Understanding Why (Part 2): The War in Ukraine and the Destruction of Mariupol
This is the second of a multi-part series. In this part, I’m going to use the Ukraine War, and specifically, the destruction of Mariupol, as a case study of the importance of asking Why?, and moving beyond the rhetoric, the propaganda, the mis- and disinformation, the censorship, and the absurd oversimplification of the narratives the leaders, media and spokespeople of both the West and Russia have (very successfully) shoved down the throats of their citizens about what is going on there. And why.
Citizens of the ruined city of Mariupol, walking the streets because their homes have been destroyed or are unsafe to occupy, cook meals on outdoor grills and tell Ukrainian journalist Patrick Lancaster that the destruction of their city was almost entirely a scorched-earth operation by the Azov Battalion, not bombing by Russian forces. April 29, 2022. At the end of the video they beg Patrick not to edit and distort their comments, so that viewers can see what’s really going on there.
In my previous post, I attempted lay out some of the factors, which are mostly more about emotions than reason, that provoke people to launch or support wars. This time I’d like to delve into the emotions (and a bit about the ‘logic’) of the Ukraine War.
If you have been reading the press releases developed jointly by the US DOD, NATO command, the CIA, and the Ukraine government, and dutifully transcribed, mostly without any critical review, by the mainstream media, you have probably been led to believe:
- That the attack on Ukraine was completely unprovoked, evil, insane etc.
- That the vastly outgunned Ukrainian army have bravely and successfully beaten back the Russian invaders so they are stalled and demoralized.
- That Russia’s invasion has been chaotic, resulting in blanket bombing of Ukraine’s cities, and multiple atrocities committed against citizens.
- That millions of have fled Ukraine out of fear of being killed by shock-and-awe attacks by Russian invaders on civilians.
- That despite its pleas, Ukraine has basically held off the invaders using their own troops, resources, technologies, arms, ingenuity, courage and intelligence.
- That Mariupol has been destroyed by a barrage of indiscriminate Russian bombing and missile attacks, leaving the remaining citizens trapped in a vast steel mill with Ukrainian troops, desperately seeking a humanitarian corridor which Russia refuses to provide.
- That the US/NATO has no desire to see regime change in Russia. They just want Russia to end the invasion and withdraw from Ukraine.
The mainstream media and many of the so-called ‘alternative’ and ‘progressive’ media, have been faithfully reporting these ‘truths’ since the war began, along with photos of the country’s leader comforting troops and civilians and witnessing Russian atrocities.
Before we can discuss why the war started and why it’s still going on, I want to provide some other sources of information about what has been happening in the area over the last decade. This information is entirely provided by western sources, many of them with a long history of working in or reporting on the region, and none of them has been censored (at least not yet) by the western media and social media czars that are now determining what news we receive about Ukraine. None of these sources think Putin was right to invade Ukraine. But they provide a very different perspective on what has happened, in historical context, that might help us better understand why he did it. We’ll get to that in a moment.
And I am not saying that all of the following are true. Some of it may be disinformation, or even propaganda. All I’m saying is that these reports and interpretations are credible, and worth considering in trying to understand the current situation. Articles that I think are the most important to read are boldface, since I don’t expect anyone to read all of them. Thanks to John Whiting, Paul Heft, Caitlin Johnstone and Bart Anderson for many of these links:
- Russia is still emerging from a devastating, sustained economic and social collapse: What precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union 30 years ago, far more than member states clamouring for independence and democracy, was an utter economic collapse. This was caused by an unsustainable debt load, a collapse in the value of its major resource and export (oil & gas) and hence a huge trade deficit and collapse in the value of the ruble, a vastly over-extended military, and a wrong-headed attempt to rush the transition from a centrally-planned economy to a free-for-all capitalist one. That idealistic transition meant that almost all government workers, including those in important scientific and medical positions, were laid off or left unpaid, while a small cadre of well-connected oligarchs essentially stole all the government assets and moved their money offshore. There were, essentially, no jobs. As a result, in the 1990’s, Russian male life expectancy dropped to a lower-than-third-world level of 57 years. Suicide, malnutrition, addiction, grinding poverty, ‘accidents’, crime, corruption, and even starvation, especially outside Moscow, soared as living conditions plummeted. With rubles worthless, many citizens lived off barter and scrip, and huge lineups and empty shelves became the norm. Even today, Russia’s once-giant economy remains smaller than France’s (source: Dmitry Orlov et al)
- The west has repeatedly broken promises on expanding NATO to countries on Russia’s borders: Putin came into power determined to bring Russia back from collapse, to restore some pride to the citizens of a broken nation. Many Eastern European nations, remembering Stalinist brutality and oppressive Soviet puppet governments, chose to join NATO to be protected from a feared resurgent Russian state, and allowed a massive buildup of military and missile bases right on Russia’s doorstep. This happened in contravention of repeated promises that had been made by the US and NATO to keep these Eastern European countries as neutral buffer states. As these deadly weapons pointed directly at Moscow began to completely surround Russia, there were again promises that at least Ukraine and Georgia would be kept as neutral buffer states. (source: Noam Chomsky; Sky News, et al)
