Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

On Ukraine, 8 Months, 4 Weeks – A post published first on the Cedar Lounge Blog

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This article is strongly recommended.

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Ukraine news continues to arrive – in some ways so rapidly changing as to make posts redundant by the time they are published. Tomás Ó Flaharta carries a very interesting piece here. Consider though the numbers above. 8 months, 4 weeks and 3 or so days since the start of the war. 

An excellent analysis of the flaws in the ‘realist’ analysis in international political science here from Fred Kaplan in Slate. One aspect of that analysis, along with others, is how incoherent it all is, and contradictory too. Russia acted because it was exercised over NATO expansion, but as Kaplan notes:

It’s also indisputable that NATO’s “enlargement,” right up to Russia’s borders, intensified Putin’s resentment and paranoia. But this is no excuse for invasion. Mearsheimer ignores the fact that, in the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. officials assured Putin that NATO would not offer membership to Ukraine in the foreseeable future. In early March, just two weeks after the war began, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he had “cooled down” on the need to join NATO. If this were Putin’s only, or even main, fear, he had plenty of chances to stop the war or avoid starting it to begin with.

Moreover the invasion resulted in two non-NATO members joining NATO and other states strongly reorienting to NATO (and the EU as a whole adopting approaches that just three months earlier would have been anathema). That Moscow failed to see this potential outcome speaks to its broad delusion as to how this invasion would  proceed. But then as Kaplan notes one need only listen to what Putin actually says to see how thin the NATO excuse actually is. And this other piece from Convergence offers a further insight into that:

It was in the context of the Russian intervention in the internal affairs of Ukraine that the matter of NATO arose. Prior to 2014 there was little interest in Ukraine joining NATO. As a result of Russian interference in Ukraine, including but not limited to the seizing of Crimea, interest in NATO emerged.

In the lead-up to the February 2022 invasion, the Ukrainian government conveyed to Putin that it would not join NATO. This did not stop the invasion, largely because the invasion had little to do with NATO. Putin made the objectives very clear on the day of the invasion where he declared that Ukraine was “national fiction.” Thus, for Putin, the invasion was not about an alleged NATO threat and more about the destiny of Ukraine as a country.

That too, of course, is a delusion. 

In the case of Ukraine, the international borders of an independent Ukraine were recognized in 1991 in the context of the collapse of the USSR. Ukraine, however, did have a national-territorial status as a recognized nation after the formation of the USSR and, further, in the context of the formation of the United Nations. The internationally recognized borders of Ukraine were affirmed in 1994, with the signing of the Budapest Accords whereby Ukraine turned over nuclear weapons on the condition that Russia pledged to never invade Ukraine and to always respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

Note that point about the United Nations – if sovereignty in the context of the UN means anything then surely Ukrainian sovereignty means something.

But then this is of a piece with so many delusions held in that quarter, and more widely. It is worth noting that long before Western sourced supplies were sent to Ukraine it had managed to fend off the direct attack on Kyiv and stymie Russian advances in the east and south of the country. Not to a full extent in the latter case but certainly sufficient to prevent a rout. And to be honest having integrated, wrongly as it transpires, the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Georgia and Crimea, I and many I suspect, also felt that set against the Russian military Ukraine’s defeat was a matter of time and a short time at that – in the first hours of the invasion I was certain Kyiv would fall. That attacking Ukraine was a substantially different challenge to those other instances only became apparent across a period of time. A week perhaps, a little more. But as it did the scale of Moscow’s miscalculation was apparent. Even then it seemed that Ukraine could only stand its ground at best, not retake captured territory. And yet, from the off in retrospect it is now clear that Ukraine was substantially better positioned than anyone gave it credit – both to resist and to repulse attack, even in the absence of others weaponry, though with regard to repulsing Russian gains that assistance has without question been key.

Notable how Moscow has now stated that it is not seeking government change in Kyiv. One could view this as both a statement of the obvious, in the sense it has been unable to effect government change, and also question why this should be taken any more seriously than the statements emanating from the same quarter right up to the commencement of the invasion that it had no intention of invading. Indeed this particular conundrum does render the calls for negotiations somewhat beside the point. What possible mechanisms are in place to ensure that Moscow under the current circumstances is true to its word? Until they are there why would Kyiv treat them as being any more robust than the Budapest Accords were in their time?

Luke Harding of the Guardian was on the Guardian politics podcast from Ukraine last week (and again worth a listen) and he made an excellent point that there have been three key pivots in the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Those being the initial effort to take Kyiv – which failed. Then the inability to encircle Kharkiv by the Russians, and most recently the retreat from Kherson by Moscow forces. He also mentioned that Kherson represented a cultural erasure – for example, art galleries there which have been looted by Russian forces. 

Mark Galeotti on his always insightful podcasts noted a further feature of this which linked into some interesting thoughts about Putin’s regime, where he argued that Putin has long abandoned the idea that he is ruling on behalf of the masses but instead is going in a direction that is very close to that of monarchy. It’s not, as Galeotti noted, that he has pretensions to being a monarch or Tsar, not divine right or dynastic succession, though functionally how would one tell the difference given the centrality of Putin to the direction the state, but rather that he ruling in the name of ‘invocation of a greater national destiny of Russia’. He argues that Putin’s framing of this as an existential and cultural struggle against a hegemonic west which is both self-serving but also part of his belief. He believes he is  channelling to live up to his dream, his ideal, and that, and this I find particularly troubling that it is not rather than for him to live up to their expectations. But then as Galeotti notes, an official on the Russian Security Council argued that Russia’s role was the deSatanization of Ukraine. The fact that that sort of rhetoric is regarded as acceptable tells us much, whatever the true feelings of those using it.

And he pointed to news reports of the removal from Kherson by the Russian authorities “two statues and the mortal remains of Prince Grigory Potemkin, a favourite of Catherine the Great”. He argues this reflects  increasing trend of mysticism in Russian official doctrine and narratives. But note too that this language of Ukraine and the conflict on foot of the invasion as being ‘Satan’ is used liberally on Russian media outlets as reported by the BBC this week. 

It need hardly be noted that this is utterly irrational. 

Anyhow this part of this piece in The Irish Times isn’t bad – referencing possible responses on foot of 50 plus politicians being banned from entering Russia, though whether as a whole the article holds up is another matter,  in pointing out that:

The Irish Government’s response has so far been to keep a cool head and retain open channels of communication with Moscow. This is broadly in line with the EU and Nato approach to the conflict, which has been strongly supportive of Ukraine, but also avoids provoking the Russians. If Ireland were to evict the Russian envoy, not only would this pose a threat to the Irish Embassy and its staff in Moscow, but it would exacerbate tensions even further.

About the Cedar Lounge Revolution Blog :

Foundation and name

The blog was started in June 2006 by “Worldbystorm” a former member of the Workers’ Party of Ireland and Democratic Left and a group of other individuals on The name is believed to have originated from the name of a pub “The Cedar Lounge” in Raheny, Dublin.

The site contains news, debate and analysis from a left wing perspective.

The blog also contains a “Left archive”, which is an archive of pamphlets and documents from various historical and current Irish left wing political parties.

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