How Should Sceptics Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine?

In the past 72 hours I’ve experienced the unusual sensation of feeling more in step with the mainstream media than I have with my sceptical friends. I regard Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as something that’s straightforwardly wrong and which all right-thinking people should unequivocally condemn, whereas many of the people I’ve been in the lockdown trenches with over the past two years feel more ambivalent about the conflict. (See Russell Brand’s latest video for an example of what I’m talking about.)

In what follows, I’ll try to summarise the doubts these sceptics have raised about the West’s response to the invasion, and the way that’s been presented in the MSM, and do my best to respond to those doubts.

Over the past two years, the MSM has revealed itself to be fundamentally untrustworthy in its coverage of the pandemic. Why should we trust its coverage of the war in Ukraine?

I’m not relying on the MSM’s coverage for my understanding of the conflict, but, for the most part, ordinary Ukrainians and Ukrainian reporters on the ground, such as those included in the Twitter list compiled by Gavin Sheridan and the list put together by Giles Udy. But even if I was relying on the BBC and CNN, what is it the sceptics think is misleading about the MSM’s reporting? Do they think Russia hasn’t really invaded Ukraine? Or that the MSM isn’t giving enough credence to Putin’s pretext for invading, namely, that Russia was acting as a “peacekeeper” to prevent the newly-independent breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk being attacked by the Ukrainian Army? It strikes me as odd that people who’ve learnt to be sceptical about the claims various governments have made about COVID-19 over the last two years should suddenly be inclined to take Putin’s manufactured casus belli at face value.

Putin has been provoked by NATO’s expansion eastwards since the fall of the collapse of the Soviet Union, pushing Russia further and further into a corner and leaving it with no choice but to invade Ukraine to prevent it joining NATO.

This is essentially the argument of Stop the War Coalition – an astroturf organisation created by the Socialist Workers’ Party – and its useful idiots in the Labour Party and the National Education Union. It’s rooted in the hard left’s long-standing opposition to Western imperialism and its associated blindspot when it comes to the imperial ambitions of China, the Soviet Union and now Russia – hence Stop the War’s noisy opposition to David Cameron’s proposal to join the U.S. in bombing regime targets in Syria but conspicuous silence about Russia’s bombing on behalf of the Syrian regime. Or maybe it’s not a blindspot, more a case of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. Whatever its roots, it’s not a serious argument. The Western allies didn’t invade Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic in 1997 and force their leaders to join NATO at gunpoint; rather, those newly independent states asked to join because they were concerned about the imperialist ambitions of the former Soviet Union. Ditto the admission of the former Soviet republics Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 2004 (and Croatia and Albania in 2009). And in case you think their fears of a resurgent Russia bent on territorial expansion were completely misplaced, Russia invaded Chechnya in 1994, again in 1999, attacked Georgia in 2008, annexed Crimea in 2014 and invaded Ukraine last week. Casting these military actions as essentially ‘defensive’, designed to prevent Russia’s encirclement by NATO, is to take Putin and Stop the War’s anti-Western propaganda far more seriously than you should. (For a distillation of the NATO argument, see this piece by Tim Black in Spiked.)

It’s naive to think that Putin and Lakushenko are the baddies and the leaders of the liberal democracies who have condemned Putin, imposed sanctions and are now belatedly supplying the Ukrainians with arms are the goodies. The two sides in this conflict are morally equivalent.

This is a variation of the previous argument – and it’s difficult to take seriously since those making it never protest about Russia’s involvement in armed conflicts and always object to NATO’s. It reminds me of my left-wing contemporaries at Oxford in the mid-80s who argued that the USA and the USSR were morally indistinguishable. If you can’t get a cigarette paper between them on moral grounds, why not protest about the military adventures of both? But those left-wing students only ever protested about America’s ‘imperialism’, not the Soviet Union’s. Okay, maybe that’s an example of ‘whataboutery’ (see below). How about this? Even though the countries that make up the creaking Western alliance have failed to live up to their professed values, particularly in the past two years, those values – democratic elections, the rule of law, a free press, religious tolerance, individual rights, protection of minorities, etc. – are infinitely superior to those of Putin and Lakushenko. What do Putin and his one ally stand for? Abusing the democratic process, imprisoning opposition leaders, shutting down independent newspapers and news websites, rewarding their loyal followers with assets stolen from their people, the persecution of gays and other minorities? At least the apologists for the Soviet Union could point to the underlying egalitarian philosophy which, even if it was never realised and simply used as an excuse to murder tens of millions of people, was rooted in a moral vision. Modern Russia is a kleptocracy run by a former KGB officer. Morally equivalent to Britain and America? Only if your moral compass is broken.

What about Iraq? Why was the West’s attempt at regime change acceptable in 2003, while Russia’s isn’t?

Well, not everyone who is outraged by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine supported the Iraq War and even those that did probably now accept that trying to impose a legitimate democratic government by force was a bad idea. I supported that war because I thought the argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein was compelling: he was a murderous dictator who’d committed genocide against his own people. Okay, he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but he was still a baddy. Putin’s argument that Ukraine is run by a “band of drug addicts and neo-Nazis”, by contrast, isn’t very persuasive. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a democratically elected leader who enjoys the support of a majority of Ukrainians – particularly now he has proved such a capable war leader. He won a five-year term in 2019 and has pledged to serve just one term. Saddam Hussein he isn’t.

