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A defining characteristic of the human mind is the drive to oversimplify complex problems. We don’t do nuance and complexity well. Our media map is saturated with easily digestible narratives of good and evil, like the global “War on Terror.”

Or Ukraine right now.

While I don’t want to victim-blame by proxy, and while Putin is an unforgivable narcissist hell-bent on creating his own glorious hammer-and-sickle-inflected legacy who takes the overwhelming burden of responsibility for everything going down in Ukraine right now—that particular conflict is no different from any other geopolitical quagmire. It’s complicated.

It’s complicated because life is complicated, because life is full of politics and people vying for prizes on every conceivable side. It’s another thing humans do.

And even though the country has found its voice, projected its identity, and rallied the global community around its flag, Ukraine has long been a political football, thrown between competing entities—which makes for a history both complex and gray.

What we know about almost everything that isn’t experienced first-hand comes from the media. We don’t wake up in the morning with a whole new folder of information lodged in our minds. We absorb information in our waking hours through the myriad media sources with which we interact. Or, often, the very few sources with which we interact.

Ukraine has long been a political football, thrown between competing entities—which makes for a history both complex and grey.

The media comes in all sorts of different shades, and though we may not always realize or admit it, it is biased and has agendas.

Just before the invasion, Bryce Green of center-left media watchdog FAIR.org wrote an article called “What You Should Really Know About Ukraine.” The piece was meant as a counterbalance to the staunchly anti-Putin narrative, but it isn’t pro-Putin at all. It makes the case that other global entities also involved themselves in the geopolitical context and democratic processes of Ukraine.

Green lays out the agenda and his concerns with mainstream media writing on the subject:

These “explainer” pieces are emblematic of Ukraine coverage in the rest of corporate media, which almost universally gave a pro-Western view of US/Russia relations and the history behind them. Media echoed the point of view of those who believe the US should have an active role in Ukrainian politics and enforce its perspective through military threats.

The official line goes something like this: Russia is challenging NATO and the “international rules-based order” by threatening to invade Ukraine, and the Biden administration needed to deter Russia by providing more security guarantees to the Zelensky government. The official account seizes on Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula as a starting point for US/Russian relations, and as evidence of Putin’s goals of rebuilding Russia’s long-lost empire.

Russia’s demand that NATO cease its expansion to Russia’s borders is viewed as such an obviously impossible demand that it can only be understood as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Therefore, the US should send weapons and troops to Ukraine, and guarantee its security with military threats to Russia (FAIR.org1/15/22).

Now, I would very much like to see if anything has changed in Green’s analysis in light of what has happened over the last war-torn weeks.

Crimea

Much of the analysis of the cause of the Ukraine crisis revolves around events leading up to the annexation of Crimea.

After the end of the Cold War, the US and NATO decided to encroach ever closer to the borders of the former USSR. Ukraine, a former Soviet state, had the third-largest atomic arsenal in the world. Russia and the US collaborated to denuclearize Ukraine, with the warheads going to Russia in return for protective security (somewhat ironic now, you might observe).

That decision denied Ukraine a powerful deterrent in the current conflict.

Putin has become a paranoid conspiracy theorist who is obsessed with the time it takes nuclear warheads to reach Russia. He so often talks about nuclear missiles in Ukraine only taking 7-10 minutes to reach Moscow and hypersonic missiles 5 minutes. This really plays on his mind. Don’t underestimate how important this is in understanding Putin’s recent moves. He sees American involvement everywhere, even where it is not, and sees Ukraine as a puppet state of the US, and one from where missiles can be launched at Moscow.

To just remind people of the events surrounding Crimea, they went something like this.

Before the 2014 annexation, there was a pro-Russian ruler, Viktor Yanukovych, the fourth president of Ukraine. He won the 2010 election largely on the back of support from Crimea, and southern and eastern Ukraine. Huge protests against his rule took place for several reasons, largely as a response to him ditching trade talks with the EU, but also due to perceptions of widespread government corruption, abuse of power, and violation of human rights in Ukraine (Transparency International named Yanukovych as the top example of corruption in the world). It looked like Yanukovych wanted to consolidate ties with Russia, appeasing his base. At this time, the US was getting involved quite heavily in Ukraine.

