Friday 16 June 2023

Pick A Side.

Slava Ukraini! The Ukrainian narrative, at least as far as the West is concerned, is not, and should not be, complicated. Like World War II, the Russo-Ukrainian War is a conflict of clear moral opposites. A case of Good versus Evil – with Ukraine backed by all those nations who can still distinguish one from the other.

ABOUT THE CAUSES and conduct of the Russo-Ukrainian War much is disputed, but on these brute facts all are agreed. On the 24 February 2022, in violation of the United Nation’s Charter, and in spite of its 1991 pledge to recognise and gurantee its neighbour’s borders, military forces of the Russian Federation invaded the sovereign territory of the Republic of Ukraine.

It is entirely appropriate that a clear majority of the General Assembly of the United Nations has condemned this invasion, and entirely understandable that many countries, including our own, have joined the member states of Nato in imposing sanctions on Russia’s leaders and businesses. Indisputably, Russia is the aggressor in this conflict, and Ukraine the victim. Against all odds, however, the Ukrainian people, under their indomitable president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have resisted the Russian invader. Not only that, they have driven him back.

In a world bereft of heroes, Ukraine has millions of them.

So far, so simple. The Ukrainian narrative, at least as far as the West is concerned, is not, and should not be, complicated. Like World War II, the Russo-Ukrainian War is a conflict of clear moral opposites. A case of Good versus Evil – with Ukraine backed by all those nations who can still distinguish one from the other.

For some people, however (including the now infamous sub-editor at RNZ Digital) the Russo-Ukrainian War is extremely complicated, and its morality far from clear. To what end is the Russian Federation risking so much, and suffering so grievously? What reward does it anticipate for bringing what it sees as its geopolitically treacherous neighbour to heel? For Russia and its supporters, this narrative is far from simple, and its many complexities worthy of a fair hearing. It is not enough for the Western news media to tell us what is happening, they have the much more important obligation to tell us why it is happening.

Their answer to that all-important question may be summarised thusly:

In spite of American and German promises to advance “not one inch” towards Moscow, the Nato powers have been pursuing a policy of Eastward expansion ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. All efforts by the Russian Federation to halt Nato’s Eastward push by diplomatic means having been rebuffed, and witnessing the American-co-ordinated overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Moskow president in the so-called “Maidan Revolution” of 2014, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, moved decisively to protect Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority from Kyiv’s new, extreme-nationalist, regime. After eight years of fruitless negotiation, and fearing a Nato-backed Ukrainian attack, Putin launched his pre-emptive “Special Military Operation” – and here we are.

This is the story which RNZ’s Chief Executive, Paul Thompson, dismisses as “Kremlin garbage”. The story which his (now suspended) employee admits to spending the last five years inserting into Reuters reports – allegedly without his employer’s reproof. The story which, Mr Thompson’s epithet notwithstanding, actually contains some small nuggets of truth.

But, those small nuggets do not diminish the single, overwhelming truth of Russia’s culpability for the horrors it has inflicted upon Ukraine. They don’t get Putin and Russia off the hook for their invasion, any more than citing the undoubted unfairness of the Treaty of Versailles gets Hitler and Germany off the hook for their genocidal aggression.

It wasn’t Ukrainian soldiers in mufti who infiltrated neighbouring Russian provinces, inciting Russian citizens to declare themselves independent “peoples republics”, and ratifying their subsequent annexation in bogus referenda. Ukraine’s ageing Soviet-era planes and tanks weren’t conducting military manoeuvres on Russia’s borders for weeks prior to suddenly dealing out fire and death, torture and rapine, as they raced for the capital.

No. The inescapable fact remains that it was the Russian Federation that did all of those things, and, by doing them, not only bestowed ex post facto justification for every criticism and accusation levelled against Russia and its ruthless ruler for the past 23 years, but also brought Putin’s worst geostrategic nightmares to life. What else but the Russian invasion of Ukraine could have persuaded Finland and Sweden to give up their neutral status and apply for Nato membership?

