Wednesday 17 May 2023

'Truth attended by a bodyguard of lies': Anatole Lieven's magnificent demolition of Applebaum & Goldberg is the best thing I've read about Ukraine this year


Anatole Lieven was a brooding, arresting presence at lectures at Cambridge. He obviously had something big inside him. This essay by him is the best thing I've read about the Ukrainian war since Christopher Caldwell's article in September. 

It's a rebuttal of the ideas of an utterly misguided woman called Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg, for either of whom the word globalist might have been invented.

Their argument comes in three parts. The first, wearisomely familiar from every conflict in which America has been directly or indirectly involved, is that this is not a war for territory or geopolitical power, but of absolute good against absolute evil. They quote Zelensky:

“This is a war over a fundamental definition of civilization…to show everybody else, including Russia, to respect sovereignty, human rights, territorial integrity; and to respect people, not to kill people, not to rape women, not to kill animals.”

One element of this is self-evidently true; that Russia, by illegally annexing Ukrainian territory, has violated a critically important international law and norm. In this, Russia has also gone further than (for example) Turkey in its invasion and partition of Cyprus in 1974; for while Turkey (like Russia in the Donbas from 2014 to 2022) created a breakaway non-recognized statelet in northern Cyprus, it did not formally annex the territory to Turkey. This may seem an academic difference, but it matters. What also matters however is that Turkey was and remains a member of NATO, so clearly in this area the lines dividing “civilization” from barbarism are rather more blurred than Zelensky, Applebaum and Goldberg suggest.

This is also true of atrocities. I can confirm from my own researches in Bucha and other towns north of Kyiv that extra-judicial killings and looting by Russian troops took place on a large scale, together with some individual rapes. I heard nothing however to confirm Ukrainian claims of massacres or organized campaigns of mass rape. Nor have international investigators found independent (i.e., not from Ukrainian official sources) evidence to support these claims. On the alleged deportation of children I cannot comment on the basis of my own research.

Moreover, this region saw what was in effect a civilian insurgency against the Russian occupation, including civilians reporting directly to Ukrainian artillery units on the location of Russian troops. Such behavior is an admirable and morally justified response to the Russian invasion, but troops involved in counter-insurgency have a strong and universal tendency to brutality against civilians whom they suspect of helping their enemies to kill them. American troops have hardly been perfect in such conflicts.

And as a former Israeli guard in a prison camp for Palestinians, Goldberg himself should certainly know that when it comes to counter-insurgency, the lines between democracies and dictatorships can be very blurred indeed.

The second wearisomely familiar trope is the latest version of the Domino Theory, whereby a given conflict is not really about where it is happening, but is part of a much wider plan for conquest. According to Zelensky:

“If we will not have enough weapons, that means we will be weak. If we will be weak, they will occupy us. If they occupy us, they will be on the borders of Moldova and they will occupy Moldova. When they have occupied Moldova, they will [travel through] Belarus and they will occupy Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia…[T]hey will be attacked by Russians because that is the policy of Russia, to take back all the countries which have been previously part of the Soviet Union…When they will occupy NATO countries, and also be on the borders of Poland and maybe fight with Poland, the question is: Will you send all your soldiers with weapons, all your pilots, all your ships?..Because if you will not do it, you will have no NATO.”

This is wrong from start to finish. Both the Yeltsin and Putin regimes have been hostile to Baltic policies, but the only occasion when the Russian government hinted at invasion was when Lithuania threatened partially to cut off access to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia has shown no desire whatsoever to invade NATO, and in any case quite clearly does not have an army that could dream of doing so. Russia desires influence over its neighbors, but there is no evidence at all of a plan to “take back” the Baltic States, Moldova, the Caucasus or Central Asian republics.


This insouciance is all the more striking because they state explicitly that their goal in overthrowing Putin and weakening Russia goes far beyond the “liberation” of Crimea (irrespective by the way of the wishes of its inhabitants) let alone the defense of Ukraine:

“[Ukrainian] success can support and sustain a civilizational change. Russia, as it is currently governed, is a source of instability not just in Ukraine but around the world…The investments of Russian companies keep dictators in power in Minsk, in Caracas, in Tehran…A Ukrainian victory would immediately inspire people fighting for human rights and the rule of law, wherever they are.”

Oh really? In Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Kashmir? The hypocrisy here is transparent. What Applebaum and Goldberg mean is that the overthrow of the Putin regime and the destruction of Russia as a great power (or even as a united state) will weaken opponents of the United States and Israel and strengthen U.S. global hegemony.

Putin’s invasion is a terrible crime. Nothing justifies it in any way, but America obviously provoked it by her involvement in the colour revolutions, culminating in the protests in Belarus.

I realised this last point only after reading Owen Matthews a couple of days ago. 

The CIA etc., were not involved in Belarus because Doanld Trump was President. At least so I think. . 

The neo-cons are back.  

Lieven supplies the first explanation I have seen of why the Russians committed atrocities at Bucha. They had made no sense to me. 

The Russian soldiers saw the locals as aiding the enemy. It reminds me of an American retired servicewoman I spoke to recently who told me she and her colleagues were "physically rough" with prisoners because beheadings by Iraqis were going on.

As well as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine another conflict is taking place between liberals, who include Anne Applebaum, Jeffrey Goldberg, the US defence establishment and all the European leaders except Orban and Melloni, and ranged against them the real conservatives and the real left.

