One of my best friends has sent me a Guardian article by a ‘member of the Ukrainian Opposition Bloc’ who laments that “my country has not had the European breakthrough that was promised.”
He then lists some human rights violations, in which one journalist got injured. And the author is appalled by the state of the Ukrainian economy, which is indeed less buoyant than Norway’s.
The conclusion is predictable: “It’s high time the friends of Ukraine in the west disavow their support for those in the Ukrainian government who promote bigotry, intolerance and warmongering.”
If your Ukrainian’s a bit rusty, this means those who oppose Putin’s aggression and his clearly stated objective to return the Ukraine into Russia’s servitude.
The language could have come from Putin’s press: “Ukraine’s government relies heavily on continuing western support to stabilise the withering economy and assist the country in its confrontation with Russia.”
‘Confrontation with Russia’ means refusal to submit to naked aggression, you understand. As to needing Western support, the Ukraine isn’t alone. Since the introduction of derisory Western sanctions, Russia’s GDP has shrunk by 40 per cent (US GDP lost only about two per cent during the Great Depression).
My friend sounded worried, and not just about the Ukraine. We both know quite a few British Putinistas, and he probably thought the article would add grist to their mill. “What should we make of this?”, he asked. This is what I wrote back:
“Nothing, would be my reply.
“I keep repeating that no ex-communist country is ever wholly ‘ex’, and won’t be for generations to come, if ever. The corrupting effects of history’s most enduring evil penetrate the nation’s DNA, and it would take decades to purge the bloodstream.
“The strength of such effects and the time required to get rid of them are directly proportionate to the lifespan of the communist regime. Thus Poland has a better shot at it than Russia, and, say, Estonia a better one than the Ukraine.
“The Ukraine suffered horribly from communist oppression. Grandparents, millions of them, of today’s Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death in the early thirties. Previous and subsequent purges drowned the country in blood. Ukrainian culture and language were systematically oppressed. It’s not for fun that Ukrainian patriots fought the Soviets throughout the war and well into the fifties, when guerrilla warfare was incinerating the forests.
“That the Ukraine can’t be readily confused with Norway is God’s own truth. Its government is corrupt, though less so than Russia’s, and it’s run by people some (as opposed to all) of whom are typologically similar to their Russian counterparts.
“That point is worth making in many contexts, but not in the context of Putin’s aggression. Good, bad or indifferent, the Ukraine is an independent country that can run itself as it sees fit – provided it doesn’t endanger its neighbours or the world at large. The Ukraine answers this criterion. Putin’s Russia doesn’t.
“Ukrainian economy is indeed in dire straits (as is Russia’s), but one must remember that the country is at war. Wartime economies seldom thrive: witness the state of our own during the 1940s (and for several decades thereafter).
“Some of its less democratic practices are also caused by the war – as was the case in the US and Britain during the forties, when people of Japanese and German origin, respectively, were interned en masse.
“The same argument can’t vindicate Russia. For its massive army, the Ukrainian excursion is strictly a local conflict and a protracted training exercise. However, the Ukraine is fighting for its survival, with every sinew strained to breaking point. They had 70 years of satellite status in the Soviet empire, and they’re prepared to fight to the death not to return to it.
“Having said that, the Ukraine is much freer than Russia. Opposition papers are published, opposition TV programmes are shown – in stark contrast to Russia, where the controlled press has a higher emetic quotient than even in Brezhnev’s time.
“Dozens of Russian journalists, those who share our view of the world, are emigrating to the Ukraine fearing for their lives, with no one moving in the opposite direction. That fear isn’t unfounded: 250 journalists have been killed on Putin’s watch, many more roughed up, crippled or at least threatened.
“The author of this article is an MP from ‘the opposition bloc’, meaning a Putin fan or, putting it less kindly but more accurately, agent of influence. This doesn’t mean the facts he cites are incorrect – only that their selection is tendentious. The very existence of such a bloc is a ringing endorsement of the Ukraine, as compared to Russia, where no real opposition exists.
“We should support the Ukraine not because it’s paradise on earth but because Putin is turning Russia into hell on earth – and threatening to do the same to what he claims to be Russia’s sphere of influence, meaning the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European colonies.
“Hence we have a vested geopolitical, not to mention moral, interest in supporting the Ukraine as best we can, while lamenting some of its questionable practices.
“I hope this answers your question, as I understand it.”