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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

More essays by Ray Harris
Ray HarrisRay Harris is a frequent contributor to this website. He has written articles on 9/11, boomeritis, the Iraq war and Third Way politics. Since 2007 he took to writing his novels Navaratri, Wild Child and Eden. Harris lives in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.



Nikolay Karazin, 'Kissing the Ataman's Saber' (1)

The Dying Russian Empire

Critiquing Joseph Dillard

Ray Harris

THE WILD, WILD EAST

I think it is fair to say that Dillard has been rather careless in choosing his sources and seems to have been caught seeking quotes that confirm his pro-Russia bias.

We in the nominal 'West' have been raised on a steady diet of American movies, none more so than the appropriately named 'Western' genre - Cowboys and Indians, wagon trains and gun fights between archetypal goodies and baddies. Most of us know the harsh truth behind the myth. The relentless colonisation of the Americas, the subjugation of the indigenous people, the Atlantic slave trade.

Far less understood is the history of the Russian colonisation of Siberia (1580-1867). Not so much the Wild, Wild West as the Wild, Wild East. This eastward expansion ended on American shores - Alaska. It followed the pattern of Western European colonisation that began on the continent's east coast. Cossack adventurers pushed east in pursuit of furs, subjugating the indigenous people of Siberia as they went: Kanty, Mansi, Nenets, Koyaks, Chukchi, Tungus and Yakut, to name just a few - killed off through diseases such as smallpox or murdered and enslaved when they resisted - Orthodox missionaries following in their wake to convert the heathens. By the time they reached Alaska, these adventurers had formed themselves into companies in exactly the same manner as their fellow colonists on the eastern side of the continent. But instead of names such as the Hudson's Bay Company or the Plymouth Company, they had names such as the Shelikov-Golikov Company and the aptly named Russian-America Company. The Shelikov-Golikov Company was involved in the massacre of hundreds of Koniag people on Sitkalidak Island and the Russian-America Company sent expeditions further south to Oregon and California, establishing an outpost at Fort Ross (Rus) in Sonoma County.

During the period of eastern expansion, Russia continued to challenge its immediate neighbours in the south, north and west. In 1702 Peter the Great went to war with Sweden to gain access to the Baltic Sea. He succeeded and built St Petersburg on a swamp at the cost of the deaths of an estimated 20,000 - 30,000 enslaved workers. Catherine the Great also succeeded in expanding Russia's borders by a further 520,000 square kilometres. She went to war with the Ottoman Empire in 1768 and 1787 to consolidate control over the Sea of Azov, with the Persian Empire over Georgia in 1796, and annexed territory held by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772, 1793 and 1795. During the 19th century Russia strengthened its grip on the Caucasus region: Georgia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, etc - regions that would continue to resist. And at the same time it continued its expansion into Central Asia: the 'Stans' - Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Tajiks, Kyrgyz, eventually challenging the British in Afghanistan, testing the border with China in Xinjiang (home of the Turkic Uyghurs) and going to war with the Japanese.

At its full extent, Russia had the second largest empire in modern history (after Britain). I say this to give a sense of historical perspective and to point out that far from being the victim of great power machinations, Russia was a great power: waging war to expand or defend territory, forming alliances, arranging political marriages, and making and breaking multiple treaties out of self-interest.

PLAYING RHETORICAL GAMES

As I was reading through Dillard's essays on the war in Ukraine I kept wondering who he thought he was addressing. There is a patronising tone throughout every essay, as if he is lecturing the uninformed. Of course he is playing rhetorical games. The following quote is the classic ploy of assuming the high ground. He warns us that 'Westerners' are submerged in groupthink and predisposed to cognitive bias and scripted narratives.

“Westerners are submerged in an ocean of groupthink in which built-in cognitive biases, like confirmation bias, predispose us to believing common scripted narratives that comprise the zeitgeist of our era and culture. Our underlying assumptions are often not recognized or questioned, leaving us in a condition of defense of positions that can not only be wrong in their partiality but personally and collectively destructive. That is clearly a huge part of the explanation for how so many intelligent and compassionate people can get such momentous and historical events, like the Russian-Ukrainian war, so wrong.” (2)

Perhaps he should consider that all these intelligent and compassionate people actually have a better grasp of the situation than he does and he is the one submerged in groupthink?

In the interests of transparency let me admit to my own 'cognitive bias'. I was radicalised in High School. It was the early 70's. Vietnam. Hippies. I was introduced to anarchism, specifically the writings of three Russian anarchists: Peter Kropotkin, an advocate of Mutual Aid; the émigré to New York, Emma Goldman, a first wave feminist; and Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin is important because he challenged Marx's support for state socialism at The Hague Conference of the First Internationale, with Bakunin arguing that 'statism' would lead to communist tyranny. Bakunin lost and was expelled (or should I say 'cancelled'). That anarchist path lead me to embrace communal living, alternative lifestyles, eastern mysticism, studying and practicing yoga, eventually leading me to Integral philosophy. Along the way I've been a teacher, a cinematographer, a writer and active member of the Australian Greens. You will find some of my articles on this website.

In short. I don't trust US Imperialism and I certainly don't trust Russian Imperialism - or any form of imperialism or authoritarianism, left or right.

Let's return to Dillard.

“The authors begin by referring to "the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine" as if that is a factual or majoritarian perspective on that conflict. In truth it is an Atlanticist, Eurocentric, and Western perspective, but one that imagines it is not only the majoritarian perspective, but the "right" and "better" one. I am going to present some data points that challenge those assumptions.” (2)

This is typical of Dillard's rhetorical distortions. Understanding the conflict as Russian aggression is hardly exclusive to some straw-man 'Atlanticist' perspective. But the fact that he thinks it does tells us something important, something confirmed as we read through his data points. Dillard has a clear anti-Western, pro-Putin bias.