The West should be encouraging a negotiated peace, instead of adding fuel to the fire.

They should built a statue to Chirac in Trafalgar Sq for begging us not to go to war in Iraq. The one Western leader who has emerged well so far from the Ukrainian war is Macron. 


  1. Why Are We in Ukraine?

    On the dangers of American hubris
    by Benjamin Schwarz, Christopher Layne

    Understanding that NATO expansion couldn’t be reversed, Moscow’s vision of a lasting European security arrangement might have entailed varying degrees of arms limitations in the countries on NATO’s eastern glacis and a permanently neutral, eastern- and western-oriented status for Ukraine (somewhat like Austria’s Cold War status), including an agreement ruling out NATO membership. Washington fully grasped the cause and intensity of Moscow’s panic over the prospect of the West’s absorbing Ukraine into its orbit, as well as the diplomatic and security accommodations Russia required. But rather than attempting to reach a modus vivendi with Russia, U.S. officials continued to push for NATO expansion and supported color revolutions in Yugoslavia, Georgia, Ukraine, and other former Soviet republics as part of an apparent strategy to pull these areas out of Moscow’s orbit and embed them instead in Euro-Atlantic structures. By the second George W. Bush administration, Ukraine had emerged as the main arena of this competition.

    Two critical events precipitated Russia’s war in Ukraine. First, at NATO’s Bucharest summit in April 2008, the U.S. delegation, led by President Bush, urged the alliance to put Ukraine and Georgia on the immediate path to NATO membership. German chancellor Angela Merkel understood the implications of Washington’s proposal: “I was very sure . . . that Putin was not going to just let that happen,” she recalled in 2022. “From his perspective, that would be a declaration of war.” America’s ambassador to Moscow, William J. Burns, shared Merkel’s assessment. Burns had already warned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a classified email:

    Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.

    NATO would be seen as “throwing down the strategic gauntlet,” Burns concluded. “Today’s Russia will respond.”

    Attending negotiations toward the close of the summit regarding cooperation in transporting supplies to NATO’s forces in Afghanistan, Putin publicly warned that Russia would regard any effort to push NATO to its borders “as a direct threat.” Privately, he is reported to have advised Bush that “if Ukraine joins NATO, it will do so without Crimea and the eastern regions. It will simply fall apart.”

  2. So it appears, the Maidan regime, with help from Western governments and media, are attempting to parlay the overall humanitarian and military tragedy in and around Kiev into a provocative fake, which grossly exaggerates any Russian atrocities and covers up any and all Ukrainian atrocities that also might have occurred. Using the usual casualties of war as a foundation, they have padded exponentially the number of civilians deliberately killed by Russian forces in Bucha, which could a little more or less than a dozen and may not outnumber Ukrainian reprisals against those locals who may have colluded or even fraternized with the invading force, for example by simply accepting or trading for food or by somehow assisting the Russian forces by providing information. They raised the number of victims of repressions from somewhere perhaps in the teens, twenties or several tens to hundreds of murders–again perhaps in order to cover up equivalent war crimes committed by Ukrainians. It is suggestive that Ukraine and, in the UN, the United Kingdom blocked a proposal by Russia to discuss setting up an independent investigation of the events in Bucha.

    Tentative Conclusions on Bucha
    May 23, 2022

  3. The contrast between the effects of sanctions on Russia and their effects on Europe is worth noting. With respect to Russia, resource prices remained stable, the internal market for Russian firms grew, physical assets were transferred to Russians at preferential rates, and financial assets were retained in the country that might otherwise have gone abroad. With respect to Europe, imported resource prices soared, markets for exports fell, physical assets had to be sold cheaply and financial assets fled to the United States. Thus one would expect improved market conditions in Russia and deterioration in Europe – and this is what we presently observe.

    Could Russia have achieved such effects on its own? As late as early 2022, the Russian economy was deeply penetrated by foreign firms in virtually all sectors except the military. The oligarchs, deeply Westernized with vast investments and assets outside the country, were highly influential. Neoliberal economic ideas were prominent, with challenges from academic institutions favoring a stronger state industrial policy still at that time in a relatively weak position. The legal, political, institutional, and ideological climate would have, almost surely, prevented the Russian state from taking the steps that were imposed upon it by the sanctions.

    We conclude that when applied to a large, resource-rich, technically-proficient economy, after a period of shock and adjustments, sanctions are isomorphic to a strict policy of trade protection, industrial policy, and capital controls. Such policies have been applied with success in other countries. They are policies that the Russian government could not plausibly have implemented, even in 2022, on its own initiative.

    The Effect of Sanctions on Russia: A Skeptical View
    By James K. Galbraith
    Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government and Business Relations, University of Texas at Austin
    APR 11, 2023

  4. I think we agree that Mr Putin's invasion of Ukraine. There is a lot of "over egging the pudding" as if Mr Putin was a lunatic out to conquer the world, like Mr Hitler (and Mr Putin is clearly NOT Mr Hitler), but the central fact that the invasion was wrong should not be overlooked. Perhaps the two writers who are attacked in the post feel they have to exaggerate the danger in order to ensure Western military aid for Ukraine - without which Ukraine would have totally collapsed. However, it is wrong to exaggerate even a just case - as exaggeration tends to discredit that case.