone other bloody interventions in Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan (repeated lethal drone strikes killing far more innocent civilians than Taliban), and Afghanistan (13 years of war), none of which was authorised by the UN. The hypocrisy of railing against Putin for an ‘incredible act of aggression’, which has killed nobody, is truly breathtaking when the invasion of Iraq alone led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians. But there’s more to this crisis than blatant double standards.
Ever since the Berlin wall came down in 1989, the US has treated Russia, not as a new partner in the club of nations committed (however falteringly) to democracy, but as the loser in the Cold War to be humiliated and marginalised at every opportunity. Nato has relentlessly pushed its boundaries eastwards till it has absorbed the whole of Eastern Europe which was previously part of the Warsaw Pact, plus 3 former Soviet republics. Not surprisingly this policy of containment of Russia through the ever closer incursion of US bases is perceived by the Russian political class as threatening to the strategic security of their country.
It explains too why Putin, despite the corruption, inefficiency and authoritarianism of the Russian state, retains such high popularity among his people as a champion of Russian rights who will not be browbeaten by the West. It is also relevant, though scarcely mentioned in the Western media, that this continuing encroachment over the last 20 years into ex-Soviet territory is much less to do with democracy and self-determination than with extending the boundaries of neoliberal capitalism and of the Nato network. It is significant that the EU association agreement which triggered the Ukrainian uprising would have integrated the country into the EU defence structure.
It is also relevant that the protests that finally overthrew Yanukovych, who for all his huge failings was the properly elected President, were strongly supported and assisted by the US and EU. Of course the drive for self-determination and independence should be respected provided it is pursued through democratic means, but the removal of Yanukovych is clearly seen in Russia as a Western-orchestrated coup, no doubt recalling similar regime change brought about by mounting street protests against Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Honduras, Allende in Chile, and most recently in Ecuador. Ukraine is a highly complex and problematic situation, but the history of the last 50 years shows that Western appeals to international law and territorial integrity cut both ways and grossly one-sided propaganda is not going to resolve it.