Of course, a truly Integral and multi-perspective analysis would be multi-level and four quadrant. It would understand that each nation contains within it multiple narratives. I don't have the space to attempt a complex analysis. But I do want to explore six important perspectives before dealing with Dillard's egregious errors.

  1. Russian ultra-nationalism.
  2. The Russian opposition.
  3. Majority Ukrainian.
  4. Independent Russian speaking academics.
  5. Anti US Imperialism.
  6. Integral

ANOTHER HISTORICAL INTERLUDE

The rise of fascism in Europe can in part, be explained as a reaction to the rise of communism. In Germany communists and Nazi brownshirts fought pitched battles in the streets, in Spain a coalition of anarchists and communists fought in a Civil War against Franco. In Italy, Mussolini, a former communist, turned, literally, to fascism.

Communists are supposed to fight fascists, right? Except that is, for Stalin. In August, 1939, the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov signed a non-aggression pact with his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop. It is now known that this pact contained a secret protocol that carved up Eastern Europe between the two powers. Russia acted quickly, sending troops into eastern Poland, the Baltic states and Finland. It was nothing other than an imperialist land grab and for many, the moment Stalin betrayed Marxism. This pact is a taboo subject in Russia. No wonder. It tends to contradict the preferred narrative (which we will return to) of Russia as the victim of the Nazis.

Hitler was persuaded to turn against his Russian allies because of the poor performance of the famed Red Army in the Winter War against Finland. Here we encounter another taboo topic. The financial and material support given to Russia by the USA under the Lend-Lease Act, totalling close to 10 billion. According to Khrushchev in his memoir:

“I would like to express my candid opinion about Stalin's views on whether the Red Army and the Soviet Union could have coped with Nazi Germany and survived the war without aid from the United States and Britain. First, I would like to tell about some remarks Stalin made and repeated several times when we were "discussing freely" among ourselves. He stated bluntly that if the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war. If we had had to fight Nazi Germany one on one, we could not have stood up against Germany's pressure, and we would have lost the war. No one ever discussed this subject officially, and I don't think Stalin left any written evidence of his opinion, but I will state here that several times in conversations with me he noted that these were the actual circumstances. He never made a special point of holding a conversation on the subject, but when we were engaged in some kind of relaxed conversation, going over international questions of the past and present, and when we would return to the subject of the path we had traveled during the war, that is what he said. When I listened to his remarks, I was fully in agreement with him, and today I am even more so.” (3)

Notice the historical resonance?

We know what happened next. Russia stayed in Eastern Europe and established client states. The Iron Curtain. The Cold War. A suppressed rebellion in Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968) and Poland (1970, 1980). The Berlin Wall. The close monitoring of political activity by the KGB. There is no need to expand. This history has been fully explored. Safe to say it has had a powerful impact on the psychology of the former Warsaw Pact (WP) countries, generating a long standing mistrust of Russian motives, and even hatred.

Prague, 1968

Fast forward to 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an event Putin has described 'as a major geopolitical disaster of the 20th century'. Clearly many former WP nations disagreed with this sentiment. They couldn't wait to be free of the Soviet yoke and integrate with Europe (Dillard lives in Berlin so he must be aware of the psychological impact of the Berlin Wall). As soon as it gained its independence, Ukraine declared its desire to become part of Europe. In 1991 it joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and in 1994 the Partnership for Peace programme (1994 was the year Russia invaded Chechnya to suppress the independence movement). In 1997 it signed the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership designed to take cooperation forward. Integration was by no means going to be a straightforward or guaranteed process. European powers expected to see Ukraine undertake a program of reform to deal with the corruption ingrained after years of Soviet rule and to bring its civil laws, financial system and corporate governance in line with EU standards. A process expected to take years and several electoral cycles.

Here it is important to highlight a particularly significant agreement signed by Russia. One completely ignored in Dillard's narrative. In 1994 Ukraine, along with Belarus and Kazakhstan, signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. In exchange for surrendering nuclear weapons held on their territories, the Russian Federation (and the UK and USA) agreed to respect each new nations' independence and sovereignty. Ukraine honoured its part of the agreement, decommissioning and dismantling all former Soviet missiles by 2008.

Russia broke that agreement when it invaded Crimea in 2014, almost immediately after the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, fled Kyiv for Russia after the Maidan revolution - interesting timing, no?

1. THE ULTRA-NATIONALIST PERSPECTIVE

There can be no doubt that Russia went through a turbulent time after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev's reforms were designed to turn an autocratic system into a modern liberal democracy. There were many external and internal pressures pushing and pulling at Russia's social order. This period saw the rise of a new elite of Russian capitalists - the Oligarchs - some would say kleptocrats. A select few grew incredibly rich and started to shift their capital out of Russia, investing in property in London, Paris and New York; spending it on luxury goods, educating their children in European private schools, or stashing it in tax havens. Foreign companies began to invest in Russia (McDonalds opened its first store in Moscow in 1990) and Russian companies invested in foreign markets. And whilst there was a growing middle-class, the majority of Russians remained relatively poor, and disoriented by the pace of change. The state ideology of Russia was no longer socialist, and whilst some embraced liberal democracy, a much larger number turned to the ideology of the past, the Russian Orthodox Church and Czarism.

Somewhere in the early 2000, some began to speak openly of Ivan Ilyin, the leading ideologue of the anti-communist 'White Movement'. In 2009 he was officially reburied with a new memorial designed by Putin himself.

There are other ultra-nationalist voices of course: Alexander Dugin, the Izborsk Club, Igor Girkin, Constantin Malofeev, Vladislav Surkov, to name just a few. It is this hawkish, ultra-nationalist (some argue fascist - in the Italian sense) ideology that now dominates state controlled Russian media, parroted by popular presenters such as Vladimir Solovyov and Margarita Simonyan.

