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From ‘The Great Game’ to Ukraine: How the West’s anti-Russian narratives always turn out wrong

Subsequent scholarship shows that each and every narrative the West invents about a supposedly "expansionist" Russia is wrong. The Ukrainian conflict is simply the latest example in the series.

Arthur Schopenhauer said that “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident”. There are two stark examples of this in respect of relations between Russia and western superpowers.

In the mid to late 19th century, it was very fashionable in political and scholarly circles to claim that the Russia Empire was deviously plotting to conquer British territory in Asia and that Russia would imminently use Afghanistan as an inroad to Britain’s vast Indian territory.

It was also claimed that the emergence of independent Christian states on the European frontier of the Ottoman Empire would help Russia to ultimately control the Straits and thus control Europe’s access to greater east. Britain’s propping up of a contracting Ottoman Empire to use as a sledgehammer against Russian ambitions became ingrained in Britain’s foreign policy under successive Conservative governments as part of a wider geo-political phenomenon referred to as ‘The Great Game’. 

By the middle of the 20th century, many came to describe the ‘Great Game’ as a mostly fanciful affair in which the establishment of Victorian Britain overstated the Russian threat and misread Russian interests. Lord Blake’s analysis of this period makes for valuable reading.

At the same time that British scholars were rushing to discredit 19th century policies against Russia, American leaders spoke constantly of the Soviet threat and most famously, Senator Joseph McCarthy led hearings/show trials against suspected Communist infiltrators who allegedly sought to establish Soviet rule in America.

By the late 20th century most American intellectuals dismissed such claims, often with disdain and sarcasm. People would laugh at an America held in the grips of a ‘Red Scare’ and all of the sudden pop starts like Bob Dylan and John Lennon who ridiculed such threats in the 1960s and 70s had transformed from ‘radical song writers’ to people simply pointing out flawed policy. By the end of the cold war it became acceptable for members of the political establishment to claim they enjoyed the music of The Beatles, Dylan and even Frank Zappa.

Whilst official government policy in America, Britain and much of Continental Europe (with the exception of many southern European states) remains committed to talking up the ‘Russian threat’, parties and politicians who could be described as ‘anti-establishment’ are increasingly growing tired of this factually incorrect narrative. The most well-known exponent of such views is of course Donald Trump.

However, the muted western response to Ukraine being exposed as a state sponsor of international terrorism is curious. In a sane world, leaders from all states would come to the UN and officially condemn the regime in Kiev for their attempt at taking lives and destroying infrastructure in Crimea.

They would also condemn the war crimes that Kiev, its para-militaries and its international terrorist fighters are committing in Donbass. However that would be wishful thinking as the so-called ‘responsible powers’ only condemn states for sponsoring terrorism when it is within the realm of their narrow political interests.

What is happening is that rather than performing an embarrassing about-face, the old guard who once forced the populace to swallow Hollywood style videos about impoverished Ukrainians wanting to live like rich Swedes whilst ignoring videos of fascists marching with torches chanting about their joy at the killings of Russians, Jews and Poles, are now slowly burying their heads in the sand and wishing the whole situation away.

The West took a gamble that the fascists would put on civilian clothes and speak in coded language.  Instead they got a Rada in Kiev that is one part circus and one part beer hall putsch (with an emphasis on the alcohol). They took a gamble that an IMF dictated neo-liberal economy would easily spring up, but instead all international neo-liberals have packed up and left leaving a corrupt economic swamp in which Mafioso politicians line their pockets more than ever before.

They bet on the fact that Russia would be too intimidated by the shadow of the 1990s to stand up for her comrades begging to be free. They bet on the fact that Russia would remain silent on the international stage when atrocities were committed against ethnic Russians.  In all of these gambles, the West has lost and lost badly. And this is before they bothered to realise that all Ukrainian industrial standards are in line with Russian ones and are highly incompatible with European standards, making any would have been free trade deal more or less a damp squib. 

Ukraine is now Iraq without the oil; divided, impoverished, corrupt, with regions breaking away, and terrorism and war rife.  Donbass is governed independently and likely always will be until some future stage when it will likely join the Eurasian Union and possibly beyond that, formally become republics of the Russian Federation. Crimea is as much a part of Russia as the Leningrad Oblast and will be defended from terror by the Russia state to the same degree.   

Because the terrorists in Ukraine do not threaten those in France, Germany or America, the western public has little interest in the events. Even if George Soros attempts to fund further propaganda videos, few people will be terribly bothered to watch them.

In the 1990s, many in the West looked back with embarrassment at all the money spent on bomb shelters, air raid sirens and education about how hiding under a plywood desk would shelter children from a nuclear blast. It all seems rather quaint and hyperbolic now. Maybe in 15 or 20 years time, people will look back on this era, dig out the archival CNN reports and say ‘did they really say that’/ ‘did they really mean that’?

But this of course can only happen if a tired Western establishment is not replaced with one which will redouble the efforts of the discredited leadership of Holland, the disgraced leadership of Cameron and the failed leadership of Obama. The new British Prime Minister speaks of dropping a nuclear weapon with a callously straight face, Hillary Clinton has never met a war she didn’t champion. To quote Churchill, “This is not the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning”.

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