Why Putin and the West Misunderstood Ukraine

I bought my copy of Samuel P. Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations soon after the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. It contained only three maps: the world as he divided it among “nine civilisations”; the United States, which he saw as a potentially “cleft country” (that is, straddling two civilisations) owing to its European population becoming a minority by 2050; and Ukraine, which he saw as a cleft country in 1995—its central and western lands belonging to the West, and its east and south belonging to the “Orthodox civilisation”, whose core state in Huntington’s view was Russia.

Russia’s current brutal invasion of Ukraine, as well as recent references to Huntington’s book in connection with the rising tensions over the past year, caused me to take another look. I found that the picture Huntington provided of Ukraine in the mid-1990s was flawed, and that his thesis proved to be a poor predictor of subsequent events. It struck me that Huntington’s influential book probably contributed to inaccurate perceptions of Ukraine that have populated later writings of US academics like John Mearsheimer, Stephen F. Cohen and Henry Kissinger, the inaccurate views of some authors based in some think-tanks, and the far Left and far Right pundits who have been wholly captured by the Kremlin’s narrative.

This essay appears in the latest Quadrant.
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Huntington’s understanding of the underlying history was very basic, and Moscow-centric, but history was and is fundamental to understanding that the civilisational split between Ukraine and Russia has nothing to do with the Orthodox and Catholic religions and far more to do with the unique early historical development of these two nations within two separate civilisations: Ukraine in the West and Russia in the East.

In 1240, when the Mongol Golden Horde sacked Kyiv, “Ukraine” was the land upon which the Rus, the people who later came to be called Ukrainians, lived. The name “Ukraine” is documented in the chronicles from the twelfth century and has nothing to do with the notion of “borderland”, as Russian mythology chooses to present it. Ukraine was the centre of a vast empire, and while a similar sounding word, okraina, means “border” in Russian, the Ukrainian word for border is kordon. In Ukrainian, the word kraina means “country”.

Whilst the Rus-Ukraine empire used Church Slavonic as a lingua franca, just as the Holy Roman Empire used Medieval Latin, there were many separate languages and dialects spoken throughout. The colloquial language spoken in Ukraine was Ruski, which appears in 7000 examples of medieval graffiti scratched on the walls of Kyiv’s thousand-year-old St Sophia Cathedral. The graffiti refers to Prince “Volodymyr” (like Zelenskyy, in Ukrainian) not Vladimir (like Putin, in Russian). Kyiv was integrated with European kingdoms through aristocratic inter-marriage.

Weakened after a period of close to a century of struggle against the Golden Horde, the Rus-Ukrainians were subsumed into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later still into the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. As noted by Yale historian Timothy Snyder, all of this was a normal European experience, and for many years the Poles, Lithuanians and Ukrainians together fought the expanding Grand Duchy of Muscovy.

Founded in 1147, Moscow was a small and peripheral region of the Kyiv-Rus empire, and its population included Slavs (Vyatichi) and Finno-Ugric peoples. The Muscovite language that developed there was based on Church Slavonic and local languages including Finno-Ugric. For 240 years as Muscovy grew, it remained a vassal of the Golden Horde, which became more Turkic than Mongol. The Muscovite (later called Russian) nation and its culture developed during a period of brutal conquest of territory (including the massacre of Novgorod in 1570). 

Huntington’s reference to the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav as Ukrainians “swearing allegiance to the tsar in return for protection from the Poles” is both inaccurate and simplistic. Ukrainian Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky did not see it that way, but rather as an equal partnership—a treaty between Rus and Muscovy—and very soon the Ukrainians could see the treaty being abused by Moscow. Khmelnytsky died in 1657, but in opposition to the Pereyaslav treaty, a year later his successor Hetman Vyhovsky concluded the Treaty of Hadiach with Poland and Lithuania which was to establish a tripartite kingdom with the Grand Duchy of Rus (that is, Ukraine) as an equal partner. In 1659 Vyhovsky’s 60,000 Ukrainian Cossacks, allied with 40,000 Crimean Tatars, defeated a 100,000-strong Muscovite army at the Battle of Konotop, located in the Sumy oblast north-east of Kyiv, which was invaded again by Russians in late February 2022.

While he won that battle, Vyhovsky was undone by internal politics and lost the war. The Muscovites later concluded a separate treaty with Poland that split Ukrainian lands between them. A century later the Polish kingdom itself was partitioned, with Warsaw coming under Moscow’s control for 125 years up to 1920. However, southern Poland and western Ukraine were incorporated into the Austrian-Hungarian empire that dissolved in 1918. After the wars that followed the Russian Revolution, western Ukraine fell within the inter-war “Greater Poland” where it stayed until the Second World War.

Putin’s 5000-word essay of June 2021 titled “The Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” demonstrated to Timothy Snyder that “Russians don’t know who they are”. I had thought that for a long time. That Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine is inconvenient for the Russian myth that “Russians were converted to Christianity in 988”. In reality, the Muscovites (who later came to be called Russians) were almost a thousand kilometres from Kyiv when the acceptance of Christianity took place. In 1114, 126 years later, Saint Kuksha and another Kyivan monk who travelled to the Moscow region to convert the then pagan Vyatichi tribe to Christianity were beheaded.

Patriarch Kirrill has declared Russia’s current war against Ukraine to be a “holy war” that is critical to Russia’s existence as a state. Both Kirrill and Putin know that who controls Kyiv controls history. It is only by controlling Kyiv and eradicating nationally-conscious Ukrainians that the myth of “Kievan Russia” can be restored. That myth was initiated by Peter the Great in 1721, when after Muscovy had secured control of Kyiv, he rebranded the Muscovites as “Russians”, appropriating the “Rus” name from Ukrainians.

In effect, Tsar Peter refused to accept that the Muscovite (from then called the “Russian”) state and nation had merely been an outlying region of the Kyiv Rus empire, had accepted Christianity late, and had developed its statehood and fundamental national characteristics under 240 years of vassalage to the Golden Horde. Instead, a myth was created, naming Muscovites the “Great Russians” who were the “older brothers” of “Little Russians” (Ukrainians), who had all developed from a common core of “Kievan Russians”. For 270 years the Muscovite myth of “Kievan Russia” was successfully propagated in the West. That myth came to a grinding halt in 1991, when independent Ukraine arose out of the ashes of the Soviet Union.

Extreme Russian nationalists like Putin and Patriarch Kirrill have realised that in order to claim a direct Russian line to the conversion to Christianity in 988 they must demonstrate that Muscovites (Russians) are and always were the same people as the inhabitants of Kyiv, the Rus (Ukrainians). Otherwise, the Russians would look like the “younger brother” or just a “cousin”, which would constitute an intolerable insult to the Russian national myth.

The Russian crisis of identity referred to by Snyder was made even more acute in 2018 when Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople granted the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In effect the Patriarch recognised the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as custodian of the unbroken line from the acceptance of Christianity in 988, implying that it is the senior Orthodox Church relative to the Russian Orthodox Church. This decision promptly precipitated the Moscow–Constantinople Schism.

At the Munich Security Conference in 2007 Putin openly declared that “Ukraine is not a real country”. In his mind Ukraine had no right to exist and he had already decided to destroy the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian nation, which he also considered “not a real nation”. In hindsight, he was giving notice to that effect. It had nothing to do with “NATO expansion” or the “protection of Russian speakers” who constitute the majority of Ukrainians, who are bilingual in Ukrainian and Russian. These would later provide convenient covers for Putin’s true aim, as they would resonate with Western audiences that had little knowledge of Ukraine, Ukrainians, or Putin’s true aims.

During the current invasion the aim of eliminating the Ukrainian nation has been openly declared by Putin, Russian politicians, academics and television anchors. A recent op-ed in RIA Novosti has called for a genocide of Ukrainians, stating, “The name Ukraine can seemingly not be retained as the title of any fully denazified state formation on the territory liberated from the Nazi regime.” This next level of absurd Orwellian “doublethink” is the culmination of the two-decade rise of the fascist Russian dictatorship, where every semblance of political opposition or political plurality has been extinguished. Putin’s favourite author during this time has been Ivan Ilyin, a Russian fascist philosopher who lived in Germany and Switzerland from the 1920s to 1950s, and who, incidentally, was patronised by the exiled Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Why did Putin choose this time for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine? Rumours of Putin’s thyroid cancer notwithstanding, this was probably the optimal timing. Putin understood that with each passing year of Ukrainian sovereignty and independence the Russian “creation myth” was becoming more and more unsustainable.

For eight years Russia’s war of attrition against Ukraine in the Donbas had ground on. Putin had hoped that Western powers would exert pressure on Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements in a manner favourable to Russia. That would have seen the fake “republics” incorporated into Ukraine with veto rights that would block its westward march. It had become obvious that this strategy had failed. In the meantime, Russia built up its capital reserves via sales of oil and gas, and purportedly modernised its armed forces.

