BELINDA PROBERT: I am grateful to Joe Camilleri for his online talk about the essential elements of the current war in Ukraine, as it forced me to think more carefully about my own views and also to search for well-founded discussions about the crisis that has emerged. In doing so, I found myself even more critical of the position Joe took and his failure to give prominence to any alternative perspective.
Joe only allowed very ‘managed’ questioning during the event, which has not done justice to the real debate. But he did encourage me to voice my concerns, so here they are. I am not an expert on Ukrainian history, nor on NATO policy or Russian politics, but I believe there is excellent and scholarly material in the public domain that people can use to come to a more balanced and sophisticated appreciation of the invasion of Ukraine. Below I provide some suggestions of excellent material that is easily accessible.
I must begin, however, by pointing out that Joe makes a point of referring to Ukraine as ‘the Ukraine’, and it is hard to see this as an innocent choice. Much has been written about how the use of the definite article suggests that Ukraine is not a country but a region – something fiercely rejected by most Ukrainians. It is the way Russians talk about Ukraine, with clear political purpose.
My second point is that the argument that NATO is largely to blame for this Russian reaction has been widely criticised not only by experts on NATO policy but also by experts on the emergence of the ‘Putin regime’. On the question of NATO’s ‘culpability’ I can suggest reading Alan Roberts excellent piece in The Economist on 26th March. For another take on this see Hal Brands, Henry Kissinger Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University, writing in Bloomberg Opinion. Or just search ‘Did NATO provoke the Russian invasion’ and take a look at the reputable writers who come up.
On the more important issue of Putin’s politics, I would strongly recommend that people read anything by Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale, who has spent his entire professional life studying Ukrainian politics and Eastern and Western European politics after the Second World War. He speaks Ukrainian and Russian, among other languages. For a completely different appreciation of Putin’s politics and how they have led to the invasion of Ukraine, I encourage anyone to read The Road to Unfreedom (2018).
Once again, I appreciate being prodded into reflection on this topic by Joe’s presentation. I hope, however, that people will not take Joe’s words as gospel. For my part, I think his views are extraordinarily one-sided, and that this will make it difficult for him to propose plausible or realistic steps towards peace.