Home > Holodomor | Ukrainophobia | Demjanjuk | d&d (Furman, Odynsky, Katriuk) | Zuzak Letters |

Kyiv Post | 24Apr2014 | Bohdan Futala

Bohdan Futala: 'Progressive' silence on Putin's aggression

Recently Stephen Cohen's "Why Cold War Again?" (The Nation, April 21, 2014) came to my attention again, as a reprint of his Moscow Times (April 4, 2014) piece entitled "Flawed U.S. Policy Led To This New Cold War". This article is representative of a view that Putin's actions towards Ukraine are the result of the West's, especially of the U.S., hostile actions that threaten Russia's security interests.

Conversely they are not rooted, despite the evidence, in Putin's weltanschauung. In other words, his extremist Russian nationalism with its concomitant imperialism is ignored and Progressivism's revulsion to unprovoked aggression is not invoked.

Cohen's narrative on many issues simply restates Putin's pronouncements but due to space considerations, only a few may be scrutinized. Arguably, his rationalization of Putin's actions is based on the proposition that the West, particularly the U.S., have "demonized" Russia's President Vladimir Putin. In attempting to present Putin's aggression as resulting from "understandable" security interests threatened by the West's policies of which NATO's expansion is the most ominous, Cohen presents a chronologically inaccurate portrayal of NATO's expansion, which has led him to abandon any progressive principles and to become a "political bedfellow" of Putin's allies consisting of homophobes, extreme Russian nationalist, the European extreme right such as France's National Front and here in the U.S. of people such as Pat Buchanan.

NATO expansion has not taken place for the last five years and Ukraine has not considered entry into NATO for at least the last four years. Furthermore, as part of the Obama's reset policy towards Russia the antiballistic missile shield program that would have stationed missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic was cancelled. In reality, efforts that could be construed as part of a strategy to "encircle Russia" were abandoned despite Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008. Curiously, in discussing NATO expansion the desires and fears of the countries becoming NATO members seem to be overlooked without whose application for membership expansion could not have taken place. Clearly the Baltic states and Poland by applying for NATO membership are expressing a perceived need for protection based on fears rooted in past and current Russian actions and policies vis-a-vis these countries. NATO expansion is not driven exclusively by the whims of the West.

Putin's belligerence and the simultaneous deterioration in U.S.-Ukraine relations may be chronologically traced not to NATO expansion but to post-election protests in Russia. They took place in 2011 and 2012 and were blamed on U.S. interference. Since then Putin has taken a more authoritarian turn domestically and intensified efforts to expand influence in the "near abroad" or former Soviet republics. During this period Russian military spending has increased.

Putin's pretext for occupying Ukraine, that is of defending Russian speakers in a country where Russian is the dominant language, particularly of the more affluent and influential sectors of society, is the height of absurdity and clearly must be dismissed by anyone familiar with the language situation in Ukraine. Concurrently while claiming that Russia is taking action to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine legislation that requires fluency in Russian for residency is awaiting the signature of President Putin. Non-Russian speakers will not be able to find work. Which country has an agenda of discriminating on the basis of language?

Therefore, an attempt to explain Putin's occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014 as a defensive action defies the facts on the ground and the reasons for these actions may be located in the imperial designs of Putin related to his comment that the demise of the Soviet Union was the "greatest geo-political tragedy" of the 20th century. His most recent comments seem to indicate a nostalgia for Czarist Russia when he noted approvingly that a significant portion of Ukraine was a part of "Novorossiya" and according to Putin "God Knows Why" it became part of Ukraine in 1920. Apparently, despite Putin's lament over the demise of the Soviet Union, he does not subscribe to Lenin's Bolsheviks' characterization of Czarist Russia as a "prison of nations".

Recent events in Ukraine derailed Putin's plans for the Eurasian Customs Union and a truly independent Ukraine that decides its own destiny could not be tolerated by him. Putin's displeasure with political developments in Ukraine can be understood, but is occupation and annexation the response that Progressives accept and resign themselves to?