Since Russia’s invasions of 2014 its soft-power influences in Ukraine had severely eroded. The Tomos undermined the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church there. Putin had perhaps hoped that President Zelenskyy would be easier to deal with than President Poroshenko, but Zelenskyy was constrained by the Ukrainian Constitution, which enshrines the twin goals of joining the EU and NATO. After winning 73 per cent of the vote in 2019, Zelenskyy’s popularity had slumped to the low 20s; however, GDP growth was riding close to 4 per cent despite the drag of the war and its negative effect on foreign investment. While Putin liked to publicly portray Ukraine as a “failed state”, it clearly was not.

Zelenskyy crossed Putin’s red line when he placed Putin’s agent Victor Medvedchuk under house arrest and closed down his television stations that were spreading Kremlin propaganda. In response Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson recently described Zelenskyy as a “corrupt dictator who imprisoned his opposition”. That is not true. Medvedchuk is a traitor to Ukraine, while the actual parliamentary opposition is alive and well and fully aligned with Zelenskyy in this time of war. Perhaps Carlson has never heard of how, when Britain faced an existential threat during the Second World War, Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of Britain’s fascists, was arrested by Churchill, or how Lord Haw Haw was executed afterwards for spreading German propaganda?

No doubt Putin and his military advisers were observing the growth of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, which for years received training from US, UK and Canadian specialists. This hard-power vector was becoming increasingly sophisticated. The Ukrainians had commissioned new warships that were to be built by the UK and Turkey. Dozens of Turkish high-altitude Bayraktar drones powered by Ukrainian motors were arriving, and there were plans to establish a factory in Ukraine to manufacture the drones. Ukraine also developed and commenced production of its own “Neptune” cruise missile capable of accurately striking a target 300 kilometres away. These are to become the chief armaments of the warships that are being built.

Putin must have reasoned that now is the optimal time for a large-scale invasion of Ukraine, and that waiting would only make that task more difficult. He would have assessed Western leaders to be weak and accommodating. France had always been pro-Russian, and Germany under Angela Merkel had long acted like a Russian hostage suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. Hungary and Germany had for more than a decade blocked Ukraine’s NATO ambitions. President Joe Biden’s release of sanctions on the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, and the granting of the Biden-Putin summit would have been interpreted as US weakness.

Putin also assumed that an invasion now would create material fissures among Western countries, that the Ukrainian Army was still weak, and that Ukrainians would welcome his troops with flowers. So far, he has been proved wrong on all counts.

This brings me back to Huntington’s thesis of a “cleft Ukraine”, which was largely based on the results of the 1994 Ukrainian presidential election, where the west and centre of the country were won by Leonid Kravchuk and the east and south were won by Leonid Kuchma. Thinking that it neatly supported his “Orthodox Civilisation” hypothesis, Huntington assumed that the region won by Kuchma was populated by Russian-speaking Orthodox worshippers who were therefore “pro-Russian”, while the Kravchuk voting region was composed of Ukrainian-speaking Catholic worshippers who were “pro-Ukrainian”. That is, Kravchuk was pro-Ukrainian, and Kuchma was pro-Russian. Rejecting the idea of a war with Russia, Huntington prognosticated there might be a split of the country along the geographical voting lines, but that it was more likely the country would remain independent, and “cleft”.

However, the reality was then, and is now, that on both sides of the alleged “Ukrainian-Russian civilisational divide” the Ukrainian population is largely Russian-speaking, largely nominally Orthodox (nominally because religiosity was pummelled by communism) and overwhelmingly pro-Ukrainian. The last point is supported by the fact that on both sides of that line the vast majority of the population voted for Ukrainian independence in 1991. For example, in Cherkasy oblast Kravchuk won with 51 per cent while in Poltava oblast Kuchma won with 58 per cent, but in the independence referendum these region’s respective votes were 96 per cent and 94 per cent. 

As for Kuchma’s alleged “pro-Russian stance”, it is true that he talked about maintaining trade links with Russia, but he also introduced the aim of joining the EU (which aim was also a central plank of Victor Yanukovych’s 2010 election campaign). Kuchma wrote a book titled Ukraine is not Russia, and although he signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, whereby Ukraine relinquished the world’s third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in exchange for vague US, UK and Russian “security assurances”, Kuchma urged that Ukraine should retain forty nuclear weapons as insurance (obviously as a security precaution against Russia). No one listened. In that context, Kuchma was less pro-Russian than the US and UK, who succeeded in pressuring Ukraine to give up its nuclear arsenal.

Finally, how would Huntington have interpreted the 1999 election in Ukraine, where Kuchma received his strongest votes in the western Ukrainian oblasts? The reason was that Kuchma was running against a Socialist Party candidate (a party that subsequently withered). The alleged “civilisational divide” was not at all visible then.

Another map that misled Western opinion during the 2014-15 Russian invasions of Ukraine was the erroneously titled “Russian language map of Ukraine”. It was widely taken up by Western media, for example forming the core of Bloomberg’s “Quick Take” about Ukraine. It shows differing levels of acknowledgment of Russian or Ukrainian as people’s “mother tongue”. What it fails to show is how widespread everyday usage of Russian is throughout most of Ukraine. Nor does it show levels of Ukrainian patriotism; the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens in the Russian-speaking regions voted for independence in 1991.

It is not unusual for countries to exhibit regional differences in voting patterns that have no bearing on the loyalty of the populations of those regions to the state. US politics is divided geographically, with the wealthier coastal states on both sides of the country voting Democrat and the south and centre voting Republican. Poland is another case in point, where voting for the right-wing PiS Party is split very sharply on an east-west divide, with the Polish liberals winning the west and Warsaw city.

Russian-speakers (including ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizens) provided the vast majority of the forty-five volunteer battalions that in 2014 helped Ukraine prevent Russia establishing a land bridge to the occupied Crimean peninsula. It made a mockery of Putin’s claim that he was acting to “protect Russian-speakers”. While various academics in the West have often focused on the language issue, surveys in Ukraine found that only 5 per cent thought it was important. 

Some Western academic commentators, like Professor John T. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, have alleged that the “crusading US” has been pushing Ukrainians to adopt the democratic values of the West, implying that this is just as unnatural and futile as trying to push Iraqis and Afghans towards democracy over a couple of decades. But Ukraine has an earlier tradition of democracy than the US. In the seventeenth century Ukrainian Cossack leaders were elected, and the Hetman Pylyp Orlyk Constitution of 1710, now held in Sweden, predates US efforts in that direction.

As an aside on the nuclear issue, in a Foreign Affairs article published in 1993, which was long before “expansion of NATO” became a thing, Mearsheimer argued that war between Russia and Ukraine was inevitable and would have devastating outcomes. Ukraine could not win a conventional war against Russia, and consequently there was a strong case for Ukraine to remain a nuclear power as a deterrent against Russian invasion. In a recent issue of the Economist, this same gentleman has argued that the war is the West’s fault. Both articles betray a “desktop analyst’s” level of understanding of Ukraine.

Surveys illustrate the gaping divide in attitudes of Russians and Ukrainians towards democracy and the worth of private enterprise, with Ukrainians being far more favourably disposed to these ideas. A problem that has beset both US and Russian policy is that both countries did not bother to seriously study Ukraine and Ukrainians, as both assumed they were essentially the same as Russians (although Huntington and others have erroneously viewed Ukraine as “cleft”). This failure in perceptions is why the current Russian invasion has faltered and explains why the US waited until the last minute to provide Ukrainians with Javelins and Stingers for an assumed insurgency, instead of supplying heavy weapons over a longer period for a potential army-on-army clash, which would have reduced the probability of an invasion actually occurring.

Among Western commentators it is still common (and consistent with the Kremlin playbook) to see the Maidan Revolution of 2013-14 as a CIA plot that happened because of “encouragement from the US”. Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador in Ukraine, would naturally have approved, but this and the fact that Senator John McCain spoke to demonstrators had no practical influence on the causes, course or consequences of the revolution. It was caused by Victor Yanukovych reneging on his election promise to seek EU membership and instead pivoting to Putin and his corrupt crony kleptocracy model. Much more significant for outcomes was President Obama’s weak response to Russia’s 2014 invasions and his refusal to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine.

The day that a hundred demonstrators were shot in the Maidan Square changed everything. Yanukovych fled, but it was not because one of the young demonstrators called on him to resign by the morning or he and his friends “would arm themselves”. Rather, Yanukovych correctly read that the Rada (Parliament) would meet the next day, and that due to the massacre his parliamentary majority would dissolve and a new parliamentary majority would form. He correctly foreshadowed that he would be impeached by the Rada. In Yanukovych’s absence, the new parliamentary majority appointed an interim (wholly uncharismatic and purely administrative) “acting president” and began organising a new and highly transparent presidential election.