For those who have studied US history from a more neutral standpoint, this is par for the course. The US has a long history of getting involved in “democratic” elections around the world. A good place to start understanding this is to watch John Pilger’s excellent documentary The War on Democracy.

Ukraine saw visits from a number of US diplomats during this time of demonstrations, including John McCain. This movement of protests became known as the Euromaidan protests, named after the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv. They appeared to pit more Westernized, pro-EU Ukrainians against pro-Russian Ukrainians of Crimea and southern and eastern Ukraine. Government buildings were occupied, statues of Lenin were toppled, and clashes with riot police took place. There were huge numbers of protestors: This was a popular movement.

In late February, Yanukovych and many of his ministers fled the capital. Opposition party members and defectors then voted to remove Yanukovych, citing his inability to fulfill his duties. The new government was recognized internationally, but Russia declared it a coup d’état.

But was it really a coup? Simply put, no:

A turning point came in late February, when enough members of the president’s party fled or defected for the party to lose its majority in parliament, leaving the opposition large enough to form the necessary quorum. This allowed parliament to pass a series of laws that removed police from Kyiv, canceled anti-protest operations, restored the 2004 constitution, freed political detainees, and removed President Yanukovych from office. Yanukovych then fled to Ukraine’s second-largest city of Kharkiv, refusing to recognise the parliament’s decisions. The parliament assigned early elections for May 2014.[98]

In early 2019, a Ukrainian court found Yanukovych guilty of treason. Yanukovych was also charged with asking Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops to invade Ukraine after he had fled the country. The charges will have little real effect on Yanukovych, 69, who has lived in exile in the Russian city of Rostov since fleeing Ukraine under armed guard in 2014.[99]

The question here is how much of this was with the clandestine involvement of the US and the West.

Russia, after a referendum in Crimea that supposedly showed 95% of the region favoring Russian rule, and with pro-Russian groups protesting the new government, eventually invaded and annexed the region. The rest of the world largely let it happen, reticent to get too directly involved with a Russian conflict, afraid of unwieldy escalation. This decision might well have emboldened Putin enough to consider the latest invasion.

Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia-qua-USSR: Both people “were one people—a single whole,” he has said (though that URL will no longer work due to sanctions). He is a man on a mission. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Putin believes there is some “spiritual connection” with Ukraine, that he has some sentimental vision, some burning cultural desire to unite Ukraine (and Belarus) with Russia. He sees Ukraine as a territory:

For Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], Ukraine is a territory—on which there is a conflict between Russia and USA.

Alexei Venediktov (Editor in chief of Echo Moscow)

This is about strategizing to achieve certain goals, and to appease growing paranoia. Let me return to the subject of Crimea, though. Green observes:

The Crimean peninsula, which was part of Russia until it was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic in 1954, is home to one of two Russian naval bases with access to the Black and Mediterranean seas, one of history’s most important maritime theaters. A Crimea controlled by a US-backed Ukrainian government was a major threat to Russian naval access.

The peninsula—82% of whose households speak Russian, and only 2% mainly Ukrainian—held a plebiscite in March 2014 on whether or not they should join Russia, or remain under the new Ukrainian government. The Pro-Russia camp won with 95% of the vote. The UN General Assembly, led by the US, voted to ignore the referendum results on the grounds that it was contrary to Ukraine’s constitution. This same constitution had been set aside to oust President Yanukovych a month earlier.

All of this is dropped from Western coverage.

