Thursday, 27 March 2014

Putin and Obama: When they're both bastards you don't have to pick a side.

Ain't no party like a diplomatic party, yo.
Let's clarify a couple of things before we begin. Vladimir Putin is a bastard. He's a gay-bashing, power-hungry, oligarch-funded bastard. Likewise, Barack Obama is a bastard. He's a drone-happy, privacy-invading, Wall Street-funded bastard. We're clear? Good. Because it seems to me certain people have difficulty wrapping their heads around these mutually compatible points. We seem to have this intrinsic need to always pick a side to back, to always label one guy as the "goodie" and the other as the "baddie". When it comes to politics, and particularly foreign politics, we see issues in black and white and never stop to realise the obvious greyness of it all. Because that would probably be too boring for the media. This has been all to evident with regards to the recent crisis in Ukraine. 

The expression "The enemy of my enemy is my friend" springs to mind. There are quite a substantial number of left-leaning people in Europe and here in Ireland who have been bitterly disappointed by Barack Obama's two terms of presidency. Indeed, 2013 is probably Obama's annus horribilis. We've had the revelations of NSA spying, the drone strikes continuing in the Middle-East, the haphazard pursuit of Edward Snowden and the fact that Guantanamo still remains open. He's a giant corporate turd, everyone is very surprised, and we're desperately seeking a new saviour.

Because of this, many of these normally sane, rational people have leapt to Putin's defence after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. I've seen them on threads, on Twitter, on comment boards. They say he's afraid of NATO aggression. They say he's protecting Ethnic Russians from almost certain persecution. They say the toppling of Yanukovich was a neo-nazi coup d'├ętat. They say that 93% of Crimeans voted for joining Russia so their wishes have to be respected. 

Now there is some credence to some of these remarks. NATO are being aggressive and have been for years. They've broken a 1990 promise made to Russia that NATO would not expand eastwards but now, 24 years later, countries like Poland, Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary are all NATO members while Ukraine have applied for membership

There were certain far-right elements involved in the toppling of Yanukovich. The party Svoboda, which has a large presence in the new interim Government (Including providing the current vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych) has often been accused of being anti-semitic and fascist. The Right-Sector, which is definitely anti-semitic, played a big role in the clashes with the Birkut and Ukrainian police. But of course, the role of these elements and their significance have been exaggerated by both Putin and the Russian media. 

Then there's that whole Crimea thing. Crimeans probably do want to join Russia. The majority of them are ethnically Russian, they speak the language and the revolution in the West of the country received virtually no support from the region. But that bogus referendum held last week should not be taken seriously. Regardless of whether it violated the Ukrainian constitution, it was too hasty and held in the midst of such tension that its result cannot be accepted. It should have been arranged a few months from now so a proper debate could have formed. 

So Putin and the Russians are not benevolent actors on a crusade to free their fellow countrymen from oppression and despotism. But the hypocritical condemnations from the West are just as appalling. Russia are attempting to exert their dominance over Ukraine. So are they. Just today an IMF bailout package worth between $14bn-$18bn was agreed for Ukraine. We Irish know all to well what that will entail for ordinary Ukrainians, namely austerity, hardship and "liberalisation" of Ukraine's economy (i.e. opening it up for Western Companies to make some serious money). 

Then there's the amazingly barefaced lectures on international law from Western leaders, particularly Obama. The President has "expressed his deep concern over Russia’s clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, which is a breach of international law". I mean, it sounds like a bad joke, right? Serial international law transgressor pontificates on the importance of international law. It's like Charles Manson lecturing on the sanctity of life. This is some 1984 shit, man.

The media too are to blame. They castigate Russia Today and other Russian media sources as propaganda tools for Putin and the Kremlin. And they're not wrong. But they too are propaganda tools for The White House. They toe the party line. Very few have pointed out the hypocrisy of Obama's remarks on international law. While the far-right elements of Ukraine's revolution were exaggerated by Russian media, they were whitewashed by Western media. They mightn't define the revolution but they're still worth discussing.

And yet people still feel the urge to choose a horse to back. Just this week in The Irish Times there was this article entitled "If we have to choose a side over Crimea, let it be Russia". This naive and muddled article is symptomatic of what I am talking about, of an affliction affecting many left-leaning people online. Why exactly do we need to pick a side? The stand-off between the US and Russia over Ukraine and Crimea is two power-systems engaging in a game of diplomatic one-upmanship. 

It's not about the importance of Ukraine's democracy or ethnic Russians' right to autonomy. The US has a prolific history of suppressing democracy worldwide when it doesn't work for them (Italy in the 40s, South Vietnam in the 50s, Chile in the 70s and Venezuela in the 00s just to name a few examples). Likewise, Putin does not care a jot for the well-being of Russians in Crimea. It's hard to imagine him waking up in a cold sweat in The Grand Kremlin Palace agonising over the fate of his ethnic brothers. This conflict is being waged for the financiers, the moneymen, the oligarchs and the politicians. Like almost all international conflicts. Neither of them are on our side. They are people in power working for powerful people. 

We're aware of this, or, at least we should be aware of it. And yet we still have to choose a side, we still have to decide who's the least worst, the side responsible for the least grievous crimes. This good-bad narrative is so ingrained in us that we find it hard to shake it off. I don't like to blindly speculate as to why this is the case but, fuck it, this is only a blog so I'm going to. It probably has something to do with TV and movies. There's always a goodie and always a baddie. For every Prince Charming there's always a Wicked Witch; for every Mufasa there's always a Scar; for every Tim Allen in The Santa Clause there's always Tim Allen's annoying ex-wife. And those are movies for kids. This dogma is inculcated into us at an early age. 

This attitude is damaging as it prohibits us from reviewing any alternatives. It's a very broad problem and one which is obviously not exclusive to this particular international crisis. We need to reevaluate how we view people in power. We still, subconsciously if not openly, seem to believe that they work for "us". Propaganda and conditioning from a young age are the causes. But now, in the age of the internet and free information, we need to realise that choosing between politicians is like choosing between chlamydia and syphilis. 

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