In the end, this dreadful story, playing out on our screens day and night, is as simple as it gets. What’s more, it’s our story, daring us to pick our side, and make our choice between Right and Wrong.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 June 2023.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"To what end is the Russian Federation risking so much, and suffering so grievously? "

The Russian Federation? Russia is essentially these days, a dictatorship – as it has been pretty much since time immemorial. The Russian Federation is such had no say in the decision to invade, a better question would be "Why is Putin risking so much and causing so much suffering – what did he expect to gain?

Archduke Piccolo said...

I don't think the conflict in Ukraine IS all that complicated. The US got a nice taste of a smorgasbord of Russia's wealth and resources when it orchestrated the wholesale plunder of that country back in the first half of the 1990s. This, according to E. Wayne Merry, to the tune of hundreds of billions in capital flight, and oligarchs and breakaway republics getting their gloms on resources and enterprises they didn't own. The crime Vladimir Putin committed - the ONLY crime - was that he drew a line in the sand: 'This far, and no farther.' He also had the temerity to say 'No' to the US and show them the door.

But then he had of course to compound the crime by dragging Russia from the brink of economic dissolution into a growing and healthy economy. No wonder he's so popular in his own country. Meanwhile, not only is the West - notably US corporates, panting for another feast at Russia's expense, there has already been talk of breaking up Russia into six or seven minor states. You know: nice, bite sized morsels upon which US corporate vultures may gorge themselves. Ukraine is merely a proxy, to be cast aside - you watch - once its usefulness has ended.

I knew nine years ago Ukraine was being used as a cat's paw against Russia. This is not hindsight talking: I knew then and said so then. The US wanted and needed showdown with Russia - were itching for it. It was as plain as day from the utterances of the Western politicians and media - the hysterical demonisation of Putin and Russia just because; the presence and support of US politicians in Ukraine for the anti-government coup in 2014 (with a wholesale murder of Ukrainian Russians); IMF's funding of Ukraine even against IMF's own rules (you can bet the Greeks were pretty miffed); the pressure applied to Ukraine NOT to honour the Minsk Accords; the wholesale arming of Ukraine's military (The forces Russia eventually sent in in 2022 amounted to less than a third of the Ukraine Armed forces in scale); the genocide being carried out by Ukraine against ethnic Russians and Russophone Ukrainians. I still find it hard to believe that people have been so obtuse as to have missed it. Maybe I was one of the few paying attention.

What I DIDN'T know back then:
1. That France and Germany not only had no intention of fulfilling their undertaking as guarantors in Ukraine's behalf of the Minsk Accords. Not only that, Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron have both allowed the negotiations were all along a sham. They were a sham to mask the funding, arming and training of Ukraine's military. What for, do you suppose?

2. One month after the Russians set forth its Special Military Operation (as they called it) it appeared that negotiations held in Turkey between Ukraine and Russia had reached a point at which some kind of rapprochement could be reached. Boris Johnson took a special trip to Kiev to order the Ukraine to drop the negotiation. 'No war, no aid: take it or leave it'.

3. That the United States had not the slightest regard for the EU membership in the matter of Ukraine. We have this directly from the mouth of Victoria Nuland. The US destruction of the Nordstream pipelines was an act against civilian infrastructure directed as much against Germany as against Russia (ain't it odd, though, that Russian gas is still being pipelined to Eastern Europe THOUGH UKRAINE - I mean: WTFITA?!)

If one WANTS to look at it as a conflict between 'Good' and 'Evil', let me state right here; the West AIN'T the 'Good Guys'. Not even close. As this country has chosen to align itself with the US - for reasons that quite escape my comprehension - then we are aligning ourselves with the 'Baddies'.

Ion A. Dowman

oneblokesview said...

The western narrative you perpetuate Chris is Ukraine Good, Russia bad.

I am currently living outside the fishbowl of NZ media and am exposed to large numbers of opinions( I am living near Angkor Wat, Cambodia that attracts millions of International visitors).
It is interesting to engage with tourists from around the world(Including from Ukraine and Russia).

A large proportion see it as a US/Russia conflict.!!!!
ie that the US kept goading the Russians, not understanding that the Russians dont do bluff!

As aside, one night in my local pub were some Russians of military age and some Ukrainians of military age(The later on a course using rats to detect land mines).

