Western Hypocrisy over Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been rightly condemned by the international community. While it most certainly is the case Russia was provoked to take steps against the increasing expansion of NATO in eastern Europe, it is impossible to justify an invasion that has already cost the lives of more than two thousand civilians and raised tensions between the West and Russia to levels unknown since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. European and North American news outlets have gone into overdrive in their frenetic criticism of Russia and its president Vladimir Putin; describing him as ‘unhinged,’ ‘out of control,’ and as ‘another Hitler.’ This frothy messaging has been duly taken up by the political right, with one Republican senator in the United States, Lindsey Graham, calling for Putin’s assassination. Public hostility towards Russia, stirred up by the Russophobic rhetoric of politicians and the biased and highly distorted coverage of the crisis in the media, has rocketed to levels that have worried even the right-wing Spectator magazine in Britain.

In Dublin, the capital of neutral Ireland, the Russian Embassy was assaulted by ‘peace protesters’ threatening embassy staff, vandalising the gates, and throwing projectiles into the grounds. One priest, Fr Fergal MacDonagh, arrived with a tin of red paint — presumably representing the blood of Ukraine — and emptied its contents over the embassy wall while giving an interview to a right-wing talk radio programme on his mobile phone. He threw this ‘blood’ on the wall while others spray painted swastikas over the gate posts. This makes sense of course when we consider the popular anti-Semitic trope that says Putin’s backers and financiers — the ‘oligarchs’ — are all Jews. This all happened in the city on the same day a Ukrainian coffee shop owner was harassed and verbally abused for being ‘Russian.’ Russian students are hiding in their campus accommodation. And this is only the picture in Ireland — a neutral country.

What is clear is that the stoking of anti-Russian sentiment has unleashed a torrent of misdirected rage at perfectly innocent people, and it is entirely hypocritical. While at present Russia is being treated as a bloodthirsty new Soviet Union bent on world domination and the extermination of defenceless people, the reality is that since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 the Russian Federation has only been involved in a small handful of conflicts beyond its own borders. No one can argue that Mr Putin is a good man. He is not. He represents some of the worst aspects of authoritarianism and reaction on display in the modern world, but he is hardly Attila the Hun. One has to wonder then just how many of these peaceniks decrying the ‘savagery’ and ‘barbarism’ of the Russian invasion of Ukraine behaved outside US embassies in the ‘free world’ over the past three decades.

If we truly want to identify a monster in the global village, we need look no further than the United States of America and its NATO alliance. Over the past thirty-two years, from the fall of the Berlin Wall, the US has had a total of only three years in which it has not been engaged in a foreign ‘intervention’ (the United States ‘intervenes,’ it never invades) in which its military forces killed civilians. That is an appalling twenty-nine years of war out of thirty-two. And when we begin to take stock of these US and NATO interventions and the civilian casualties they caused, it quickly becomes apparent that the United States is not merely a monster. It is a psychopathic serial killer.

In the name of ‘freedom and democracy’ — a cynical code for shock and awe, the US and its allies invaded Iraq in 1990 and the Gulf War (1990-91) cost the lives of an estimated 3,664 Iraqi civilians. Actually, let us just take a moment to go through the list. This may take a few moments: Mogadishu (1993) cost 315 lives, Bosnia (1992-95) 38,246, Croatia (1991-95) 12,513, Haiti (1994-95) 301, Kosovo (1998-99) 13,548, Afghanistan (2001-21) 46,319 civilian lives, drone strikes in Yemen (2002-present) 225, Iraq (2003-11) — wait for it — 1,033,000, drone strikes in Pakistan 965, Somalia (2007-present) 113, Libya (2011) 72, the Iraq intervention (2014-21) about 34,000, the Syria intervention (2014-present) 9,947, and an unknown number of civilian casualties in the 2015-19 Libyan intervention. Unopposed, as the world’s only superpower, US interventionism caused in excess of 1,193,228 innocent human lives between 1990 and now. Take a moment to think about that.

We can absolutely see in this analysis a fair amount of whataboutery, for sure. But by the same token we have to take the difference in scale into account. 2,000 civilian casualties — in a context in which the Ukrainian government has armed civilians — against almost 1.2 million dead civilians. The sheer scale of the United States’ ongoing war crimes simply cannot be ignored, and yet this is precisely what the feverish media coverage of the Ukrainian invasion is directed towards — hiding from us the rank hypocrisy of the US and its allies’ manufactured outrage at the civilian deaths.

Also, returning to Fr MacDonagh and his neo-Nazi friends at the Russian Embassy in Dublin — and all like ‘protests’ around the world, we must ask: Did they protest against the war in Iraq or Afghanistan? And, if so, did they do anything like this to the United States Embassy? The answer to this is probably — or definitely — no. In spite the the truly awesome scale of the United States and NATO’s murder machine, essentially we still treat them as friends; as people like us. It is in this, we must assume, that we begin to discover the real source of the outrage. Russians are not people like us, they are Russians. Forty-five years of the Cold War and anti-Russian propaganda have hardwired into western culture a deep seated mistrust of Slavs and Russians in particular. The stereotype of ‘the Russian’ in western film and literature has ingrained in our collective consciousness a muscular and meat-headed, aggressive and fundamentally untrustworthy and dangerous Ivan Drago or Sergei Podovsky; a negative Russophobic trope that has continued long after the Cold War with such villains as Xenia Onatopp, Viggo Tarasov, and Yulian Kuznetsov.

So completely convinced are we that ‘the Russian’ is a monster that all we are capable of seeing in Russia is monsters, and this has not been at all difficult for western governments to tap into and exploit for their own ends. Ireland is by far not the worst example, and so here we are looking at Ireland so as to give some kind of idea of how bad things are in more Russophobic societies — places like Britain, Germany, Poland, and Estonia. While, for example, Poland and Estonia have recent histories of Russian Soviet domination and so have legitimate fears of a return to that awful reality, we can also see in this a racial element. Russia, we have decided, is the evil other. Whatever it does is wicked. But the United States can do no wrong. Ireland is a neutral state. It is not a member of NATO or any other military alliance, and yet when the United States Air Force was illegally transporting innocent Iraqi civilians to ‘Black Spot’ torture facilities, the Irish government allowed the US Air Force to use Shannon Airport and actively turned a blind eye to the war crimes being perpetrated on our soil. Even now our government struggles to criticise the US for doing this.

War is an evil thing. It is the greatest of all international crimes, and it lacks any kind of rational or moral justification. Russia is rightly condemned for the invasion of Ukraine, but we cannot be this hypocritical. During the US occupation of Iraq, US soldiers and western mercenaries were above the law inside the so-called Green Zone. Kill squads were organised for sport, with bands of soldiers using the cover of darkness to terrorise civilians in their homes. Rape and murder were common. How much of this was ever brought to our attention? How much of this was protested outside the American Embassy — and how many US citizens were abused on our streets? Russia has done a terrible thing, but it did this in response to NATO expansion — and the last thing Russia wants in its backyard is a US-controlled Green Zone.

Jason Michael McCann, M.Phil. (TCD) Conflict Studies
The author holds a postgraduate degree in Race, Ethnicity and Conflict from the University of Dublin, Trinity College, and an academic fellowship in the study of conflict from the University of West Flanders. He has published on the history of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the murder of the Hungarian Jews in 1944.