This is bound to be an unpopular opinion among a certain set of the online (particularly older, American) left, but I keep seeing the same problematic things being repeated. That a photo of Ukrainians fleeing, wounded or dead are either “fake news” or they are “crisis actors.” The most odious ones say that these are all Azov Nazis. I guess that would include the Jewish community. I guess it would also include people who simply did not want to leave their homes. Or the disabled, the sick, children, the elderly, and all of those who stayed to protect them and their homes. Others are wringing their hands about Putin’s conundrum of having “NATO in its backyard.” How anyone can become that jaded is beyond me. But I’ve seen it before.
I won’t address the claim of wounded or mass graves being made up of “crisis actors” or “fake news” as this comes from a kind of degeneracy of Trumpism which should be soundly rejected by anyone with even a modicum of decency. But we should address the claim that Russia is fighting Nazis. Putin has used this label to further his military aims. He understands that the use of that word in Russia is powerful propaganda. It stirs up powerful emotions and memories, especially among older Russians who suffered greatly from Germany’s attacks and invasions of the USSR in WW2. And it is a common slur against any opposition because it works at demonizing and shutting down the conversation.
Without a doubt, there is a problem with the far right in Ukraine as there is in many countries, including the US and Russia. And there are some neo-Nazis’ elements in its military and militia forces. But it is worth mentioning that Russia actually trained some of these neo-Nazi groups, as revealed in a report from Deutsche Welle in 2020. It is also important to understand these elements are deeply unpopular. They garnered less than a pitiful 3% of support in elections. Now that Ukraine is being attacked and invaded by a foreign power, many of them are fighting along side other Ukrainians.
Before anyone can shake a finger at that, I dare them to say they would not fight or flee alongside people they loathe in their own societies if their nation was being invaded by an outside aggressor. One might even see Proud Boys fighting alongside BLM activists if the US were suddenly invaded. War is about the urgency of the moment. The urgency of protecting one’s life and the lives of those they care for. It is about protecting one’s home and community. In such circumstances, you don’t get to choose who your allies are at that moment. You do what makes the most sense to survive. Anyone who does not understand this does not understand war.
As for NATO, let me be clear, I am no fan and I want it to be dismantled. Its hands are covered in blood, from Libya and beyond. And its posturing does nothing but increase conflict, edging us closer to an unthinkable nuclear nightmare. But this kind of apologism for Putin, as if he had no other choice, is honestly sickening. It is the same argument used by the US when it “pre-emptively” attacked Iraq because of a perceived threat. Weapons of mass destruction that did not exist.
Israel uses this excuse when it has carpet bombed the captive population of Gaza. “What is Israel supposed to do? Not respond to rockets being fired on its citizens?” The argument is, of course, hollow when one considers that Gaza is the largest open-air prison on the planet, where half of the population are children, and where Israel controls everything that gets into and out of the strip. It falls under scrutiny of Israel’s wanton destruction of water and sewage treatment facilities and bombing of hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, press offices and shelters.
The argument that Ukraine is Russia’s backyard is drenched in colonial arrogance. It is a defense of “multipolar” tyranny. And it is the same argument used by the US when it attacked Cuba. The Cuban people were not even considered. After decades of crushing sanctions, they still aren’t. On the contrary, they are given no agency to choose their own fate.
We know this is how powerful state entities think. What I cannot get around is how people who aren’t on their payroll so easily parrot those talking points with such ease and dismissal. No country is in anyone’s “backyard.” And to repeat such a ludicrous claim isn’t “realistic,” it only serves the powerful. If you are an average citizen of this world, your call is to stand in solidarity with people, not the powerful, not governments, and certainly not their stooges.
I know this entire line of reasoning will be lost on a certain segment who, while appropriately despising NATO and Pentagon talking points, seem to have no problem echoing the Kremlin in practically every breath. Those same ones who demonized anyone resisting the brutal dictatorship of Assad as “head chopping Jihadis.” It isn’t written for them. It is written for anyone who sees beyond such cynical manipulation.
Solidarity should never be with a leader or a state entity. It should not be with NATO, the Pentagon, or the Kremlin. It should always be with people like ourselves. Ordinary people who are always the ones to be bombed or tortured or forced to flee for their lives. Start by exiting the echo chamber of the powerful and listening to the people on the ground who are closest to the misery and chaos that has been created by those powerful. Start listening to their solutions.
And I suggest seeing the grifters among you for what they are. They are the ones who think solidarity is naïve or unrealistic. Who drone on endlessly that we must accept a “multipolar world” as a solution to US imperialism. A 21st century, global fiefdom where agency is suppressed. Those whose sole schtick is to suck the air out of human empathy and employ snark derisively, not toward the powerful, but toward the powerless. Their grift depends upon your jadedness. Those who mock the oppressed, the brutalized, the economically disenfranchised, and people in war zones; and who seem to have warmer feelings for authoritarian despots and stale ideologies than they do for flesh and blood human beings. Be warned: they peddle a poison that will first lull you into complacency, and then rob you of whatever humanity you may have left.
Kenn Orphan, May 2022
*Title Photo: Debris is seen next to a partially collapsed building is seen, after a school building was hit as a result of shelling, in the village of Bilohorivka, Luhansk, Ukraine [Reuters]