The No-Self-Determination Hypothesis
Theoden: “I will not risk open war.”
Aragorn: “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.”
This is the first thing we all have to recognize regarding Ukraine. However much one may enjoy calling us neoconservatives “bloodthirsty,” it doesn’t change the fact that Ukraine itself hasn’t been able to avoid war since 2014. The war that the anti-anti-Putin crowd insists it wants to prevent is already ongoing and was in fact started by the very fellow they indirectly defend.
Not that they can admit it:
Inquiries about whether any Russian soldiers exist in the Donbas should be followed up with a Ukranian-led elimination of the occupiers.
Granted, they have their reasons for parroting the propaganda. The logic that somehow, some way, Ukrainians will simply lay down their arms and welcome their Russian “brothers” collapses into rubble in the cold light of the fact that they have done no such thing going on eight years now.
It shouldn’t really surprise us that the anti-anti-Putin crowd has gone from saying “We shouldn’t defend Ukraine” to “Ukraine won’t defend Ukraine.” Like Putin himself, they probably don’t think Ukraine really exists. They just assume once Russia gobbles it up that all will be content. It’s the only reason I can think of that they would declare support for a resistance to Russian occupation to be the opinion of “a psychopath.”
To be fair, they don’t come out and say Ukraine isn’t real, but the implication is impossible to avoid. Domestic resistance to the Yanukovic regime gunning down protestors in the streets becomes, “The Obama administration stole Kiev.” Putin’s threats to invade become, “The Russians want it back and will bleed to take it back.” Ukraine’s government, elected in a 2019 landslide, becomes, “The present-day Maidan installed government of Ukraine.”
Maidan is a serious sore spot for the anti-anti-Putinists. Domestic protesters triumphing over the Kremlin-backed regime that fired upon them shows actual nationalism and agency. That said, the anti-anti-Putin crowd had two options: they could have reminded us that said regime was democratically elected in 2010 (because it was), or they could pretend the Americans or the Brusselian Empire (yes, I coined that phrase for the European Union) made Maidan happen – to preserve the illusion that Ukrainians aren’t really a people and Ukraine isn’t really a country. It should surprise no one that the latter argument has been used repeatedly rather than the former.
Of course, the anti-anti-Putinists have plenty of other things to say: commentary on neoconservative views of Trump, blaming Biden for Afghanistan, and the machinations of the Democratic left, among others. I remain amazed at how these folks can gaslight themselves into projecting near dictatorial power on a gaggle of politicos so out of touch and isolated that they can be dethroned from office by the voters of San Francisco (yes, I said San Francisco).
As for insisting Biden all but told Afghanistan to drop dead … well, they’re not saying he did that. I did. Keep that in mind the next time I’m accused of running interference for him.
As for Trump, I never mentioned him once in my post from Monday, but my animus for him is real, and his take on Eastern Europe is a critical reason. When Trump broke the law on funding for Ukraine’s defense, he did so in the hope that Kyiv (not “Kiev”) would knuckle under to his political whims. In effect, Trump was doing what even the anti-anti-Putinists acknowledge Putin wants, to move Ukraine out of the democratic orbit and into a Kremlin dependency (or, in this case, a Kremlin-sympathizer dependency).
Meanwhile, I should note that those of us who want Putinism destroyed are not dreaming of a “weak Russia.” I would say this is a fundamental misunderstanding of neoconservatives, but the anti-anti-Putinists on the right have known us long enough to be aware of our fondness for self-determination and democracy. Deep down, they already know what we really want is a free Russia, able to find its strengths on its own without a kleptocratic tyranny getting in the way.
For it is Ukrainian democracy that threatens Putin, not NATO or the EU. Indeed, Putin hasn’t even bothered to bring up the Brusselian Empire in his loud demands (likely after seeing how internally paralyzed it is on resisting him). Instead, he spews disinformation about those who defend Ukrainian democracy, much of which the anti-anti-Putinists gleefully repeat.
A good example of this is the Azov Battalion, the latest rhetorical missive. They very article cited as proof of Azov’s place at the pinnacle of Ukrainian society reveals … less than met the untrained eye.
Despite the consistently poor showing of Azov’s political wing in Ukrainian elections, Russia has consistently played up its existence as evidence that the country is controlled by a fascist junta.
In fact, Azov was so weak it entered a far-right coalition led by Svoboda. It won all of one seat (out of 450) in the Ukrainian Parliament in 2019. Its best performance came … before Maidan. Again, though, one cannot acknowledge that neo-Nazism is unpopular in Ukraine unless one also recognizes that the Ukrainian people themselves have a voice – and have used it in several elections.
Meanwhile, as Cathy Young notes in The Bulwark, rank anti-semitism and racism is far more prevalent on the pro-Putin side.
