THOUGHTS ABOUT THE UKRAINE CRISIS

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Integral World: Exploring Therories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
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THOUGHTS ABOUT THE UKRAINE CRISIS

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Subjugation or
sovereignty?

That's the question for Ukraine

Frank Visser

The realist argument

Trying to replay World War II to understand this current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a bad movie.

Over a dozen essays have been published on Integral World, related to the current Ukraine crisis.[1] As can be expected, the opinions as to the causes for this problem and its possible solution vary, and can be characterized as either pro or contra the military support for Ukraine and the sanctioning of Russia. Whereas the majority in the West overwhelmingly approves of these disciplinary measures, some minority positions vehemently argue against them.

This second line of reasoning is usually called "realist", and contrasted with more "idealist" forms of reasoning that point to the intentions or mental health of state leaders, their ideologies or the wishes and desires of whole populations. Regardless if we agree with Putin or his ideology, the argument goes, we have to accept he is Europe's neighbour, and—like it or not—we have to take his position into account, if not to accomodate to his wishes. By not doing so we might not only irritate an unpredictable and nuclear arms bearing dictator, but threaten world destruction in World War III. One of the most vocal defenders of this position is Noam Chomsky, who throughout his life has voiced strong criticism about US foreign policy and its often disastrous consequences.

Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky

Briefly, Chomsky has argued that the West is basically to blame for this crisis, because it has expanded NATO over the years and now even hinted at including Ukraine into its membership (although no clear timelines have been presented yet).[2] If that were to materialize, nuclear weapons could be installed practically on Russia's doorstep, as Putin has phrased it. Russia, "understandably", has interpreted this as a "security risk", and initiated the invasion of Ukraine as a "preventive" measure to "demilitarize" and "denazify" this country (although it at the same time maintains Ukraine isn't a nation in the first place, but a historical artifact).

Some authors, most notably Berlin therapist Joseph Dillard, have gone further and argue that Putin's stated attempt to "denazify" Ukraine is not only commendable but fully justified by the wide spread presence of Neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. Not only that, he considers the current Ukrainian government—and all of the West—complicit in its open support for these Neo-Nazi battalions, which were heavily involved in the Donbas civil war since 2014 and now in the Ukraine-Russia war. In my opinion, this very much amounts to a defense of Putinism. Vladimir Putin sees his battling of Nazism as a sequel to Russia's fight against the Nazis in World War II. But trying to replay World War II to understand this current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is a bad movie.

Against Geopolitical Realism

In a recent "Open Letter to Noam Chomsky (and other like-minded intellectuals) on the Russia-Ukraine war" several Ukrainian academics have criticized this realist (and basically Putinist) line of reasoning.[3] The authors detect the following patterns in the arguments presented by Chomsky and company. We will touch briefly on them summarizing their arguments:

1. Denying Ukraine's sovereign integrity

Chomsky has argued that Crimea's annexation by Russia is no longer an issue because "apparently" most Crimeans have been in favor of it. The authors argue that the annexation of Crimea violated the Budapest Memorandum (in which Ukraine's borders were to be respected), that the original Crimean population (of Crimean Tatars, who were deported by Stalin, primarily to Uzbekistan) would not agree, that the so-called referenda held in Crimea have been declared invalid by the UN, and perhaps most importantly, the majority of Crimeans voted for independence in 1991.

2. Treating Ukraine as an American pawn on a geo-political chessboard

The authors object to the idea that Ukraine is just fighting Russia because the US ordered them to do so, and the US has tried to force a separation of Ukraine from Russia in the Maidan revolution. This grossly overlooks the fact that millions of Ukrainians might have their own pervasive reasons to move away from Russia, given their less than favorable experiences when living under the Russian yoke. They write: "Simply put, have you considered the possibility that Ukrainians would like to detach from the Russian sphere of influence due to a history of genocide, cultural oppression, and constant denial of the right to self-determination?"

