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The Russian-Ukrainian War - My Thoughts

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

The war started in 2016, and we are losing it, but we will probably win in the end


My wife and I during a demonstration in 2016.
My wife and I during a demonstration in 2016.

As if the risk of slowly cooking our planet by pumping CO2 into the atmosphere was not enough, now we risk frying the Earth in a nuclear holocaust.


I am usually optimistic, but it doesn’t mean I’m blind.


Is this the end of The Long Peace?

The source of my optimism is the wonderful book The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker. The book convincingly argues that we live in the best of time - what Pinker calls The Long Peace. In the last 40 years, violence has decreased and prosperity has increased around the globe. While there have been wars and genocide, they have been on a much lesser scale than in the first half of the 20th century, and any time before that.


Alas! That may be about to end.

“‘Long Peace’ is a term for the unprecedented historical period following the end of World War II in 1945 to 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine.” Wikipedia

The Russian-Ukrainian War that just started signals a significant threat to peace. One of the largest, nuclear-armed potencies of the world has just launched a full-scale invasion of another large, sovereign country. If Putin succeeds at conquering and subjugating Ukraine, he may be encouraged to follow up by attacking a neighboring country belonging to NATO. Then all NATO countries will be obliged to enter the war. It would be extremely difficult to keep such a war for escalating to a nuclear conflict.


Worse still, China may be encouraged by a Russian success to invade Taiwan. Then we would have a true World War III, with Russia and China allied against the Western countries. They may be able to pull North Korea, Venezuela and Iran to their side.


Capitalism vs. capitalism turns out to be worse than capitalism vs. communism

How did we get to this point?


I remember the collective sigh of relief at the end of the 80s, when the Eastern European countries previously known as the Warsaw Pact became democratic, and Germany was re-unified. Shortly thereafter, in 1991, the USSR ceased to exist, fragmenting into Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and a series of hard-to-pronounce ‘stans’ in central Asia.


We all thought that the Cold War was an ideological conflict between two incompatible economic models: capitalism and communism. Now, with all the previous members of the USSR embracing capitalism, conflict was no longer necessary. Nuclear weapons could be dismantled. We could all live in peace in a utopia of free-trade and stock market investments.


Even China, while remaining nominally communist, was now a capitalist powerhouse. The only communist hold-outs were North Korea and Cuba, but they were small enough to be safely ignored.


So, what happened?


Neoliberalism happened. Here I will cite my other favorite book: The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. It explains how the Chicago School of Economics moved around the world during the 70s, 80s and 90s, fucking things up by promoting neoliberalism, dismantling social protection programs, and opening countries to the rapacious control of international corporations accountable to nobody. They launched the murderous dictatorships of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and other South American countries. They taught the Chinese and Russian oligarchies how they could become immensely rich by adopting the neoliberal system. This triggered the coup in Russia that put Boris Yeltsin in power. Vladimir Putin is just a much more effective successor of the same regime.


So what we have now is a series of economic oligarchies vying to control the natural resources of the world. Corporations in democratic countries fighting against state-supported corporations in Russia and China. And a few magnates increasingly attracted to the idea that democracy and freedom are just obstacles to doing business.


The war really started in 2016

We are slowly starting to realize that the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is not an isolated episode, but just another step in a carefully planned strategy to defeat the USA, NATO, the European Union (EU), and everything they represent: individual freedom, democracy, state-controlled capitalism, and a social safety net.


The hot war in Ukraine is just the tip of the iceberg. What should really worry us is the secret war of disinformation, social division, and sabotaging of our democratic institutions that Russia has been waging against us for at least 6 years. We are, indeed, in the midst of a war, a cyberwar waged by Russia. And we have already suffered two major defeats in that war: the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump. Both events happened in 2016. There is mounting evidence that cyber warfare from Russia waged by internet bots drove both campaigns.


Brexit has damaged substantially the economy of the United Kingdom (UK) and, to a much lesser extent, that of the EU. It has undermined the cohesion of NATO by sowing distrust between the UK and the EU. It has also complicated the long-term project of the EU for building a unified army.


We know full well the devastating effects that the Trump presidency had on American unity. Trump benefited from Russian aid to win the 2016 election, which has been the target of investigations continuously sabotaged by the Republican Party. He never hid his sympathies for Putin, right up to the Ukrainian invasion. Trump tried to undermine NATO. He has never failed to play into Putin’s hands. Neither did Fox News, or large swaths of the Republican Party.


Chickens come home to roost

American actions during the 21st century are partly to blame for creating precedents for the invasion of Ukraine.


The Long Peace is largely supported by the idea that the national makeup and the borders of the world after World War II should not be changed unless it is done by mutual agreement. Countries should not try to conquer other countries. This put an end to 500 years of colonial mentality, in which European nations saw the rest world as wilderness to be conquered and plundered. The World Wars of the first half of the 20th century were largely about European nations (and Japan) fighting each other over how to divide their colonial empires. With the end of World War II came the realization that colonialism was intrinsically unethical and that all the people of the world deserved to have their own independent countries.


This “do not invade” principle was violated during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. However, these proxy wars of the Cold War were justified as protecting these countries from the infiltration of the “evil” communist ideology.


The invasion of Iraq by the USA in 2003 was an entirely different story. We went there to fight Iraq because of illusory past and future aggressions. We wanted “regime change”, which is what Putin says that he wants in Ukraine. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see no difference between the lies of George W. Bush in 2003 and the lies of Vladimir Putin in 2022.


And then, of course, there was the long war in Afghanistan.


Reasons for hope - will Putin fail?

