The reason I’ve not commented much here on the war in Ukraine, despite its being the most important issue of the day (as opposed to ‘of our time’, which of course is climate change), is because I know too little about it, compared with expert commentators in other media; and because my historical expertise hardly helps here at all. Yes, there are superficial parallels that might be drawn, going back to Tsarist and Soviet times, or with other world empires – the Roman, British, Hitler’s; but most of them are misleading, and they can’t really tell us much about the roots of what looks superficially like a simple case of bloody imperial aggression by a powerful and tyrannical ruler against one of his country’s innocent neighbours.
What my immersion in history over the years tells me is very little about the ‘rights and wrongs’ of this particular conflict, but simply to hold my judgment back until the fog of propaganda disperses, and we can see a little more clearly the ‘facts’ of what has been going on. If history ‘teaches’ anything it is that wars are always surrounded at the time by lies, uncertainties and disinformation; which are, indeed, often weaponised by the combatants themselves. Which is why we need historians to sort things out later; by which time, of course, it is too late.
Personally, and for what it’s worth (which isn’t very much), I’m pretty convinced that responsibility for this war doesn’t rest entirely with Putin, but that Ukraine itself and ‘the West’ (the EU, America, NATO) contributed to it in recent years with several mis-steps, to put it kindly; which had the effect of provoking Putin – who seems to have been very provocable, even paranoid (see https://bernardjporter.com/2022/03/21/hell-hath-no-fury/) – to take the action he did. And there are influential ‘neo-Nazis’ in the Ukraine, of course, as there are virtually everywhere, including Britain and the USA; and probably other features of Ukrainian society which make the latter rather less ‘innocent’ a victim than we in the West like to think.
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that it is still a ‘victim’, overwhelmingly; and that the evidence of terrible atrocities that we see on our TVs can’t all be ‘faked’, as Moscow claims. (If they are, then it suggests an impressive sophistication on the part of the Ukrainian propaganda department, to be able to fake them so convincingly.) Nothing the West may have done, or Ukraine itself, could justify the clear savagery of Russia’s response. Which is why we British liberals must choose the Ukraine’s side in this conflict; as we did in the case of Ireland, whose situation in the 19th century bears some slight comparison with Ukraine’s in the 21st. But I don’t want to make too much of that.
In my case my support is expressed by my offering my home to any Ukrainian refugees who can get past the obstacles that Priti Patel is putting up against them. Now there’s someone who might be – very loosely – labelled a ‘Nazi’. Deporting asylum seekers over to the middle of Africa, for pity’s sake! It so happens that that was one of the original Nazis’ solutions to their ‘Jewish problem’, before they hit on the ‘Final’ one. Is Priti aware of that?
Sorry. That’s as much as I feel I can write about Ukraine. But it still dominates my thinking, and my reading of the real experts on the issue.