Stuck in the Cold War Era (RELS 348)

Tim Whewell’s story, “The Russians fighting a ‘holy war’ in Ukraine“, BBC, 17 December 2014 illustrates the conflict between Russia and the Ukraine from the perspective of those participating in the fighting. Russia has denied any sort of involvement in the conflict. Despite this, Russian troops are on the ground in the Ukraine but they are not military soldiers. They are volunteers from all walks of life with one common purpose. They believe the injustices done to the Russian empire back in the 20th century need to be repented for. These soldiers aim to protect Russia from “sinister Western forces”, to rebuild and restore the former Russian empire, and in particular, bring Ukraine “back into the fold of Holy Russia.”

I do not believe there is a holy war taking place. During times of strife, I say to myself “follow the money”. I believe what perpetuates conflicts, both past and present, are two things: energy and greed. This is especially true given that Russia is the main producer and exporter of oil to much of Europe and the massive amounts of wealth that energy provides. Putin’s energy stronghold over Europe allows him to advance his imperialist and anti-Western agenda. All this under a glorified idea of restoring Russia back into a formidable world power with its pre-World War I borders. Because these volunteer soldiers believe in and advance the Kremlin’s purpose, Putin is allowing them to exist.

There are several components which constitute an empire. One of them is propaganda. Putin effectively controls state media by limiting foreign media outlets in the country and has controlled much of what can be accessed via the internet. Through this, he bolsters the Kremlin’s image and derogates its enemies – especially the West. It seems as though Russia is sliding back into its totalitarian roots circa 1960. Putin knows he can fuel his populations’ deep-seated hatred for those who betrayed Russia in the past. He knows his people will use it to justify their involvement in the conflict. I feel as if this is Orientalism reanimated in the reverse sense. It is the West who promotes unrealistic ideas of the East, often done to distract us in the West away from the actual issues taking place there and the complexity of those issues. Putin is doing this using the West and hiding his real motive behind this conflict: energy security.

These volunteers are sacrificing their lives, all for a lofty (and propaganda driven) hope to restore Russia back to all its former glory. I wish they could see themselves for who they truly are: cogs in a energy and greed driven wheel. I cannot choose what is more sad. The commodification of mother nature via oil and gas or making pawns out of human lives.

– K



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