[News] Ukraine: A conflict soaked in contradictions

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Fri Mar 4 11:07:09 EST 2022

A conflict soaked in contradictions
Vijay Prashad - March 3, 3022

Surprise and horror have defined the reaction to the Russian military
intervention in Ukraine. That’s likely because although the intervention
has followed the contours of a modern land war, it has also marked a break
with the past in a number of ways.

The world has become used to military interventions by the United States.
This is, however, not a US intervention. That in itself is a surprise – one
that has befuddled reporters and pundits alike.

Even as we deplore the violence and the loss of life in Ukraine resulting
from the Russian intervention – and the neofascist violence in the Donbas –
it is valuable to step back and look at how the rest of the world may
perceive this conflict, starting with the West’s ethnocentric interest in
an attack whose participants and victims they believe they share aspects of
identity with – whether related to culture, religion or skin color.
White wars

War in Ukraine joins a sequence of wars that have opened sores on a very
fragile planet. Wars in Africa and Asia seem endless, and some of them are
rarely commented upon with any feeling in media outlets across the world or
in the cascade of posts found on social media platforms.

For example, the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which started
<https://peacekeeping.un.org/mission/past/monuc/background.shtml> in 1996
and which has resulted in millions of casualties, has not elicited the kind
of sympathy from the world now seen during the reporting on Ukraine.

In contrast, the startlingly frank comments from political leaders and
journalists during the conflict in Ukraine have revealed the grip of racism
on the imaginations of these shapers of public opinion.

It was impossible recently to get major global media outlets interested in the
conflict in Cabo Delgado
which grew out of the capture of the bounty of natural gas by TotalEnergies
SE (France) and ExxonMobil (US) and led to the deployment of the
French-backed Rwandan military in Mozambique.

At COP26, I told a group of oil-company executives about this intervention,
which I had covered for Globetrotter
and one of them responded with precise accuracy: “You’re right about what
you say, but no one cares.”

No one, which is to say the political forces in the North Atlantic states,
cares about the suffering of children in Africa and Asia.

They are, however, gripped by the war in Ukraine, which should grip them,
which distresses all of us, but which should not be allowed to be seen as
worse than other conflicts taking place across the globe that are much more
brutal and are likely to slip out of everyone’s memory because of the lack
of interest and attention given by world leaders and media outlets to them.

Charlie D’Agata of CBS News said
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3eDZean39s> Kiev “isn’t a place, with all
due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for
decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I have to
choose those words carefully, too – city, where you wouldn’t expect that,
or hope that … [a conflict] is going to happen.”

Clearly, these are the things one expects to see in Kabul (Afghanistan) or
Baghdad (Iraq) or Goma (the Democratic Republic of Congo), but not in a
“relatively civilized, relatively European” city in Ukraine. If these are
things that one expects in the former cities respectively, then there is
very little need to be particularly outraged by the violence that is
witnessed in these cities.

You would not expect such violence in Ukraine, said
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFQ392yepF0> the country’s deputy chief
prosecutor, David Sakvarelidze, to the British Broadcasting Corporation,
because of the kind of people who were caught in the crossfire: “European
people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed every day.”

Sakvarelidze considers the Ukrainians to be Europeans, although D’Agata
calls them “relatively European.” But they are certainly not African or
Asian, people whom – if you think carefully about what is being said here –
certain world leaders and international media outlets expect to be killed
by the violence unleashed against them by the global great powers and by
the weapons sold to the local thugs in these regions by these great powers.
Worst war?

On February 23, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, in a
heartfelt statement about the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, said
<https://www.un.org/sg/en/node/262049>: “In the name of humanity do not
allow to start in Europe what could be the worst war since the beginning of
the century.”

The next day, on February 24, with Russia launching
biggest attack on a European state since World War II,” European Commission
President Ursula von der Leyen condemned
<https://twitter.com/Reuters/status/1496810890250928132> this “barbaric
attack” and said “it is President Putin who is bringing war back to

“Bringing war back to Europe”: this is instructive language from Von der
Leyen. It reminded me of Aimé Césaire’s *Discourse on Colonialism* (1950),
where the great poet and communist bemoaned Europe’s ability to forget the
terrible fascistic treatment of the peoples of Africa and Asia by the
colonial powers when they spoke of fascism.