The bar was extremely tense. Until the two groups got talking. Very animated as one would expect, but ended up with lots of drinks and back slapping. No idea at all what they were talking about.

One of the regulars at the bar had been talking to the Russians earlier and gathered they were Army types on a weeks holiday.

So no matter what I read in NZ(or western) MSM. I prefer to get my feedback from real people who tell it how they see it.

Brendan McNeill said...


Of greater concern is New Zealand’s military support of the Ukraine war effort without any debate in Parliament.

By providing military assistance and financial assistance for the Ukrainian war effort we have effectively become a combatant. It may well be that our involvement is justified, although I don’t believe personally that it is. However we have never had the justification debated in parliament, just the Labour Governments mandate.

We ought to be shocked by this, however it appears to have past, almost without notice.

mikesh said...

With respect to their defensive needs Russia could not reasonably allow the

With respect to their defensive needs Russia could not reasonably be expected to allow the Black Sea to become a "Western Lake" so the annexation of Crimea seems justified once Ukraine left the Russian sphere of influence, which happened in 2014. Prior to 2014 they would probably also have had access to Crimea via land. However, it seems to be well known that Ukraine had a policy of recovering Ukraine at some point, which could only have been accomplished by an invasion. I think in February 2022 their were intelligence reports of Ukrainian troops moving South, which would suggest that that an invasion was imminent. I think this was the reason for Russia's preemptive strike.

David Stone said...

So what do you think the purpose of Putin's actions were / are Chris ? And where do you think this will end?
i think his purpose has been exactly what he said it was; to see Ukraine does not become a nato member; to end the nazi influence in the Ukraine government, and to support the independence of the easter Ukraine provinces that have been under attack from the nazi led Ukraine military since the Coup/ revolution whichever you prefer, of 2014. Developments since have made it necessary to take control of the southern regions that isolate Crimea as well. which would not have been necessary if the early negotiations in Turkey had been allowed to proceed. some commentators think Odessa will be taken by Russia too but I don't believe this will happen unless it is needed to secure Transnistria. I don't think Russia wants to rule Ukraine , It wants to get on with Ukraine as neighbours and for Ukraine not to harbour an existential threat to Russia which the certainly believe it does under the present administration whether you consider it is a real threat or not.
The final resolution of the conflict will before very long demonstrate what the purpose was as it will undoubtably be achieved. Unless of course our main allies decide that Russia must be brought to heal, and the only way they can do this is with the use of nuclear weapons. This will not bring Russia to heal either but it will do a far better job of ending life on earth that CO2 was ever likely to.

sumsuch said...

I expect you've sat through Chomsky's slow reports on things. Yeah, Ukraine, is a good boundary, and since WW ll respected borders have brought peace to the West. When you rely on the imaginings of the sort of idiot who becomes a dictator you're lost.

Marshall Plan for Russia is my idea. We should have done it in the 90s instead of sending a certain dickhead over there to tell'm about the freemarket.

Offer Russia something.

McNeill above is the ... immune to reason. But then he is a born again christian.

John Hurley said...

I have stayed away from this issue as I had with Covid.
Once I read TIME Magazine every week and felt fully informed.
In the 90's Dad used to switch off TV at 6 O'clock just when I wanted to watch it and not say anything; now I don't switch it on.
I am the Trump supporter who do[es]n't think he would make a good president.
I have been a bit pro Russia as a foil for the cosmopolitan ideology being spread throughout the West but with reservations because it is full of gangsters (I recently read Red Notice).
Yesterday Sean Plunket was talking about a buried canoe. He referred to a great series The NZ Wars Documentary Series. An anon texter castigated him for negativity towards Maori.
I was thinking (as i grapple in this area). NZrs prior to the current rift were an ethnic group. Maori were a graft on the Pakeha tree. That graft was epitomised by Kenneth Cumberlands Landmarks series. The NZWDS was designed to break the colonial narrative (NZ On Air was "fanatically supportive"). Belich regretted he couldn't have presented the Pakeha side (balance).
In 1948 Norman Corwin found us a happy, productive nation at one with our minorities and I'm reminded of Bing Crosby's WW2 song about Accentuate the positive; eliminate the negative.
Edmund Burke was right about playing sorcerers apprentice with society and Isaiah Berlin said the same thing.