That was neither “US backed” nor a coup. It was a process that would have been achieved in a matter of minutes in a Westminster system, without blood, by a simple crossing of the floor.

The awesome power of Russian propaganda’s ability to project an “alternative reality” that Westerners would believe became apparent to me as I closely observed the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine during 2014-15. However, Russian propaganda was less successful in influencing the reality in eastern Ukraine.

During the Maidan Revolution, Russian attempts to whip up crowds of anti-Maidan (that is, pro-Russian) demonstrators failed miserably, even in the east of the country, even with agents and activists bused in from Russia, and even bribing people to participate to give the “alternative reality” impression of anti-Kyiv sentiment. After all of that, the pro-Russia camp could not attract more than 1000 to 2000 demonstrators in most towns and cities in eastern Ukraine. In Kharkiv, with its 1.5 million population, only 5000 people could be cobbled together. They looked lost as they huddled in the corner of a square that can hold a million.

It was clear that eastern Ukrainians had no appetite for war, civil or otherwise, and that nothing would have happened there in the absence of the Russian invasion. Yet Moscow managed to impose its false narrative of “civil war” in the Donbas onto the West’s mainstream media, which spoke of a “rebellion” that had been “stoked”, “precipitated” or “provoked” by Russia supplying weapons. For the past eight years this “civil war paradigm” has been reflected in the terminology used by the world’s media. We are constantly shown maps and told about “breakaway republics”, which are claimed to be controlled by “pro-Russian separatists” or “rebels”. 

The Russian invasion of 2014-15 was led by volunteer veterans such as Colonel Igor Girkin’s (“Strelkov”) Spetsnaz Group, Kadyrov’s Chechens, the Vostok Battalion, and various Cossack Battalions or serving Russian soldiers who were variously described as “off duty” or “lost” if they were captured.

The lack of support for Russia and the “civil war paradigm” in that eastern region was clearly illustrated by Colonel Girkin’s occupation of the town of Sloviansk, halfway between Donetsk and Kharkiv. Of the town’s population of 125,000, during the two-month Russian occupation no one in it flocked to Russia’s banner. Girkin is a war criminal who executed a group of evangelicals in the town merely for being the wrong religion and buried them in a mass pit with a number of others. He left the scene soon after he was forced from Sloviansk by Ukrainian Army forces.

Girkin still lives in Moscow and now openly admits that without the Russian invasion that he spearheaded in 2014, nothing would have happened in eastern Ukraine. He has for years noted that without the full-scale Russian invasion that we are now witnessing, it would be impossible for Russia to conquer Ukraine. That was true for the same reasons that Huntington and Putin were both wrong, yet the world’s media continues to deny that a Russian invasion took place during 2014-15.

Over time the Russian occupation force in the occupied Donbas region introduced more local collaborators/traitors into their army, which is now led by 800 Russian officers and includes thousands of other Russian soldiers. When it conquered a region, the Mongol Golden Horde used to force the surviving men into its own army and push them forward as the fodder of their next battle. In the occupied Donbas region, the Russians have now conscripted Ukrainians who with very little training are being thrown into the battle against the Ukrainian Army.

Perhaps the success that Moscow had in controlling the false “civil war” narrative of the eight-year war in the Donbas through compliant Western media gave the Kremlin the notion that it could continue to control the narrative. Hence, Moscow’s use of the term “special military operation” and its insistence that the aim was to “liberate the independent republics from a genocide being perpetrated by drug addicted neo-nazis in Kyiv”. However, the brazenness and barbarity of the current full-scale invasion undermined any attempt by Moscow to control the narrative in the West, even though the “Kremlin’s narrative” has had greater success in South America, Africa and Asia (especially in China).

This time everything is plain to see, including Russia’s genocidal brutality in Bucha, the levelling of Russian-speaking Mariupol and the large-scale destruction of Russian-speaking Kharkiv. This time the Western media has not deemed it wise to publish the “language map” that the Kremlin distributed in 2014 and the media had dutifully reproduced. Huntington’s “cleft country” map should similarly be consigned.

During the first month of the war the Ukrainian Army performed beyond all expectations held in the West, while the Russian Army performed and behaved extraordinarily poorly. The Battle of Kyiv was won by Ukraine, but now the battles of the Donbas and for the south are under way. Russia still has a vast stock of military equipment, although not sufficient missiles it would seem, and has approached North Korea and China. Given the apparent support of the Russian people for the war it is likely to drag on with even more catastrophic consequences than we have seen to date.

While more than 90 per cent of Ukrainians think they can win, that will be determined by the West’s humanitarian support, but even more importantly by sanctions on Russia and the amount and type of weapons that are supplied to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. More vital than a tightening of sanctions is the need to boycott Russian oil and gas exports. In the first month of the war the EU provided close to $2 billion in aid to Ukraine, while at the same time it paid close to $60 billion to Russia for energy. The US has sent weapons to Ukraine valued at less than half of the cost of a single Virginia Class submarine, and a tiny fraction of what it spent in Afghanistan. The level of commitment by the US and most other NATO allies does not match the rhetoric about the importance of this war to the security of Europe and the US. 

Those Western observers who characterise this war as “really between the West/NATO and Russia” or who “urge negotiations with Putin” fail to grasp that Ukrainians have no choice but to win or die trying. “Ukrainian neutrality” has never been the issue. Ukraine was neutral in 2014 when Russia first invaded and was still neutral on February 24 this year. Russia insists on Ukraine’s neutrality only because it provides the option to invade and destroy the Ukrainian state and national identity. Only Ukraine’s membership of NATO, or as Mearsheimer argued in 1993 its own nuclear deterrent, could have avoided this invasion. It would likely have occurred sooner if NATO never existed.

Putin’s aim, which has been echoed very publicly in the Russian media and by the Russian Orthodox Church, is to wipe Ukraine and Ukrainians from the face of the earth. Those Ukrainians not killed or forced to flee would be subjected to a brutally enforced Russification process that would include executions, mass arrests and “re-education camps”. Immediately after the February invasion Putin’s popularity with the Russian people jumped from 60 per cent to 71 per cent. It is now in the 80s. According to surveys most Russians are said to be proud of what their forces are doing in Ukraine.

Veteran American Putin watcher Masha Gessen has cautioned about taking at face value the results of surveys undertaken “in a totalitarian state like Russia”, but she also cautions that we should not fantasise that Putin might soon be toppled by internal forces. However, we have seen numerous instances of conversations between Ukrainian and Russian family members where the latter cannot accept that the former’s apartment has been destroyed by the Russian Army. We also observe support for Russia’s imperial project among Russian emigres, where it is not a function of information control. On the very weekend that images of the Bucha massacre were released in the West, Russian emigres held a 5000-car pro-Russia rally in Berlin.

In recent negotiations Ukrainians have stated that they require security guarantees from nuclear powers like the US and UK, but also other countries. These countries have thus far declined to provide guarantees and such an arrangement could, depending on the details, be almost indistinguish­able from Ukraine being a member of NATO. Russia would never agree to effective security guarantees for Ukraine because it would close off the option to invade Ukraine in the future. As noted by President Zelenskyy, it seems that in order to survive, Ukraine will need to adopt the Israeli model of total militarisation of the population. Since it is being excluded from the joint arrangements that underpin Europe’s security, Ukraine cannot be like other European countries.

But for Ukraine even to have that option, it would first need to defeat Russia at a catastrophic cost to its people and its infrastructure.

Dr Michael Lawriwsky is an author and a former chair of the Ukrainian Studies Foundation at Monash University. In 1990 he was a Visiting Professor at the International Management Institute in Kyiv, where he taught in the first (and last) MBA course in the USSR

53 thoughts on “Why Putin and the West Misunderstood Ukraine

  • Brian Boru says:

    Thank you Michael for this most informative article. In particular for the voting results you included. Also for debunking the Russian speakers lack of nationalism myth.
    That latter aspect certainly shows what an abysmal error it was for the Ukranian parliament to legislate against the Russian language.

  • STD says:

    This is that good ,I’m going to give it a second reading- just in case I missed something!

  • pgang says:

    It’s disappointing that Quadrant can’t find anyone to analyse this conflict within the confines of the real world, but instead have to resort to rummaging through the garbage bins of self-perpetuating intellectual fecundity. The one-side, anti-Russian racism in this piece is remarkable.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    An excellent and informative piece here by Dr Michael Lawriwsky, with much food for thought.

