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Extended remarks on the war in Ukraine as delivered today during a roundtable hosted by the Civic Chamber of Russia

I accepted an invitation by the Civic Chamber of Russia to share my thoughts at a roundtable about the war in Ukraine. I participated remotely, as I had already left Russia.
Extended remarks on the war in Ukraine as delivered today during a roundtable hosted by the Civic Chamber of Russia
Today I participated in a roundtable hosted by the Civic Chamber of Russia remotely via Zoom. What follows is an extended version of my remarks, which were abridged out of respect for time.

This is my fourth attempt at making a statement regarding the war in Ukraine. The first three were abandoned because of how complicated the issue is. The reality is this situation is not as black and white as the media portrays it. There is both a lack of information and an excess of disinformation, especially in the western world, as to what is transpiring in Ukraine and why. I would therefore like to outline to what extent I sympathize with the Russian cause.

First, western outrage about the Russian military operation in Ukraine cannot be taken seriously considering the United States and its allies take military action to protect their own national security interests when they deem necessary to do so. However, the western powers do not have a monopoly over national security – every nation has an equal right to protect its national security. The reality is that western outrage is rooted in the proximity of this military conflict to the West. In short, Ukraine is too close to home – Europe is more comfortable with wars taking place faraway lands in the Middle East and in Africa.

Granted, these wars in the Middle East and Africa are largely aimed at combating terrorism, but terrorism is a word for which there is no concrete definition. There is truly something noble about combatting those who use terror against the innocent as a political weapon, but terrorists do not only come from the Middle East, and they are not all Muslim. For many in Donbass, the breakaway region in southeast Ukraine around which this conflict is centered, the terrorists are the uniformed soldiers of the Ukrainian military which have shelled their towns and cities for the past eight years in violation of a cease fire.

Every country has the right to put its national interests and security first. When it comes to the military operation in Ukraine, Russia is acting to protect its national interests and ensuring the security of the broader Russian-speaking community in Eastern Europe. I am not a pacifist, nor have I forgotten the dangers of appeasement, but the invasion the United States should be more focused on right now is the invasion of illegal aliens crossing into our country from Mexico.

The military operation in Ukraine is not just one of national security for Russia but also one of geopolitics and the global balance of power. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded in 1949 and originally consisted of 12 members. Today there are thirty members of that alliance across North America and Europe. This expansion has pushed the alliance East into countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.

There are already three countries which share a border with Russia and are part of NATO: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This in and of itself is a security concern for Russia, for it allows NATO to deploy along Russia’s border, just miles from Kaliningrad and less than 100 miles from St. Petersburg. To expand NATO into Ukraine would only exasperate this problem, for it would allow NATO to additionally deploy to within 300 miles from the Russian capital. It is therefore easy to understand why Russia is so opposed to Ukraine joining that alliance.

The United States doesn’t tolerate foreign military deployments to the Western hemisphere, let alone along its borders. This has been a longstanding foreign policy of the United States dating back to the days of James Monroe. This is why the United States, rightfully so, was not prepared to tolerate the Soviet Union placing nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962. The American government contemplated airstrikes and even invading Cuba to remove that threat.

Before this military conflict started last week, Russia made a controversial decision to recognize the independence of the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics. It was controversial because until Russia made that decision, no other country on Earth recognized the independence of these breakaway provinces of southeast Ukraine. I would like to turn my focus to this region.

As part of the 2015 Minsk Protocols aimed at ending the civil war in Ukraine, Kyiv agreed to several measures, two of the most relevant being a ceasefire and establishing a special status for Donbass in Ukraine. However, eight years after these Minsk Protocols were signed, the Minsk Protocols had still not been completely implemented, resulting in daily skirmishes and artillery shelling of towns in Donetsk and Luhansk in a standoff along a contact line patrolled by international observers. With no end in sight, no hope that Kyiv would fulfill its obligations under the Minsk Protocols, and the threat against the Russian-speaking population there persisting, Russia recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

The West described this move as an escalation and even blamed Russia for withdrawing from the Minsk Protocols that Ukraine itself never implemented. Why the outrage over Russian recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk? The United States and its allies recognized the independence of Kosovo from Serbia – against Serbian wishes – in 2008. The United States recognized Kosovo for a number of reasons, one of which being the right of a distinct society to self-determine, and another being a response to ethnically motivated crimes that were being committed against the civilian population in Kosovo.

The Donbass is a Russian-speaking region with a sizable ethnic Russian population, many of which are even Russian citizens. It is a distinct society within Ukraine worthy of the right to self-determination. It has also been subject, in addition to war, efforts by the Ukrainian state to deprive them of their language and culture. This includes, but is not limited to, official efforts to discourage the use of the Russian language and policies that force children of Russian-speaking families to study Ukrainian as a practical matter of living in the country in which they were born. The national government in Ukraine further mandates that all state-sponsored cultural events be held in Ukrainian. Meanwhile, the fact that the Ukrainian government established linguistic and cultural accommodations for indigenous peoples in Ukraine but not for Russians just underscores the anti-Russian attitude in that country. The parallels between Kosovo and Donbass are many, yet the western media would have us believe the United States was right to recognize Kosovo, but Russia is wrong to recognize Donbass.

Russia launched its military intervention, in part, to protect Russian nationals living under these circumstances in those war-torn parts of Ukraine. It reminds me of the U.S. invasion of Panama, which was launched, in part, to protect U.S. nationals living under the regime of Manuel Noriega. It also reminds me of the U.S. invasion of Grenada, which was also launched under the pretext of protecting U.S. citizens there but was also about preventing the Soviet Union from using the island as a military base in the Western Hemisphere. Again, the western outrage about Russia doing today what the West has done throughout history is laughable.

War being what it is, the conflict between Russian-speaking Donbass separatists and Ukraine has resulted in both sides inevitably being responsible for death and destruction. That is the unfortunate reality of war, so I do not mean to imply that one side is guilty, and the other is innocent.

However, Donbass separatists have gone so far as to accuse Ukraine of genocide while others have testified that they were subject to torture by the Ukrainian military. Personally, I have seen the graphic images and heard some of the harrowing testimonies of torture, death, and destruction that has occurred in Donbass over the past decade. I do not rise to put Ukraine on trial with regards to war crimes, as I am not informed enough on these accusations to be able to separate fact from fiction, but I do stand in support of the right of the people of Donbass to live in peace and to have their culture respected. Clearly, it is not possible for them to live in peace in Ukraine, as long as that country’s national government continues its de-russification of Ukraine. This is why I support Russia’s military operation in Ukraine so far as Donbass is concerned.

Obviously, this military conflict has since spread beyond Donbass and has now evolved into a broader mission aimed at achieving the “demilitarization and denazification” of Ukraine, as the Russians put it. It is hard for me as an American to believe that Ukraine could be responsible for the crimes against humanity the Russians accuse them of but if it is true – and again, I am not informed enough on the matter to say whether it is or is not – then the Russian military operation in Ukraine deserves support from the global community.

Here's a red pill for your consideration: what if right now Russia is fighting a nationalistic, neo-Nazi regime armed by United States and its European allies that came to power eight years ago after a violent coup that was sponsored by those very same western powers, and the world is punishing Russia? You take that pill, and you will see the world as most Russians do.