Madame Blavatsky said...

Ever the naive Romantic, Chris. Like all wars, this has nothing to do with "Good v Evil." Morality is always cited in order to get the bemused and gullible masses behind what is always about interests – "their" interests, versus "ours."

Russia's invasion was likely illegal under international law, but then again, so have been all of the many invasions and interventions undertaken by the United States since WW2 and before. The only distinction is the double standard that always applies: the United States is the self-appointed "Good Guy" so they can do as they please; anyone in conflict with the US is the "Bad Guy" so must be condemned.

It is a myth that most of the world condemns Russia – only the "Western world" (i.e. those under the sway of the US) condemn Russia, while much of the rest of the world is happy to see the US being taken down a peg or two by a Russia that acts in its own interests, irrespective of the demands Washington would like to make. Ukraine is about the US clinging to its decades-long hegemony and ability to project power. And it is failing, with a multipolarity taking shape ready to replace the post-Cold War unipolarity.

The US is fighting a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. Ukraine happens to be a vassal state of the US, and is conveniently situated adjacent to Russia. The idea that Ukraine is sovereign is as laughable as claiming that Germany is sovereign – both are firmly under the grip of Washington DC and Wall Street, along with all of the other NATO “partners” (really puppets). The US is happy to see Ukraine destroyed and Ukrainians slaughtered, because their goal since at least the Tsarist period has been to conquer Russia, split it into manageable units that pose less of a threat, and rape to its natural resources. One of the reasons they hate Putin is because he put a stop to the rape of Russia that was occurring under Yeltsin in the 1990s. Putin is also an impediment to Israeli interests in the Middle East, given his support of Syria and Iran especially.

But for the clear and direct US provocation of Russia for at least 10 years, Russia would never have crossed the border into Ukraine. The United States wanted a military engagement with Russia to weaken it, and they've got it. To accept the US’s self-serving fairy tale that Russia is an expansionist power is completely contrary to the facts. Who has many hundreds of military bases around the globe? The US. Who has been expanding towards Russia through the mechanism of enlarging the NATO “defensive alliance” for the last 20 years? The US.

Russia has legitimate security interests, just like any other nation. Unlike most other nations though, Russia is powerful enough to defend those interests rather than acquiescing to what Washington demands. One of their interests is not having US weapons in Ukraine pointed at Moscow, as well as US troops massed just across its border. Both would have been the case if Ukraine were part of NATO (which is really just the projection of the US Empire into Europe so as to have a launching pad for its intended eventual overthrow of the Russian government).

Wayne Mapp said...


While I agree that a parliamentary debate would be desirable, it is very different to other recent conflicts New Zealand has been involved in. In all the others New Zealand was directly involved, that is had troops on the ground in the place of conflict.
That is not the case with Ukraine. We have sent trainers to the UK and some intelligence specialists to NATO headquarters. There are no troops actually involved in the conflict itself. In short we are not a combatant. Neither Ukraine and perhaps more importantly, Russia, considers that New Zealand is a combatant.

A parliamentary debate might have be useful in requiring the government and all other parties to properly articulate their reasons . I think the only party in parliament that is opposed to New Zealand providing logistical and training assistance is Te Pati Maori.

Anonymous said...

It's not about picking a side it's about the truth. We are not hearing about 'what' is happening any more than we are, the 'whys'.

It is unforgiveable that the media, almost exclusively now, chooses sides and attempts to control public thought rather than seeking and reporting information.

Without a functional fourth-estate every vestige of actual democracy is rendered moot.

Brendan McNeill said...

I hear you Wayne, you are technically correct, we are not 'at war' with Russia. However I suspect that for every Russian combatant who is killed as a result of our military training and monetary support for the Ukraine war effort, it's a definition without a difference.

For a Labour Government that is incapable of delivering any meaningful value for its citizens at home, their support for Ukraine is little more than 'virtue signalling' that frankly we could do without.