  • Bwana Neusi says:

    Well said pgang. Whilst it is clear that Dr Michael Lawriwsky is an authority on Ukrainian history, his bias is palpable. His argument fell apart early at the point where he said “civilisational split between Ukraine and Russia has nothing to do with the Orthodox and Catholic religions”, then proceeded to argue in some considerable detail that religion was indeed fundamental to the conflict.
    The pejorative reference to Putin and the Russians in general took much away from what should otherwise have been an excellent article.

  • Sindri says:

    Excellent piece, Dr Lawriwsky. Ignore the comments of the curious assortment of conspiracy theorists, jew-baiters, ultra-right crackpots and punch-drunk conservatives for whom my enemy’s enemy (Putin) is my friend, who seem to find this site congenial. There are also lots of intelligent, thinking conservatives here.

  • Jack Brown says:

    Putin may have rationalised Russia’s reaction to US/NATO moves and this piece offers an alternate understanding however ultimately the Russian reaction boils down to fear which in its essence is not amenable to analysis.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Bwana and pgang, it’s hard not to be anti Russian when they are brutally invading your country. And it is hardly racist. Perhaps some specific refutation of the author’s points might be helpful?

  • Occidental says:

    Pgang, what is really dissapointing is that some posters like yourself find it hard to be civil, or just as importantly reasoned in their comments. As demonstrated by Bwana Neusi (though unconvincingly) you can disagree with a thesis and articulate an apparent cogent argument for your view. You, on the other hand, ejaculate a few barely intelligible sentences ie “… rummaging through the garbage bins of self perpetuating fecundity”, presumably to lend your comment some form of intellectual gravitas. I can assure you it does not. Quite frankly I am not and never have been a student of Ukrainian or Russian history, and I welcome any attempt such as this article to educate me in that area. If you have something reasoned and sensible to add, please do so, otherwise try not to pollute and clog the comments sections with your general nastiness.

  • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

    Here you go Occidental. Having lived and worked there and also with a Russian family plus relatives born in the Ukraine, I have some idea and it’s one of confusion for I can find articles as the above one, and articles against, Russian butcher type stuff, Ukrainian scorched earth stuff, shots of cars blown to hell and gone just outside apartments tho none of the apartment windows are shattered nor the paintwork scorched, the Ukrainian ghost MiG-29 pilot who took out 40 Russian top line fighters, the hero and in reality a figment of imagination, the supposedly teenager Ukrainian girl in a TV clip shot on the West Bank in 2012, the desert background gave that one away. President Poroshenko had the Ukrainian military shell the “Donbas” area in 2014 and if that wasn’t brutal I would hate to see him get “fair dinkum.” We need someone without bias to report tho as Mr OBrien knows full well from his expose of DE and professor whatsis, an unbiased person is hard to come by. Jacques Baud the ex Swiss intelligence person familiar with the place has a view worth reading for he appears to be non biased. The sad and melancholy part of it all is that Ukrainian civilians and military people on both sides are being slaughtered, the armament manufacturing people in the USA and elsewhere are rubbing their hands with glee for they care about is the bottom line and they aren’t in the firing line.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    A fantastic painting above to illustrate the defiance of the Ukrainians in the face of Putin’s oppression. Born in Chuhuiv, in Kharkov Governorate in the Kharkiv Region of the Russian Empire, Ilya Repin knew the Cossacks well, his father having served in a Cossack regiment. In 1887 Repin visited Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana, and painted his portrait, and then took a long trip along the Volga and the Don, to the Coassack regions. This trip gave him material for this painting, Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. The painting depicts an event in 1678, when a group of Cossacks amused themselves by drafting a highly insulting letter to the Turkish sultan, addressing him as “The Grand Imbecile.” How appropriate here.

  • Jack Brown says:

    The other lesson for the Australian government from Michael’s essay is that it has been extremely foolish to involve itself in what, as to its phenomenal plane manifestation, is at this stage is essentially a civil war in eastern Europe involving consideration of minutiae such as contending meanings of the word ‘Ukraine’ much as Lilliput and Blefescu argued over which end of the egg to cut. That part of the world has been through trauma back and forth for centuries and as affected parties seek to redress intergenerational trauma with its hurts and injustices from over a century ago why should kids in Australia cities today be exposed to an increased risk of war or attack caused by the government intervening on one side or another?

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    Jack Brown, I suppose it depends on your attitude to freedom – as personal property or universal. Still, well done for a succinct summary of the appeaser’s creed, or as Neville Chamberlain described the Sudentenland dispute in 1938, “a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”. Personally I prefer Kennedy’s “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”. I think supplying support to Ukraine to assure its survival is the least we can do.

  • rosross says:

    This is certainly an interesting article, albeit, in the realms of the sort of ‘information’ and ‘material’ provided by disaffected Iraqis to the Americans and we know where that led.

    And this is hardly a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia as more than one military expert has said. The invasion appears to be tactical with the goal of securing Eastern Ukraine and thereby ‘moving’ US/Nato missile launchers to a more distant border.

    As to why has it happened? Logic decrees that the CIA-backed coup in Ukraine which tossed out the pro-Russian, democratically (mere detail) elected President, made it clear to the Russians they needed to make plans. Then, as Zelensky, who won on a platform of negotiating with Russia for peace and resolution, took the opposite tack and refused to talk to the Russians and tossed the Minsk agreement in the bin, the Russians called for more paper and ‘ink.’ NB: This turnabout by Zelensky was apparently because the Neo-Nazis running the show in Ukraine said he would not just lose his job he would lose his life if he negotiated with the Russians. One can understand why the comedian decided he needed to be ‘flexible.’

    And when the calls and requests for Ukraine to join Nato got noisier, they would have worked even harder. And no doubt when Ukraine said it wanted to be nuclear armed that was the final straw. That was September 2021, according to news stories at the time.

    Quote: A Ukrainian diplomat has reportedly warned Kyiv may be forced to acquire nuclear weapons to safeguard the country’s security if NATO does not accede to its membership demand amid spiralling tensions with neighbouring Russia.

    Step, by step, creep, by creep, is usually the way to war.

    If the Ukrainians had been smart, or if they had not had a President who was being used by an oligarch, who no doubt was and is used by others, this war would never have happened. Neither Canada or Mexico would be foolish enough to ‘walk down the garden path’ as noted political analyst John Mearsheimer descried it, as the Ukrainians have done.

    There is little doubt, looking on, that the Americans will indeed ‘fight to the last Ukrainian.’

    The anti-Russian sentiment may apply to some Ukrainians but not to many, perhaps most. Having Russia at their back was always going to work better than having the US/Nato ‘sort of’ at their back.

    Ukraine cannot defeat Russia and no amount of weapons sent to Ukraine will change that. And the Americans knew that from the start. They want to see Russia locked in an Afghanistan-type war which damages if not cripples them and Ukrainians are just cannon fodder.

    It is a tragedy for Ukraine and one of their own making, with a lot of help from their frenemies – friends who are really enemies.

  • Sindri says:

    Botswana, is that the same Jacques Baud who thinks that the Skripals got a case of food poisoning, who says that the Ukrainian army is 40% foreign mercenaries, who defends the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, and who says Roman Protasevich must be fine because you can follow him on twitter?

  • pgang says:

    That’s interesting, I didn’t think anybody read my comments.
    Henry Kissinger: ‘For the West, the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.’
    I’ve been scolded for speaking bluntly, and were it not for the fact that I recognise my status as an intellectual minnow in the shadow of Quadrant, I would let it be. Out of respect for my betters however, I will attempt to develop the point further. I generally consider outright denunciation of an article counter-productive, while still holding the view that criticism should not end with an editor’s tick of approval. Accordingly, it was an hour before the submit button was pressed on the above comment, but in the end the scales weighed in favour, as I think this article does an injustice to these hallowed halls. I don’t like that.
    My observation is that ‘Quadrant’ is struggling to make sense of this war, as are most of us. For this nobody can blame them. We all abhor military aggression and opportunism, but on the face of it Russia’s march into Ukraine just doesn’t add up. The caricature of Putin and Russia as crazed aggressors requires extensive proof, and while the idea has taken hold, it has not received the scrutiny it deserves.
    Quadrant has reverted to type, and presented us with a series of intellectual analyses based primarily on historical precedent or social psychology. But it seems to be floundering, as we are no closer to an objective analysis of this conflict than we were three months ago. Quadrant is dabbling around the edges with the tools at its disposal, but failing to get to the root cause. I want that to change, but all that this article is really saying is that Russia invaded Ukraine because Russians are a bad lot.
    Then this article comes along, which seems like an act of frustration suggesting that there is nothing better out there. All it’s really claiming is that Russia invaded Ukraine because Russians are bad people.
    While the article holds some interest from an intellectual historical perspective it fails to add anything to our understanding of the conflict, but rather adds to the curtain of misinformation and prattle surrounding this war, and bases it on the platform of Russia as ‘genocidal brutes’. I have no general opinion on Russia or Russians, but that is simply offensive and doesn’t belong here, on either a moral or intellectual level. I’m surprised that more readers haven’t discerned this. In addition to this, Russia is not the same country it was 70 years ago, in spite of Putin being ex-KGB.
    There is only so much we can take from the ethno-geopolitical history of Ukraine. The remaining 90% of our analysis is still missing.
    Peter O’Brien I hope that answers your question somewhat. I have quoted one example of unqualified anti-Russian sentiment, but the overall tone of the article, particularly in the centre, is manifestly anti-Russian. Also Peter, you hold to the view of Russia as ‘brutal aggressors’ in the Ukraine. No, that is not racist, but the article goes further than that. It consistently portrays Russia as hopelessly inept and vicious, without providing any context or nuance. Again, all we are left with is ‘everything is happening because ‘Russia”. It’s an infantile and dangerous assumption, especially for the future of Ukraine.
    Here’s another example of this one-sided propagandising:
    ‘When it conquered a region, the Mongol Golden Horde used to force the surviving men into its own army and push them forward as the fodder of their next battle. In the occupied Donbas region, the Russians have now conscripted Ukrainians who with very little training are being thrown into the battle against the Ukrainian Army.’ Not only is this invective and unsubstantiated, it also deceives us into thinking that Ukraine hasn’t been guilty of similar offences. Perhaps it’s a deliberate bait and switch deception.
    Then we have this:
    ‘During the first month of the war the Ukrainian Army performed beyond all expectations held in the West, while the Russian Army performed and behaved extraordinarily poorly. The Battle of Kyiv was won by Ukraine, but now the battles of the Donbas and for the south are under way.’
    It’s hard to believe people are still writing this stuff, given the objectives of the Russians. Notice the false assumption? Kiev was the main target, not Donbas. Yet the Ukrainian defence is encircled by Russians in Donbas and is being picked apart while Kiev is isolated and helpless, urging them to fight on regardless. Perhaps, just perhaps, the Russians have executed their plans successfully and aren’t quite so inept after all. If so, then encouraging the Ukraine to fight, rather than negotiate, is lunacy. Dangerous lunacy, and cynical futility.
    Then there is the great finale, the call to arms to kill the terrible beast:
    ‘Putin’s aim, which has been echoed very publicly in the Russian media and by the Russian Orthodox Church, is to wipe Ukraine and Ukrainians from the face of the earth. Those Ukrainians not killed or forced to flee would be subjected to a brutally enforced Russification process that would include executions, mass arrests and “re-education camps”. Immediately after the February invasion Putin’s popularity with the Russian people jumped from 60 per cent to 71 per cent. It is now in the 80s. According to surveys most Russians are said to be proud of what their forces are doing in Ukraine.’
    If this were to ever happen, then Russia could be rightly excoriated. Right now it is shrill conjecture of the worst kind.
    Occidental, I am almost always civil, so your comment is disingenuous. You advise that I should ‘try not to pollute and clog the comments sections with your general nastiness’, from which I sense a hint of irony. As for my comment being ‘unintelligible’, it clearly wan’t judging by your own response. If you sensed a failed attempt at ‘intellectual gravitas’ then thank you, mission accomplished. The comment was meant to reflect the bombastic nature of the article. If you want me to use less colourful or dull language to put a point across from now on, then the answer is no.
    As for the other character out there who has recently appeared, when you can debate those you disagree with without reverting to insult as your primary argument, I’ll start caring.

  • Sindri says:

    “Perhaps, just perhaps, the Russians have executed their plans successfully”. Pgang, putting aside what you say about the Ukrainians being encircled and “picked off” in the Donbass, which is certainly what RT is saying, insofar as your remark applies to the initial Russian attack from the north towards Kiev, you can’t be serious. Up to 15,000 men have been lost in an extraordinary short space of time, together with a vast amount of materiel, with no worthwhile territorial gains to show for it. The idea that this can be spun as a masterstroke of strategy, when it was patently a blundering failure, is risible. And Kiev doesn’t look very “isolated and helpless” to me. You seem to be repeating the talking points of websites which are even less trustworthy than the western media that you don’t like. Your enemy’s enemy is seldom really your friend, and definitely not here.
    I don’t think Dr Lawriwsky said that all Russians are “crazed aggressors”. That’s a straw man if ever there was one. But it would be not unfair to characterise Putin as a brutal aggressor. If you can’t accept in the face of all the evidence that he’s a kleptocrat and murderer who has utterly corrupted what little there was of Russian civil society when he took over, and who has started an indefensible war of aggression, then I guess there’s not much I can say to convince you.

  • pgang says:

    Sindri as usual you take comments and misrepresent them. There is no answer required to such manipulation.
    Yes I am serious. I would call ‘encircling the enemy’ a pretty serious territorial gain.
    So how many casualties in reality? 500? 5,000? Anyway you’re wrong. A senior NATO officer has estimated Russia’s KIA’s at 40,000. The point being that none of the statistics being presented, either from Russia or NATO, have any meaning. Ukraine refuses even to release any casualty stats, probably because they have no idea. Regardless, the numbers are clearly significant and tragic. This is a deadly war, and our only response is to make it even more deadly, because ‘Russia’. We’re also arming outlawed organisations with serious military hardware. Clever stuff.
    Just lately irresponsible representatives in the USA government have started talking openly about war with Russia. At the risk of being cynical, maybe this kind of talk is all about cornering the EU energy supply market. We know that nothing is beyond the current administration, so why not? Whatever, it would be nice to see a little bit of analysis begin to appear concerning real politics, rather than simply speculating on and belittling Russian psychology.
    Your last sentence simply reinforces my point that an article of this nature doesn’t belong here, that it is faux-intellectual, and that the conversation should move on from caricatures and wishful thinking.

  • rosross says:


    Well said and a solid and coherent post in response.

    War has always involved demonisation of the other but this is not our war so surely as Australians we could maintain a more objective stance.

    So many seem to come from a position of egregious bigotry toward the Russians and a failure to understand that the Soviet Union fell in 1991, and whatever Russia might be, it is NOT communist, that it makes me question the substance of any research done in order to form an opinion.

    And the lack of perspective – given that the Americans have done far worse than Russia in this instance and with trivial cause by comparison. Sure, two wrongs do not make a right but there are Hypocrisy factors to be considered. If the Americans can invade Iraq because they believe a lie, that it represents a threat, then why cannot the Russians invade Ukraine in response to a clearly established and growing threat?

    Humans are capable of holding two conflicting views at one and the same time which is why many here vigorously support the Ukrainians for fighting their occupiers but utterly condemn as terrorists, the Palestinians for doing the same thing.

    Either we defend principles which apply to all or we betray all principles and in this environment, one would have thought, that was the last thing generally conservative minds would want.

    The irrational, visceral, even childish position that Russia is all bad and Ukraine is all good is not a good sign in those who would claim to defend the civilized Western world. Worse, it is this irrational response to a highly complex situation which is setting us up as American lackeys for a nuclear war where everyone loses.

    Russians are no different to anyone else and Putin is hardly the worst leader in history. There are plenty of tyrants out there and people dying because of the actions of the US and its allies, which should, in a principled world, provide perspective for what is happening in Ukraine.

    How many people here have spent time in Russia? I have and found the Russians very similar to the Americans, where I have also spent a lot of time and where I have family. But the Russians have a better sense of humour, and with their history, that is hardly surprising. Ironically both Americans and Russians are shocked if you say others see them as a threat because they see themselves as benign and benificent.

    The history makes it clear that this is a war of US/Nato making, and, indeed, many top American advisers have been warning just that for decades. Their warnings were ignored. So, to put all blame on Russia is to deny the facts and to reduce a tragedy to dangerous farce.

  • rosross says:


    You said: But it would be not unfair to characterise Putin as a brutal aggressor.

    Perhaps not, but he would be standing behind quite a few American Presidents. Would you not agree?

    You said: If you can’t accept in the face of all the evidence that he’s a kleptocrat and murderer who has utterly corrupted what little there was of Russian civil society when he took over,

    You would need to provide solid proof for such claims. He is very popular in Russia so one presumes they don’t agree in general with your view.

    You said: and who has started an indefensible war of aggression,

    Except he hasn’t. The war is totally defensible as noted American analysts agree and have been saying for decades.

    All wars are wars of aggression, whether US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya or Israel’s war against Occupied Palestine.

    War by its nature is aggression. The trick is to act in ways which prevent such wars from happening and for that we need to understand how and why they exist and act in ways to diminish their likelihood.

    From a Russian perspective this war is not just defensible it is necessary. From the viewpoint of military and political analysts this war is also defensible and necessary now in ways it did not have to be.

