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Russia’s invasion in Ukraine: Justifying the unjustifiable

Basically, Putin is trying to revive the pan-Russian idea of the Great Fatherland that dates back to the beginning of the 18th century

Photo: EFE

Jaime Ordóñez

11 de marzo 2022


With more than 2,500 dead to date, over a million people displaced to other countries, and the cities of Kyiv, Kharkov, Mariupol, Odessa and various others bombed, in the process of destruction, there are people in Latin America and Europe (more than one would think) trying to justify Putin’s savage invasion against Ukraine. They claim that, historically, it was not only part of the USSR, but also annexed for two centuries to the former House of St. Petersburg, in Czarist Russia. They argue geopolitical balances. They defend Putin’s thesis, according to which Ukraine (since 1991 a sovereign, independent country, with free self-determination) is to blame for wanting to be part of the European Union, which endangers the Russian “sphere of influence.”

And the defense of Putin comes not only from the Latin American left that is nostalgic for the former USSR, but also from the far-right wing of the Republican Party, starting with Donald Trump, who came out in support of Putin on February 27, saying that the attack on Ukraine “was an act of genius.” Or from guys  like Tucker Carlson, the FOX-News commentator, with repeated tirades in his program in favor of Putin. Then there are conservative ultra-rightwingers in the USA, such as Candace Owens, Stew Peters and Joe Oltmann, or of such conspicuous characters as Berlusconi, in Italy, or of European neo-Nazi and fascist groups such as the Fidesz and Jobbik of Hungary.

The “sphere of influence” thesis is a shameful and crude argument. They seek to justify Putin with a geopolitical narrative similar to the “backyard” narrative of the Monroe Doctrine, which the US used to justify invasions in Latin America against sovereign and independent countries. Including in the 19th century against Nicaragua by William Walker and, later revived by Teddy Roosevelt in the 20th century, and which was used in different decades for coup d’états in Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile, Grenada, etc.

“It is our backyard, and nobody can get involved in there…” said Teddy Roosevelt, an argument that extended to Nixon and Reagan. The same as Putin says today in relation to Ukraine.

Curiously, I see on social networks some acquaintances and even some good friends who some decades ago (and rightly so, as many people did) repudiated the US invasions in Latin America, based on the backyard doctrine, but today are defending the invasion of Ukraine. Their ideological atavisms are betraying them. The argument is so shameful in either of its two hypotheses. One invasion was as reprehensible as the other. No one can despise other countries, and consider them as “second-rate nations,” as “backyards.”

Listening to Putin speak, it seems that all the satellite countries of the former USSR (today independent nations) are his backyards. Or those people seeking independence, such as the case of Chechnya, a republic of the Federation that suffered the coup attempt in blood and fire, with a painful massacre of Chechen citizens that the world still remembers.

Basically, Putin is trying to revive the pan-Russian idea of the Great Fatherland that dates back to the beginning of the 18th century, to the time of Peter the Great. His eyes are set on the past. On the nostalgia for the old Tsarist Russia, his ambition of imperial power, which he mixes (additionally) with another type of nostalgia that Putin himself did experience and for which he worked: the former USSR and the Cold War world.

People forget, but Putin was the Director of the KGB in the final period of the USSR, while his counterpart, Director of the CIA was George Bush Sr. Like Reagan and Bush (now dead), Putin has a bi-polar worldview. He would like to return to the pre-1989 world before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He would like to go back to a world split in two: the fiction of the old USSR versus the capitalist world, and he tries to put everybody in that second bag (capitalism): from socialist Finland to Macron, from the Spanish PSOE to the poor citizens of Kyiv who just want to live in democracy. He labels everyone who does not think like him a fascist, in a delirium of Manichean power that seeks to categorize the world in two camps, and he as the leader of one of them.

The other thing Putin has repeatedly said is that “Ukraine is a fiction, that has never existed.” He said this in a speech three or four weeks before the invasion, at the end of January. But nothing could be further from the truth. Ukraine is a distinct and self-reliant people, a nation that has recognized itself since the 9th century, since 850 A.D. with the establishment of Kievan Rus, with a long history of struggle and suffering (similar to the Kurdish, Polish, and many others).

Certainly, it was ruled for centuries by many other powers and did not have the status of an independent nation. However, its consciousness of nationhood, its own language, its customs are there, they remained for centuries. Ukrainians were subjugated by Poland for many years, before the 17th century, then by the Tsarist House of St. Petersburg and finally by the USSR. Its relationship with the USSR was painful, of oppression, not always a joyful brotherhood as Putin wrongly says. Let me recall that one of the greatest genocides in history was, by the way, the one committed by Stalin against Ukraine between 1932 and 1934: a savage famine massacre of 3.9 million human beings, known as the Holomodor Genocide.

So the Ukrainian nationality does not exist? Well, reality proves the opposite. Those hundreds of thousands of men and women who have taken up arms to defend the cities of Kyiv, Kharkov, Mariupol, Odessa (many of them living abroad and returning to their country) with simple rifles, sub-machine guns, with homemade bombs made with nitroglycerin in the kitchens of their homes, show that the homeland is still there. Or the image of their young president, who refused the offer to leave the country and preferred to stay there, together with his people, resisting. The courage of the Ukrainian people is almost lyrical, mystical and generates an epic feeling that humanity —in these cynic times— seemed to have forgotten.

I believe Putin will succeed in completing the invasion. He will take Ukraine. It is a matter of days or weeks. He has one of the strongest armies in the world on his side. However, he will lose the war in the long run. He will temporarily dominate the Ukrainian territory, but he will face the moral sanction of an entire people who will feel that they are victims of occupation and of outrage. For many decades. And the moral sanction of the rest of the planet.

He may have one of the strongest armies in the world. But he does not have the reason that comes from human morality. As Kant said, one’s reason is always that of the rest of the world, of the whole of humanity.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidecial and translated by Havana Times



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Jaime Ordóñez

Jaime Ordóñez

Doctor en Derecho Internacional. Phd Universidad de Madrid / MA, GW University, Washington DC. Profesor en la Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).