Why Ukraine is important to Russia: a critical discourse analysis of the popular narrative on Putin
Updated: Mar 7
At the time of writing, hundreds of thousands of Russian troops and heavy weaponry are situated on the borders of Ukraine, apparently ready to complete the invasion of 2014. Explosions have just been reported to have been heard, according to the Reuters news agency, in Donetsk, one of the two 'rebel'/separatist held areas of Ukraine. The start of the much vaunted 'black flag' operation perhaps? (A1). (Since beginning this essay Russia has sent its troops into Donetsk and Luhansk (see map B1).) In fact Mr Putin has now invaded Ukraine proper.
Coincidentally, Jens Stoltenberg, the general secretary of NATO, has very recently given a speech in which he threatened Russia with more NATO expansion and increased unity against Russian 'aggression'. Is this though, an accurate analysis of the reason for Mr Putin's positioning, militarily and politically over Ukraine?
Regardless of the rationale behind the alleged invasion of Ukraine, it seems the rhetoric of the West has little resonance with Mr Putin. Perhaps Mr Putin is not simply reliving the Cold-War and resisting the NATO battering ram as it advances mercilessly towards sovereign Russian territory, but perhaps arguably, is following in the footsteps of the Tsars, not the old Soviet Union premiers: his ambitions maybe much more sophisticated than a reenactment of the Cuban Missile Crisis; an analysis prosaically proffered by the media and conservative politicians. (Now, since the Russians have actually invaded, Mr Putin is mad, irrational etc. , this seems to be the Western political driven media narrative now).
While the West allows the mainstream media to narrate the tension over Ukraine as a dangerous, possibly apocalyptic moment over NATO expansion in former Warsaw Pact countries, Mr Putin still has his eyes set on the possibilities global warming bring to Russian domination of the seas and the carbon deposits in the Arctic.
The Irony of Appeasement
Indeed, this essay will argue that the West has fundamentally misunderstood Mr Putin and moreover, Russia and its history. Ironically, the Ukrainian premier is currently at the Munich Security Conference: the irony of the location surely cannot be lost on those who talk of appeasement, not least the Ukrainian premier.
For the rest of us, bemused by the West's indignation at Russian anger at NATO's expansion since the end of the Cold War, a self-fulfilling prophecy is seemingly in play: the West accuses Mr Putin of wanting to subjugate the population of Ukraine, and he seemingly, at least, will willingly oblige (A).
After all, from the poisoning of Mr Litvenenko in London, the Salisbury poisonings, the interference in the Trump - Clinton presidential election, to the open disregard of Western threats in its military support of the brutal and bloody Assad regime in Syria, Russia has demonstrated that it does not fear or take seriously the threats of the USA and NATO (as the ongoing invasion has just proved). Moreover, much of Russia's recent military experience was gained in Chechyna (D; D1); something Western leaders perhaps ought to think hard on before embroiling their own or proxy forces in the Ukraine.
Similarly, Russia cannot really fear the threat of European sanctions, holding the trump card of gas supply via the Nord Stream One pipeline (5), and who knows what with regard to potential cyber attacks and other espionage. Moreover, the threat to seize Russian assets has already allegedly been mitigated by the Belarusian president to the tune of 6 Billion dollars. More importantly Mr Putin has long planned for this day:
In fact, Russia mocks the arrogance of the West and plays with it like a cat does with a mouse, perhaps in return for its perceived humiliation at the end of the Cold-War. Indeed, and now with a fact tinged with historical irony, Putin signalled his displeasure with the US and the encroachment of NATO missile shields in former Warsaw Pact countries at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It was then that Mr Putin accused the US of starting a new arms race. The Minsk 2 agreement under which Russia would not advance any further into Ukraine would also have seen NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and encouragement for Ukraine to join come to an end.
The invasion of Ukraine can arguably seen as a ploy to end that expansion (in fact it is argued the Russians believe they were promised in 1990 that NATO would not expand beyond Germany):
Thus perhaps the 'Great Power Mantra' (3)associated with the notion of Putin's alleged emulation of Peter the Great may be incorrect, and arguments that Mr Putin's positioning is more akin to a very slick KGB operative maybe be more accurate (4).
The Great Tragedy of Russia
Although as this essay will argue, Putin's positioning over the Ukraine is not simply due to his anger at NATO encroachment towards Russia, and an attempt to recreate a sphere of influence similar to that of the Cold-War; but because of something very much deeper in the Russian psyche, and inextricably linked to the country's history: Russia's historical relationship with Europe, and particularly of course Ukraine, not least from the time of Peter the Great, who Putin arguably attempts to emulate (1); but its trauma, indeed familial (2) psychological tragedy; from the Tsars to the October Revolution, to Stalin, and through to the equal horrors of the Second World War and the end of the Cold War.
That is to say, the deep psychological scars that have been left by being part of Europe and the sacrifices made defending the Mother land against the fascism of Hitler, but at the same time not really being accepted by Europe, being viewed with suspicion by them, and certainly not looked upon as an equal and trustworthy partner.
It is argued, see previous links, that the Russian people are traumatised by the past, particularly by the long list of their authoritarian leaders. Studies from the Frankfurt School to British psychiatrists of why people, for example some Germans under NAZI rule (soldiers in the latter instance) have theorised that like the abused children of a violent parent, people under such conditions paradoxically want to please their abuser, hence the enthusiasm among many Russian people to follow the dream of a 'greater Rus' (Putin is argued to reject Lenin's concept of national self-determination; and sees Ukraine as part of Russia): the expansion that NATO seeks to halt while expanding their own strategic interests. A warning from history of just how revengeful abusive parents might be this: after the Great Northern War in which Peter the Great defeated the Swedes, the Tsar brutally tortured and murdered those Ukrainians who had chosen the wrong side and betrayed him.
This essay does not seek to justify Russian aggression but attempts to understand the need for Mr Putin's advance into Ukraine. Above this essay has set out some possible reasons: to halt NATO'S expansion, a replay of the Cold-War; to mock the West in return for the humiliation at 'losing' the Cold-War; a desire by Mr Putin to relive the triumphs of Peter the Great, which he has already surpassed, reaching all ports on the Crimea; or because like all abusive relationships the co-dependency of abusive child and parent is never-ending and cyclical.
The final reason might be that just like the Great Game over India with Britain in the 19th century (see blog, Afghanistan the myopia of state politics: and see the US exit from Afghanistan, ironically following on from the Soviet humiliation there) and as Popper argued, the history of the world is one of bloody dictators, rising and waning empires and always will be. Thus Russia needs Ukraine just as NATO needs the former Warsaw Pact countries. Because without constant futile political and violent struggle and empire building their existence is meaningless.
The inability of Western leaders to argue (and indeed think) rationally and to attempt to talk directly to those Russian people who are not psychologically under the yoke of an abusive parent, as for example Margaret Thatcher did towards the end of the Cold-War, is cited as a reason for this seemingly unstoppable conflict. Perhaps we should also consider talking to ourselves about our relationship with our own leaders, seemingly determined to escalate this conflict and force us, like an abusive parent, in to another world of hell .