Stephen Cohen finds himself with interesting "fellow travelers" beginning with Pat Buchanan who writes about Putin's policies that "He is also tapping into the worldwide revulsion of and resistance to the sewage of a hedonistic secular and social revolution coming out of the West. In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia's flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity. His recent speeches carry echoes of John Paul II whose Evangelium Vitae in 1995 excoriated the West for its embrace of a "culture of death."

In Europe, noteworthy is the support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea by Jobbik, the National Front, Golden Dawn, and Ataka, all extreme right wing parties. Meanwhile, in Italy, the far-right National Social Front party distributed posters throughout Rome declaring "I’m with Putin" and the party’s leader, Adriano Tilgher, praised the Russian president for his “courageous positions against the powerful gay lobby”. Perhaps, most disturbing are the underpinnings of Putin's constituency in Russia itself, where as Timothy Snyder points out:

"The authoritarian far right in Russia is infinitely more dangerous than the authoritarian far right in Ukraine. It is in power, for one thing. It has no meaningful rivals, for another. It does not have to accommodate itself to international expectations, for a third. And it is now pursuing a foreign policy that is based openly upon the ethnicization of the world. It does not matter who an individual is according to law or his own preferences: that fact that he speaks Russian makes him a Volksgenosse requiring Russian protection, which is to say invasion. The Russian parliament granted Putin the authority to invade the entirety of Ukraine and to transform its social and political structure, which is an extraordinarily radical goal. It also sent a missive to the Polish foreign ministry proposing a partition of Ukraine. On popular Russian television Jews are blamed for the Holocaust; in the major newspaper Izvestiia Hitler is rehabilitated as a reasonable statesman responding to unreasonable western pressure. The pro-war demonstrations supporting the invasion of Ukraine are composed of people who wear monochrome uniforms and march in formation. The Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine involves generating ethnic violence, not suppressing it. The man who raised the Russian flag in Donetsk was a member of a neo-Nazi party".

The rehabilitation of Hitler is concocted by Andranik Migranyan, who writes in Izverstia that "One must distinguish between Hitler before 1939 and Hitler after 1939. The thing is that Hitler collected [German] lands. If he had become famous only for uniting without a drop of blood Germany with Austria, Sudetenland and Memel, in fact completing what Bismarck failed to do, and if he had stopped there, then he would have remained a politician of the highest class.” He clearly implies that Putin's policies and actions are analogous to those of pre-1939 Hitler and worthy of praise.

In Crimea, Putin has installed Serge Aksyonov, an alleged former criminal gangster with the nickname of "Goblin" as its ruler (legitimate government?). Recently, it has been reported that Aksyonov expressed crude racist comments about President Obama. Putin's ties to Eurasian empire ideologist Aleksandr Dugin and Dmitri Kiselyov, appointed by Putin as head of a government owned news agency and who according to The Moscow Times is ″the Kremlin's New Chief Propagandist,″ has made it clear that Russia is the "only country capable of turning the United States into 'radioactive ashes'", provides insight as to what is, for Putin, acceptable public discourse. 

For someone like myself, who has actively opposed U.S. military intervention in other countries, it would seem that Progressives would be the first to oppose Putin's violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity, which Russia had agreed to uphold in the 1994 Budapest Agreement. Progressives, seemingly would not ignore the outrageous pronouncements, cited above, of Putin and his supporters. His aggression can only be anathema to those who opposed U.S. military interventions. Notwithstanding this deafening silence on Putin's actions, inexplicably, Mr. Cohen suggests that :"...proposals made by Putin's foreign ministry could be the starting point for negotiations" to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. So the aggressors' proposals, which include the type of political system Ukraine should have, would be the basis for the ultimate denouement? Is there a role for Ukrainians in determining their own fate?

Finally, it is difficult to understand what progressive principles Cohen is invoking while trying to provide legitimacy to the jingoism, nationalism, autocratic rule and corruption of the Putin regime?