Putin throws down the gauntlet
The moral invalidation of the enemy lies at the heart of the propaganda war that always precedes the ‘real’ war.
Vladimir Putin’s speech marking the accession of four Ukrainian regions to Russia challenges ‘western’ hegemony and exceptionalism at its very core. These were not the blustering remarks by the president of a small country unable to prevent the ‘west’ from destroying it unless he gives in to its demands. This was straight-talking by the head of a powerful state capable of inflicting as much damage on the ‘west’ as it is threatening to inflict on his country, and perhaps even more, given Russia’s development in recent years of missiles which, according to Putin, give Russia the edge over what NATO has in its arsenal.
Of interest in the first place is Putin’s references to the "so-called west". After all, what is the ‘west’ but the US and a swarm of camp followers too craven to challenge it? These states are not ‘partners’ in any real sense but as much satraps within the American empire as provincial governors were in the Persian empire at the time of Darius or Xerxes. From Afghanistan and the genocidal wars on Iraq, Libya, and Syria to the use of sanctions, they are deeply complicit in US-orchestrated war crimes and crimes against humanity. Yet, in the case of Ukraine, they dare to attack Russia for breaking the ‘rules-based international order.’
In his speech marking Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in February, Putin referred to the ‘west’ as the "empire of lies.’’ Over half a millennium, the road to hell for millions in distant lands was always paved with good intentions. In the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, plunder of natural resources and the rivers of blood spilled by these genocidal states were the reality, and ‘civilization and progress’ were the packaging. In the 20th century, the sales pitch was updated. Civilization still got an occasional mention but now it was democracy being delivered at the point of a gun.
Only rarely was the lie exposed, as it was when Roger Casement and the journalist E.D Morel exposed the horror that was King Leopold’s Belgium, the setting a little while later for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
The moral invalidation of the enemy lies at the heart of the propaganda war that always precedes the ‘real’ war. The domestic audience is groomed to hate so that when the shooting starts, there is an enemy that deserves to be destroyed, whatever the civilian cost. Now it is Putin’s turn to be treated as someone less than human, as a ‘’cornered rat” as the Australian columnist Peter Hartcher recently called him.
The hypocrisy and moral delinquency of the ‘west’ extend to the millions of refugees it has created through its wars. Australia, to its indelible historical shame, led the global way by blocking ‘boat people’ from entering its territorial waters, by selling them to impoverished neighboring countries, and by locking them up in the middle of the desert when somehow they managed to reach land. The Australian public was not allowed to know them, see them, or hear them for fear that they would sympathize with their awful situation and make the connection between the refugees and the politicians who had committed Australia to the attacks on their countries, none of which had in any way provoked Australia. These wars were further examples of how Australia turned long ago from being a lucky country into a lackey country.
Putin’s remarks were as much aimed at the Americas, Africa, the Middle East, China, the Indian subcontinent, and East and Southeast Asia as they were against the ‘west’. Russia has its own bad track record in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as the neocon thinktankers, columnists for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the London Daily Telegraph will point out sooner or later, but in all these other regions, Putin is tapping into bitter memories of ‘western’ invasion, occupation, death, and destruction. The message will also strike home among the colonized and subjugated native populations of the US and Canada.
The neocolonial ‘west’ still seeks to control these distant lands but at a time of its weakening, not only do these regions have what they always had - the numbers (more than 80 percent of the planet’s population) - they now have the technological skills and the capacity for political, economic, and military resistance they did not have even half a century ago, including, for some, the possession of nuclear weapons.
Putin’s blunt message to the ‘west’ began with how, in 1991, the Soviet party elite took the decision to terminate the Soviet Union “without asking the ordinary citizens what they wanted.” The result was a national catastrophe but still “we cannot go back to the past.” His specific message to the “Kiev authorities’’ and their “western handlers’’ was that the citizens of the four contested regions “are now our citizens forever.” Russia would defend the land of which these four regions are now part ‘’with all the forces and resources we have.” Since 1991, he said the ‘west’ had been looking for every opportunity to strike a blow at Russia and had crossed every red line so that it could continue to live off the world and to plunder and force other countries to surrender their sovereignty to the US. It had launched a hybrid war against Russia while hypocritically and deceitfully insisting on respect for the "rules-based order.”
As he had said in an earlier speech, it was not the Russian government but high-ranking figures in NATO states who first began talking about the use of a nuclear weapon to stop the ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, but Russia would use all means at its disposal to protect the state and its people – ‘’it’s not a bluff’’ – and those trying to blackmail it with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can also turn in their direction. Any potential aggressor would face defeat and ominous consequences should it directly attack “our country".
Having accused Russia of bombing its own POW camp, the nuclear plant it was protecting, and the civilian convoys seeking safety across the border in Russian territory, ‘western’ governments and the media are now running the farcical line that Russia sabotaged its own Nord Stream gas pipeline. While Putin blamed the “Anglo-Saxons” for this atrocity, other sources point to a joint effort by Poland, Denmark, and Sweden in an operation orchestrated by the US; but whatever the specifics, there’s no doubt that this was set up by the US. Biden had threatened to shut down the pipeline, and the US is the sole beneficiary, now that it is able to sell badly needed gas to Europe at inflated prices. The great loser is a Europe heading into winter without an adequate supply of gas for heating and energy.
‘Western’ governments must know who is behind this. Some will be part of the conspiracy, but others may take the opportunity to reflect on where US leadership is actually leading them, into a cold winter and the grave possibility of an open war on Russia. For all the arms they have been sending to Ukraine, do these other states really want to be dragged into a European war for the sake of one of the most corrupt governments in the European arena and a showman president who will last only as long as the US wants him to last?
Putin has cut to the chase. He has thrown down the gauntlet. He spoke from the depths of Russian history. This is existential for Russia and for Putin’s leadership. The ‘west’ was jubilant when the Soviet Union collapsed and was dismayed by the revival of a strong Russia from the ruins. It picked up the reins of the cold war from where it left off and ever since 1991 has sought to break Russia down. After decades of provocation, Ukraine was the last straw. A backdown would leave the US with an egg on its face but the issue is hardly existential. The survival of the republic is not at stake: there are greater dangers within its borders. The clearly out-of-it Biden is not going to last (even though he says he intends to run again in 2024), so he can always be blamed for leading the US into this dead end. The fact that the New York Times is now running an article on the conclusion by US intelligence that “elements of the Ukrainian government” were responsible for the murder of Darya Dugina in August is very significant. Could it mean the US is preparing to ditch Zelensky ahead of moving toward a negotiated settlement?
The situation is not existential for NATO or the EU either. Ukraine has no hope of being admitted into its ranks in the foreseeable future and any attempt to pull the organization any deeper into this mess would be blocked by its own members. Austria wants de-escalation and Germany is already indicating that it has gone as far in supporting the Kiev regime as it is prepared to go. Its own ministers are already bickering over the status of the government’s intervention in Ukraine. Other European states are certain to pull back from where the Washington pied piper has been taking them. They will know from their intelligence services who sabotaged Nord Stream even if they are never going to say so openly.
This should be a wake-up call because - clearly - the destruction of the pipeline was aimed at Europe as well as Russia. It cannot be dismissed as unfortunate collateral damage. It was a deliberate blow, aimed at Germany in particular. An energy crisis, higher prices for food, and a sharp decline in the value of the Euro are all part of the accumulating cost of the long-term craven failure of European governments to stand up to the US, not just over Ukraine and Russia but over Iran, Syria and other countries that have fallen foul of US or Israeli interests.