    The Americans may well have wanted this war, hoping it would weaken Russia significantly and therefore remove it as a viable ally of the Chinese. The Europeans may have also wanted it because many of them are Russophobic or bigoted toward Slavs, which is why they don’t care if it is ‘fought to the last Ukrainian.’ Although I suspect the Euros are just doing what the Americans tell them to do and did not think through the energy supply factors.

    But, if Putin is as smart as many say he is then he is sure to have spent a lot of time trying to think through possibilities and outcomes. The Americans may get a smack they did not know was coming – economically – if the Russians have planned carefully enough.

    Or it may all end in radioactive tears, for which, we can thank the Americans who have done their darndest to create war and havoc around the world and particularly in the Middle East, flooding Europe with refugees. Well intentioned I am sure, but incompetence all the same.

    And you cannot convince others of anything. All you can do is offer information which you hope they are able to process and leave them to it.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Yes, the painting by Repin is a beauty alright. It’s on the cover of my little 1980 copy of Taras Bulba by Gogol, translated by C.J. Hogarth and interestingly the little descriptive piece on the back cover refers to “the military brotherhood of the Cossacks, picturesquely and heroically living under open skies in the Ukraine…..little Russia…… where Gogal was born”.

  • Sindri says:

    Rosross, we’ll have to agree to disagree, but at the risk of not following my own advice, I’ve just been reading about Finland’s decision to join NATO. Finland is not, except in the dreamy universe of those of the far left and the far right, a “NATO lackey” or an instrument of “US/NATO aggression”. It’s a country that sees what’s going on and wants to be able to defend itself.
    The Finnish president, when asked if he had a message for Putin, replied “My response would be: you caused this. Look at the mirror.”
    Come into the real world, Rosross.

  • Sindri says:

    Pgang: a scholarly article by Dr Lawriwsky doesn’t belong here? Good Lord, what does? The mendacious ramblings of Gordon Duff? Guff from people like Jacques Baud, who thinks the Skripals probably got food poisoning? Columnists from RT? Genuine question.

  • pgang says:

    Sindri you have an unusual tendency to damn yourself with your own words. Any response I make to your comment is somewhat redundant.
    In regard to Dr Lawriwsky, you ask me to repeat everything I have just said. While asking whether we should pay dissident opinion makers any attention, you shut down any conceivable answer by belittling them. So your question isn’t a question at all, but merely a statement of your inherent bias.
    To provide a response, rather than an impossible attempt to answer a non question, I think you need to remove the blinkers and stop this a priori caricaturing of those whose opinions don’t sit comfortably with your own pre-conceived views. How else are you going to question the universe?
    You seem to assume that differing opinions, such as those of rossross or myself, are the result of thoughtless or naive speculation, lack of intelligence, or even character flaws. I assure you that it is the result of many hours of reading from whatever sources might add value, one way or the other, built on a lifetime of doing the same. Not all of us are scholars, but without those of us who receive and digest scholarship, what is the point of it?
    To offer you some grist, I have been educated enough and read sufficiently to be able to smell a con or an incomplete argument, or bigotry. I would choose a Jacques Baud over a Dr Lawriwksy any day of the week.

  • rosross says:


    I suspect you know as much about Finland as I do, which is not a lot.

    However, I do have an understanding of how American global power dynamics work and there is a goodly chance the Finnish President has been encouraged mightily, to say what he did. Then again, the Finns don’t seem to like anyone else much so why would they like the Russians?

    And, as I am sure you must know, Finland also has its Neo-Nazi movement, like Ukraine, which is a cause for concern, except for those who want to make use of them – Sons of Odin.

    Finland joining Nato is hardly surprising and I bet the Americans have made it worth their while. However, the views of the Finnish President in regard to this war indicate a much too common level of ignorance on the matter.

    I would humbly suggest you would not recognise the real world if you tripped over it. I prefer to stick with facts and common sense. I find it works best.

    Happy to agree to disagree.

  • rosross says:


    Some people live with such high levels of fear that it is impossible for them to tolerate dissent.

    My background is journalism, when there was good and real journalism and we were taught to question everything, do the research, strive for balance and keep to the facts. I remain a sceptic who strives to avoid becoming a cynic.

    I believe nothing I am told by anyone and seek always to do my own research to establish the most sensible and grounded position. In this age, and Covid has been a salient reminder, I believe nothing from Government and their so-called experts and absolutely nothing from the general media.

    There is a smell to propaganda which is easily noticed by those alert to the signs. And never more so than when people deal in absolutes and work to demonise an individual, people, nation or group of any kind. Nothing happens in a vacuum, not a broken marriage or a war. There are always two sides at least, if not more, and a backstory which provides some understanding of why each of those involved, took the course that they did.

    It really was not hard to delve into the history and background of this war in Ukraine, from all sides, and to reach the conclusion that however much we may condemn war, there are valid reasons why the Russians are doing what they are doing. Tragically, it is the Ukrainians who are most betrayed by those they believed would protect them. History is littered with such errors of judgement and betrayals.

  • Brian Boru says:

    I agree with almost all of rosross’s comments next above except where she says Russia has valid reasons to bomb schools, hospitals, homes and apartments and drive about 6 million from their country.

  • pgang says:

    With the announcement of another 40 billion US dollars to be transferred to the Ukraine, does anybody still honestly believe that there is any sanity left on our side of the equations?

  • rosross says:

    @ Brian Boru,

    Can you do everyone a favour please and repost any comment where I said:

    …… where she says Russia has valid reasons to bomb schools, hospitals, homes and apartments and drive about 6 million from their country.

    I said, Russia had valid reasons for invading Ukraine, and that is about understanding why it happened, NOT TO JUSTIFY what is involved.

    Some links to proof that the Russians have bombed hospitals and schools would be great. Not Ukrainians saying they did, but independent, objective proof.

    Oh, and while you are at it, can you repost anything you have written condemning the US for bombing schools, hospitals, homes, apartments and driving millions from their homes in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, to name just three. Thanks muchly.

  • rosross says:


    Given the corrupted nature of American politics in general, there are no doubt many vested agendas making a lot of money out of this war and hoping to make more.

    And if, as some have suggested, the Americans created an environment which led to this war because they want to cripple Russia, then one presumes, they will print as much money as they ‘need’ to keep it going.

    Sanity is not at work and has not been for a long time or the Americans would have worked to draw Russia into the West.

    It will largely be a matter of whether the Ukrainians are prepared to stand up for themselves and their country and negotiate with Russia for an end to this war, or whether they are prepared to ‘fight to the last Ukrainian’ for the Americans.

    Since the Ukrainian Neo-Nazi fascists have threatened to kill Zelensky if he negotiates with the Russians, one presumes, someone else, very crazy brave, would have to replace him, or the Neo-Nazis come to understand they cannot win against Russia and should ‘keep some of their powder dry.’

    One thing is certain, the Americans and their Nato lackeys, sorry, Allies, will not do anything to bring this terrible but inevitable war, to close.

  • rosross says:

    May 11, 2022
    Ukraine – Congress Passes The Bucks, Realism Sneaks In, Poland Plans For More War
    After a lot of talk about defeating Russia in the Ukraine and an alleged lack of Russian fighting abilities Congress passed another $40 billion fund for weapons and economic support. That brings the total to some $53 billion for Ukraine.

    Most of the money will go to the U.S. weapon industry, the CIA and to various Ukrainian oligarchs. Hardly anything will be received by those in need.

    With that packet now passed reality is allowed to sneak into U.S. media reporting on the issue.

    Not one but two reports in the New York Times suddenly lament about the huge area of land the Russian troops have taken in east Ukraine:

    How much of Ukraine does Russia hold?
    Ukraine War’s Geographic Reality: Russia Has Seized Much of the East
    From the later:

    Nonetheless, the Donbas seizure, combined with the Russian invasion’s early success in seizing parts of southern Ukraine adjoining the Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, gives the Kremlin enormous leverage in any future negotiation to halt the conflict.

    And the Russians enjoy the added advantage of naval dominance in the Black Sea, the only maritime route for Ukrainian trade, which they have paralyzed with an embargo that could eventually starve Ukraine economically and is already contributing to a global grain shortage.

    I have often pointed out that the Ukrainian frontline will have a huge number of casualties from Russian artillery strikes. It is even worse than I had thought:

    At the main hospital in Kramatorsk, a city in Donetsk, ambulances stream in day and night, carrying soldiers wounded at the front, who describe being pinned down by near constant shelling.
    About 80 percent of the patients are wounded by explosives such as mines and artillery shells, said Capt. Eduard Antonovskyy, the deputy commander of the medical unit at the hospital. Because of this, he said, very few patients have serious injuries. Either you’re far enough from an explosion to survive or you aren’t, he said.

    “We either get moderate injuries or deaths,” Captain Antonovskyy said.