The ultra-nationalist agenda can be summarised as:

  1. An autocratic system of government based on a strong leader.
  2. Russian Orthodoxy as the state religion and,
  3. The revival of Orthodox exceptionalism - the Third Rome.
  4. Revanchism - restoring the Russian Empire.
  5. Hostility towards Western Europe as decadent and deviant (originating in the Orthodox criticism of Catholicism).
  6. Militarism and a belief in duty and sacrifice.

Dugin stated the ultra-nationalist perspective on Ukraine succinctly:

“Ukraine as a state has no geopolitical meaning, no particular cultural import or universal significance, no geographic uniqueness, no ethnic exclusiveness.” (4)

Whilst Putin pretends to maintain a sense of distance, his most recent remarks echo the ultra-nationalist narrative. In his speech 'On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians' (5) he said this in the opening paragraph:

“During the recent Direct Line, when I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people - a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations for prompted by the current political context. It is what I have said on numerous occasions and what I firmly believe.”

He concluded:

“I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”

Clearly the majority of Ukrainians disagree.

2. THE RUSSIAN OPPOSITION

In 2004, former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko announced his intention to run against Viktor Yanukovych. In September of that year he was poisoned with TCDD dioxin. Yushchenko blamed Russian agents working within the Ukrainian security service.

Alexei Navalny is another politician who proved to be a nuisance. A corporate lawyer of Russian-Ukrainian descent he has been in and out of jail. He is primarily an anti-corruption activist who has exposed corruption by a host of oligarchs, including Medvedev and Putin. In 2011 he formed the anti-corruption organisation FBK. In 2020 he was poisoned with novichok. He survived and is now in prison in Russia. FBK was designated a terrorist organisation in 2021. It was relaunched as an international organisation in 2022 and continues to report on corruption in Russia, especially the enormous wealth accrued by Putin, producing a documentary 'Putin's Palace: History of the World's Largest Bribe'.

Russia has a record of poisoning its critics. It killed former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko using polonium-210 after he had exposed state secrets and oligarch links to criminal and terrorist networks. Another former FSB agent, Sergei Skripal, along with his daughter, were poisoned with Novichok.

According to Reporters Without Borders, Russia rates 155 out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom. Its website states that:

“Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared “foreign agents”. All others are subject to military censorship”. (6)

Many journalists have fled overseas and continue to report, as much as they can, on the situation inside Russia and Ukraine. Most of it is directed to Russian citizens through Youtube or Telegram channels. They are uniformly opposed to the Putin regime and consider the war to be a clear act of aggression.

3. UKRAINIAN PERSPECTIVES

It is patronising to think that Ukrainian citizens don't understand Russia or are somehow incapable of thinking and acting on their own. Dillard falls into this trap when he claims that the Maidan uprising was a US backed coup. Ukrainians disagree. The uprising was triggered when Yanukovych announced he would not sign The European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement, breaking an election promise and defying the Ukrainian parliament.

It goes without saying that, like any country, there are a diversity of voices. As a new democracy, Ukraine has a bewildering 349 political parties. It will take decades for the political process to eliminate the smaller, unpopular parties and for other parties to restructure and form coalitions. There are parties of the right, centre and left, there are pro-European parties and pro-Russian parties. But one thing is clear; the trajectory is in support of independence from Russia and unification with Europe.

Here it is important to discuss the role of the far-right in Ukrainian politics. It is part of the Russian ultra-nationalist position to label Ukrainians as neo-Nazis (and most recently as gay neo-Nazis). This is a classic dehumanisation strategy designed to justify aggression. You know the story. They are not fully human. There can be no doubt that Ukraine has its share of far-right extremists, ultra-nationalists and fascists. Just like every other European country. And just like Russia. I don't want to downplay the role of the infamous Azov Battalion or the idolisation of Stepan Bandera as a national hero. These far-right forces are represented by two political parties, the larger Svoboda (Freedom) party and the Right Sector. The core question is the popular support for the far-right. This is reflected in the election results. Svoboda achieved its best election results in the 2012 election, gaining 10.44% of the national vote, giving it 38 seats out of a total of 450. In the most recent 2019 election, Svoboda formed a coalition with smaller far-right parties (such as Right Sector) only to see its share of the vote fall to 2.15%, giving it just one seat in the national parliament. 38 reduced to 1. I'd call that a total collapse of support.

In contrast, Zelensky's centrist, pro-European Servant of the People party won an overwhelming majority of 254 seats.

4. INDEPENDENT ACADEMICS

I want to make a particular mention of Russian speaking academics and analysts specialising in Russian and Eastern European affairs. Some are independent, but many work for established institutes/think tanks attached to major European universities. These are experts who have travelled extensively throughout Russia and established personal contacts throughout Russian society. I will be referring to some of them below.

5. ANTI-US IMPERIALISM

There is good reason to mistrust American foreign policy. The post war period has seen an almost endless parade of scandals and revelations of skullduggery. The Vietnam war and the May Lai massacres, Agent Orange and secret bombing of Cambodia. CIA involvement in supporting far-right coups in South America. The Iran-Contra affair. Watergate. The War Against Terror, the Second Gulf War, Afghanistan, Neocons, lies about WMD, on and on and on. I get it. As I admitted above, I'm of the left.

We know the origin of this split. Communism versus Capitalism. The Cold War. This ideological split has gone through its own transformation. Workers versus the capitalist elites and the development of the union movement; communist resistance to the rise of fascism; and after WW2, communist resistance to the rise of the US as a global superpower. And if you were of the left you naturally supported leftist regimes and especially leftist independence movements and insurgencies. The number one enemy was global capitalism, especially American capitalism, and most especially neoliberal capitalism. In this worldview, the term the 'West' became synonymous with all that was bad. Concern shifted from the working class to exploitation of the Third World (Global South). During this second phase Russia miraculously switched hemispheres. Once considered a part of Europe, it became a part of the East. An ideologically defined West versus an ideologically defined East. Goodies and baddies - again - depending which side you favoured.

