The Russo-Ukrainian war: A case study of Western hypocrisy & liberal white supremacist discourse
Once again, the season of selective solidarity and hegemonic storytelling is upon us.
Following Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, the Western (social) mediasphere was immediately abuzz with unconditional compassion for a country most people in the West could not even locate on a map, let alone give you even a cursory overview of the conflict that has been raging there since 2014.
“Pray for Ukraine” headlines in bold letters emblazoned across the blue and yellow that are the country’s national colours were popping up on my feed on Day 1 of the attack, surprisingly even from followers of colour who I had previously thought were above engaging in hashtag performativity and taking sides in an internecine beef between two white peoples.
Others called out the blatant double standard of the Western media in covering conflicts in the Global North and those in the Global South, with US news outlet Mondoweiss criticising Western media’s hypocrisy on the “nobility of Ukrainian resistance” and “illegitimacy of Palestinian resistance”. One Hassan Yazdi elaborated in a widely shared tweet, saying he found it “interesting how supporters of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, balkanisation of Syria and Libya, the genocide of Yemen, and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan suddenly turned into bastions of international law, human rights and territorial integrity”.
There were many such posts in this vein, but it quickly became clear that the double standards within the Westcentric coverage of this war ran even deeper. Within the first days it had become undeniable that the Russo-Ukrainian war was providing an exemplary case study of Western hypocrisy, hegemonic storytelling and liberal white supremacist discourse.
Casus belli NATO expansionism
One such fictitious narrative propagated by the Western myth-making machinery for decades and which the war has catapulted to the centre of debate is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a “strictly defensive” military alliance. Yet if one takes a gander at where NATO has been active after the fall of the Soviet Union, one quickly realises that it is in fact the exact opposite, bombing Yugoslavia in 1999, for instance, in clear violation of international law.
As there had been no justification for invoking the collective defence clause enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington treaty, owing to the fact that Yugoslavia had never attacked a NATO member state, the latter’s two and a half month bombing campaign was framed as a humanitarian mission.
Yet only two years later, NATO had no qualms in invoking Article 5 within a mere 24 hours after the 9/11 attacks in order to legitimise the ongoing US-led “War on Terror” in Muslim countries.
While NATO’s creeping eastward expansion, viewed by Russia as a security threat, is consistent with the organisation’s “open-door” policy, it does raise questions as to its ulterior motives, and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that NATO is a defensive alliance not solely focused on Russia when one looks at its growth in terms of timing, speed and direction: half of its 30 member states were added after the end of the Cold War, among them all former member states of the truly defensive Warsaw Pact, created in 1955 in reaction to the crossed red line of West Germany joining NATO.
In fact, many analysts, both liberal and conservative, point to NATO’s obsessive expansionism as the root cause of this current war in Ukraine. Yet the West continues to deny this, conveniently omitting that ever since the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004, Russia has been tolerating adversary troops on its border, including American ones.
If anything, Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, painted by the West as the aggressor, has been extremely patient, despite what from a Russian perspective can only be viewed as a continued affront and concerted effort to antagonize a country 75% larger in size than the US and that did the grunt work in freeing thankless Europe from fascism.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in 2007, Putin, who British liberal i Newspaper has branded a “tyrant”, said:
“NATO […] represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask: against whom is this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?”
Are these the words and demeanour of a tyrant? I dare US president Joe Biden to show the same restraint Putin has shown for years if Russian troops are ever stationed on the US’s southern border in Mexico. And we all know what happened the last time Russia stashed a few of its ballistic missiles in a sovereign country located in what Americans view as their “backyard”: the US reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was to bring the world to the precipice of a nuclear war.
Constructing a clash of civilisations and the clandestine renaissance of German militarism
While Western hypocrisy in this conflict has been blatant, the depth of anti-Russian hatred was on full display in the reactions of populist leaders when news of the Russian incursion into Ukraine broke: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wasted no time in framing a geopolitical conflict as a clash of civilisations, threatening to “weaken Russia’s economic base and its capacity to modernise”. France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire went ballistic when he said: “We’re waging an all-out economic and financial war on Russia”.
Translation: the EU hates Russians so much it wishes to kick them back to the Stone Age.
In a nod to the historic Nazism of her native Germany, the self-appointed EU propaganda minister von der Leyen has also been the principal force behind the efforts to ban Russian media channels RT and Sputnik from the EU. I myself take this brazen attack on press freedom and civil liberties personally as I have contributed multiple op-eds to RT’s German news website, RT Deutsch.
On the other side of the English Channel, UK prime minister and career populist Boris Johnson went on a particularly passionate tirade in the Commons on the first day of the war, to bipartisan applause. British media in particular have been instrumental in stirring up war hysteria: the liberal i mentioned earlier, my favourite daily while I was living in London due to its high proportion of antiracist articles and contributors of colour in its employ, proved to be a veritable smorgasbord of anti-Russian sentiment: as early as February 17, the paper’s online version featured an overkill of 13 headlines (!) revealing the “independent” paper’s staunchly pro-Ukrainian stance.
