An Alternate Lens on the Ukrainian Civil War

I was speaking with a friend of mine, whose intention is to circumnavigate the globe on his sailboat. He lives in his boat, in a canal, in a major European city. He seems to have a balanced perspective on life, something to which I always aspire, not necessarily successfully. Given that he is in Europe, and also has the opportunity to mix with people who have strong opinions on what is happening on the eastern fringe of that continent, we had a very interesting discussion on the civil war in Ukraine.

As you know from my previous post (see “A Willful Disregard for the Dismemberment of Ukraine“) on the Ukrainian conflict, I took a more pro-Western approach, with a historical caveat: yes, Ukraine is really a modern invention, but no country (Russia) has the right to simply take back territory that was given during a time of peace. But wait, did they even take it back (a wee bit more on that later)?

Black Sea Fleet in SebastopolInterestingly, my friend shared that many of his Russian friends expressed disbelief at the anti-Russian (read: neo-Cold War) perspective in Western media. One of more interesting facts that was shared was that the largest Russian naval base on the Black Sea is on Crimea: Sevastopol. Yes, that’s right, the Russians have had a major naval base on Ukrainian territory all these years. If Ukraine were to join NATO, then this Russian naval base would potentially fall into NATO hands, and no country wants to risk its military falling into another countries hands, especially to a conglomerate of former enemies.

Azov Battalion fighters parading with the Wolfsangel banner favoured by neo-Nazis. Photo Reuters, from BBC

Azov Battalion fighters parading with the Wolfsangel banner favoured by neo-Nazis. Photo Reuters, from BBC

The other interesting bit offered up was that the best and brightest (not really) of Europe’s neo-Nazis are flocking to Ukraine in order to help protect the Motherland (whose ‘Motherland’ is an interesting question) from the Russians (wait, aren’t the Russians white too? I’m so confused about this nationalistic racist rhetoric. Oh right, it’s really about having a government-sanctioned opportunity to shoot big guns).

Both the pro-Ukrainian and the pro-Russian fronts have their right-wing nationalist extremists so, as always, it is the rednecks that become the face of any conflict.

My friend proposed that Putin really didn’t want to go into Ukraine to bail out the pro-Russian nationalists, because it is a political faux pas to invade, in these civilized days, but had to for the sake of saving face and of course, defending the Russian interests (read: naval base) on the Crimean Peninsula. Mind you, it was the inmates of Crimea that chose to realign their interests with Russia rather than Ukraine, and my friend said it was because of the strong anti-Russian sentiment (read: racism against Russians) in Ukraine. It is true that when I lived in Poland, the Russians were not highly thought of to say the least, and Russians in Poland treated a bit like second-class citizens.

Putin being dragged into a conflict he never wanted nor endorsed. An interesting thought. To the point of my earlier blog, maybe Ukraine is like Russia’s white-trash cousin as well.

My friend certainly gave me balanced food for thought. When I am reading articles on Ukraine now, namely on BBC and on CBC, I am more sensitive to that Western, anti-Russian, perspective, which is interesting to note now, and read through a different lens.

I still tend to favour the Ukrainians’ right to keep their country whole. The situation is mucky to say the least, and likely too much blood has been shed for things to settle in any easy way.



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