From where I sit this is a war Ukraine cannot win. It is a very poor country with 1/3 the population of Russia. Eventually the American citizen will tire of burning billions of dollars of their national treasure on another Vietnam.

Maybe Russia cannot 'win' either, but they will outlast the Americans. If all else fails Russia will go nuclear. The American administration demonstrates about as much insight concerning the Russian perspective as does our Labour Government. They make a great team.

Loz said...

Chris, I believe there are key events missing from your summarisation of facts.

Armed conflict didn't begin in Eastern Ukraine in 2021.

Immediately after the violent overthrow of Ukraine's government in 2014 emboldened neo-Nazi groups unleashed a campaign of terror against its Russian citizens. The interim government, handpicked by US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland installed openly neo-Nazi figures from Right Sector and, Svoboda and Pravy Sektor into senior government roles while far-right paramilitary groups unleashed a campaign of terror against the population of Eastern Ukraine oblasts. In this much we probably agree.

Immediately following the coup, the parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (which was always a self-governing region) appealed to Russia for protection and organised a referendum on the Russian Federation. The referendum was labelled illegal by critics although there is no doubt that joining the Russian Federation was the genuine will of Crimea’s citizens.

During 2014 the new government in Kiev would wage both cultural, economic, military and vigilante attacks on the Russian speaking east in a campaign of cultural cleansing and suppression. It would cut of water to Crimea and halt all support services including pensions, hospitals, banking, schooling, and emergency services to the eastern oblasts.
Without rehashing all the events of 2014 & 2015, the conflict reached settlement after the with the Minsk 2 agreements. These became international law by unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2202 in February 2015. The agreements stipulated a series of series of ordered steps starting with an immediate ceasefire, followed by the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the contact line (within 14 days) and a change to the Ukrainian constitution to provide self-government in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions within 30 days. France and Germany agreed to be the international guarantors for the agreement.

The government of Ukraine would never change its constitution to allow self-government in Donetsk and Luhansk as agreed. Instead, it declared all political parties elected in the regions terrorist organisations and had them banned and their leaders (along with other left-wing parties in the country). The Azov Battalion, now a formal arm of security services continued shelling and sniping civilians in the region from 2015 onward. Public statements would later reveal that the Ukrainian delegation had never intended to honour the peace agreement and used the process to rearm. Statements would also reveal that Germany and France expected Ukraine would renege on the agreement and neither intended to fulfil their obligations as guarantors.

Apart from the argument that rebelling oblasts were really being led by Russian forces in disguise (which I don’t believe is a reasonable conclusion), I feel my divergence in narrative to yours occurs after the election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy in April 2019. The political parties that had held dominance since Maidan lost control of the parliament and Zelenskyy was swept to power on a platform of implementing the Minsk Agreements and ending the conflict within Eastern Ukraine. This event was hailed by many as the triumphal return of democracy to Ukraine.

I believe that in the first weeks after his election Zelensky was genuine in trying to end the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. I also believe he quickly learned that if he persisted in trying to make peace with Russia, the Ukrainian Volunteer Army's commanders pledge that "he will hang on some tree on Khreshchatyk" would come true. Far-right militia refused to obey orders to withdraw from fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Loz said...


In late October 2019 Zelensky personally travelled to the conflict zone to appeal to the thousands of Banderites to withdraw from the contact line as required by the peace agreement. He was openly mocked on camera and completely ignored. Following the televised incident, prominent right-wing figures were openly promising Zelensky’s execution should he interfere with attempts to recapture the regions.

Being unable to control nationalist militias in Donbas or initiate constitutional changes mandated by the Minsk agreement he completely abandoned the platform he had received a 73% electoral mandate for and championed the Banderite positions held by those who had promised his assassination. The far-right groups that had overthrown the government in 2014 had no intention of allowing any government from deviating from the policies of the previous 6 years.

