Like it or not, Putin wins casus belli comp – and it isn’t close

Anyone care to argue his national security rationale for war is less credible than America’s?

A brilliant essay by Hugo Rifkind in The Times: Russians don’t share our ideas of Nazism.
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21 Responses to Like it or not, Putin wins casus belli comp – and it isn’t close

  1. C.L. says:

    In September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland from one side and Stalinist Russia as gleefully piled in from the other, my grandfather’s girlfriend Sulamita was four months pregnant. We’ve heard a lot these past few months about refugees fleeing from the east to Lviv, but she and my Grandpa Joe lasted three months in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and then fled there from the west. As Jews, they presumably reckoned that Soviet occupation was a safer bet.

    It probably was, but only just. A few months later, now with a tiny daughter, they were deported to a gulag in Siberia. They were eventually freed after Germany invaded Russia, although “freed” in this context is a euphemism for “evicted”. Destitute and sick, they were packed into cargo trains, heading west again. Contemporary accounts talk of bodies falling from these trains “like sticks”.

    Sulamita and her child – name now never to be known – would die somewhere in Uzbekistan. My grandfather limped on to Palestine. By then, thanks to the combined efforts of Germany and Russia, he had almost no family left in the world. All of which, eight decades on, makes it fairly hard for me to regard either party as having been the good guys.

    Deep within this story, I reckon, we can find the source of Russia and the West’s mutual incomprehension over who gets to call whom a Nazi. Yesterday, our Defence Secretary Ben Wallace went big on this, saying Russia was “mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 70 years ago”. Almost simultaneously, though, Vladimir Putin was praising Russians fighting to “liberate their native land from the Nazi filth”.

    Last week Sergey Lavrov, the tombstone-faced foreign minister, defended his right to lump the Jewish Vlodymyr Zelensky in with Nazis, on the basis that “Hitler also had Jewish blood”. He’s a monster, Lavrov, but he’s normally quite savvy. And yet there he was, being even madder than Ken Livingstone.

    It is easy to call these Russian pronouncements grotesque, because they are. That doesn’t mean they don’t mean it. Years ago, on my first visit to Moscow, I remember telling a Russian translator about my grandfather. When I got to Russia changing sides, she looked at me very strangely. “You don’t think that happened,” I said, “do you?” And indeed, she did not. For her, the Great Patriotic War had begun in 1941. And that bit beforehand, from the carving up of Poland, to the fall of western Europe, to our Spitfires fighting the Battle of Britain? “Different war.”

    These views are pervasive. In March, Zelensky himself was accused of “bordering on Holocaust denial” by an Israeli MP after likening Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Holocaust. Zelensky’s own Jewish great-grandparents were killed by Nazis. Yet he, too, has a Soviet understanding of the war, crucially different from our own.

    To understand how, let’s focus on somebody who definitely is a Nazi. Ponder Andriy Biletsky, a Ukrainian far-right politician and founding commander of the much-discussed Azov Battalion. We can dispute whether figures like him are terribly relevant to today’s Ukraine (their vote is microscopic) or whether Azov is still in his image (they claim not) but I don’t think we can dispute that the guy is a Nazi. In 2010, he said his mission was “to lead the white races of the world in a crusade against Semite-led Untermenschen”. Which is about as Nazi as you can get.

    The question, though, is which bit you focus on. “Israeli mercenaries are practically shoulder to shoulder with Azov militants,” alleged Maria Zakharova, another Russian foreign spokesperson, in defence of Lavrov, not that there’s much evidence of this. You’d think that something might have nagged at the back of her mind about what she was actually saying. As in, it’s already mad enough to talk about the Ukrainian state being a crusade against a “Semite-led” anything, when it’s literally, well, Semite-led. But now you’ve got actual Israelis joining in, too?

    What we in the West tend to gloss over, though, is the “Untermenschen” bit. For us, Nazi psychopathy peaked with the elimination of undesirables; Jews, Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities. We think less about the broader Nazi ideology of the inferiority of Poles, Russians and other Slavs, all of whom Hitler deemed destined at best for Aryan domination. Millions of Russians died in the war. Here in the West, I suppose we tend not to think of them explicitly as victims of an ideology that deemed them barely human to start with.

