Unrelated: the new wordpress editor sucks. Beep beep boop my ass.
**Update**: Some clarifications from feedback, that I’d like to answer right away. My post was definitely flawed, so let’s talk about it. The rest of the post is below my responses to feedback:
Q. Why are you equivocating between obviously made up stuff like the US-Ukrainian conspiracy to shoot down MH 17 and not made up stuff like the rebels accidentally shooting down MH 17? Isn’t this a disservice to your audience, who may not know which is which?
A. Yes. Sorry. I wanted to point out that the facts of the matter are as strongly fixed in the Russian worldview as they are here, but said it in a way that implied some kind of “both sides do it”-ism which wasn’t my intention. There was not a US-Ukrainian conspiracy to shoot down MH 17.
Q. Why are you equating the nationalism of Ukrainians fighting for their homeland with the expansionist aggressive nationalism of Russia?
A. This was something stupid that I said and I retract it. Great-nation nationalism is worse.
Q. Why lead with blaming Poroshenko when the aggressor is Putin? Isn’t that immoral?
A. I disagree here. Maybe for God, it matters that here Putin is cynically destabilizing the situation while Poroshenko’s goal may be to stabilize it, or that, say, in the Iraq war Hussein was evil and Bush Jr. just horribly misguided. For the people that have to die as a result, it doesn’t matter much. I believe that not knowing what the hell you’re doing when you’re in a position of great power and responsibility is something that is strongly morally culpable. The difference between one and the other, and the reason I think it makes sense to talk about what Poroshenko should do rather than what Putin should – the remedy is much easier.
Q. Isn’t Poroshenko agreeing to appease Putin a bad idea? Ukraine let go Crimea without a fight and that didn’t particularly lead to peace and quiet.
A. This is also a good point. Even all concessions from Poroshenko may not lead to peace. But we must be clear that there is only one alternative, and it doesn’t depend on Poroshenko much: the West must arm Ukraine substantially. If the West does that, I think we are headed to a very big, serious war. That can only be avoided if both sides seriously don’t want it (and even then avoiding it is not guaranteed), and I’ve not seen any indication that Russia does not want a big war.
Ben Judah at the New York Times makes the point that not arming Ukraine is basically signalling the end of US as worldwide enforcer of the ideals of the west. I agree. But the US has shown everywhere that it has been involved militarily that it isn’t actually capable of using its force to create change for the better. So I think we might as well accept reality: the US already isn’t a successful world enforcer of the ideals of the west. In the world today, it is already the case that evil regimes can slaughter innocents, wage war and intimidate neighbours. In this case, one such evil regime is Russia.
Okay, now the original post, below the fold
My understanding of the current phase of the Ukraine conflict is as follows: Ukraine’s army is absolutely terrible and could maybe beat DNR/LNR, but has no chance against Russia. Putin will not let rebels be totally defeated. So what the fuck is Poroshenko hoping to achieve by not immediately suing for peace? For his entire country to be so royally fucked over that NATO intervenes? Or just moderately fucked over, but for long enough that he can score political gains on nationalist sentiment? Whichever it is, it’s disgusting and he should immediately negotiate with rebels. I would say offering Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts to an independent Novorossia state, and federalization of the rest of the Ukraine seems like a reasonable compromise seeing as there is no scenario in which he gets anything better through continuing hostilities.
So that’s for the conflict itself. Now I want to talk a little bit about the media response to the conflict. I mostly read the news and opinions in Russian, and mostly from pro-Russia sources. Apart from making me angry and sad, this also has the benefit of, hopefully, making me somewhat more informed on the conflict than other westerners. In terms of capturing Russian public opinion and debate on Ukraine, I think this from Prof. Henry Hale in the Guardian is the first good explanation I have seen in western media. Elsewhere, Russian opinion is too often described as “nationalist” while ignoring that Russian “white” nationalism (strong anti-Soviet, pro-European ethnocentric nationalism of Prosvirnin etc.) and “red” nationalism (pro-Soviet, pan-Eurasian, clash of values nationalism of Kurginyan etc.) are very different, contrasting ideologies. And they have very different evaluations of the current conflict. “White” nationalists are very much unhappy with Putin’s behaviour: they see it as toleration of fascism in Ukraine.
Sometimes, western commentary doesn’t even rise to that first level of oversimplification of invoking nationalism. For instance here, where after going through a set of possibilities, you can almost hear Max Fisher just shrug his shoulders and say “well, Russians just believe a bunch of crazy things”. (He is otherwise quite a bit better than he is there). But indeed the set of accepted facts are vastly different in Russia and the west. In the Russian press, the fact of the US-Ukraine conspiracy to shoot down MH-17 needs, and gets, as little defence as the fact of the rebel shootdown does in the West, for example. Meanwhile, most western sources blithely dismiss the fascist element in Ukraine fighting. There is just a complete disconnect of facts. The additional difference is that a lot of Russian pundits hint (example in Russian) that even those in the west don’t actually believe the “western” version of events, and are simply using the fog of controversy to their advantage in destroying Russia. In terms of the rhetoric of the various pro-Russian opinions, I must say that it is often very good. Maybe I am just a less critical reader in Russian, but I can’t help but be impressed by the style of opinion pieces from Sputnik & Pogrom, for example (here is a recent English-language one for our anglophone readers). A lot of the lustre tends to fall apart when you ask: what exactly is this project of Russian greatness? For the red-nationalists, it’s fewer gays and an alliance with other beacons of freedom such as Kazakhstan and Belarus. For the white-nationalists it’s a Russia for ethnic russians. Neither of those seem like compelling visions to me.