But here is an example of Green not being nearly robust enough with his work. The referendum was not recognized for a whole range of problems, not least the formulation of the question itself:

There were two choices to choose from on the ballot. Voters were able to choose only one of these. The choices reflected the following stances: Choice 1: Do you support the reunification of Crimea with Russia with all the rights of the federal subject of the Russian Federation? Choice 2: Do you support the restoration of the Constitution of the Republic of Crimea in 1992 and the status of the Crimea as part of Ukraine?

The referendum’s available choices did not include keeping the status quo of retaining arrangements enacted by the 1998 Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Additionally, the second choice, is unclear because there were two revisions of the Crimean constitution in 1992. The original 1992 constitution was adopted together with a declaration of independence, but parliament then amended the constitution one day later to affirm that Crimea “was a part of Ukraine”.

Many commentators, including The New York TimesKyiv Post, and Fox News argued that both choices would result in de facto independence.

The fact that the referendum took place under duress of Russian forces renders it highly controversial. There were many other problems with it, also ignored by Green. You could write a book just on that referendum: Remember, these events are complex. Don’t attack the simplicity of certain narratives with the simplicity of your own.

So when the US is supporting Ukraine and giving it a suitcase full of cash, or when the EU is making this or that play, and equally when Putin is injecting money and influence into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, what are they seeking to gain? And what is the opportunity cost of not gaining that goal?

All that aside, FAIR.org bemoans the lack of balanced reporting concerning Ukraine, because things were more complicated than a nice pro-EU, pro-trade spat with outright Communists. Of course they were. But such views have been voiced, as with The Guardian’s Seumas Milne who wrote in an opinion piece at the time:

“America is with you,” Senator John McCain told demonstrators then, standing shoulder to shoulder with the leader of the far-right Svoboda party as the US ambassador haggled with the state department over who would make up the new Ukrainian government.

When the Ukrainian president was replaced by a US-selected administration, in an entirely unconstitutional takeover, politicians such as William Hague brazenly misled Parliament about the legality of what had taken place: the imposition of a pro-western government on Russia’s most neuralgic and politically divided neighbour.

Putin bit back, taking a page out of the US street-protest playbook—even though, as in Kiev, the protests that spread from Crimea to eastern Ukraine evidently have mass support. But what had been a glorious cry for freedom in Kiev became infiltration and insatiable aggression in Sevastopol and Luhansk.

After Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join Russia, the bulk of the western media abandoned any hint of even-handed coverage. So Putin is now routinely compared to Hitler, while the role of the fascistic right on the streets and in the new Ukrainian regime has been airbrushed out of most reporting as Putinist propaganda.

So you don’t hear much about the Ukrainian government’s veneration of wartime Nazi collaborators and pogromists, or the arson attacks on the homes and offices of elected communist leaders, or the integration of the extreme Right Sector into the national guard, while the anti-semitism and white supremacism of the government’s ultra-nationalists is assiduously played down, and false identifications of Russian special forces are relayed as fact.

The reality is that, after two decades of eastward Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. Its rejection led to the Maidan protests and the installation of an anti-Russian administration—rejected by half the country—that went on to sign the EU and International Monetary Fund agreements regardless.

Ukraine has recently been (before this current war) the fourth biggest recipient of US military funding, and there is close intelligence cooperation. But even if we understand that Ukraine’s membership of NATO was previously unlikely, it was certainly cozying up to the organization, placing itself within NATO’s sphere of influence. Which, we must understand, as a sovereign nation, it can freely decide to do.

“You don’t hear much about the Ukrainian government’s veneration of wartime Nazi collaborators and pogromists, or the arson attacks on the homes and offices of elected communist leaders, or the integration of the extreme Right Sector into the national guard, while the anti-semitism and white supremacism of the government’s ultra-nationalists is assiduously played down.”

SEUMAS MILNE, THE GUARDIAN

This NATO posturing lies at the heart, arguably, of Putin’s anger (remember his paranoia and obsession with missile times), as Vox reports:

The prospect of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO has antagonized Putin at least since President George W. Bush expressed support for the idea in 2008. “That was a real mistake,” said Steven Pifer, who from 1998 to 2000 was ambassador to Ukraine under President Bill Clinton. “It drove the Russians nuts. It created expectations in Ukraine and Georgia, which then were never met. And so that just made that whole issue of enlargement a complicated one.”