- The US government has a long-term, publicly-declared plan to destabilize Russia (and China) to achieve pro-US regime change there, rather than allow a multipolar world to emerge: Biden did not “misspeak” when he said that US policy is to take out Putin. (sources: award-winning war correspondent Chris Hedges; Foreign Policy; Michael Brenner; wikipedia; RAND Corporation)
- Putin has been absolutely clear and consistent in his messaging and his actions on his reasons for the invasion and the tactics he has used: (sources: Prof. Michael Brenner; Noam Chomsky; Putin press conference)
- The US, Canada and NATO were complicit in the Ukraine coup of 2014 that overthrew its democratically-elected government, following the Maidan Massacres whose snipers’ origin has still not been resolved. (sources: Aaron Maté; Prof. Ivan Katchanovski)
- US, Canadian and NATO troops have armed and trained and provided intelligence to “tens of thousands” of troops in Ukraine’s army and militias since the civil war began in 2014, and continue to do so. (sources: CTV news Canada; Ottawa Citizen; Noam Chomsky; Yves Engler; Jerusalem Post)
- Zelenskyy has banned all leftist political parties in Ukraine, arrested all of their leaders, consolidated all media under his personal control, and declared Ukrainian the only official language of the country. (source: Multipolarista ; Human Rights Watch et al)
- The civil war in Donbas has been going on since 2014, with western peacekeepers documenting that most of the violations of the Minsk accords came from Ukrainian militias bombing Russian-speaking areas of Donbas. Much of the weaponry used by the independence forces in Donbas came from demoralized Ukrainian militias who changed sides during this useless conflict. As many as 15,000 people in Donbas died before the invasion began. (sources: UN/NATO advisor Jacques Baud; VICE news)
- The full-scale war in Ukraine actually began on Feb 16, with a massive artillery barrage by western-supplied troops on Donbas; Russia invaded two days later. (source: UN/NATO advisor Jacques Baud.)
- Most of the Ukrainian military in the Donbas region are a mixture of foreign mercenaries, and cobbled-together deputized militias whose leaders are openly xenophobic, racist and fascist, with a history of atrocities against Russian-speaking Ukrainians like the 2014 Odessa Massacre, in which they burned 48 anti-coup protesters alive. (sources: Consortium News; wikipedia; Rhyd Wildermuth)
- Many of the people who fled Ukraine at the start of the invasion were young anti-war pacifists fleeing the draft, leaving the Ukrainian army and militias staffed mostly with old people and extremists. (source: Yahoo news)
- The Russian invasion was meticulously planned to succeed quickly (but patiently) and completely, with minimal casualties and risks and quick destruction of Ukraine’s firepower, and it has been hugely successful. (source: UN/NATO advisor Jacques Baud.)
- Much of the billions of dollars in US-taxpayer funded spending on munitions for Ukraine is being blown up by Russia as soon as it lands, resulting in immediate “repeat orders” to the corporate arms manufacturers (source: Ron Paul, of all people)
- The Russians quickly occupied Mariupol, and surrounded and ordered the Azov Battalion, who essentially are the Ukrainian army there, to surrender, with minimal damage to structures and complete demobilization of Ukraine’s aging tanks. (source: UN/NATO advisor Jacques Baud)
- The Azov Battalion responded by retreating to the Mariupol steel mill complex, and from there launched what locals described as a scorched earth program of destroying as many as possible of Mariupol’s structures. (source: Patrick Lancaster)
- US and NATO have continuously refused to talk with Russia about a ceasefire or a peace settlement; and their delivery of billions of dollars of additional arms has come at times when Ukraine and Russia have been closest to agreeing to hold peace talks. (sources: Prof. Richard Falk ; Noam Chomsky; Prof. Richard Rubinstein); Jacques Baud; Quincy Institute; Salon; The Intercept; Antiwar)
- The US government has admitted that it is using propaganda — deliberately spreading lies through western media about what Russia is and is not doing in Ukraine — to “counter” Russian propaganda. (source: Caitlin Johnstone et al)
- This war is dangerously destabilizing economies globally, causing famines in the south, causing countries to seek to abandon the wildly overpriced US dollar in favour of regional currencies, and causing massive distrust in banking systems that are now freezing and stealing nations’ and people’s money on behalf of the US and NATO governments. (sources: Credit Suisse; Swarajiya; Multipolarista; Democracy Now)
If you’ve waded through this list, you might now have at least a fuller and more balanced idea of what has actually been going on in Ukraine. So now come the Whys:
- Why has the US/CIA/DOD/NATO pursued a policy of belligerence towards Russia for so many years, rather than, say, inviting them into NATO? (and no, it’s not because they are evil, war-crazed, corporatists)
- Why did Putin actually decide to invade Ukraine (and no, it’s not because he’s evil, insane, or aiming for global domination)
- Why have Canada and Europe, including traditionally neutral countries, gone along with the US position and sanctions, while those in the global south have not? (and no, it’s not because their leaders are stupid and gullible)
- Why has the Ukraine government, elected as a protest against corruption and hate from both sides, swung so hard right so fast? (and no, it’s not because they’re dominated by fanatical ‘Pure Ukraine’ xenophobic fascists)
- Why is no one talking about a negotiated settlement? (I mean seriously talking, not posturing for the media)
While we can’t know for sure, we can at least make better guesses now that we’ve been equipped with more information about what has actually happened. My guesses start with continually asking Why? — The answers are complex, not simple. And I start with the presumption that everyone is doing what they think is “best” for the people they care about. And then I try to figure out how they got to where they got, and, as a consequence, how the world has rapidly slued to the edge of a global, perhaps nuclear, war precipice.