    Additional to those more realistic reports the NYT allowed one of it authors to write an opinion piece against the widening of the war:

    America and Its Allies Want to Bleed Russia. They Really Shouldn’t.

    At first, the Western support for Ukraine was mainly designed to defend against the invasion. It is now set on a far grander ambition: to weaken Russia itself. Presented as a common-sense response to Russian aggression, the shift, in fact, amounts to a significant escalation.

    By expanding support to Ukraine across the board and shelving any diplomatic effort to stop the fighting, the United States and its allies have greatly increased the danger of an even larger conflict. They are taking a risk far out of step with any realistic strategic gain.

    When I was in Ukraine during the first weeks of the war, even staunch Ukrainian nationalists expressed views far more pragmatic than those that are routine in America now. Talk of neutral status for Ukraine and internationally monitored plebiscites in Donetsk and Luhansk has been jettisoned in favor of bombast and grandstanding.

    What’s more, the invasion has led directly to greater military spending in second- and third-tier European powers. The number of NATO troops in Eastern Europe has grown tenfold, and a Nordic expansion of the organization is likely. A general rearmament of Europe is taking place, driven not by desire for autonomy from American power but in service to it. For the United States, this should be success enough. It is unclear what more there is to gain by weakening Russia, beyond fantasies of regime change.

    Diplomatic efforts ought to be the centerpiece of a new Ukraine strategy. Instead, the war’s boundaries are being expanded and the war itself recast as a struggle between democracy and autocracy, in which the Donbas is the frontier of freedom. This is not just declamatory extravagance. It is reckless. The risks hardly need to be stated.

    Indeed. The current U.S. strategy will end in a catastrophe for Ukraine because it is based on false narratives. Lt.Col. (ret) Daniel Davis has consistently provided a more realist view of the military situation in Ukraine. His latest piece fits that record:

    Russia’s Progress in Donbas Means Ukraine Likely Won’t Win the War
    Over the past few days, a flurry of senior leaders in both Ukraine and Washington have issued defiant claims of not merely resisting Russian aggression, but pushing towards outright victory. While such aspirations are entirely understandable, it is unwise to set policy seeking a preferred outcome if there does not exist a rational path by which Ukraine could accomplish that objective. At present, most indicators, fundamentals of war, and current battlefield trendlines support the prospect of a Ukrainian defeat.

    Davis correctly describes the current military situation on the ground and concludes:

    By continuing to seek a military victory in Ukraine, Ukraine’s troops will continue fighting, no negotiated settlement will be realistically sought, and most likely Russian troops continue making progress. As a result, more Ukrainian civilians and troops will continue to be killed and wounded, more cities destroyed, and the economic and food crises – for both Ukraine and the world – will worsen. The most likely outcome will not change (a negotiated settlement, not a Ukrainian military victory), but the cost to Kyiv will be much, much worse.

    Another former military man who has a realist view of the war is Col. Douglas Macgregor (ret). During the first Gulf war he led a unit in the Battle of 73 Easting:

    Macgregor was the “squadron operations officer who essentially directed the Battle of 73 Easting” during the Gulf War. Facing an Iraqi Republican Guard opponent, he led a contingent consisting of 19 tanks, 26 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 4 M1064 mortar carriers through the sandstorm to the 73 Easting at roughly 16:18 hours on 26 February 1991 destroyed almost 70 Iraqi armored vehicles with no U.S. casualties in a 23-minute span of the battle.

    The previously quoted Lt.Col. Davis was wounded in the same battle. As both men have seen real mechanized war it is not by chance that they have come to similar conclusions.

    Macgregor warns of a widening of the war through a Polish intervention in west Ukraine which would eventually drag NATO into the war:

    Macgregor warns of a widening of the war through a Polish intervention in west Ukraine which would eventually drag NATO into the war:

    The Threat of Polish Involvement in Ukraine
    The war against Russia in Ukraine has evolved, but not in the way Western observers predicted.
    Why would Poland, with the help of Lithuania, try to take western Ukraine? It is all about history:

    Source: Moon of Alabama.

  • Brian Boru says:

    rosross, you said “there are valid reasons why the Russians are doing what they are doing”.
    Their actions are for all to see on our nightly News. They bomb schools, hospitals, homes and apartments and have now driven about 6 million from their country.
    You have sought justify this by your “two wrongs make a right” false argument. Thanks for your Bible lesson, even the devil (or an atheist) can quote scripture. But “two wrongs will never make a right”.

    • Bruce Bailey says:

      I think you refer to the News sources we can’t trust anymore. I would add that a more balanced view is difficult to access when Russian News is censored by the same totalitarians who run our mainstream media. I for one am bitterly disappointed with the blind acceptance of one side of the current propaganda war in forum that I thought was better than this. Is Quadrant no better than the ABC? Just a propaganda machine targeted at conservatives.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Oh, and please don’t take that as acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Americans. It is not meant to be.

  • rosross says:

    The Threat Of Polish Involvement In Ukraine
    The war against Russia in Ukraine has evolved, but not in the way Western observers predicted.

    MAY 10, 2022|3:00 PM
    “In economics,” wrote John Kenneth Galbraith, “the majority is always wrong.” Galbraith might have added that in military affairs, there is a mountain of historical evidence to suggest that American generals and military analysts are always wrong, too.

    When the Spanish Civil War ended in March 1939 after three years of brutal fighting that saw Soviet, German, and Italian equipment, advisors, and troops in heavy combat, senior military leaders in London, Paris, and Washington found surprisingly little evidence to suggest a profound change in warfare. In fact, a U.S. Army officer who later became a major general witnessed the fighting and suggested that, “In Spain, the theories proclaimed for the devastating power of Panzer divisions and other massed armored formations used ‘independently’ are apparently refuted by actual events.” Five months later, events in Poland would repudiate these words, but at the time, his views were widely shared in the West.

    The war against Russia in Ukraine is different from the Spanish Civil War. It’s a proxy war designed to employ the full range of American and allied capabilities against Russia in Ukraine. If Americans are beginning to wonder whether Washington’s enormous investment in Ukrainian assistance has colored the opinions of U.S. analysts and their evaluation of events in Ukraine, their suspicions are justified.

  • rosross says:

    @Brian Boru,

    At least I now understand why you have no true knowledge of this situation, past and present. You get your information from the nightly news, the absolutely, totally, on every count, worst source whether commercial, ABC, SBS, Sky or whatever you watch.

    All you know is American/Nato/Ukrainian propaganda.
    I am not seeking to justify anything. You are doing that. I am seeking to provide perspective so some modicum of understanding can be gained.

    Of course two wrongs do not make a right but those committing the wrongs must share the blame. And that is US/Nato/Ukraine as well as Russia.

    Here’s some insight into those “‘evil’ Russians from someone who knows more than you do.

    Quote: Few analysts in the West knew or cared that Russian commanders were instructed to avoid collateral damage to the civilian population and infrastructure.

    Initially, concerns about collateral damage clearly constrained the Russian army’s action, but in time, Russian operations encircled key urban areas in Eastern Ukraine where Ukrainian forces sought to establish defensive strongholds stocked with ammunition, food, and water. Russian operational intent changed, focusing on systematically reducing the encircled Ukrainian forces and not on capturing metropolitan areas.

    Douglas Macgregor, Col. (ret.) is a senior fellow with The American Conservative, the former advisor to the Secretary of Defense in the Trump administration, a decorated combat veteran, and the author of five books.

  • rosross says:

    @ Brian Boru –

    Quote: However, Paul was right to remind those who contributed to Europe’s terrible conflagration of their responsibility. Blinken claimed that the administration “took very seriously” Russian arguments over NATO expansion, but this is simply false. Derek Chollet, counselor to Blinken, admitted that officials refused to discuss what he termed a “non-issue.” This made war Putin’s only option to force the issue.

    Having attacked its neighbor without justification, Russia ought to lose. However, the sanctimonious tirades spewed by U.S. officials ignore Washington’s role in triggering Moscow’s invasion. By violating post-Cold War assurances and expanding NATO, as well as turning the alliance into an aggressive organization that attacked Serbia and Libya, the West encouraged Russia to respond violently. The current conflict almost certainly would not have occurred but for U.S. policy. Indeed, American officials’ arrogant recklessness may have made the conflict inevitable.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, recently made that point when questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Paul emphasized that Washington’s culpability did not excuse Vladimir Putin’s murderous decision, which already has killed thousands and displaced millions. But, as Paul noted, “while there is no justification for Putin’s war on Ukraine, it does not follow that there’s no explanation for the invasion.”

    Of course, Blinken disclaimed any responsibility for the disastrous consequences of his policies. After all, U.S. officials routinely deflect blame for any and all foreign policy disasters occurring on their watch. Nothing is ever their fault.