No country can join the alliance without the unanimous buy-in of all 30 member countries, and many have opposed Ukraine’s membership, in part because it doesn’t meet the conditions on democracy and rule of law.

All of this has put Ukraine in an impossible position: an applicant for an alliance that wasn’t going to accept it, while irritating a potential opponent next door, without having any degree of NATO protection.

The present war

So perhaps Russia thought it was now or never in terms of action with Ukraine, though I am sure Putin miscalculated both Ukraine’s military resistance and Ukraine’s popular disgust for Russia and Putin’s designs. Putin’s miscalculations can be evidenced in the fact that the initial incursionary forces were only supplied with fuel and food (7 years out of date) for a few days, and with soldiers lacking morale, supplies, and any idea of why they had been sent there. There have been large-scale equipment abandonment (check out these fascinating Twitter handles) and surrender. Rather than a quick enforced change of government, he is now faced with the prospect of having to occupy a huge country that broadly hates him. His goal has had to shift from quick regime change to flattening and occupying a massive nation. For which it is terribly ill-prepared.

Importantly, these miscalculations have made this whole debacle look like an outright war, and this is something that Putin will not have wanted at all. As the ruler of an informational autocracy, he can’t control information on this present war narrative if it is so overt as to not be distortable. As philosopher Vlad Vexler says:

The aim of the current regime in Russia was not to convince the population of its ideology, as was the case with the Soviet Union, its aim was to confuse the population; and the benefit of confusion is apathy. So the Soviet regime wanted persuaded, ideologically straightened-up, engaged citizens; this regime wanted citizens without clear views, citizens who are informationally confused and, consequently, apathetic.

With regard to Ukraine, initially, Putin had plans for Zelensky, the present Ukrainian president:

What Russia wants is for Zelensky to implement the 2014 and ’15 Minsk agreements, deals that would bring the pro-Russian regions back into Ukraine but would amount to, as one expert said, a “Trojan horse” for Moscow to wield influence and control. No Ukrainian president could accept those terms, and so Zelensky, under continued Russian pressure, has turned to the West for help, talking openly about wanting to join NATO.

Public opinion in Ukraine has also strongly swayed to support for ascension into Western bodies like the EU and NATO. That may have left Russia feeling as though it has exhausted all of its political and diplomatic tools to bring Ukraine back into the fold. “Moscow security elites feel that they have to act now because if they don’t, military cooperation between NATO and Ukraine will become even more intense and even more sophisticated,” Sarah Pagung, of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said.

Balanced and accurate reporting

To return to the other side of the coin, let me summarise many of Green’s points:

