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Russian aggression is real, but so is NATO duplicity in Ukraine, argues John Rees

‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’, wrote the Czech novelist Milan Kundera. And in the midst of the whirlwind of chauvinist propaganda the battle to remember has never been more important.

Our governments, on the other hand, want us to forget. They fear historical memory because it shows that Putin is not the only invader of small countries, not alone in waging brutal wars, nor the only killer of civilians, or the sole user of barbaric weapons.

Anything that Putin has done or will do in Ukraine, the Natoland powers have done in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya. That does not excuse Putin. It does not lessen the power of the argument that the Russians should get out of Ukraine. But it does underline the hypocrisy of the establishment voices now raised against the very acts of war they previously endorsed.

But the West’s addiction to war is not the only thing we should remember. We should also remember the Natoland treatment of Ukraine in the years running up to the Russian invasion.

The Natoland establishment would have us believe that Ukraine was just patiently waiting to join NATO, intimidated from doing so by Putin.

The reality is very different. NATO had in fact recruited Ukraine in all but name. Here’s the list of foreign wars the West dragged Ukraine into as it used it in a great power game: 

Kosovo Force, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the Ivory Coast, Ocean Shield (the Enduring Freedom naval operation), the Congo, the 1999 East Timorese crisis, and Operation Atalanta in Somalia.

So Ukraine wasn’t in NATO but was obliged to behave as if it were. Ukraine often contributed small forces, but they contributed them to every tinpot police operation that the Western powers were engaged in the world over. And all for the purposes of claiming Ukraine as ‘one of us’.

And if you think NATO hasn’t been in Ukraine for many years before the Russian invasion you might like to take a look at the NATO website. There you can read that long before the 2014 Maidan crisis ‘Relations were strengthened with the signing of the 1997 Charter on a Distinctive Partnership, which established the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) to take cooperation forward’. And that ‘Since 2009, the NUC has overseen Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration process, including reforms under the Annual National Programme (ANP)’.

NATO boasts that ‘Cooperation has deepened over time and is mutually beneficial, with Ukraine actively contributing to NATO-led operations and missions’. It advertises that ‘Priority is given to support for comprehensive reform in the security and defence sector, which is vital for Ukraine’s democratic development and for strengthening its ability to defend itself’.

After the Maidan crisis, integration with NATO accelerated: ‘Since the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, NATO’s practical support for Ukraine is set out in the Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) for Ukraine’. In June 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted legislation reinstating membership of NATO as a strategic foreign and security policy objective. In 2019, ‘a corresponding amendment to Ukraine’s Constitution entered into force’. In September 2020, President Zelenskyy approved Ukraine’s new National Security Strategy, which provides for the development of the distinctive partnership with NATO with the aim of membership in NATO. Moreover, ‘In response to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, NATO has increased its presence in the Black Sea and stepped up maritime cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia’.

There is no sense in which Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine can be justified. But there are also no grounds for eradicating the historical fact of Ukraine’s de facto alliance with NATO. 

What is unconscionable is that NATO led Ukraine to believe it could join with NATO in close collaboration without a Russian reaction, even though it knew this to be untrue from at least 2009. And what is beyond acceptable is that it did not tell Ukraine that when such a reaction took place NATO had no intention of coming to Ukraine’s aid. 

This is how we have arrived at a Russian invasion of Ukraine with no military response from the West. And this war fever without war explains the tsunami of unhinged chauvinism coming from the British establishment and its international counterparts. 

The overheated patriotism is cost free at the moment. The British elite aren’t sending anyone to kill or be killed in Ukraine and the economic backlash hasn’t been felt yet. So ultra-Russophobia costs them nothing. 

The British establishment is basically holding Zelensky’s coat and encouraging him to fight Putin, but without offering any military deployment. The West are willing to fight Putin to the last drop of Ukrainian blood. Rhetoric is cheap and plentiful in exactly the opposite proportions to actual military deployment.

Indeed, what we are hearing in the ferocious jingoism is the long hurt caused by US economic decline, the rise of China, the defeats in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Plus the fear that momentarily seized the U.K. establishment during the rise of Corbynism.

The deep hypocrisy of the propaganda and its virulence is ultimately a product of the fact that each and every unacceptable act that Putin has committed has also been committed by the West in recent memory…and failed.

The answer to this is not more military deployment to Ukraine, which would only inflame, lengthen, and possibly widen the conflict. The answer is that Ukraine should be extracted from the vice of Russian aggression and NATO expansion. 

Withdrawing Russian troops and neutrality for Ukraine are the only immediate hope of and an end to the killing.

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John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

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