    Over the last two decades, the Washington war party’s policies have killed hundreds of thousands of people and turned millions into refugees. Understandably, this has made America’s warrior wannabes touchy when anyone seeks to hold them accountable.

    Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.

  • Sindri says:

    Rosross, I shouldn’t bite, but:
    “I would humbly suggest you would not recognise the real world if you tripped over it”
    This from someone who self-indulgently claims that Australia and the US are more authoritarian than Russia or China.

  • Brian Boru says:

    rosross, you surely noticed that I agreed with your statements above in reply to pgang on propaganda.
    I too am wary of propaganda but the scenes of bombed out villages and apartment blocks do have a ring of truth to me.

  • rosross says:


    Misinterpretation, misquoting and quoting out of context seems to be your approach. You can invent anything that way.

  • rosross says:

    @Brian Boru,

    I did not say that this war is without shocking violence. All wars are violent. I said and repeat, there were reasons, solid reasons, for the Russians to invade Ukraine, having tried to avoid it for decades, and the US/Nato and Ukraine must share responsibility for those bombed out villages and apartment blocks.

  • Brian Boru says:

    Sorry rosross, you actually stated, “there are valid reasons why the Russians are doing what they are doing”. Not just reasons, solid reasons or explanations but “valid” reasons.
    We must agree to disagree, I cannot accept that Russia’s actions are “valid”.

  • Sindri says:

    Rosross, 16th April 2022:
    “At this point the most Totalitarian system is the United States, copied, slavishly by its lackey Allies like Australia”
    Sindri: “I mean, really. More totalitarian than China or Russia. And you accuse others of being “infantile”.”
    Rosross: “You have been locked away for the past two years haven’t you? There is a meme which says: In China people know the news is propaganda; in the US they believe it is news.
    That is why the US and places like Australia are more Totalitarian, because they can be.”
    Don’t try to weasel out of it, my friend.

  • rosross says:

    @Brian Boru,

    We can agree to disagree but history clearly shows that the Russians have been pushed to resort to war.

  • rosross says:


    The US is more totalitarian because it is tyranny by deception. .

    The response of the US, Australia and other allies in regard to Covid was totalitarian. The American warmongering is totalitarian.

    I am weaseling out of nothing. Your inability to understand reality and nuance is the problem.

    We can agree to disagree since it is clear you are incapable of properly processing what is said.

  • rosross says:


    Sindri: “I mean, really. More totalitarian than China or Russia.

    To try to explain, and I would humbly suggest you know little about Russia. Russia is corrupt, certainly, but hardly Totalitarian. China certainly is totalitarian.

    I would simply make the point, if those in a Totalitarian system like China act within the construct of their system is that worse than those who live in a Liberal Democracy and act in Totalitarian ways?

    I do not think so. The US, Australia and many Western nations, are not meant to be Totalitarian systems but we became just that during the time of Covid.

    The insidious Totalitarian creep within academia is vastly worse and more dangerous than anything the Chinese are doing.

    I think when Liberal Democracies become Totalitarian, that is worse than a Totalitarian system being simply what it is and has been.

  • abrogard says:

    Just a little bit biased, eh? ‘Russia’s brutal invasion’, ‘ Russia’s war against Ukraine in the donbas’…
    Ukraine needs security guarantees… Ukraine needs to survive….
    Despite the long winded, far ranging and immensely scholarly discourse the contemporary facts seem to strongly suggest Ukraine had all the security it needed and could have got more by simply closer association with Russia and honoring pledges.
    It doesn’t much matter how right Putin was to express NATO phobia, etc. the point is there was a clear danger there of aggravating someone/something you now claim to have been constantly frightened of for decades? centuries?
    Then why do it?
    And why make it worse by going even further?
    And why choose to mass troops with the clear and declared intent of invading the Donbas?
    etc., etc…
    I don’t give much of a damn about long winded historical justifications for this or that phobia, this or that ‘stance’ or opinion.
    What I care about is thousands of people dying because of a war you were warned and warned and warned about but chose, under the sly insidious treacherous and bribe filled promptings of the USA, to stupidly bring it on yourselves.
    And I know more. I think. No great stretch of intellectual rigour. For those who don’t give a damn about people but who spend their time constructing elaborate fantasies and justifications, Ukraine will come out of this well. It will be rebuilt with all new machines and factories and homes and everyone will be fully employed while that is happening.
    All those still alive that is, of course.
    And while all this rebuilding is going on courtesy of billions of dollars stolen from the pockets of taxpayers far away, the still existing and in fact burgeoning crooks in the Ukraine will be feathering their nests, as they are at this moment, with feathers beyond their wildest dreams.
    And then there’ll come an end to the boom. Not so many jobs. And a view of what ignoring the rotten state of the State has brought about. A rotten infrastructure. Entrenched corruption. A whole State beholden to the USA etc., a client state, a Satrapy, Ukraine has much natural wealth. Amidst all this shower of beneficence built on the bodies of the sacrificed that natural wealth will be mortgaged and stolen away.
    When the free money dries up there’ll be this lovely new Ukraine on the outside and nothing on the inside.
    Just like America you’re hysterical about Russia. There could be a rationale for that. So let us observers stand back and look. What do we see? That the USA uses this hysteria to do evil all over the planet. That Russia does virtually no evil compared to that and does much explicit good. That’s what we see. With our eyes. Right now. Before our eyes. In Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yeman, Afghanistan – everywhere.
    And you want to follow in the footsteps of the USA, well, no, not ‘in the footsteps’ you want to ride in the pocket of the USA. That’s a dangerous ride.

  • abrogard says:

    an excellent book I just read: “The War Against Putin” by M..S. King.

  • Sindri says:

    M.S. King also wrote a book called “The Bad War The Truth NEVER Taught About World War II”. It is a hodge-podge of conspiracy theory and anti-semitic drivel. According to King, “the true good guys”, as he puts it, Hitler and Japan, lost the war.
    This is the crackpot whose book on Putin you are recommending, abrogard.

  • rosross says:

    @Abrogard, well said.

  • rosross says:


    Take a look at American totalitarianism. And revisit how Australians were treated by the police in the time of Covid. And you point the finger at China and Russia. While your eyes are on China you are missing the creep of totalitarianism in the West.

    Quote: Also, there was a woman who tested positive for COVID in Kentucky, and they wanted her to sign a document to say that she wouldn’t leave the state.

    She wouldn’t leave her house. She agreed not to leave her house, but she refused to sign a document. She thought, well, what if I have to go … if there’s an emergency, life or death situation. They sent police to her house and put an ankle bracelet on her in Kentucky to track her. So all of these horrific things we saw on the news happening in China were happening in the United States.

  • Kyle Hargraves says:

    As articles in Quadrant go this piece is about average or a tad below. The history is far from complete and it ignores the detailed expansion of ‘Russia’ from about 800CE to circa Peter I. It is also a pity over the absence of footnotes; less on account of the veracity but more in terms of how the author utilised the information to come to a conclusion contained in a given paragraph.

    I don’t mind that Lawriwsky is ‘devoted’ to the Ukraine and is anti Russian; it is a bit like expecting Murdoch to endorse The Manifesto; we have our preferences. However, Huntington OUGHT to have been introduced. The guy is a major ‘head’ in political economy and international relations. Similarly for Mearsheimer. Read what Mearsheimer wrote about Afghanistan and US foreign policy generally (the military budget being an utter waste but is the product of a host of causal chains). Far from being a ‘ivory tower monk’ let’s keep the ad hominem to one side.

    In point of fact providing aid and arms to Ukraine is an act of moral cowardice by the West which will ensure, over time, the destruction of Ukraine. The West has two options : a full military engagement (WW II)
    or shut the # up. Whatever is one’s view the entire raison d’etre is (1) the promotion of Russia to Great Power status and (2) the non-expansion of NATO (which seems as divided as the EU on foreign policy).

    Nouns such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ have no place in international political events. Find a map on U.Tube which presents the globe as a change of boundaries, from circa 400BCE, as war determines. As a time sequence, the images appear as a collage. We are witnessing the loss of USA uni-power hegemony (Brits from circa 1850) then yanks (post 1918 or definitely 1945) to a situation where two countries can provide a creditable challenge. The events in the Pacific are not unrelated.

  • pgang says:

    Sindri, I agree, not a trustworthy source. I also agree that rossross takes the totalitarian meme too far. I get his/her point, but it is overstated.
    Kyle, well said, although as an emotional devotee of Ukraine Dr Lawriwsky had a particular duty to tone down his bias. It dissolved the entire article into hubris, apart from the selective history and quotations.
    I note that Russia has now effectively won the war, as expected. The next moves on the chess board are going to be very interesting.
    American hegemony has been deservedly short-lived. Squandered, if you will. Whether then can re-invent themselves as a mature global power seems to be the next big question.

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