The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and are not representative of the views of The Hysteria Collective as a whole.
The West let down Ukraine and Eastern Europe again…
Two weeks ago, I saw a headline from an Economist article, which really got my attention. The article quoted words from the current Lithuanian prime minister Ingrida Simonyte; “Putin is a pathological liar and the West was delusional in its negotiations with him.” Simonyte’s overreaching opinion was that the West allowed Putin to thrive because the desire to profit from business dealings with Russia and its regime were too tempting to refuse. Simonyte adds on by stating “Western countries never dared to question Mr. Putin’s legitimacy, out loud. Democracies die in silence, they say. In silence, too, dictatorships grow.”
These words really struck a chord with me. Maybe I am coming at these words from a personal angle, as I am Polish-citizen, and to say the least Poland, alongside Central-Eastern European and Baltic states, has its baggage of memories of Russian/Soviet imperial aggression and despotism. I don’t side with the Polish government on any matter ever, but I couldn’t help but agree with the Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s statements when he claimed that concerns of Eastern European nations over Putin’s potentially dangerous behaviour were completely dismissed and ignored by its Western allies both in NATO and in the European Union (EU). The truth is that the EU, and Western allies in general, for years engaged in so called ‘marriage of convince’ with Russia. This marriage of convince included making a deal for Russia being the key supplier of gas and oil in Europe; mainly due to the nord stream pipeline project. Consequently, and effectively depending Europe on Russia for energy, which serves as a key explanatory factor why the current economic sanctions imposed on Russia are not enough to break Putin’s spirit and stop the invasion. Russia’s economy is resistant, as it does not rely on the imports as much as Western nations like the UK and the USA does. Russia, therefore, is unusually isolated from the global economy and had been increasingly self-reliant even before Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. The only way to truly and terminally freeze Russia’s economy is by stop relying on the fossil fuels it exports to Europe and the West; the matter which continues to be avoided in meetings on how to economically punish Russia for invasion.
As much we can be impressed by the united front Europe has shown in the past two months now, unanimously agreeing that Putin’s regime has to be radically punished like never before for waging a war against Ukraine, I couldn’t help but correspondingly feel disappointed. Why did it take that long for Europe and the rest of the world to see what was there all along? Dictatorship, with zero respect for human rights, and in fact not the first time committing war crimes during military conflicts. It’s been well-known of Russian war crimes that were committed during Syria’s civil war, in particular in the city of Aleppo as a result of Putin’s alliance with yet another dictator Bashar al-Assad. The truth is that Russia under Putin was a ticking bomb, that every single Western leader either ignored or claimed that central-eastern European leaders were being too ‘sensitive’ and embodied in their Russ-phobic attitudes.
The waves of shocks and distress from the West comes too late. The silence and delay that West displayed over the past decade comes at the cost of innocent civilians being tortured and killed at this very moment. As journalist Jenny McCartney stated; ‘If only the West cared enough to flash a little moral steel in defence of civilians earlier, many more of them and the European order-might be safe from Putin’s grotesque strategy today.’
There is also another aspect of the Western reaction that got me infuriated. That aspect which I noticed when the fear of invasion on Ukraine was building up, and right after the invasion took place. Some political commentators such as Jeremy O’Grady and Peter Hitchens questioned the general rhetoric that Putin is irrational and mad for waging a war, and almost justifying his decision, claiming that NATO should have never admitted Eastern European and Baltic states to NATO, and when that that decision was made to admit those countries to the alliance, West and by this reasoning Ukraine signed up for Russia’s invasion, saying as far as drawing analogy ‘you poked a bear’ – what did you expect?
Such comments give me such ‘someone was asking for it’ and ‘victim blaming’ strategy sense, and leave me with bitter-sweet taste. Some would have called expression of such opinion as an example of being ‘Putin’s apologists.’ Maybe they are or maybe they are not.
The simple truth is such political commentaries are just convenient ‘victim blaming’ strategy employed by some in the West, who does not have an intimate history of Russia’s imperial aggression. Nor are many people interested or know enough about Central-Eastern European history to understand these countries ‘reservations’ to Russia, especially when under leadership of despotic ruler that Putin had become the minute he got into an executive position.
Such opinions insinuate that state that incorporation of Central-European and Baltic states into NATO, was like ‘poking a bear’ and therefore somehow Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine was a rationalised choice, not an act of Putin’s ‘madness.’ Let just say that expressing such opinions are easy and convenient when you are residing in a country that is not boarding with a potential aggressor, that countless times in the past used imperial force to crash sovereignty and national integrity of another nation-state.
This marriage of convenience that Western world was so eager to engage with allowed for Europe grow its dependency on Russia’s gas, and allowed oligarchs to grow richer and richer in their own countries. While simultaneously disregarding the worries of the Central-Eastern European and Baltic states leaders for cautious approach to Putin, dubbing them as typical ‘Eastern European Russophobia,’ left us in the situation, a crisis that can completely alter the current global world order, and in fact global security. Even though, Russia’s invasion is going much worse than expected and is suffering a lot at the front, it does not change the fact that many innocent lives had been taken away or damaged, due to the West’s route of conscious and consensual ‘convenient’ silence.
Image courtesy of Max Kukurudziak.