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Ukraine: To what extent can western countries get into direct confrontation with Russia?

By Bharat Dogra 

Among all the countries and regions of the world, the west is supposed to have the best capacity for conducting research, carrying out investigations and gathering intelligence. This is due to the existence of very well-funded intelligence agencies, academic and research organizations, universities and think –tanks as well as very well-resourced and networked media organizations. In addition there is supposed to be the constitutionally guaranteed freedom for a diversity of opinion to exist and spread, providing checks and balances and enabling corrections at an early stage. Opposition parties are supposed to have wide space, more than in most other countries, to provide alternative and opposing views and having these debated, leading to correctives when needed. All this together can provide a very strong base for evidence-based policy- making.
However despite all this, it increasingly appears that the room for evidence-based policy in the west is fast shrinking, judging from some recent instances. The most discussed issue of recent times has been the Ukraine conflict where most evidence has to be obtained from within Europe and hence is particularly easy to collect. It should have been possible to find very clear answers to at least four basic questions on the situation in Ukraine during 2014-2021.
Firstly, was the 2014 coup to dislodge an elected government largely the result of the support and instigation of the USA and close allies with the aim of a consistently anti-Russia policy being imposed on Ukraine? Secondly, was this followed by the steady strengthening of neo-Nazi forces, including armed forces? Thirdly, were there many attacks on Russian language speaking citizens during this period leading to several thousand deaths, with the neo-Nazis being the leading perpetrators, and such attacks increasing further in 2021? Lastly, did this period witness large-scale farmland grab by big business interests, including those with strong links to western countries and tax havens, while at the same time the condition of farmers, workers and common people declined, at least partially due to policies imposed by west-dominated financial institutions?
These are four crucial questions for getting a clear idea of the nature of changes taking place in Ukraine during 2014-21. If the answer to all these questions is in the affirmative, then clearly the ethical case against the Ukraine authorities and those supporting them during this period would be very strong. On grounds of democracy, human rights and justice, there would be a very strong case for condemning what was happening in Ukraine during this period.
Now a number of efforts of individuals and organizations based within the west have in fact examined these four questions and on the basis of a lot of evidence have answered all these four questions in the affirmative. However these are mostly small, frequently marginalized efforts and their findings have been ignored by those who are really most important from the point of view of policy making. The dominant view has ignored all these concerns. The leading opposition parties have also not taken up these concerns. The leading think-tanks have also not taken them up, nor have the leading media organizations, instead pushing a very different narrative.
In these conditions some of the distinguished scholars, helped by younger colleagues and students, can play a very important role, without any bias at all and in a completely honest way, caring only for the factual position. They can prepare very detailed evidence-based reports on these issues together with carefully written summaries and press releases and make these available for anybody to read and discuss. There can be several efforts in this direction. This will help to create a public opinion based on the factual situation.
Then there is the question of how to see the Russian invasion. There is a strong case for saying that at a time of such a serious environmental crisis, there is no room for any invasion or any war. Then there is also the obvious fact that all invasions involve much regrettable loss of life and other distress, particularly in these times when such destructive weapons are available. But having said that, the task of detailed examination of any invasion still remains, with more emphasis on exploring to what extent it was avoidable and secondly, who should get the most blame for this.
Now the relevant questions in this context are—to what extent was Ukraine being changed to make the situation unacceptably risky for Russia and to what extent were the attacks on the Russian speaking people of Ukraine increasing? If the situation in both these contexts was steadily worsening, and this can be found by evidence-based research, what were the options available to Russia? Was it possible to protect essential and legitimate interests of Russia without an invasion? If Russia had merely relied on any helpful action from the UN or the ‘international community’ was there a reasonable chance of its concerns being addressed? If such questions are honestly explored, a better and more nuanced understanding of the Russian invasion and its circumstances can emerge which can contribute much to policy. It will be helpful to also examine the situation from the perspective of the Russian leadership and people and their concerns, instead of taking only a west-centric position.
Then there is the question of what ‘victory’ in such a war can mean for Ukraine and its western supporters, when the other side always has the option of using nuclear weapons if pushed too much by many western countries playing a bigger and bigger role in providing weapons and other military assistance to Ukraine. At what stage the western supporting countries can get involved in a direct confrontation with Russia, and do the governments of western countries have their people’s mandate for such high risk situations? Cannot brinkmanship result sometimes in situations not planned for, and cannot high risk situations escalate even accidentally beyond control? Who sabotaged the prospects of peace at a very early stage of the Ukraine conflict? It will be very helpful for policy corrections if several eminent unbiased scholars of the west get together to explore these questions with complete honesty and in detail, and prepare publicly available reports based on such deliberations without much delay.
The main policy choice for western countries now is between continuing to forever supply more weapons to the Ukraine regime and pushing for ceasefire and peace as early as possible. Various aspects of this policy choice should be discussed, examining all evidence as well as the wider considerations of world peace, from a perspective of peace, justice and environment protection. All the above questions are also relevant to this. Another relevant aspect is an understanding of the nature of the current regime and controlling authorities in Ukraine, the most powerful forces here.
The most promoted version is that of highly patriotic forces of Ukraine trying to reclaim their territory. However there are disturbing questions that need to be explored. What is the extent of corruption in Ukraine? To what extent are neo-Nazi elements and forces becoming more and more powerful in Ukraine? To what extent have similar elements from other countries joined them? To what extent can this become a main center for such forces from several countries? To what extent are these elements armed? What is the extent of trafficking, smuggling, money-laundering and other crimes in Ukraine? What is the condition, safety and prospects of those who wish to raise their voice against such disturbing trends as the growing influence of neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine? To what extent is the national indebtedness of Ukraine increasing? To what extent is the control of a few oligarchs, super-rich and foreign/western interests increasing in land and resource ownership, directly and indirectly, and to what extent are the interests of ordinary people including farmers and workers being marginalized?
If a correct view of these issues emerges from the combined study of several scholars, then this will be very important for policy and policy corrections. Hence the democratic role of people and institutions contributing to policy corrections would also be fulfilled.
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The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, Earth without Borders, Man over Machine and A Day in 2071.

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