In fact, our best hope is that Putin will fail in Ukraine just like we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do not forget that the Russians were kicked out of Afghanistan before us.



Ukrainian flag
Government of Ukraine, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. In solidarity.

Ukraine is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s a much larger country, with a sizable army (albeit smaller than the Russian), an educated population, a strong national identity, and few internal divisions.


This last factor is important. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are culturally heterogeneous, which powerful internal divisions that can be exploited by an invader. The Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds in Iraq can hardly live at peace which each other. Likewise, Afghanistan has Sunnis and Shiites, multiple languages, and complex ethnical divisions. From the start, Putin tried to play the divisions between Ukrainians and Russians in Ukraine, but this hasn’t worked out very well. Given the choice between a Russian-installed dictatorship or an European-style democracy, even the Russians in Ukraine know what they want. And the invasion seems to have made a lot of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians even more fond of their Ukrainian-speaking neighbors.


As of today - February 26, 2022 - the Russian invasion doesn’t seem to be going so well. The Ukrainians are unified and fighting back bravely. It seems like Putin has opted to attack on many fronts and to spearhead an attack on Kyiv. I am no military, but this doesn’t seem like great ideas to me. The Ukrainians are in their country, and therefore more able to fight on multiple fronts. And urban warfare is the worst for an invading army. Every single Ukrainian, even women and children, is a potential enemy. We saw that in Vietnam. Invading soldiers have to choose between killing civilians - and be accused of crimes against humanity - or be killed by the most innocent-looking person.


Even if the Russians conquer Kyiv, the Ukrainian government would just move to another city and keep fighting. And the Russians will face the task of feeding and controlling the millions of inhabitants of the city. We know how well that worked in Iraq.


Even with 190,000 soldiers, armored vehicles and tanks, Ukraine is an enormous country to control in its entirety. The Ukrainians just have to disperse their army and keep harassing the Russians. Time is on their side. Every day that Russia has to keep its army in Ukraine means a huge loss of money and Russian blood.


Puppet regimes do not work

Puppet regimes do not work, especially in culturally homogeneous countries with strong national identity.


Just take a look at history.

  • During the Napoleonic Wars, the French installed a puppet government in Spain. The Spanish people rebelled and handed Napoleon his first defeat in the Battle of Bailen.

  • During World War II, the puppet regime of Vichy in France could not contain the French Resistance, even with the brutal methods of the Nazis.

  • The puppet regime in Saigon during the Vietnam War was hugely unpopular and fell to the Vietcong soon after the Americans left.

  • The puppet regime in Afghanistan could not survive without the Americans.

Anybody who forms a government with Russian support in Ukraine will be seen as a traitor and risk being killed in guerrilla attacks. Especially if there is still a democratic government ensconced in some part of Ukraine.


How long can the Russian sustain an invasion of Ukraine?


How long before the deaths of Russian soldiers galvanize the opposition to Putin?


How long can they survive an economy crippled by sanctions?


Russian society is not a healthy one. Depression, demoralization and alcoholism are rampant. Population growth has been negative for years. This is not a country that can sustain a war for years against a huge country armed from abroad.


Preparing for the worst - will there be an attack on NATO?

But therein lies the biggest danger. If arms and supplies are flowing into Ukraine from Poland, Hungary and Romania, how long will it be before Putin call them his enemies?


The general fear is that Putin will attack the Baltic States next. However, the southern flank of NATO is much more vulnerable. Europeans would be outraged by a Russian attack on Latvia or Lithuania. But an attack on the Hungary of Viktor Orban? Maybe not so much. Besides, Orban is a would-be dictator that may be enticed by Russian support. Just like Lukashenko in Belarus. Would NATO defend Hungary from a Russian invasion if its government invites the Russians in?


The other weak NATO member is Turkey, which not doing so well, politically, economically and socially. Turkey is considering blocking the entrance of Russian warships to the Black Sea through the Bosporus. What if Russia considers this an act of war? How willing is NATO to defend the Turkey of Erdogan?


I have always been a pacifist. However, I think it’s time for Europe to start making tanks and preparing for a land war. And hope that it doesn’t turn into nuclear war.


The war is already at home - what can you do?

Unfortunately, we have bigger problems than a hypothetical invasion of Hungary or Turkey. Our problems are at home. A victory of the Republican Party in this year’s midterm elections would undermine any opposition to Russia and prepare a victory for Trump in 2024. And then Trump will roll over and let Putin do whatever he wants in Ukraine, Europe and the rest of the world.

"So Putin is now saying, 'It's independent,' a large section of Ukraine. I said, 'How smart is that?' And he's going to go in and be a peacekeeper. That's the strongest peace force," Trump said. "We could use that on our southern border. That's the strongest peace force I've ever seen. ... Here's a guy who's very savvy. ... I know him very well. Very, very well." CNN.

Putin would have won a war with America without firing a single shot.

[Putin] is “pretty smart,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday at a Florida fund-raiser, assessing the impending invasion like a real estate deal. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions,” he said, “taking over a country — really a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people — and just walking right in.” The New York Times.

It’s time to act. We are the soldiers now, you and me.


We need to win the election this year. And the one in 2024.

  • Do whatever you can to support President Biden and the Democratic Party.

  • Inform yourself.

  • Write.

  • Campaign.

  • Donate to candidates.

  • At the very least, vote Democrat.

The message we need to spread is quite simple:


TRUMP = PUTIN

REPUBLICAN = RUSSIAN


And let the Republicans prove us wrong.


Copyright 2022 Hermes Solenzol

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