At the same time the left began to change as it embraced feminism, gay rights and environmental activism. There was an old left still attached to the old factions: Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, Guevarist, and a new left with new factions. This split was in large part driven by the revelations of communist atrocities. Stalin's disastrous agricultural policies that caused widespread famine leading to the deaths of millions in Ukraine (the Holodomor), Kazakhstan, Northern Caucasus, Siberia, etc., and the creation of the Gulag system and severe political repression. Next door in China we saw the excesses of the Cultural Revolution. North Korea became a Stalinist purgatory. The final crunch came with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge under the dictatorship of Pol Pot. Over time there were other revelations about atrocities committed by a range of 'liberation' movements, many of them receiving covert support from either Russia, Cuba or China, and yes, also America.

At this stage it is important to note that early in his career Putin was a KGB operative based in Dresden. He freely admits this, but says he was just a low level functionary. Stasi files and fellow KGB operatives tell a different story. Putin was directly engaged in high level activity, including supplying arms and money to the Red Army Faction, a German terrorist group responsible for 34 deaths.

The anti-US Imperialist left is still strong. It can be identified with a deep, almost pathological mistrust of the US government. Deep State. America (the West) as the great puppet master, orchestrating coups and insurrections in every corner of the globe, ruining economies with draconian neo-liberal policies and reducing everyone to servitude. This perspective still looks to Russia and China as a counterweight to this allegedly uni-polar American world. It denies the independent will of anyone who chooses the 'West'. Forget the fact that NATO is made up of several major European powers, it is really run by the US. And when Ukrainians protest Yanukovych's decision to appease Russia, their protest became a US backed coup.

6. INTEGRAL

In his essay 'Is Putin Red and the West Green?' Dillard claims that Wilber's Integral model has had 'a major impact on my life'. He then goes on the demonstrate in spectacular fashion that he does not understand Integral theory at all, especially not the Integral modification of Spiral Dynamics (itself a modification of Clare Graves's model). His entire essay is based on a preposterous straw-man. He even says so himself:

“To view Putin and Russia as red and the West, Integralists, Progressives and Liberals as green is a vast over-simplification and intentional refusal to recognise the moral ambiguity of its context.”

Indeed, it is a vast over-simplification. And one entirely of his own conception. That's why no Integral theorist would actually accept such an absurd proposition. He cites an essay by Robb Smith, but I can see nothing in that essay to support such nonsense.

Dillard's first mistake is to assume that entire nations can be generalised into a single values level. Nations, groups and individuals are made up of multiple levels, shifting from level to level as circumstances change. Because they are complex, nations contain within them all possible levels. Thus both Russia and America contain people at every level. Russia even has its own Integral movement. But when it comes to politics, what matters are raw numbers. Where do the majority of the population sit? What values does the government base its policies on? Understanding this, most Integralists will understand that US politics is primarily a contest between Blue, Orange and Green, with the Republican Party an uneasy coalition between Blue evangelical conservatives and Orange libertarians and the Democratic Party an equally uneasy coalition between Orange liberals and Green justice and equity advocates (the inappropriately named 'Woke'). Russian politics is similarly a contest between Red/Blue and Orange/Green (although Green is much weaker). As he has consolidated his grip on power, Putin has turned increasingly to the Red/Blue of ultra-nationalism and suppressed the Orange of the more liberal political parties.

Where does Ukraine sit? Again, as a complex society it contains all of the values levels, but unlike Russia, and as the election results demonstrate, it is shifting from its Red/Blue authoritarian past toward Orange liberalism.

From an Integral perspective, Blue resonates with Blue, Orange with Orange, and so on. It is therefore of no surprise to see the Blue Christian nationalists in America speak favourably of the success of the Russian Orthodox Church in suppressing Orange/Green liberal reforms such as 'the homosexual agenda'. Watch Russian State TV and you see them repeating the same anti-LGBT polemic as American conservative outlets. It is also to be expected that a Ukraine that is shifting towards Orange would naturally seek to align itself with a predominantly Orange Europe.

The final thing I'll say here (to keep it short) is that the values levels do not necessarily correlate to an individual's IQ. There is a clear affective component. This explains why highly intelligent people remain aligned with conservative religious values. They have an emotional attachment to the belief. Dillard seems not to understand this either. He utterly confuses Grave's values hierarchy with Kohlberg's stages of moral development and Piaget's (and Commons's) stages of hierarchical cognitive complexity.

“Let us now take a look at the psychological reasons to believe that Russia is late pre personal in its level of development while the West is late personal.”

Again, it is incorrect to state that an entire nation or abstract entity such as the 'West' can be pre-personal or late personal, whatever that is supposed to mean.

CORRECTING A FEW EGREGIOUS ERRORS

Dillard's response is full of half-truths, disputed interpretations and disinformation. I simply do not have the time or space to deal with every point, so I'll deal with some of the major errors.

1. NATO Expansion.

Dillard repeats the Kremlin narrative that NATO promised not to expand. To put it bluntly, no such promise was ever formally made. Here Dillard is referring to Putin's 2007 statement in which he claimed:

"I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr. Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: 'the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.' Where are these guarantees?”

In 1990, Gorbachev was president of the then USSR and directly involved in the security negotiations. He has a different recollection:

“The topic of 'NATO expansion' was not discussed at all, and it wasn't brought up in those years. … Another issue we brought up was discussed: making sure that NATO's military structures would not advance and that additional armed forces would not be deployed on the territory of the then-GDR after German reunification (my emphasis). Baker's statement was made in that context… Everything that could have been and needed to be done to solidify that political obligation was done. And fulfilled." (7)

This issue has been thoroughly explored in Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate by historian Mary Sarotte (8).