This is all the more ironic since the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” have always been a magnet for Russian ultranationalists and outright neo-fascists—starting with Pavel Gubarev, who began the separatist uprising in Donetsk March 2014 by briefly proclaiming himself the “People’s Governor” and hoisting a Russian flag over the city government building. Photos quickly surfaced showing Gubarev in the uniform of the militant group Russian National Unity, whose emblem bears an unmistakable resemblance to the swastika. The group’s leader, Aleksandr Barkashov, was also in close contact with the Donetsk rebels, vowing to help them fight “the vicious Kiev junta.”
After Gubarev’s arrest, a video of a Skype call intercepted by Ukrainian security services showed his wife and comrade-in-arms, Ekaterina Gubareva, taking instructions from a far more famous Russian fascist: author and “Eurasian movement” founder Aleksandr Dugin, who just then was openly calling for a “genocide” of the “race of bastards” that he felt had replaced the real Slavs in Ukraine. (A few years earlier, Dugin—who had written candidly in the 1990s about the fascist and even Nazi roots of his views—was the subject of an admiring interview published in English on the American white supremacist website Countercurrents.)
Other major figures in the separatist rebellion include Aleksandr Mozhaev, aka “Babai,” one of the leaders of a band of Russian Cossack militiamen known as the Wolves’ Hundred, who came to Eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014 to join the fray. In a video statement, “Babai” explained that the Cossacks’ goal was to destroy “the Jew-Masons” who were “fomenting disorder all over the world” and oppressing “us common Orthodox Christian folk.”
Last but not least, the first prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” from May to August 2014, was Russian “political consultant” Aleksandr Borodai, a reputed state security officer with a long history of involvement in ultranationalist circles. Among other things, Borodai is a co-founder, editorial board member, and regular host of the “patriotic” streaming channel Den-TV (“Day”), run by his longtime associate Aleksandr Prokhanov, a notorious anti-Semite whose views are a mix of Stalinism and mystical Russian nationalism. (Incidentally, Borodai is now back in Russia, where he is a member of the state Duma.)
This isn’t to say Ukraine is perfect (Young herself describes its defects in detail); but it is, as she says, “a fledgling democratic government (facing issues that) have been compounded by Russia’s hybrid war.” More to the point, only one combatant here is reaching out to provide aid and comfort to White Supremacists around the world; it’s not Ukraine.
For anti-anti-Putinism to endure in the face of the facts, there are two alternatives. As I am not one myself, I do not know which alternative is correct. Have the anti-anti-Putinists given up on democracy or are they just trying to erase Ukraine from history? They are sure to claim that this would be a false choice – and they’d be right, just not for the reason they think. Either answer shows a complete disrespect for self-determination, writ large or writ small.
The latter might seem “better,” but it still requires a refusal to acknowledge the conquest of Ukraine by Lenin and Stalin, the Holodomor, the 1991 referendum where every Ukrainian province voted for independence, the numerous elections that have already taken place in Ukraine, and its continued movement toward democracy. To anti-anti-Putinists, Russian past success in subjugating Ukraine is more important than its present failure.
It is the essence of might-makes-right policy – the assertion that brute force is justifiable and almost nothing else should guide Americans. It is the same mantra that justified Yalta (which nearly all conservatives used to recognize as a great betrayal of Eastern Europe), Molotov-Ribbentrop, and Munich ’38. Yet is also robs America of nearly all soft power, and forces us not just to appease tyrants around the globe, but to act like them.
For all their talk of trying to stop a Putin-Xi alliance (which is already in place, by the way), the only argument they could give to Putin himself for choosing us over Zhongnanhai are race and bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community. Of course, to folks like J.D. Vance, that’s exactly the whole point: Putin may be a tyrant, but he’s also an ally in their culture war, and that trumps democracy and everything else. So even if the anti-anti-Putinists “just” don’t believe in Ukraine, it also means they don’t believe in democracy or self-determination either.
Some of them are sure to respond with the old trope: “Politics flows downstream from culture” – without Kevin Williamson’s key corollary: culture flows downstream from biology. Meaning one’s real point of view on these matters settles on how settled one thinks biology is (to be fair, Williamson and I aren’t quite in alignment here). One can recognize shifting biology to humanity’s benefit is one of God’s great gifts to man – from the rise of agriculture through the industrial revolution and the Green Revolution to the present day … or one can retreat to distilled essence of “certainty” that inevitably leads to what I have heard from a close contact (not a BD author): “I just like Putin because he’s White.”
The more well-known anti-anti-Putinists aren’t willing to go that far (yet), but that’s the direction of travel once one gives up on self-determination, writ large or writ small.