Here are a few of my thoughts on these Whys:
- Most of all, I think it’s about fear. I don’t think the people who work in the overwhelmingly largest US government department, the revolving door between the war and security and intelligence apparatus and the private munitions corporations, have ever heard any other narrative than that Russia and China threaten us and they have always been evil, opposed to everything Americans believe in. It’s like the Satan myth — hear it often enough and you believe it. Americans are hugely isolated from the rest of the world — most of them don’t even have passports, and most have never seen a culture other than their own. They’re even terrified of ‘alternate’ cultures in their own country. All of the recent American presidents have been xenophobes and war-mongers, I think because that ‘fear of others’ — Russians, Chinese, and Arabs in particular — has been pounded into them from birth. Like cops, they’ve been conditioned to think the world is full of bad guys who must be suppressed or defeated. We fear what we do not understand. Doddering Biden’s speech about China pretty much terrifyingly tells the story:
[I have] made it clear that no American president, at least one did, but no American president had ever backed down from speaking out of what’s happening in the Uyghurs… So I see stiff competition with China. China has an overall goal, and I don’t criticize them for the goal, but they have an overall goal to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow and expand.
- Putin quite justifiably also fears a western coalition that is twenty times its size and military might. He’s seen the US and NATO destroy other countries they fear or dislike. He doesn’t want to be the guy in charge when that happens to Russia.
- That same phobia permeates the NATO countries as well, even though they are more likely to have travelled to Russia or China. Here’s the worldview of the current head of Canada’s CSIS spy organization, for example, per Wikipedia:
The institutional focus of CSIS returned to state actors (such as Russia and China) after a February 2021 speech by the CSIS director, David Vigneault, warned that the Chinese “strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts — economic, technological, political and military” uses “all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty.”
- I think there is a tendency among most of us to cheer for the underdog, especially if we’ve been oppressed or bullied. Except, of course, if we are the bully. Especially if we’re in denial that we are the bully.
- Ukraine has a long and complex history that has entailed more death and suffering relative to its size than almost any country in the world. It doesn’t surprise me that people close to or descended from those who have suffered at the hands of another country or empire would have long-simmering animosity towards that country. The US since the Civil War, the ‘Troubles’ of Ireland — those hatreds and that distrust die slowly and it doesn’t take much to stir them up again.
- In the previous article, I identified fear, guilt, shame, indignation, outrage, resentment, the desire for retribution or redemption, grief, hopelessness, desperation, scapegoating, simplistic thinking, ego, and imaginative poverty as some of the main emotions and mindsets underlying a willingness to fight or support a war. Just about all of these can be seen in the civil war that has been raging in Ukraine since 2014. Ukraine is a failed state, riven by corruption and duelling oligarchs, plutocrats and kleptocrats who robbed the state of everything and left it bankrupt and dysfunctional. Throughout much of its history, it has been brutalized, exploited and robbed by invaders from all sides. That’s true of much of the world, especially countries that seem to be endlessly at war.
- What I think underlies the unwillingness of any of the leaders of the participants in this war to engage in serious negotiations for a peace settlement is, most of all, a fear of backing down, or being seen to back down. While I think the victims — most of the peoples of all ethnic and linguistic groups in Ukraine — would have no hesitation about seeking peace at almost any cost, the leaders don’t dare to be seen as opting for a “dishonourable” peace. Shame, fear, ego, guilt and outrage prevent them from seeking it.
Of course, these are only my guesses. We can’t know what any of them are going through. But by trying to understand Why, which starts with gathering different perspectives and information, and getting around the inflammatory propaganda, censorship, mis- and disinformation, I think we can at least start to appreciate the different positions. And from there we can at least understand that there are no “good guys” and no “winners” in any war. And that any peace is better than any war.
I was a peace protester in the 1960s. My Dad helped find homes and jobs for Vietnam War draft dodgers who fled to Canada. I have never cheered the so-called “winner” of any war, just breathed a sigh of relief that the war, at least for a while, was over. I am bewildered that so many of my age cohort is far more outraged about the invasion than they are about the utter absence of any real efforts to bring a quick and lasting peace to Ukraine. And to Yemen and all the other countries still at war, many with our complicity, for that matter.
That’s the question I have no “Why?” answer for. Maybe, there isn’t one.