    So often, to western ears, Russian politicians today sound plaintive; victims of an inferiority complex that, we perhaps assume, must have something to do with the humiliations of the Cold War and jokes about Ladas being terrible. We don’t link it to the Nazis, but they do. This is why, when Putin talks today about wanting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, he’s not really talking about concentration camps, or swastikas, or anything like that at all. He’s talking about the very concept of not wanting to be Russian; of thinking it an inherently undesirable thing to be. For him, this is what Nazis were all about. Disdaining Russia. Despising Russia. Looking down on Russia. And so, if Ukrainians don’t want to be Russians, either, then that’s what they are.

    Historically, I suppose you can see how he got here. As an interpretation of the current conflict, though, it looks dangerously deranged. Either way, you do have to marvel at the magnificent futility of East and West spending half a century thinking we all agreed about how bad Nazis had been, only to find today that we were actually having completely different conversations.

    More than that, though, I think of my grandfather, with his parents dead on one side of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and his wife and daughter dead on the other. And in the middle of all that, quite a lot of the time, I doubt he much gave a toss precisely which side were the Nazis, either.

  2. Petros says:

    Nice try, Hugo. Their influence is not microscopic otherwise Maidan would not have happened. The fact is that the West is supporting dyed in the wool National Socialists. We shouldn’t be surprised. The Yanks were quite happy to trade with them for over two years in WWII until the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and forced their hand. Once again, I do not want young Aussies fighting and dying for oligarchs from either side in this mess. Let them kill each other.

  3. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “Jews, Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities.”

    I get a little sick and tired of the idea that “homosexuals” were in the same category as Jews, Roma and the disabled. They weren’t. The idea that the Nazis tracked down anyone who was homosexual the same way they rounded up Jews, Roma and the disabled is utter bulldust. The fact is that if you were a were homosexual in Nazi Germany and you led a quiet life, you were left alone. By the way, one of the most notorious Nazis and homosexuals was Ernst Rohm. Hitler and other leading Nazis had known about Rohm’s homosexuality for years, the Night of the Long Knives against Rohm had nothing to do with his homosexuality (that was used by the Nazis in propaganda later), it was because Rohm had amassed a private army that threatened Hitler’s rule.

  4. Chris M says:

    Ah yes, the eternal ‘poor me’ mentality. Hard for them to move past it, it’s become a national identity thing not unlike certain native groups.

    They were fine with doing deals with Nazi’s in 1939 to kick off the war by carving up Poland. Interesting that the latter generally aren’t afflicted with the same victim outlook although they have had much more reason to be.

  5. Not Trampis says:

    nice try goebbels.
    Ukraine did not have any weapons to use even if they did have the capacity to produce the nuclear paydirt. They did a deal with Russia on it!
    Ukraine was never going to be a member of NATO. Germany said they would veto it numerous times. Membership of the EEC was much more important and possible.
    The far right get very few votes in elections. What post does any hold in government?
    The very idea Ukraine was planning to invade russia is absurd. Why do they need so many resources from other countries to fight Russia now.

    This apology for russia is neither accurate nor even convincing, Even as prropaganda it is poor.

  6. C.L. says:

    I at least admire his explanation for why “Nazi” has a broader meaning in Russia than in the West, one not to be dismissed reflexively and stupidly – as it has been by the smart-arses of the commentariat.

  7. C.L. says:

    The very idea Ukraine was planning to invade russia is absurd.

    No, the idea that the Taliban was going to invade America is absurd.

    The idea that Ukraine – a country owned by the US State Department – was encroaching on Russia’s “back yard” is 100 per cent true.

    Even Barack Obama warned that the US had no business in Ukraine – which he said was Russia’s strategic arena and always would be.

    This was the same view as the Reagan and G.H.W Bush cabinets. In other words, it was the view of all the grown-ups when the USSR collapsed.

  8. Boambee John says:

    Non Mentis

    Membership of the EEC was much more important and possible.

