“Holodomor” is a combination of Ukranian words meaning roughly to inflict death by starvation. This is how Ukrainians remember Joseph Stalin, who starved and relocated millions of people in Ukraine during the 1930’s in order to consolidate power. The relationship between the peoples of Russia and Ukraine is complicated, with a history of conflict that stretches back 1000 years before Stalin.
The Donbas region in eastern Ukraine is one of the areas where Stalin displaced ethnic Ukrainians with Russians, and it has remained an area of contention since the Soviet Union fell in 1991. Following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in 2014, armed conflict between separatists and Ukranian government forces has been a recurring problem for a part of the world which has endured more than its share of tragedy.
Since 2014, Russia has engaged in “hybrid warfare” in order to destabilize the region. This has included disinformation campaigns, irregular operations or “black ops,” supplying weapons to the separatists and occasionally the use of conventional troops. This week, as anyone with access to any form of media knows, the tragedy in Ukraine has escalated.
It is difficult for a student of history to embrace the unwelcome irony of the virtue signaling and political pearl-clutching which now preoccupies news cycles, social media and the White House. Of course, we condemn the invasion of Ukraine, because acts of aggression are inherently evil. We pray for the citizens who, like any nation, have a right to determine their own destiny without being used by international bullies in the pursuit of greater wealth and power. But as the 1000-year history of this troubled region suggests, the first thing we need to realize from our armchair opinion sanctuary, is that we do not, and we cannot fully understand the conflict.
Most importantly, in condemning Putin’s actions we also need to hold up a mirror to reflect the misadventures of our own government, which we have allowed and empowered to commit essentially the same acts of aggression, or have we forgotten so soon the Balkans, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen?
Tragically, these are just a few of the conflicts that we know about; the ones that have been repackaged by corporate media for our consumption. We remain willfully ignorant of the disinformation campaigns, black ops and weapons sales orchestrated by our own government industrial complex as we remain far and away the largest weapons peddler on the planet. Unwelcome irony, again, in a government which dreams of disarming its own citizens suppling weapons to other nations to fight tyranny.
There are some things we can infer about Putin with some degree of accuracy. As several of the saner voices in international diplomacy have long maintained, a nation which remembers vividly the Cuban missile crisis would not be inclined to tolerate a nuclear armed adversary on its soft underbelly. Did we force Putin’s hand? Historians will debate that indefinitely. They will also argue the degree to which the weakness demonstrated in our inept political leadership and conflicted social upheavals signaled to a determined adversary that there was an opportunity to strike.
Oh, but the sanctions… Yes, and Russia has over $600 billion in cash from oil and gas sales to ride out the storm while Europe freezes and pays through the nose for scarce supplies, and China moves to support its ally to its own advantage. We will also help pay the cost of these sanctions in rising food and fuel prices, even though we do not import a single grain of wheat or a drop of fuel from Ukraine or Russia. [Correction: The US imports approximately 3% of its oil used in refining gasoline from the Russian Federation.]
It is an unwelcome and uncomfortable irony that we will be paying higher prices even beyond the damage wrought by our own failed economic policies, because corporate consolidation of power and the monetization of all human activity has rendered our basic needs into “commodities” to be sold and resold in a virtual realm divorced from supply and demand and vulnerable to the vagaries of the global financial system.
If there is a silver lining in the dark clouds which have gathered, it may be that we have reached peak centralization. Empires like the Soviet Union are doomed to fail because of the independence inherent in human nature. Financial empires fail for similar reasons. A movement away from centralization would mean more privately owned business, more small companies, more localized and regional supply chains – and a more robust economy.
One final unwelcome irony: How odd that a culture which aspires to worship diversity should be so blind to the consequences of a lack thereof in business and in government. These are things to consider as we grumble and complain about the price of bread. We might also remember to be grateful that we don’t have to send our kids to school with their blood types sewn to the back of their jackets.