3. Suggesting that Russia was threatened by NATO

Chomsky often mentions the "broken promise" not to expand NATO eastward. The authors argue that this promise has been contested, that the supposed "threat" of Ukraine to Russia worked exactly the other way: "Eastern European states joined, and Ukraine and Georgia aspired to join NATO, in order to defend themselves from Russian imperialism." This indeed is a striking difference between how the Sovjet Union forced the Eastern European into obeyance and how they now freely (and understandably) flock together under the protective umbrella of NATO. This is a distinction usually overlooked by the realists.

4. Stating that the U.S. isn't any better than Russia

After briefly having condemned the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as a war crime, Chomsky usually goes on at length to argue that the US has invaded many more countries. That may be the case, the authors argue, but this argument is beside the point: "needless to say, we condemn the unjustified killings of civilians by any power in the past." When Russia is not held accountable for this act of aggression by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, it would set a dangerous precedent for other dictators (who are most probably following this crisis with much interest).

5. Whitewashing Putin's goals for invading Ukraine

Though Chomsky often touches on the demilitarization part of Putin's agenda, the authors point out that denazification features prominently in his public speeches justifying the invasion. The authors point to the fact that beneath this denazification jargon, there's a sinister agenda to obliterate all of Ukrainian identity, as a recent opinion article published by Russian state medium Ria Novosti "What should Russia do with Ukraine?"[6] testifies, and I quote: "Denazification will inevitably also be a de-Ukrainization... therefore the denazification of Ukraine is also its inevitable de-Europeanization." For in this logic, Ukraine only exist as a European form of anti-Russia Nazism. This is simply fictional and delusional history.

Fragment from:

What should Russia do with Ukraine?
Denazification can only be carried out by the winner, which implies (1) his absolute control over the denazification process and (2) the power to ensure such control. In this respect, a denazified country cannot be sovereign. The denazifying state—Russia—cannot proceed from a liberal approach with regard to denazification. The ideology of the denazifier cannot be disputed by the guilty party subjected to denazification...

The duration of denazification can in no way be less than one generation, which must be born, grow up and reach maturity under the conditions of denazification. The nazification of Ukraine continued for more than 30 years, beginning at least in 1989, when Ukrainian nationalism received legal and legitimate forms of political expression and led the movement for "independence" towards Nazism...

The name "Ukraine" apparently cannot be retained as the title of any fully denazified state entity in a territory liberated from the Nazi regime.[6]

If this isn't a clear and chilling program to eradicate Ukrainian cultural identity, then what is? What's the difference with a license to kill all infidels in a holy war?

6. Assuming that Putin is interested in a diplomatic solution

Chomsky always ends with his plea for a diplomatic solution to this Ukraine crisis, instead of one realized by military means and sanctions on Russia, but the authors argue that given Putin's stated agenda, "Russia's goal is erasure and subjugation of Ukraine, not a 'diplomatic solution.'" While one can argue that there can be legitimate discussion about the wisdom of sending more and ever heavier arms to Ukraine so it can continue its fight with the invader, we should not be naive about the plans Russia has in store for Ukraine: a generation long process of "re-education" and punishment whenever "Nazism" rears its head again. Leave it to (former) communist regimes to "educate" populations.

7. Advocating that yielding to Russian demands is the way to avert the nuclear war

Chomsky (and his comrades) also always argue that the only way to avoid nuclear war is to yield to Russia's demands. While these may have sounded reasonable at the start of this conflict (a neutral Ukraine, a special status of the Donbas "republics", and so on), given the stated denazification goals, there is no doubt that the full scare annihilation of Ukraine is the end goal. Also, it would strengthen the conviction of other nuclear powers that playing the nuclear card definitely pays off when they show an interest in neighbouring countries.

NOAM CHOMSKY RESPONDS

As Jeff Meyerhoff mentions in the comment section, on June 3, 2022, Counterpunch published a 15-page rebuttal by Noam Chomsky to the points raised above.[3a] A more readable summary was provided by Jonathan Feldman.[3b] Basically, Chomsky rejects all of the objections raised by the Ukrainian academics. As he phrases it: "We can therefore dismiss Pattern #1", "We can therefore dismiss Pattern #2", and so on.