    Or perhaps the EU?

  9. Fat Tony says:

    The idea that Ukraine – a country owned by the US State Department

    Add to that who actually controls the US State Department and the causes of the war are explained.

  10. Fat Tony says:

    Not Trampis says:
    11 May, 2022 at 8:54 am
    …The far right get very few votes in elections

    NT – what’s your definition of “far right” ?

  11. twostix says:

    The very idea Ukraine was planning to invade russia is absurd. Why do they need so many resources from other countries to fight Russia now.

    A lot of I Stand With Ukraineians are really, really dumb.

  12. Boambee John says:

    Fat Tony

    NT – what’s your definition of “far right” ?

    Anyone who is not a small “l” liberal Us-style so-called “progressive”?

  13. twostix says:

    The absolute memory holing of 2014-2022 Ukraine, from the democrat’s Maidan revolution, to Ukraine’s central role in the Russiagate abomination, to Trump being impeached over a phone call to Zelensky, and Zelenksy running the 2014 Maidan “hero” leader into exile upon “winning” the last fake election there – accusing him of being a Russian spy (do we sense a pattern here yet??), then attempted to criminalise and regulate journalism…

    Then there’s the extraordinary facts of all of the democrat and neocon children’s connections to Ukraine oligarchs and energy companies.

    Not a word about any of it. To the NPC, Ukraine’s history began Jan 2022.

  14. Not Trampis says:

    Ukraine was encroaching in Russia even though Russia had already taken part of the country. If Ukraine was soo powerful how was that possible.

    Bring a putin apologist is not just absurd it is embarrassing.

    Far right. they do not like democracy.

  15. Boambee John says:

    Non Mentis still follows the old Soviet line that anyone who is not a communist or a fascist leftist is “far right”. Pushed by the KGB among others through the 1950s to the 1990s, accepted by the gullible.

    Sad, low energy.

  16. twostix says:

    Ukraine was encroaching in Russia even though Russia had already taken part of the country. If Ukraine was soo powerful how was that possible.

    What on earth are you smugging on about?

  17. twostix says:

    Far right. they do not like democracy.

    I love the kind of democracy the “far right” brought to bugman central Kiev in 2014. If we emulate it here will you support?

  18. Bruce of Newcastle says:

    Both places should be given back to Mongolia since they used to own them.

  19. False Equivalence says:

    Ukraine is a sovereign state that negotiated independence from the Soviet on its own account. It is noteworthy that it agreed to give up nuclear weapons in return for guarantees of security from both the US and Russia. The US, Germany and others refused its efforts to join NATO.
    Russia invaded Ukraine with no excuse whatsoever. It has deliberately destroyed cities and its troops are certainly responsible for a range of war crimes.
    Some comments here are queer. Take Bruce: give it back to the people who used to “own” it (Mongolia!). In which Bruce is doing an Eddie Mabo of sorts, though Ukrainian identity can only be traced back a few centuries.
    Cassie, it seems, wants us to believe that homosexuals had fun under Hitler.
    But the topper is Petros, who thinks Zelensky (a Jew) heads a Nazi regime (“dyed in the wool”).
    There was a time when people espousing liberty understood what that meant. Not so here.

  20. Cassie of Sydney says:

    “False Equivalence says:
    12 May, 2022 at 7:18 pm”

    Cassie, it seems, wants us to believe that homosexuals had fun under Hitler.

    A peculiar statement, given your name above. No where did I write that “homosexuals had fun under Hitler”. They are your words. I happen to regard the comparison of homosexuals to the genocide against the Jews and Roma as “false equivalence” as well as being profoundly offensive.

    “Some comments here are queer. “

    The only queer comment here is your comment.

  21. False Equivalence says:

    Cassie: The US Holocaust Museum has a range of information about the persecution of homosexuals by Hitler, including video and documentary evidence. It is false to say that they led a quiet life and were left alone. They were arrested, jailed, tortured, sometimes castrated and in some instances were subject to medical experiments that led to death.
    It’s kinda queer of you to be painting another picture?

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