2. Russian security interests.

What exactly are Russia's security interests and why are they more important than the security interests of its neighbours? Poland has played a significant role in supporting Ukraine. An understanding of history explains why. Catherine the Great annexed the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in its entirety. Napoleon helped restore some Polish lands, only for it to again be partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria. It finally gained some form of independence in 1916, only to see Russia invade again in 1939. Doesn't Poland have security interests?

Much has been said about Ukraine being a buffer state. But where in international law does it say that certain states have the right to turn neighbouring states into buffer zones? As far as I'm aware the overriding principle is the right to self-determination and sovereignty. States have the right to choose their defence and trade relations free of coercion.

Again I ask, why is Russia a special case?

Putin has repeatedly complained about NATO expansion. Yet the history of NATO confirms that NATO is a non-aggression pact. Poland joined NATO in 1999, all three Baltic states in 2004. Poland and Lithuania surround the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Estonia is a short distance from St Petersburg, and yet, despite the clear strategic threat to two major ports, Russia did not invade. Could it be because Russia knows full well that NATO would not attack Russian soil or block their access to the Baltic Sea?

It was never a given that Ukraine would be allowed to join NATO and the process had its ups and downs with Yanukovych shelving plans to join when he became president in 2010. The key event was the collapse of the Yanukovych government, which prompted the invasion of Crimea almost immediately after. Russia realised that its plan to contain Ukraine by installing a pro-Russian government had failed. It also realised that the moment Ukraine joined NATO they would be unable to exert any meaningful pressure. Thus the invasion can be seen as a pre-emptive strike.

Russia's security interest is not an invasion of its sovereign territory, but the internal collapse of its empire. If Ukraine succeeds without Russia, who is next: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan?

3. The Minsk Protocol

Dillard refers to this as “the betrayal of Minsk II”.(2) There were two attempts at a ceasefire in the Donbas. The first Minsk Protocol was scuttled following the separatist victory at the Donetsk airport in direct defiance of the Protocol. A DPR (Donetsk People's Republic) spokesman said that "the Minsk Memorandum will not be considered in the form it was adopted”. Later in the day, DPR leader Alexander Zakharchenko said that the DPR "will not make any attempts at ceasefire talks any more", and that his forces were going to "attack right up to the borders of Donetsk region".

Nonetheless a second ceasefire agreement was attempted, but this was troubled from the start. It is fair to say that both sides mistrusted the agreement, with each side blaming the other. Dillard correctly reports that Merkel and Poroshenko used the Minsk negotiations as a delaying tactic.

“The Minsk agreements gave Ukraine time to build and strengthen the Armed Forces and restore economic growth.” Poroshenko stressed that this was achieved. “We have achieved what we wanted. We did not trust Putin and still don't. Our task was first to avert the threat or at least postpone the war.” (2)

The key here is that no one trusted Putin. They were right not to. Putin had no intention of honouring the Minsk agreement either.

From the perspective of the Ukrainians, as well as independent and opposition Russians, the central problem is the legal status of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. Russia believes they are legitimate, independent legal opinion says that they are not. Ukraine argues that Minsk II is an agreement with Russia, Russia denies this and says it is with the DPR and LPR. Stalemate.

Völkerreschtsblog (People's Voice) is the outlet of a group of independent international law experts (9). They write on a wide range of international law subjects. They have this to say about the Minsk agreement.

“Thus, ultimately, Russia's recognition (and that of any other State that follows its suit) of the DPR and LPR is illegal under international law. It violates the principle of non-intervention, the principle of territorial integrity and several bilateral and multilateral treaties, the Minsk agreements and duty of non-recognition.

“Consequently, any purported treaties on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with non-State separatist regimes have no legal effects under international law. They cannot serve as a legal ground for the presence of the Russian troops in Ukraine. Their unilateral presence without the consent of the Ukrainian government would amount to a violation of the prohibition of the use of force and aggression. It would signify an overt occupation of the Ukrainian territory (in addition to Crimea). Any invocation by Russia of a purported right of collective self-defense of the non-State DPR and LPR (parts of Ukraine) would not be compatible with Article 51 UN and would amount to violation of the prohibition of the use of force and aggression.” (10)

Sweden has historically remained neutral (although the war in Ukraine has since prompted them to apply to join NATO) and it has a deep historical connection to Russia - after all, the Rus were descended from Swedish Vikings. Unsurprisingly it has an intense interest in Russian politics. Funded by the Swedish government, the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies had this to say:

“The Kremlin, however, sought to transform the conflict from an international territorial into an intra-national political dispute. It wanted to use the two pseudo-republics as instruments to undermine the domestic stability, international relations and foreign policy of Ukraine—an approach the Kremlin had by 2014 already been implementing for more than two decades in Moldova and Georgia. Moscow's price for partially giving up the eastern Ukrainian fruits of its hybrid aggression was to get a foot back into the entire Ukrainian polity. Once the Kremlin, at some point in late 2020 or early 2021, concluded that this was unobtainable, it began preparing a Plan B to subjugate Ukraine, and amassing troops for a traditional military invasion. (11)

4. Persecution of the Russian speaking minority.

Dillard claims:

“Nor does the Eurocentric interpretation of the causes of the war reflect the perspective of the Russian speaking minority of Ukraine, which has not only been discriminated by law but shelled and murdered for over eight years.”

Albert Razin
Image: Albert Razin

There are two parts to this statement. The first references the suppression of the Russian language in what can best be described as the language wars. Whilst it is true that Ukraine passed laws to promote the Ukrainian language, this has to be placed in the broader regional context. In 2016, the Russian Duma passed laws to restrict the teaching of Russia's many ethnic languages. These laws were the subject of protest from many of these groups. The most extreme was the self-immolation of Udmurt activist Albert Razin.

