Since I left France for a return to the US almost twenty years ago, I’ve noticed that both the French and the Italian so-called progressive press repeat the same lies as the US, in stark contrast to the period of the Vietnam War, when there was still a real anti-war, anti-capitalist left in Europe. The dumbing down of the ‘free’ press goes hand in hand with that of their respective government overseers. When President Trump chided his colleagues at the G7 for continuing to blackball Russia, they responded in conformity with previous US policy: ’Putin annexed Ukraine!’ The apparent ease with which these words tripped off the tongues of men and women whose education was based on a reverence for history, is appalling.
The first world war left a defeated Germany an economic basket case, where wheelbarrows of worthless currency were needed to buy a loaf of bread. Soon Hitler came along and declared that Germany needed more ‘room to live’ (Lebensraum). In particular, he took up the claims of Germans living in southern Bohemia, known as the Sudetenland, for equality with Czechs. In March 1938, the future allies against Nazi Germany, England France, etc., allowed him to take over the area. A year later, he invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, setting off World War II.
Fast forward to 2014: the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine are inhabited mainly by Russians. A US-backed coup replaced the pro-Russian government in Kiev with one backed by militias aping those who fought alongside the Nazis in World War II, which, among other undemocratic moves, demanded that the largely Russian-speaking populations in the country’s eastern provinces speak and learn only in Ukrainian. Visceral opposition to this and other laws soon led to a separatist movement in the Donbas, paired with a referendum in the southern peninsula of Crimea to again become part of Russia. Although the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk would have liked to become part of Russia, President Putin, who has a degree in international law, refused: the Donbas had historically been part of Ukraine. His support has been limited to turning a blind eye to Russian volunteers.
Boundaries between Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Russia and Turkey had constantly changed over a thousand year history. Most durably, during her thirty-four year reign in the second half of the eighteenth century, Catherine the Great wrested Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, from the neighboring Ottoman Empire, securing Russia’s vital access to southern waters. She built a major port at Sebastopol, which the Ottomans, allied with the French and British tried to take back in a famous battle in 1854.
After the 2014 coup against the legally elected Ukraine government, the largely Russian (and Cossack) inhabitants of Crimea held a referendum under the watchful eyes of 25,000 Russians stationed at the Sebastopol naval base under a 40 year treaty signed in 1997 between the two post-Soviet governments.
These and other easy to verify facts have been discarded by Western governments seeking the ultimate overthrow of Vladimir Putin. Obediently echoed by its ‘free’ press they declared either that Russia had ‘invaded Crimea’ or its variant, that it ‘invaded Ukraine’, never mentioning the right of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of eastern Ukraine and Crimea to be treated as second class citizens by the US-installed coup government in Kiev — or that of Russia to protect its only warm water naval base from an illegal takeover by the fascist-friendly government in Kiev.
Although hardly worth mentioning in a Cold War context, the demand that Russians living in Ukraine speak and learn only in Ukrainian is a reflection of a centuries-old inferiority complex: Across the shifting marshy boundaries of Northeastern Europe, Ukrainian remained largely a locally spoken language in competition with Polish and Bela Russian. Meanwhile, Russian produced a world-renowned literature and is spoken from the Urals to the Pacific. No more needful of Ukraine than of the tiny Baltic States, Russia covers nine time zones and possesses some of the world’s largest reserves of precious metals and minerals. To refer to its solidarity vis a vis its people as ‘invasions’ is to disrespect the memories of those who died under the Nazi boot.
Deena Stryker is an international expert, author and journalist that has been at the forefront of international politics for over thirty years, exlusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook”.