By July 2020 Zelensky had stopped advocating his elected authority to honour the Minsk agreements and was instead declaring that no one had a right to tell Ukraine what to do with its constitution. The new narrative that was dutifully reported in western media, was that the territories were under Russian occupation and Ukraine had a right of “territorial integrity” of recapturing territory back to the 1991 borders of Ukraine. The Minsk agreements were claimed to be ambiguous, and Ukraine couldn’t make any concessions on self-government until Donetsk, Luhansk and the Crimea were under Kiev’s control. Zelensky started making increasing hostile statements about Russia, Russian Ukrainians, and commitments that Ukraine would retake Crimea by force.
In 2020 the United States announces it had armed its submarine fleet with small scale tactical nuclear warheads and successfully completed an exercise of engaging Russian troops with tactical nukes.

During February 2021 Ukraine makes a series of statements calling for its admission into NATO and at the end of the month, Russia made a demonstration of force with large scale exercises on the border.

June 2021, NATO confirms that Ukraine “will become a member of the Alliance” and holds the largest ever exercise in the Black Sea in partnership with Ukraine. Operation Sea Breeze occurs only 4 days after Russian forces fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of British Warship HMS Defender that entered Russia’s territorial waters off Crimea. NATO issues the following statement regarding the exercise:

“NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea. NATO supports Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, extending to its territorial waters. NATO does not and will not recognize Russia's illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and denounces its temporary occupation.”

From a Russian perspective, it had a UN adopted peace agreement over Ukraine that Germany and France were not going to honour. It had a rearmed Nazi controlled territory on its border that was trying to gain a nuclear capability while pledging to retake Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea by military force. It had NATO committing to bring Ukraine into the alliance while holding aggressive exercises (that included amphibious landings) on Russia’s border. The US had announced that it has deployed tactical nuclear weapons to its submarine fleet and run simulation exercises on engaging Russian ground forces in limited nuclear engagements.

In the weeks prior to the invasion Putin tried to solicit agreements for a collective European security guarantee, agreements that NATO would not incorporate Ukraine and finally, an agreement that the United States would not station nuclear weapon in Ukraine. All attempts at gaining agreements were rebuked. With 100,000 Ukrainian troops massed on the border of Donetsk and Luhansk Putin could draw no other conclusion other than Zelensky being true to his word with a Ukrainian attack on Russian Federation Territory was imminent.

sumsuch said...

Loz, I'm not sure about that. It would've been reported.

I understand Putin 'felt' a threat but I don't much care for the feelings of a dictator. I likes democracy, whether it's the foulities of America or Russia.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I see somebody gets their news from RT.

"Armed conflict didn't begin in Eastern Ukraine in 2021."

You're not wrong. Armed conflict actually began in 1917, when Ukraine tried to establish an independent state and was beaten into submission by the Soviets. Resistance continued until at least 1922. And I notice you don't mention the Holodomor, when the USSR deliberately created a famine that killed about 14% of the Ukrainian population.
So it's hardly surprising that some Ukrainians decided that the Nazis were liberators in 1941, a mistake in that the German army had basically committed to starving Ukrainians again.
It was also unconscionable of them to help the Germans massacred Jews, but that happened in pretty much every Nazi occupied country with a few honourable exceptions. To say the least, it's a lot more complex than you seem to think.

I see you follow the Putin line that Ukraine is a Nazi state. Interesting given they elected a Jewish president, and even more interesting given there are probably more Nazis in Russia than there are in Ukraine. Putin almost certainly controls his lot.

In fact, many Ukrainians had rejected those who helped Hitler, and it was only after the Russian invasion of the Crimea that they began to be regarded as heroes. Hardly surprising. Also hardly surprising that criticising these people is now regarded as pro-Russian. But again – complexity.

Since the breakup of the USSR Russia has constantly interfered in the affairs of its ex-colonies. And it's Russian irredentism that was and still is a major danger.
The expansion of NATO was in fact driven by the Clinton administration but also by Eastern European countries who had suffered under Soviet administration and colonialism. There was even talk of them obtaining nuclear weapons if they couldn't get NATO membership. No one in fact trusted Russia after their shared history, and they must have been watching Chechnya.
In fact putting created a rod for his own back by establishing breakaway republics in the east of Ukraine, because that solidified opposition against him and in favour of joining NATO.

It's a great pity that we didn't do something about Russian interference in Georgia for instance or the poisonings of various dissidents – a short sharp shock then might have avoided this whole thing.