In 2020 the Duma proposed a further set of amendments to define the Russian people as the pre-eminent ethnic group and that Russian was to be the official language. The Ukrainian parliament passed similar laws making Ukrainian the official language, with protests not only from Russian speakers, but also Hungarian speakers in the north.

“But since January, a controversial “language law” has made Ukrainian mandatory for all public service workers—changing conversations in many shops, government offices, and hospitals from Russian-only to bilingual. The law was signed in 2019 by then-President Petro Poroshenko, and followed steps that banned pro-Kremlin television networks and books published in Russia.”

But it's not just the Ukrainian government introducing language and cultural restrictions, it is also the separatist states of the DPR and LPR suppressing the Ukrainian language - Tit for Tat.

“But linguistic bias over Russian and Ukrainian can cut both ways. In the breakaway regions in the east, pro-Russian separatists banned Ukrainian, and anyone speaking it there could end up in one of dozens of makeshift concentration camps where thousands of people are held without trial and face torture and even execution, says professor Ihor Kozlovsky.” (12)

5. The conflict in the Donbas.

The claim that the citizens of the Donbas were 'shelled and murdered for over eight years' is Russian propaganda plain and simple. It is an extraordinary claim given what we now know about the Russian bombing of Ukraine and the obliteration of towns and cities in the south without regard to civilian lives. Hypocrisy writ large.

According the the Russian Analytical Digest (#282, 12the April, 2022), a publication of the Centre for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich (ETH Zurich):

“Russia relied on staged or fabricated videos and reports to legitimize this narrative. Explosions were consistently reported in the city centers of Donetsk and Luhansk, without any evidence being provided. Car bombs and other terrorist attacks within the breakaway republics were fabricated. A few days before the full-scale invasion, a video was posted on a pro-Kremlin Telegram channel of a supposed Ukrainian artillery attack on a civilian village. A villager could be seen screaming in pain, having lost a leg in the attack. In a few frames of the video, [shown below], an attachment for a prosthetic leg can be seen, indicating that this crisis actor had in fact already lost his leg prior to the supposed shelling.” (13)

At this stage I want to introduce Dr Nikolay Mitrokhin. Mitrokhin gained his doctorate in history at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow. He is currently a research fellow at the Research Centre for East European Studies at Bremen University and is a frequent contributor to the respected journal Oesteuropa, published by the German Association for the Study of Eastern Europe. He has written extensively about the conflict in the Donbas. Safe to say he contradicts the official Russian propaganda line. Instead he outlines in considerable detail a classic covert operation. Most of his journal articles are in German, but his major text, 'Infiltration, Instruction, Invasion' has been translated into English (14)

“In this article, I divide the armed conflict in the Donbass region that began in spring 2014 into three distinct phases, each of which was characterized by the involvement of different actors and forces on the pro-Russian side. The first phase began in April 2014, when special forces (spetsnaz) troops and secret service officials supported criminals from the Donbass region and Russian nationalists who had traveled in from Russia with the aim of seizing power in several cities in the Donbass region, as part of a Russian special operation aimed at destabilizing Ukraine. In the second phase, from mid-May, huge numbers of former fighters from the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya and politicised supporters of Russian neo-imperialist organizations recruited by conscription officers in Russia streamed into Ukraine. When the Ukrainian army nonetheless managed to interrupt the supply line from Russia to Ukraine, Moscow sent in regular soldiers, in the second week of August. This marked the beginning of the third phase. Russian regular soldiers fought back against the Ukrainian army and forced a (very fragile) ceasefire, formalized in the Minsk Protocol of 5 September.”

“Unlike in Transnistria, where the infrastructure was not destroyed during the military conflict in the early 1990s, large sections of the Donbass region have been destroyed. The factories and coalmines have either been destroyed or shut down by disruption to the electricity and water supplies and railway connections. The reconstruction of the basic infrastructure alone will cost huge sums of money that even Russia cannot easily provide. Certainly, the example of a “dead land” of this type is hardly likely to stimulate other regions within Russia's neighbor states to strive to “return to Mother Russia”.

“Nevertheless (or perhaps precisely for this reason), in view of the slow and inconsistent reaction by the EU and NATO and their refusal to send any military support to Ukraine, it is more than likely that Russia will push on and attempt to conquer the entire territory of the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk and possibly even other regions in southeast Ukraine. The certain prospect that thousands of Russian and Ukrainian lives would be lost in the process is unlikely to act as a deterrent here.”

Mitrokhin wrote this paper in late 2014, predicting that Russia would likely continue its campaign. We know that Russia escalated the conflict with an invasion, called in true propaganda form, 'a special military operation' (a bizarre claim Dillard chooses to believe). As I write this it has been over a year since the invasion. Despite reports of an expected offensive, Russia seems stuck. The Wagner group have so far failed to 'liberate' Bakhmut. Instead Russia has resorted to a massive bombing campaign, allegedly targeting civilian infrastructure but somehow also hitting apartment buildings, terrorising the population and causing the deaths of an estimated 8,000 civilians, with millions more displaced. UN inspectors have been in Ukraine for months collecting data on war crimes, finding that whilst some Ukrainians are (unsurprisingly) also guilty, the overwhelming majority have been committed by Russian troops: torture, summary execution of civilians, rape, sexual violence (including against minors) and looting. In a seperate investigation, the International Criminal Court has indicted Putin for the crime of the illegal transfer of thousands of children out of Ukraine.

SCHIZO-FASCISM

Truly, if any 'group' is guilty of groupthink it is the pro-Russian coalition. Their deep mistrust of the West means they are primed to believe Russian propaganda.

Dillard's most ridiculous and error filled essay is his trash piece on Timothy Snyder, 'How Will the Delusions and Misrepresentations of the Russian-Ukrainian War End?'. It is a text book example of what Snyder calls 'schizo-fascism', where the accuser is guilty of every sin they claim to see in the accused. A mirror-projection.