  • The International Monetary Fund, “which leverages aid loans to push governments to adopt policies friendly to foreign investors…. had long planned to implement a series of economic reforms to make the country more attractive to investors.” Green continues: ‘These included cutting wage controls (i.e., lowering wages), “reform[ing] and reduc[ing]” health and education sectors (which made up the bulk of employment in Ukraine), and cutting natural gas subsidies to Ukrainian citizens that made energy affordable to the general public. Coup plotters like US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland repeatedly stressed the need for the Ukrainian government to enact the “necessary” reforms…. After the 2014 coup, the new government quickly restarted the EU deal. After cutting heating subsidies in half, it secured a $27 billion commitment from the IMF. The IMF’s goals still include “reducing the role of the state and vested interests in the economy” in order to attract more foreign capital.’
  • The US helped overthrow Ukraine’s democratically elected president: ‘[M]echanisms like USAID and National Endowment for Democracy (NED), just as they had done in 2004. In December 2013, Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European affairs and a long-time regime change advocate, said that the US government had spent $5 billion promoting “democracy” in Ukraine since 1991. The money went toward supporting “senior officials in the Ukraine government…[members of] the business community as well as opposition civil society” who agree with US goals…. In 2013, NED president Carl Gershman wrote a piece in the Washington Post (9/26/13) that described Ukraine as the “biggest prize” in the East/West rivalry.  After the Obama administration, Nuland joined the NED board of directors before returning to the State Department in the Biden administration as undersecretary of state for political affairs. One of the many recipients of NED money for projects in Ukraine was the International Republican Institute. The IRI, once chaired by Sen. John McCain, has long had a hand in US regime change operations. During the protests that eventually brought down the government, McCain and other US officials personally flew into Ukraine to encourage protesters.’
  • Washington used Nazis to help overthrow the government, many of them subsequently being absorbed into the armed forces.
  • The US was also involved picking the new government.
  • The US wants to expand NATO. The removal of the Ukrainian government in 2014 was a step toward this.
  • This has all made it harder for Putin to de-escalate, and the US wouldn’t accept the desired terms of the West if the roles were reversed: ‘[Putin] announced, “We have made it clear that NATO’s move to the east is unacceptable,” and that “the United States is standing with missiles on our doorstep.” Putin asked, “How would the Americans react if missiles were placed at the border with Canada or Mexico?”’ Green laments the lack of serious contemplation for Putin’s terms, in the media and politically. Keeping Ukraine neutral would be the most sensible solution, but the idea is sadly “fringe,” he says.
  • This discussion and content missing from media has allowed for war hawks to step in and fill the vacuum.
  • ‘Advantage to Risking War In Ukraine.” The piece, by John Deni of the US Army War College, summarized the familiar hawkish talking points, and claimed that a neutral Ukraine is “anathema to Western values of national self-determination and sovereignty.”
    ‘In a modern rendition of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Afghan Trap, Deni asserted that war in Ukraine could actually serve US interests by weakening Russia: Such a war, however disastrous, would ​​“forge an even stronger anti-Russian consensus across Europe,” refocusing NATO against the main enemy, result in “economic sanctions that would further weaken Russia’s economy” and “sap the strength and morale of Russia’s military while undercutting Mr. Putin’s domestic popularity.” Thus escalating tensions is a win/win for Washington.’

Green consistently links examples of the major news sources playing into the above narratives and strategies. And he is largely correct in many of his claims.

[But I do advise readers to scan the comments below the article for criticisms of his claims.]

There is balanced reporting—or at least attempts at it. I guess you have to know where to look, and perhaps this signifies a difference between UK media and the more partisan US model (for example, see admittedly non-mainstream Novara Media’s excellent analysis of the far-right problem in Ukraine). Within the first week, and on one particular day of listening, on two different flagship BBC radio stations and programs, there were discussions about the West’s causal responsibility. On Radio 4’s Today show, where American economist and historian Jeffrey Sachs advocated for the idea that there have long been warnings over this predictable outcome, the question was asked whether the West and NATO broke their word on not expanding back at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The promise had been only to refrain from encroaching on East Germany, the radio host stated. Sachs answered:

“This is sheer lying by the West. There is no doubt by close examination of what happened, what was discussed, when they said to the Soviet Union, ‘We will not move to the East.’ Then comes the lawyers and the sophistry. The Russians know this was a cheat. And not only was this a cheat, it was utterly imprudent…. In the 1990s, we were supposedly aiming for a new security arrangement. Suddenly, it becomes about US military expansion. And that’s what it was. We don’t have to have a US-led alliance right up against the Russian border. We shouldn’t. Because that puts Russian air space, Russian territory at risk. And we should be smart enough to know that.”

Economist and historian Jeffrey Sachs

To this and other claims, though, Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash robustly responded:

“So Jeff Sachs is a remarkable economist, but he’s just proved he’s no historian because the documentary record says precisely the opposite of what he just said…. The phrase that Vladimir Putin used again yesterday—’not one inch eastward’—was used by US Secretary of State James Baker on the 9th February 1990…in a conversation with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but it was only about East Germany, it was overtaken by subsequent negotiations, and it was in a conversation with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists….