In Chomsky's full reply, the academics' responses to Chomsky's arguments are included as well, but unfortunately it does not bring these opponents one inch closer to eachother. This seems typical of these kind of debates, which we have on Integral World as well.

Feldman concludes on an inclusive but pessimistic note:

One has to consider many factors in this war: Ukrainian sovereignty, Russian militarist aggression, local regional preferences in areas once controlled by Ukraine, U.S. and NATO militarist expansion, the requirements of diplomacy, the risks of escalation, etc. By focusing solely on the first two factors, one can develop all kinds of indicators and arguments which beg the question about the other factors. Even if we were to assume that Putin is presently disinclined to negotiate (or negotiates in bad faith), what will Ukraine and Zelensky do after the United States decides to stop paying billions to keep the war going, growing tired of the costs of its militaristic solidarity?

Reply to Dillard and Meyerhoff

Where does that leave me as a concerned citizen, who lacks the expertise to say anything worthwhile in matters of geopolitics, self-determination, war and peace? At least I can try to formulate a response to the essay(s) by Dillard and Meyerhoff, who strongly have argued in favor of the realist position when it comes to world politics.

Joseph Dillard, to my taste, has completely identified with Putin's perspective, to the extent that not only does he see Ukraine as a Nazism-infected country, but that we, as Europeans who support Ukraine, share the same label and should also be denazified (opinions he ventillates on Facebook). This ties in with his overall conviction that we, as Westerners, support dubious dictatorial regimes, including that of the US, and therefore our level moral development cannot be other than substandard.

Bloodlands

Given Ukraine's traumatic history of the past century (it is part of what historian of Eastern Europe Timothy Snyder has called "bloodlands"[4]), in which it got squashed between both communism (Stalin) and Nazism (Hitler), but but also got trampled on by practically all of its neighbouring countries, none of which took the Ukrainians seriously and used them as an exploitable agrarian labor force, I can understand why its fragile and recent nationalism takes the forms as it does in Ukraine. When Russia is your enemy, I can't think of more motivated soldiers than Neo-Nazis (even if their ideology is obviously objectionable). But generalizing from several paramilitary batallions to all of the Ukrainian government, to all of Ukrainians as "passive Nazis", and ultimately to all Europeans as "Nazi supporters"—that's is painting the picture of history with too broad a brush, and an ugly one at that.

The whole "denazification" narrative crafted by Putin is, in my opinion, just a thinly disguised excuse to hide his agenda to restore Russia's greatness. And in his imperialist mind, a "Sacred Greater Russia" cannot be restored without Ukraine, Russia's historic land of origin.[5] While I can "follow" this historical reasoning, it simply is no longer part of the 21st century to live in terms of past empires, given the problems our own century poses (global warming being at the top of the list, with Russian weak economy largely thriving on fossil fuels). Putin is as obsessed with Nazism as Neo-Nazis are obsessed with Russia. It is time to let these World War II metaphors die out.

As to Jeff Meyerhoff, who frames this whole topic in the context of global warming, he doesn't touch on this denazification part of Putin's agenda. Chomsky being his long time hero, he obviously agrees with his analysis of the current situation. In his opinion, we can only solve the climate crisis (and the Ukraine crisis, for that matter) if we internationally cooperate within a multi-polar world, in which no single superpower dictates the rules of the game. Obviously, both Russia and China can appreciate and actually actively promote such a view of the world. This is a broad discussion best left for another essay.

As to the Ukraine conflict, he mentions that NATO expansion wasn't the only way to guarantee the safety of former communist countries in Eastern Europe, but I doubt if agreements and treatises can be held up when tensions rise and relationships deteriorate. Yes, a larger NATO is definitely something the US welcomes, all the more so if these countries practically queue up to join. But should that not tell us something? They no longer want to belong to Russia's sphere of influence. The message they give to Russia is: we don't want you anymore—let alone invade you.

When it comes to defending the realist position (even if in a "leftist" variant), Meyerhoff rather lazily lists some "experts" from that camp, who supposedly had predicted the current issues, and can explain the current situation better. But should we really succumb so easily to the "might makes right" philosophy of realism? I haven't reached a conclusion about this myself but will definitely take his arguments into account. But quite atypical for Meyerhoff, he hasn't confronted these realists with their mainstream critics, as I have done briefly in this essay.

