With Russia tanks now rolling into Ukraine and Russian parachutists descending from the skies our thoughts must be with the people of the Ukraine defending their homeland. Putin’s pretext for invasion (that various staged explosions in the East, and the staged bussing out of a few hundred civilians to Russia, all detailed in advance by American intelligence, constitute Ukrainian aggression) reminds us of Hitler’s pretext for invading Poland in 1939, when German soldiers dressed in Polish uniforms crossed the border in front of conveniently located German film cameras. Just as Hitler accused the Poles of ethnic cleansing of Germans living in Poland, Putin accuses the Ukrainians of genocide against ethnic Russians. It is crude beyond belief.
The Ukrainians themselves have little reason to love the Russians who, courtesy of Stalin, inflicted a real genocide on them in the form of the Holodomor, the terrible famine of 1932-3, in which an estimated 10 million are thought to have perished, directly and indirectly.
Nevertheless, there is a Russian side to the story. The Ukraine is not just ‘a faraway country of which we know nothing’. Its history and culture are inextricably bound up with those of Russia. Kiev is the spiritual home of Russian orthodox Christianity, the mother city of the Eastern Slavs, founded by the semi-mythical Prince Oleg. Like most Russians, Putin himself believes that the Russians and Ukrainians are one people sharing the same ‘historical and spiritual space’, the motherland, the ‘Mother Russia’ beloved of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.
Like it or not, the Russians are suspicious of the West. However unjustified, they fear encirclement and they fear NATO. Perhaps it is the legacy of the Cold War. Perhaps Germany’s murderous invasion of Russia in 1941, which lives on in the Russian psyche, has something to do with it.
For all these reasons, the prospect of NATO expanding to incorporate the Ukraine, with American missiles stationed right on the Russian border, is the ultimate provocation. The equivalent would be something like the people of Hawaii or a Spanish-speaking majority in Texas declaring independence and then opting to form a military alliance with Russia. The stationing of Russian missiles in Cuba, just off the American coast, would, one suspects, go down no better with the Americans now than it did in 1962.
Of course, it is Russian aggression. But equally, we asked for it. The tragic victims are the Ukrainians.