Why the concern for the people of Ukraine but not Yemen/Palestine/Afghanistan? Is it because we value white European lives higher than the lives of brown people?

This is an example of ‘whataboutery’ which, in the words of Wikipedia, “is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy, which attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving the argument”. Perhaps those of us who care about the plight of the Ukrainian people should care as much about the plight of other victims of military aggression. But even if we don’t, that doesn’t mean we’re wrong to object to Putin’s invasion.

Isn’t it all about energy? The U.S. is concerned about Nord Stream 2 opening, thereby increasing Russia’s strategic influence in the region and, by extension, diminishing America’s. That’s why it has provoked this attack.

I’m the first to point out that Western European countries should never have embarked on a process of decarbonisation. I think Germany’s decision to wind down its nuclear power industry was insane and Boris’s Net Zero policy is completely bonkers – and would like nothing more than for the U.K. to start fracking on an industrial scale tomorrow, not least because it would avoid us becoming dependent on Russian gas exports as our own supplies in the North Sea (and Norway’s) dwindle. But I don’t think the U.S. would conspire to undermine the security of the U.K. if it became energy self-sufficient and I don’t think it’s manufactured this war because it’s worried about Russia’s gas deposits. This is a variation of the ‘It’s all about oil’ critique of the Iraq War. (For a comprehensive rebuttal of that armchair analysis, see this piece by Tal Tyagi in Quillette.) No one provoked this attack – Putin wasn’t provoked. NATO isn’t hell bent on encircling Russia (see above) and Putin’s claim that he wanted to defend Russian separatists in Ukraine who were at the mercy of neo-Nazis is complete balls. If Nord Stream 2 is now at risk of not opening, it’s because Putin started an unprovoked war of aggression in the region. If the Russian economy implodes after this reckless military adventure, Putin only has himself to blame.

Isn’t it all about digital currency? Russia is an obstacle to the roll out of central bank digital currencies (CBDC) and the creation of a biosecurity New World Order.

I’m inventing this one in anticipation of what James Delingpole is likely to say in our next podcast. A variation of it is that Russia is being punished because Putin is a spanner in the works of the Great Reset. But how, exactly? Russia imposed a lockdown, rolled out its own Covid vaccine and Putin attended Davos in 2021. And while the war may accelerate the introduction of a CBDC in Russia, that’s because it will make it harder for American and European central bankers to control him, not easier. Which is one of the flaws in this limb of the Great Reset conspiracy theory. Central bank digital currencies may may it easier for governments to control their populations via social credit systems or whatever, but they will make it harder for those governments to be controlled by Klaus Schwab and his cronies on the WEF. But setting aside the fact that the Great Reset is a paranoid fever dream, the fundamental problem with this argument is that it appeals to the principle of individual freedom – which is the reason for objecting to the Great Reset in the first place – to justify overlooking the military conquest of one country by another. It’s as though the clandestine erosion of liberty via digital wizardry is somehow worse than a direct assault on liberty, the old-fashioned way – at the barrel of a gun. The way I see it, if you’re a believer in individual freedom, you should object to any and all attempts to undermine it, whether digital or analogue.

The conflict has been manufactured to deflect the world’s attention from what’s happening in Canada.

Too brain dead to bother responding to? You’d hope so, but here goes. First of all, the stand-off in Canada between Justin Trudeau and the truckers is basically over and the truckers won. Trudeau has revoked the emergency powers he granted himself to deal with the protest and the Government of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has announced it will scrap vaccine passports on March 1st, and end all capacity limits on restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor venues. Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta have announced similar ends to vaccine passports and other provinces, such as New Brunswick and British Columbia, are easing restrictions. Okay, you still need to show proof of vaccination at the U.S.-Canadian border, but for how much longer? The Covidians are in retreat across Canada, thanks in large part to the Freedom Convoy. Second, how is Trudeau’s grandstanding about Putin helping him, exactly? All it does is underline just what a steaming hypocrite he is. And thirdly, no one has manufactured this conflict apart from Putin and, believe me, he hasn’t done it to ease the political pressure on the Canadian Prime Minister.

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No doubt there are many more points I’m overlooking – and if anyone feels like writing an article fleshing out the case for remaining neutral in this conflict, feel free to send it in. If it’s good enough I’ll publish it, but it will have to be pretty persuasive because when a strongman leader uses his country’s superior military force to subjugate an independent sovereign state to his will my natural inclination is to side with the underdog.

I know many people have been red-pilled by the behaviour of our Government over the past 24 months and the abject failure of the MSM to hold our leaders to account. But just because they’ve been wrong about almost everything in the recent past doesn’t mean they’re wrong about Putin. It’s worth remembering that in the fairytale the boy who cried wolf was only mistaken up until the moment he was right – and the townspeople suffered because they were too sceptical. They should have believed him. Sometimes, when the Government and the MSM cry wolf, they’re right.

Vladimir Putin really is a wolf.

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