THE DEBATE ABOUT REALISM

On May 12th a fabulous debate was staged between two well known realists (American political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt) and two liberals (American diplomat and academic Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador in Russia, and Polish politician and journalist Radoslaw Sikorski) in Toronto, Canada.

The Munk Debate - The Russia Ukraine War, Toronto, 12.05.2022

Both the realist and the "non-realist" positions are defended forcefully and passionately. The common ground between these opponents is that they deplore the war in Ukraine and look for ways to end it—about how to reach this goal they differ considerably. The resolution that was debated was formulated as follows:

A pre-debate poll was held among the audience, as well as a post-debate poll. At the start of the debate, a small majority voted in favor of the resolution, after the debate the voting changed considerably in favor of the No.

VOTES PRO CON
PRE 53% 47%
POST 38% 62%

As just one example of the arguments raised by anti-realists: to the standard question, "what if Canada asked for military assistance from China, would the United States allow that? Of course not", the counter argument would be: what motive would Canada ever have for such a move, if it wasn't because the US threatened to invade it? After all, Canada borders on the US and Canadians and Americans speak the same language (to paraphrase Putin's argument about Ukraine)... To which Walt half-seriously comments: we tried that once, in 1812, and the White House got burned down, so that didn't work out. Now we love our Canadian neighbors.

Perhaps one might conclude that "acknowledging Russia's security concerns" is a good place to start, but a bad place to end our investigation.

NOTES

[1] See recent Integral World essays listed on this overview page.

[2] See for example: Nathan J. Robinson, "Noam Chomsky on How To Prevent World War III", www.currentaffaris.org, 13 April 2022 and Jeremy Scahill, "Noam Chomsky, Jeremy Scahill on the Russia-Ukraine War", theintercept.com, April 14 2022.

[3] Yuriy Gorodnichenko, "Open Letter to Noam Chomsky (and other like-minded intellectuals) on the Russia-Ukraine war", blogs.berkeley.edu, May 19, 2022.

[3a] Noam Chomsky, "The Ukraine War: Chomsky Responds", Counterpunch, June 3, 2022.

[3b] Jonathan M. Feldman, "A Response to Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Bohdan Kukharskyy, Anastassia Fedyk and Ilona Sologoub Regarding Their Critique of Noam Chomsky on the Russia-Ukraine War", Counterpunch, June 3, 2022.

[4] Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Basic Books, 2010.

[5] Frank Visser, "Putin's Dark Ideology of a Sacred Greater Russia", www.integralworld.net, April 2022.

[6] Timofey Sergeytsev, "Что Россия должна сделать с Украиной" [What should Russia do with Ukraine?], ria.ru, April 3, 2022 (English translation by Nataliya Popovych, ccl.org.ua, April 4, 2022). See: Wikipedia:

"What Russia should do with Ukraine" (Russian: Что Россия должна сделать с Украиной, Chto Rossiya dolzhna sdelat' s Ukrainoy), is an op-ed article written by Timofey Sergeytsev [uk] and published by the Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti. The article calls for the full destruction of Ukraine as a state and the Ukrainian national identity.
According to Der Tagesspiegel, Sergeitsev supports the pro-Putin political party "Civic Platform" financed by one of the oligarchs from Putin's inner circle. According to Euractiv, Sergeitsev is "one of the ideologists of modern Russian fascism".

See also this comment from Timothy Snyder, "Russia's genocide handbook", snyder.substack.com, April 8, 2022. From which:

The genocide handbook explains that the Russian policy of "denazification" is not directed against Nazis in the sense that the word is normally used. The handbook grants, with no hesitation, that there is no evidence that Nazism, as generally understood, is important in Ukraine. It operates within the special Russian definition of "Nazi": a Nazi is a Ukrainian who refuses to admit being a Russian.
The Russian handbook is one of the most openly genocidal documents I have ever seen. It calls for the liquidation of the Ukrainian state, and for abolition of any organization that has any association with Ukraine.






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