The collapse of the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany made the United States the sole superpower in the world responsible for more than two-thirds of NATO funding and equipment. NATO was set up in 1949 as a ‘sanitary cordon’ against the real and perceived Soviet Union and its expansionist agenda in Europe. The West’s fear of Russia predated even the Bolshevik victory in the Russian civil war in 1921. Winston Churchill, British wartime prime minister coined the phrase ‘sanitary cordon’ after the victory of the ‘Reds’ over the ‘Whites’ in the bloody Russian civil war. It was generally believed in the west in the nineteenth century that in order to make your ward detest totalitarianism and appreciate democracy, send him or her to Russia to witness unrestrained power in all its odious ramifications.
The morbid fascination of the west with Russia had been diagnosed by Russia’s greatest authors in the nineteenth century. Nikolai Gogol in his ‘Dead Souls’ described an out-of-control Russian troika galloping along to the abyss. All nations gave the troika the right of way. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the eternal human psychologist in the hauntingly chapter titled ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ in his epic ‘Brother Karamazov’ set in Seville, Spain had the exasperated Grand Inquisitor asking the imprisoned Jesus why he had returned to earth to upend their structure of power based on Miracle and Authority. He could have set his epic novel in Russia. The pre-revolution Russian Orthodox Church was the bulwark of state in all its arbitrariness and lawlessness.
Ukraine also had its Orthodox church upholding the totalitarian tenets of its overbearing neighbor. It suffered as so many nations with Russian Exceptionalism and hegemonism. There was a deliberate policy of the russification of the conquered lands. Russia started expanding in the 13th century and Ukraine was the first state to be ‘assimilated’ into ‘’Holy Russia’. Russia and Ukraine had a long and chequered history steeped in sorrows and blood.
Ukraine was arguably the richest land in Tsarist and Soviet Russia apart from the core of Russia itself. Russia viewed it as part of an indissoluble union. The first nuclear accident took place at the Chernobyl nuclear plant during the Soviet era. It played an ambiguous role during Adolf Hitler’s “operation Barbarosa” first welcoming the invading Germans as liberators and later turning against them in a bloody and sanguinary war of attrition. The mass murder of over 100000 Jews at Babi Yar took place on Ukrainian territory.
The initial welcome of the invading Germans told a lot about the Russian superiority complex. Odesa was thoroughly Russified and Crimea became a Russian colony. The (in)famous Crimean campaign of 1854-1856 pitting Tsarist Russia against combined European power was a foretaste of the senseless world war 1. Today, Russia has occupied Crimea, and Odesa with its famous catacombs is peopled with more Russians than the owners of the land.
The love-hate relationship between the two countries after the demise of the Soviet Union was exacerbated by the triumphalist and thoughtless policies of the United States and Europe. Zelensky, the iron ruler of Ukraine is no saint. The fears of the Russians about NATO encirclement were real. What with the avalanche of defections of erstwhile Russian satellites to NATO and the deployment of nuclear missiles around Russia? This can also be attributed to past Russian policies and the fear of the victims of a suffocating Russian bear hug. But is it politic to encircle a nuclear-armed state and threaten it with collective retribution in case of war? Was Ukraine wise to even contemplate joining NATO and all that it subscribed to? Was the invasion justified and will the West risk a nuclear exchange with Putin’s Russia?
Definitely no. But it will be a great miscalculation if the resolve of the West is tested by the man in the Kremlin. How all these pan out is in the womb of time.
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