“There is a great fallacy we often make in the West, which is to believe it is all about us, or particularly about the Americans, and what could be better than an American saying, ‘It’s all the Americans’ fault?’ What’s happening in Ukraine is not primarily about us…. NATO enlargement is a tertiary contributing factor to that story…. It’s very easy for someone like Jeff Sachs to talk calmly from the distance of New York about a new security architecture. What would it have meant if we had not enlarged NATO? It would have meant that all the countries between Germany and Russia were in a security limbo…which by the way is where they were ine the period between the two world wars and that didn’t end very well. Imagine if you were in Estonia today, or Latvia or Lithuania or Poland, over which the Second World War started, you would be trembling that what was happening to Ukraine might next happen to you. So that’s the alternativ if we hadn’t done NATO enlargement.”

It was a case of reporting both sides, and came somewhat down to what interpretations of history people might have. But the BBC, at any rate, was not afraid to at least try to present a balanced view. Later, on Radio 5Live’s Chiles on Friday, there was a very open and frank discussion of the morality and politics involved, between host Adrian Chiles, foreign affairs analyst Tim Marshall, and Dr Aglaya Snetkov. As Tim Marshall concluded after a really balanced analysis throughout the program:

“We should have been tougher before. I think the real watermark was probably 2014 and, in retrospect, the response…was not strong enough…. When he annexed Crimea, he changed the borders of a sovereign European state by force…. That for me was the line that should have been drawn but wasn’t….

But here was the crucial point:

The fault is not the West’s. The fault is Putin’s. Honestly, people who are just a bit hard of thinking who see that some dastardly American plot has drawn in Europe to overthrow Russia—they have to ask themselves why every single Warsaw Pact country, the moment they escaped Moscow’s grasp, made a beeline for NATO and said, ‘We are frightened of these people and we want to join you.'”

False dichotomies

So it is not an either/or: We should not be lulled into a false dichotomy. Putin as wholly responsible or the West as wholly responsible is not the whole story. It takes two to tango. But there is someone who is definitely leading that dance with big, combat-boot-clad feet.

I see it like a terrible school playground event. Jim gets Harry to call Victor a silly name. Victor gets out a gun and shoots Harry in the head. Yes, there is causality involved with Jim and Harry that led to Victor shooting the other boy, but it is not nearly commensurate to the actions that Victor took.

This has been the political architecture built since the early 20th century and is not surprising in the slightest. Why would we expect the Cold War-era political machinations to stop after the dissolution of the USSR? When Putin removes his favorite rose-tinted Soviet glasses from their case, the US understandably takes its Top Gun aviator shades back out.

Even given this state of East vs West geopolitical strategizing, a return to 80s-style wargaming but with even more macabre consequences, we still need to consider what to do now that Ukraine has been invaded.

Why would we expect the Cold War-era political machinations to stop after the dissolution of the USSR? When Putin removes his favorite rose-tinted Soviet glasses from their case, the US understandably takes out its Top Gun aviator shades.

Even given the complexity of the causality involved in getting us from there to here, we still need to (in my opinion) show robust support for Ukraine.

Even given that the US and other Western entities have been meddling in Ukrainian politics, we have to remember that Russia has also been doing that in spades.

And even given and understanding that we may have had some responsibility in creating or certainly exacerbating this problem, we need to be working bloody hard to solve it.

In reaction against political misdemeanors from one side, we shouldn’t swing in support for the other side. But we do need to learn from this, going forward, because there is every chance this kind of scenario will raise its ugly head again. History has an uncanny ability of repeating itself, like a chronic condition of caustic reflux.

The US, in particular, has a history of politically meddling in most countries around the world. In lockstep with the US are other organizations like the IMF, financial institutions and groups that seek to monopolize on geopolitical situations, engorging themselves on financial returns or ideological feasts.