Fascism, Césaire wrote, is the colonial experiment brought back to Europe.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, neither the United Nations
secretary-general nor the president of the European Commission came forward
to make any immediate condemnation of that war. Both international
institutions went along with the war, allowing the destruction of Iraq,
which resulted in the deaths of more than
million people.

In 2004, a year into the US war on Iraq, after reports of grave violations
of human rights (including by Amnesty International on torture in the
prison of Abu Ghraib) came to light, the UN secretary-general, at the time,
Kofi Annan, called
war “illegal.”

In 2006, three years after the war had started, then Italian Prime Minister
Romano Prodi, who had been the president of the European Commission in
2003, called <https://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/19/world/europe/19italy.html> the
war a “grave error.”

In the case of the Russian intervention, these institutions rushed to
condemn the war, which is all very well; but does this mean they will be
just as quick to condemn the United States when it starts its next bombing
War stenography

People often ask me what is the most reliable news outlet. This is a hard
question to answer these days, as Western news outlets are increasingly
becoming stenographers of their governments – with the racist attitudes of
the reporters on full display more and more often, making the apologies
that come later hardly comforting.

State-sponsored outlets in Russia and China now increasingly find
themselves banned on social media sites. Anyone who counters Washington’s
narrative is dismissed as irrelevant, and these fringe voices find it hard
to develop an audience.

So-called cancel culture demonstrates its limits. D’Agata has apologized
his comment about Ukraine being “relatively civilized, relatively European”
compared with Iraq and Afghanistan and has already been rehabilitated
because he is on the “right side” of the conflict in Ukraine.

Cancel culture has moved from the chatter of social media to the
geopolitics and diplomacy as far as the Russian-Ukraine conflict is

Switzerland has decided to end a century of formal neutrality to cancel
by enforcing European sanctions against it – remember that Switzerland
remained “neutral” as the Nazis tore through Europe during World War II,
and operated as the Nazis’ bankers
after the war.

Meanwhile, press freedom has been set aside during the current conflict in
Eastern Europe, with Australia
<https://www.rt.com/russia/550700-australia-suspends-rt-broadcast/> and
the broadcast of RT, which is a Russian state-controlled international
media network.

D’Agata’s reliability as a reporter will remain unquestioned. He
“misspoke,” they might say, but this is a Freudian slip.
Calculations of war

Wars are ugly, especially wars of aggression. The role of the reporter is
to explain why a country goes to war, particularly an unprovoked war.

If this were 1941, I might try to explain the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor during World War II or the Japanese assumption that the Nazis would
soon defeat the Soviets and then take the war across the Atlantic Ocean.
But the Soviets held out, saving the world from fascism.

In the same way, the Russian attack on Ukraine requires explanation: The
roots of it go deep to various political and foreign policy developments,
such as the post-Soviet emergence of ethnic nationalism along the spine of
Eastern Europe, the eastward advance of US power – through the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization – toward the Russian border, and the turbulent
relationship between the major European states and their eastern neighbors,
including Russia.

To explain this conflict is not to justify it, for there is little to
justify in the bombing of a sovereign people.

Sane voices exist on all sides of ugly conflicts. In Russia, State Duma
Deputy Mikhail Matveev of the Communist Party said
<https://holod.media/2022/02/27/matveev/> soon after the Russian entry into
Ukraine that he voted for the recognition of the breakaway provinces of
Ukraine, he “voted for peace, not for war,” and he voted “for Russia to
become a shield, so that Donbas is not bombed, and not for Kiev being

Matveev’s voice confounds the current narrative: It brings into motion the
plight of the Donbas since the US-driven coup
<https://mronline.org/2022/02/24/what-you-should-really-know-about-ukraine/> in
Ukraine in 2014, and it sounds the alarm against the full scale of the
Russian intervention.

Is there room in our imagination to try to understand what Matveev is

 *This article was produced by* Globetrotter
<https://globetrotter.media/>, *which
provided it to Asia Times. *

*Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a
writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is the chief
editor of* LeftWord Books <https://mayday.leftword.com/> *and the director
of* Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research
<https://thetricontinental.org/>. *He is a senior non-resident fellow
at* Chongyang
Institute for Financial Studies <https://tinyurl.com/y2hdjcpo>, *Renmin
University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including* The
Darker Nations
 *and* The Poorer Nations
*His latest book is* Washington Bullets
<https://mayday.leftword.com/catalog/product/view/id/21820>, *with an
introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.*
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