Dillard doesn't waste time using both straw-man and ad hominem.

“When you read Snyder, the most central fact you are likely to garner is that he hates Russia, although I doubt if he would state his aversion so simply and directly.”

The first thing to notice is the glaring contradiction. If Dillard had bothered to read or listen to Snyder's extensive contributions, he wouldn't 'doubt', he'd know. It is clear that Dillard hasn't read Snyder and knows little about him. Far from hating Russia, Snyder is a fluent Russian speaker who has extensive contacts in Russia. If we were to use Dillard's bigoted logic, we could flip his remarks to say that Dillard hates Ukraine - and he seems to hate Snyder. I wonder why?

There is a somewhat arcane academic debate over whether Russian ultra-nationalism can be described as fascism. The consensus seems to be that whilst some ultra-nationalists such as Ilyin and Dugin can be described as fascist, the Russian state is not quite there - yet. One prominent voice in the debate is French historian Marlene Laruelle (15), an expert on Dugin. She disagrees, in part, with Snyder. Whilst she is clear that Dugin and Ilyin are indeed classic fascists, she maintains that Putin keeps his distance.

The issue hinges on the definition of fascism, with many people immediately thinking of the Nazis. Yet it was Mussolini who called his political movement the National Fascist Party, and it is Mussolini that the Russian fascists admire. They despise Hitler because he betrayed the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact and attacked the Motherland. It is important to understand that in Russia, the term Nazi has become a generic term for enemy, replacing the Mongol hordes in the national psyche. Because fascism is based on nationalism, each nation has its own version of fascism: Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, and dare I say it, Stalin's Russia.

Perhaps the reason Dillard hates Snyder is because Snyder has specialised in the post-war period in Central Europe in his book 'Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin'. According to Polish-American historian Anne Applebaum.

“Snyder's book has a lot of information that people who know these subjects know very well. But what it does that is different and wholly original is show the ways that Hitler and Stalin echoed one another, at times working together and other times fighting one another. The way in which they egged each other on, acting as two facets of what was really the same phenomenon.” (16)

Hitler and Stalin echoing each other? Not the type of thing any Russian apologist would want to hear. According to Snyder's research, between them Hitler and Stalin were responsible for around 14 million deaths. Snyder has gone as far as to say that by agreeing to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact 'Stalin enabled Hitler's crimes'.

In The Road to Unfreedom Snyder turns his focus to the modern history of Ukraine, a book that directly challenges the Russian narrative. Snyder has also published 24 lectures on the history of Ukraine on YouTube (17) (18). The guy knows his stuff.

Okay, time to call a spade a spade. Throughout his writings on the conflict, Dillard has consistently created another straw-man, the pejoratively named WILP (Western, Integral, Liberal, Progressive - which surely invites an opposite: Eastern, Unintegrated, Illiberal, Conservative). He has arrogantly accused his fabricated category of groupthink.

I'm going to suggest my own grouping based on the perspectives I outlined above.

  • The first group consists of the majority of Ukrainians, the Russian opposition and independent Russian speaking academic specialists in East European politics. This view supports the Ukrainian right to self-determination and sees Russia's invasion as an illegal and aggressive war of imperial domination.
  • The other group is made up of folks with a deep mistrust of the West allied with the official Kremlin position. This view denies Ukrainian self-determination and regards the war as a defensive act against NATO expansion.

Truly, if any 'group' is guilty of groupthink it is the pro-Russian coalition. Their deep mistrust of the West means they are primed to believe Russian propaganda.

RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA AND USEFUL IDIOTS

The most infamous example of propaganda has to be the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was first published in serial form in the Russian newspaper, Znamya in 1903 and in full as an appendix to 'The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth', by Russian Orthodox mystic Sergei Nilus (his writings have been revived in Russia, with a five volume edition of his collected works published in 2009). Russia of course, figures heavily in the history of Jewish persecution with a series of pogroms during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with the Russian secret police implicated in organising massacres.

Despite being proved a fraud, the Protocols are still widely believed in far-right and Islamic circles. Some people still believe in a global Jewish conspiracy. But the conspiracy has also changed over time to become a more generalised fear about a New World Government, Deep State or International Bankers. To understand this we need to refer to Jung's theories of projection and the archetype of the Collective Shadow (as distinct from the Personal Shadow) expressed in group and social dynamics with the projection of negative stereotypes onto 'out'-groups. I won't go into detail here as anyone who has even a basic understanding of Integral theory will be familiar with the concept.

Conspiracy theories are a form of mythology, and propaganda is designed to exploit mythic and paranoid thinking. Of course, both sides (or rather, all sides) in a conflict use propaganda. Which is precisely why we should be aware of the basic principles. Safe to say though, that propaganda is a particular tool of authoritarian regimes who also place strict controls on an independent media. Listen to Russian state TV and you get an almost daily dose of classic propaganda: the West is satanic, Ukrainians are neo-Nazis, Zelensky is a drug addled pedophile.

Given that propaganda is so pervasive and readily amplified by social media, how do we combat it? To give an example, there are numerous military experts offering their opinion on who is winning at any given time, these opinions can be wildly divergent. One way to assess their credibility is to look at the accuracy of their past predictions - according to some, Russia was poised to take Bakhmut a month ago, but as I write this (April, 2023), no such breakthrough has occurred.

We combat it the way it has always been combated: reason and evidence, strict adherence to the established rules of logic and critical thinking. It is a basic principle of media literacy to check your sources. GIGO - garbage in, garbage out. Is the source credible? Does the author have the relevant expertise? Who is the author and what is their background? Is the source known for bias? Is it professional journalism or opinion? Do they offer controversial opinion for entertainment? Are they transparent about their funding? Have their opinions/facts been subject to peer review? Are their views accepted or contested? What are the counter-narratives? Are the counter-narratives credible? Etc.