Meanwhile, in the German capital Berlin, on Day 4 of Russia’s military operation, tens of thousands of people descended on the city’s central Unter den Linden boulevard to demonstrate against the war, on the exact same avenue where stands a monument commemorating Soviet heroism during World War Two. While this pro-Ukrainian rah-rah rally masquerading as a peace protest was in full swing, only a stone’s throw away in the Reichstag building, chancellor Olaf Scholz was announcing to the German parliament his country’s decision to ramp up military spending and supply Ukrainian fighters with lethal weapons, in a historic departure from a long-standing government policy of non-interventionism.
Let the irony sink in here: while Germans were protesting for peace, their own government was announcing its commitment to engage in war.
Furthermore, Germans continue to deny the existence of Nazism within the Ukrainian armed forces. This is not surprising as Germany’s own military, the Bundeswehr, has a severe Nazi problem of its own: in April of 2017, Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service (MAD) was investigating 275 suspected cases of right-wing extremism within its own ranks.
So when Chancellor Olaf Scholz outlined his decision to channel 100 billion Euros (!) into a special fund within the Bundeswehr (the legal descendent of Hitler’s Wehrmacht and which Foreign Policy in the past has described as having a “Wehrmacht fetish”) and directly supply lethal weapons to Ukraine which a 2019 article in US publication The Nation described as “the world’s only nation to have a Neo-Nazi formation in its armed forces”, not only was this a German policy shift of epic proportions, but also, hyperbolically speaking, a case of original Nazis helping out copycat ones.
While it is common knowledge that the Azov Battalion serving under the Ukrainian national guard is a die-hard Neo-Nazi organisation with members sporting Nazi insignia on their military fatigues, one of Germany’s most popular news websites, tagesschau.de (an online version of the flagship news show of state broadcaster ARD), published an article titled “Denazification as pretext”, in which it basically accused Putin of fabricating the image of a “Nazi-Ukraine.”
How transparent a lie this is: in 2014, it was of all things Germany’s second state broadcaster ZDF that showed to its national audience images of Azov Battalion fighters with swastikas and SS runes on their helmets. Yes, the body of Western propaganda is so inconsistent that one hand does the exact opposite of the other and there is actually no need to critically engage with it, as it literally debunks itself.
Facebook parent company Meta’s decision to “make a narrow exception for praise of the Azov Battalion” which in 2019 had been banned and placed under Facebook’s Tier 1 designation, an honour bestowed upon groups such as ISIL and the KKK, is the most glaring example of the West’s opportunistic and hypocritical approach to Nazism in the context of this conflict.
A Westcentric discourse takes a white supremacist turn
As if the anti-Russian discourse of these past few weeks hasn’t been racist enough, Western coverage of the war took an even more xenophobic turn. That white supremacy has never been the exclusive purview of the right, one got a beautiful load of when CBS’s Kiev correspondent Charlie D’Agatha casually spewed these raw nuggets of orientalist bile on Day 2 of Russia’s military operation that have catapulted him to social media infamy:
“This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilised, relatively European - I have to choose those words carefully, too - city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen”.
There is so much wrong with this statement, I don’t even know where to begin: in one sentence this “journalist” managed to insult Iraqis, Afghans and Ukrainians and describe them as uncivilised, conveniently omit the fact that the reason Iraq and Afghanistan have “seen conflict raging for decades” has been the warfare unleashed by his own country, deny Ukraine its geographical and cultural location in Europe and indirectly admit that Westerners/white people, as evidenced by the generic pronoun “you” he used when addressing a national US TV audience, secretly hope that what is happening in Ukraine should only happen to places like Iraq and Afghanistan instead.
Al Jazeera English’s Peter Dobbie repeated the sentiment almost verbatim. In fact, the list of white “journalists” speaking their white supremacist minds in front of the camera with casual abandon just a few days into the war has been so long that Princeton University professor and contributing editor at The New Yorker, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, wrote that racism was “flowing freely like water!” None of these closeted white supremacists, who have seen the war in Ukraine as an opportunity for their coming out, found it worth mentioning that many African residents fleeing Ukraine were not being allowed on to buses and trains, some even being forced to give up seats for white Ukrainians in true Jim Crow and Apartheid manner.
Without trying to sound cynical, this conflict has been a veritable treasure trove of fascinating insights into the concept of hegemony and the pathological workings of the Western (liberal) mind, one that has never really laid the Cold War to rest. In the context of this war, the valuable lesson to be learned here is that after a centennium of pain-staking construction work on the mythological figure that is the Russki bogeyman, anti-Russian propaganda originating from the ruling classes can always bet on an ill-informed public’s sheepish gullibility and the deeply entrenched xenophobia that lies in wait even in the most liberal of Western psyches, ready to be activated by the slightest of external triggers.
In this regard, it is fair to say that the warmongers from the US-EU-UK-NATO Axis of Aggression have done a darned rootin’-tootin’ good job.