Joining the dots on Russia’s war

We are outraged at Russian aggression, but we need to draw the right conclusions about our policy going forward

Nov 28

Imagine if throughout the winter, you and the whole of your country would have no power, no heat, no light, no internet, nothing. Not a shortage, not rolling power cuts – nothing.

How would you feel about who was doing that to you? How would you expect your friends to respond?

Then imagine that at the same time, in the parts of your country that are occupied by another nation, the children are being systematically stolen, transported into that country, never to return. Imagine too, many adults are also being forcibly deported, heading to God knows where.

How would you feel about who was doing that to you? How would you expect your friends to respond?

Then imagine you are told by the country that has taken your power and your children that your nationality is an historical anomaly, that you are not really British, French, German, Portuguese, Lithuanians, whatever. In fact, you are told, you are really part of the country that has taken your power, your heat, your light, stolen your children. They have come to liberate you from your mistaken belief about who you are and return you to your true destiny.

How would you feel about who was doing that to you? How would you expect your friends to respond?

For all the acres of space given to Russia’s aggression I suspect we have still not grasped the enormity, the evil and the sheer depravity of what is happening and what Russia is doing. Perhaps it is just hard to believe the depths to which Russia has sunk, that this can happen in Europe. But it is.

So, Russia’s assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is reported, but the implications for our response less so. Ukraine’s temperatures from December through February average -2.77 degrees Celsius. Russia is trying to freeze every man woman and child in free Ukraine into submission.

Alongside this the Russians are steadily pushing forward with the forcible deportation of vast numbers of Ukrainians, in pursuit of a systematic assault on Ukrainian identity. Some of it is being done in plain sight – Russians boasting about ‘adopting’ stolen children or taking children for supposed vacations and then not returning them. Others are hidden under the smokescreen of ‘evacuations’. Others just happen – hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who have simply disappeared off the radar.

Again, it is reported, but individual event by event, and the dots are not being joined to highlight the sheer scale of what is going and even more that this is a systematic policy of startling evil. Yet, we have been fully informed about this by the perpetrators themselves. Putin has multiple times said that Ukraine is not a real country and that Ukrainians are just little Russians needing the leadership of Moscow. The war has seen sickening outpourings of hate language from his acolytes.

Even more, this deliberate policy to eliminate a nationality through elimination of national culture and deportations is straight from the Russian historical playbook. Stalin in the Great Terror of the 1930s wiped out whole communities of Soviet Poles, Latvians, Estonians, Finns, Chinese and Koreans while the earlier ‘Holodomor’ (death by famine) killed millions of Ukrainians. After World War Two Soviet-seized territories saw ethnic cleansing in Poland and the Baltics to eliminate opposition, and this extended to various Soviet ethnic groups such as Crimean Tatars, Chechens and Kalmyks. Russia, whether imperialist or Soviet has always used deportation to solve both its external and internal control problems.

Is this genocide? Proving it in a court is always hard, but the case is increasingly strong. Under the Genocide Convention any of the following are genocide:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its

physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Does not the systematic and total destruction of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure lead to harm in line with (b), and arguably (c), along with the multiple systematic war crimes of Russia’s military. The forcible deportations of children are surely a breach of (e). To prove genocide you need to show intent and the Russian leadership are condemning themselves out of their own mouths.

So, where does all this lead us in terms of our response? Primarily that the idea of negotiation with Russia is self-deluding, even foolish.

Yet, the siren voices calling for negotiation are never far away, and inevitably accompanied by suggestions that reducing sanctions on Russia and weapon supplies to Ukraine could help.

But what does the evidence tell us? That Russia is not seeking any middle way; that its war aims are maximalist and unchanged; that its tactics are constantly brutal and inherently crimes against humanity. Further, its strategy is absolutely in in line with its historical and imperialist policies.

Even its casual disregard for its own troops’ lives, throwing them into the meatgrinder without training and equipment, is exactly as has multiply happened with the Czars and then Stalin. Putin’s grand narrative is of a West that is decadent, while the supposed Russian ‘soul’ will always triumph, fulfilling a grandiose pan-Slav Orthodox imperialist vision. This is absolutely in line with the Czar’s and Stalin’s communist version of the same belief in Russia’s right to dominate its neighbours.

More recently, Putin believed that he could outlast any impact from the West’s anger over the 2014 aggression, and he was right, and the consequence was not a deal but the 2022 invasion. There is a common saying, ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.’ Even more, how shameful is it to fool ourselves; to keep making the same mistake and expect a different outcome?

The hard reality is that there is not a scintilla of evidence to support negotiating with Russia on some illusory compromise. Nor that moderating sanctions or cutting arms supplies to Ukraine will encourage Russia to seek a deal – rather the evidence is that it would encourage them to commit more violence and crimes as they feel the West’s resolve crumbling.

Russia is now a rogue state and a threat to European security. History, policy, strategy, and the facts on the ground all line up. There is often discussion about the risks to security if Russia loses, which is essentially unknowable, but we do know with certainty what will happen if Russia wins.

Mark Laity 

An ex-journalist and NATO official, I’ve been around. Ex-BBC Defence Correspondent, Special Adviser to NATO’s Secretary General, & Chief StratCom in NATO’s military. I now run my own company, in between worrying about what’s happening to the world.

2 comments

  1. “For all the acres of space given to Russia’s aggression I suspect we have still not grasped the enormity, the evil and the sheer depravity of what is happening and what Russia is doing. Perhaps it is just hard to believe the depths to which Russia has sunk, that this can happen in Europe. But it is.”

    He is of course right about this and right about everything else in his excellent essay.
    The BRICS could bring an end to this horror, simply by severing all links with putlerstan. But they won’t do that. Because they don’t care either way; shit countries led by shit people.
    But then Europe and North America could bring putler’s Holocaust to an end. Simply by giving Ukraine what she needs militarily and severing all trade links.
    So, we know why the BRICS will never help Ukraine. What is the excuse for Europe and North America not doing everything possible?

  2. Very true, every word in this piece.
    Alas, there are far too many people on this globe who simply don’t care, even those in “advanced” countries.

What is your opinion?