Surely, however, we should favor imperfect democracy over authoritarian military dictatorships. As Ukrainian craft brewer Yuri Zastavny stated in an excellent interview with BBC News, when asked about Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy:

“I did not vote for this guy, and I dislike many things that have been done in the run-up to the war. Now, it’s no time to judge. Now, I’d like to support more than criticize. We can criticize…, we can brew beer, we can share a bottle of beer with the family in the evening when we win. It’s not a good time for judgment. I like the President. Well, what I like actually most about him is that he’s democratically elected. That is something that is part of the fundamental differences between Russia and Ukraine.”

After all that was said and done from 2013 until now, Putin made a choice in February 2022 to attack a sovereign democratic nation. And that’s bad. What he has done, is doing, and will do, is bad. Make no mistake, Putin has invaded a nation he sought to subjugate in a matter of days, but his plans failed. And now, to save face, he is looking to flatten it.

I can see no way that he can win here, that he can come out looking good or feeling good (the “off-ramp”), like he has gained something. And although that sounds like a bonus, it’s actually a thoroughly problematic outcome. If we can’t offer him anything, if there’s no way of de-escalating that appeases him, and if he still needs to look strong, then destruction is his only option.

And this is perhaps one of the most important things I have to say. When I mentioned earlier that Ukraine was a political football, we must recognize that this is to understand Ukraine as a tool to be used by others. We talk in this way, the media discusses in this way. Ukraine is referred to in terms of what it is to the East or to the West.

Ukraine is an independent sovereign nation, so despite what we in the East or West might want it to be or do, it can and should be choosing for itself. And if it chooses via functioning democracy to join the EU or NATO, or even Russia’s sphere of influence, then it should be allowed to do so. And we should not sit by while a stronger nation punishes Ukraine with death and destruction for choosing in a way that it doesn’t like.

If there’s no way of de-escalating that appears him, and if he still needs to look strong, then destruction is his only option.

Where do we go from here?

What I take from Green’s analysis is that, yes, there are always two sides to a coin. Yet you can be rational in saying that one side is still wholly preferable to the other. That said, we all profit from good and accurate reporting of current events.

Such media coverage, at times of war, is often partisan, drumming up support for one side or the other to rally around a flag. Media entities, both intentionally and unwittingly, play their part in the propaganda machines, perpetuating simplistic “us” and “them” attitudes. Nuance doesn’t lend itself to decisive action, and wartime scenarios demand quick and decisive action. Confusing and complex narratives, even if they are far more accurate, can sometimes blur and cause hesitation as playmakers and the public spend time quarrying for truth. Perhaps this can be dangerous and distracting. Then again, perhaps it could save lives.

What do we do with Green’s criticisms?

We must recognize that when nations, organizations, or individuals act on the political stage, they have reasons. The reasons, sadly, are hardly ever “for the good of the world” unless that “good of the world” is well disguised under a costume of free-market ideology or some other political or economic worldview.

The question should always be, whether concerning the actions of such players or the financial subsidization by such players: What do they seek to gain?

So when the US is supporting Ukraine and giving it a suitcase full of cash, or when the EU is making this or that play, and equally when Putin is injecting money and influence into Crimea and eastern Ukraine, what are they seeking to gain? And what is the opportunity cost of not gaining that goal?

The problem is that meddling is often reactive. We meddle as some counterbalance because they seem to have meddled. Which is also what they say. It’s rather like nuclear disarmament. The issue with this is when one side chooses or continues to meddle, does the other just sit by and let it happen?

As the main players in the board game of global dominance move their major pieces, and spend their money by the million and billion, the expendable pawns end up paying the price.

How do we play going forward? What do we learn from our previous games? And if the other main player doesn’t change their tactics, should we change ours?

The wargames continue, watched by millions, but soldiers die in the thousands, and refugees increase by the hundreds of thousands.

The sadness is immeasurable, the desperation unbounded by borders.

Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...