When you apply these basic tests to the sources Dillard cites, you see red flags everywhere. To give some examples:

  1. Dillard cites a webpage Zero Hedge, which Wikipedia labels as far-right libertarian site known to promote alt-right, pro-Russian and conspiracy material. The editor uses the pseudonym Tyler Durden, aka Daniel Ivandjiiski, a former hedge-fund trader barred from the industry for insider-trading. His father is Krassimir Ivandjiiski, the publisher of a pro-Russian conspiracy website called Strogo Sekretno.
  2. Fox presenter Tucker Carlson, who recently admitted that he knowingly lied about the results of the US Presidential election in order to protect Fox's ratings. In 2020, Fox lawyers asserted in a court case that “the "'general tenor' of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not 'stating actual facts' about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'non-literal commentary”. Get that? 'Not stating actual facts', 'non-literal commentary'. Carlson is often quoted on Russian state TV.
  3. William Blum, a controversial US based socialist and critic of US-Imperialism. (Blum lists the dismissal of the Whitlam government of Australia as a successful US backed coup, a claim denied by Australian historians).
  4. Global Research, run by retired Canadian academic, Michel Cossudovsky, which has been labelled as a conduit for Russian disinformation.
  5. Strategic Culture Foundation, a Moscow based think tank linked to the Kremlin.
  6. Lew Rockwell, a right-wing anarcho-capitalist with links to Zero Hedge.

I think it is fair to say that Dillard has been rather careless in choosing his sources and seems to have been caught seeking quotes that confirm his pro-Russia bias. (It goes without saying that my sources should be judged by the standards I have applied to Dillard).

CONCLUSION: THE FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

Although they are at opposite ends of Europe, Russia and Britain share some interesting commonalities. The ethnically distinct Rus were the result of Viking incursion into Slavic lands, first settling at Novgorod and expanding to Kiev. At roughly the same time, Vikings began raiding Britain and Ireland, also establishing kingdoms. Anglo-Saxon rule would eventually end with the invasion of the Normans, also of Viking origin. Over the centuries Russia and Britain would be both rivals and allies. By the time of WW1, Russia and Britain would be ruled by the cousins, Nicholas II and George V. By this time Britain and Russia had become number one and two in terms of empire. Skip to WW2 and Russia would fight back the Nazis in the Great Patriotic War, whilst Britain would hold them at bay in the Battle of Britain.


Tsar Nicholas II and King George V

But this is where their fortunes changed. Whilst Britain might have successfully fought off the Germans, it was plunged into severe debt and eventually lost its empire, beginning with India. Colony after colony sought and won independence. It was by no means a peaceful process. The British fought a communist insurgency in Malaysia and a war over the Suez Canal.

Meanwhile Russia retained its colonial assets and even expanded its empire into Eastern Europe.

However, I don't think too many regret the collapse of the British empire, a just price for the many atrocities it committed to hold onto power. Curious then, that some people deny Ukrainians the right to self-determination; are prepared to argue that Ukraine should accept its fate as a buffer state to protect a fascist ideal of a Greater Russia.

So we find ourselves facing a double standard. The British Empire got what it deserved but the Russian Empire must be preserved. It doesn't matter what the many colonised people of the Caucasus, Central Asia or even Siberia might want.

And who is dying for Russia? Certainly not the children of the Muscovy elites. No, the men and boys sent as cannon fodder overwhelmingly come from the poorer, colonised territories: Chechens, Buryats, Dagestanis, Tuvins, Tajiks.

In one of his articles Dillard had the temerity to quote Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Dillard's delusion is to think Tutu would see Russia as the victim and not as an imperialist oppressor.

NOTES:

I've kept notes to a minimum because we all have access to search engines and many of my points can be confirmed by using the key terms I've used in the main body. I've avoided hyperlinks because they can sometimes fail.

1. Nikolay Karazin was a military officer, painter and writer who provides a valuable visual record of the Russian colonisation of Central Asia and the Far East.

2. Quoted from 'Critiquing a Metamodern Critique of the Ukraine War', www.integralworld.net

3. Quoted from 'Lend-Lease', en.wikipedia.org

4. Quoted from 'Foundations of Geopolitics', en.wikipedia.org

5. 'Article by Vladimir Putin "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians"', en.kremlin.ru

6. 'Russia', Reporters Without Borders, rsf.org

7. Quoted in several sources. 'Did NATO Promise Not to Enlarge? Gorbachev Says "No"', www.brookings.edu

8. Interview with Sarotte detailing the negotiations. 'Lecture of Mary Sarotte "Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate"', www.youtube.com

9. https://voelkerrechtsblog.org

10. 'Russia's Recognition of the DPR and LPR as Illegal Acts under International Law', voelkerrechtsblog.org

11. 'Russia's Dictated Non-Peace for Ukraine in 2014-2022', Stockhold Center for Eastern European Studies, sceeus.se

12. 'Language in Ukraine: Why Russian vs. Ukrainian divides so deeply', The Christian Science Monitor, www.csmonitor.com

13. 'Russian Analytical Digest', Center for Security Studies, css.ethz.ch

14. 'Infiltration, Instruction, Invasion: Russia's War in the Donbass', Ibidem Verlag, ibidem-verlag.de

15. 'Investigating Aleksandr Dugin and the "soul of Russia"', Freddie Sayers meets Marlene Laruelle, www.youtube.com

16. 'Bloodlands', en.wikipedia.org

17. 'Timothy Snyder: Putin's and Trump's lies, "rashism", Dostoyevsky is an imperial writer', www.youtube.com

18. 'Timothy Snyder: The Making of Modern Ukraine', Yale Courses, 23 Parts, www.youtube.com





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