Today in New Zealand is ANZAC Day, when we remember the sacrifices of the many young men (and women) who left our shores and fought in the various conflicts of the past 99 years, primarily though for the huge losses we suffered in the 2 World Wars. While many of our young men may have joined the war effort in a quest for adventure rather than for any grand political motive, we recognise the ultimate sacrifice these young New Zealanders and Australians made in defeating tyranny and ensuring freedom for many around the world.
Since leaving New Zealand's shores 19 months ago in a similar quest for adventure, albeit without the same risk of death or injury, I have experienced life in Russia, Finland and now Japan, all countries which have suffered as a direct result of the wars being fought in their lands. During our time in these countries I believe I have learned a lot about the people of these lands, have taken in the history of their conflicts from their sides and have a reasonable understanding of their psyches, which brings me to the reason for this post. While this blog has been about the things we have seen and done in our travels, this post will divert from the travel topic and discuss the Ukrainian situation from my perspective. It seems poignant that today of all days we hear threatening rhetoric from the USA giving Russia an ultimatum to stop its "invasion" of Ukraine or face serious consequences, putting us on the edge of a Third World War. Having come from New Zealand, where we are proud of our history of service to the Empire, the effects of war haven't really touched my generation, so unless we have a direct family member who was involved, it was something that happened somewhere else and life goes on without fear of ever really being a part of a war. However, it seems living in Europe is different, as everywhere you go was seemingly touched by the wars and the memories of those times live on in the places and people today.
- Russia is proud of it's history and there are numerous monuments and museums regaling the glory of the Motherland over all-comers, including Napolean and Hitler especially. It is said in Russia that "No one can defeat Russia, except Russians themselves".
- Finland still has many fortifications used in battles both with and against the Russians over hundreds of years and some buildings in central Helsinki still bear the scars of battle which reached into the city in World War 2.
- Of the other countries we visited, England, Estonia, Sweden and Norway the effects of war are evident everywhere as well with monuments and memorials to significant battles scattered in various places around these countries.
I listen to the rhetoric being bandied around by the Western powers and wonder who really are the tyrants now ? Have we over the last 60 years of blind support for the Western superpowers now aligned ourselves with the tyrants who are actually suppressing freedom and inciting bloodshed of thousands of innocent people around the world ? Is it right that there is only one way forward, the US way or face their wrath ?
So what has happened in Ukraine ?
Firstly we see the democratically elected Ukrainian government reject admission to the European Union, which seems to have annoyed the US of A, who for whatever reason were hoping that Ukraine would become part of the Union. So while Britain is contemplating its future within the EU and shows serious signs of discontent, it is wrong for Ukraine not to join this bloc that others are trying to get out of....
Now annoyed with Ukraine's decision, the US back right wing protesters in their bid to overthrow the democratically elected government. Hold on folks, its a democracy, if you don't like the government vote them out next election. Sure there may have been some corruption going on (surely the US isn't clean on that one either...), and the country was in a difficult financial situation by all accounts (and what country isn't nowadays ?), but that is no reason to stage a coup. If those are just reasons for a coup then we would see a free for all in most western economies including America and couldn't argue against them....
After successfully ousting the government, a new president is installed (not voted in by a majority vote as in a democracy mind you.....) who the west now recognise as the legitimate ruler of Ukraine, while Russia refuses to recognise the president of Ukraine until such time as they have a true democratically elected one in place. So on this point the West claims the moral high ground..... (must be some damn good weed they smoke in Washington...)
By now Ukraine has descended into turmoil with no one really knowing who is in charge any more, so Russia who have something like 20,000 troops stationed in Crimea as part of an on-going long term agreement with Ukraine uses her troops to ensure safety and stabilty in Crimea, a parcel of land Russia gifted to Ukraine many years ago. During this time not a shot is fired by the Russians as they encircled Ukrainian army bases. The Crimeans, many of whom are ethnic Russians hold a democratic referendum in which they overwhelmingly vote to secede from Ukraine and become once again a part of the Russian Federation. Again the West refuse to accept the will of the people, as they know better (I guess....) and claim that Crimea was Annexed by Russia, a term which implies some sort of unilateral act on the part of Russia. (hey, didn't the Crimeans all vote for the move ???)
While it seems Russia has been pushing for a democratically elected government to be decided in Ukraine sooner, rather than later and seems to be doing everything it can to try and bring control and normality back to Ukraine, the West are more intent on starting a fight with Russia, citing all sorts of reasons and accepting any accusation of aggression made against Russia by anyone who will escalate a sighting of a single soldier or helicopter into a battalion ready to invade.
Beware of Paranoia, it will eat you up....
Now if there is one thing that anyone living in these areas is good at it is paranoia. I can tell you of our first hand experiences of the paranoia of Russians and Ukrainians, and in fact anyone in the Baltics as well, and it is not healthy. For a start the Russian Federation has only been a "free" country for 20 - 30 years, so most Russians are still tainted in some way by the ways of the past, if not directly then by their parents who lived through communism. Therefore, Russians don't even trust each other and will always suspect that their employees are stealing from them, trying to take over their business somehow, that the government will somehow take over their business once it is successful or that your best friend is trying to shag your trophy wife, among other fears. They trust other former Soviet ethnicities even less, and vice versa. So if they were to see a military figure enter somewhere that they do not normally go, they would likely construe this as the start of an invasion or raid of some sort and act accordingly, therefore anyone reporting on statements like this would best double check the actual situation before quoting it as gospel....
Also any Russian who doesn't like another Russian will not say anything balanced or objective about them, it will all be inflated hyperbole as to how bad the other person is so that they themselves will be seen as the good guy, so really anything said by an opponent of someone else should be taken with a grain of salt as well.
Even a beautiful, peaceful country like Finland is not without its share of paranoia towards Russia, with every public building still requiring a bomb shelter and their compulsory military service consisting of preparing for a Russian invasion (which they seem to view as when, not if).
So in the western media we have seen numerous Russian experts (opponents of Vladimir Putin generally) claim that Russia is on an expansionist trip similar to Hitler's with a view to reunification of all of the former Soviet states into one great Russian Empire once again. Some of these I have seen talking can't even put together a cohesive story to justify their claims, but every word they say is lapped up by the western war mongers.
What Should Happen in Ukraine ?
The only way to truly restore order in Ukraine (in my opinion) is for the West to back down from its crazy war rhetoric, and support the Russians in working to restore democracy once again. I don't for one minute believe that Russia are actively looking to take control of Ukraine (or any other nation for that matter), sure they may be exerting control over greater parts of Ukraine, but someone has to bring law and order back to the country and help the people restore a democratically elected government and that won't be achieved by backing and arming right wing activists to continue to cause disruption throughout the country. Unfortunately America obviously sees Ukraine as some bigger goal and are unlikely to back down (I guess like the playground bully who has had the run of the sandpit for longer than anyone cares to remember, it is going to take a black eye from the late developing kid, who has finally had enough, to show them the error of their ways)
The True Statesman
Through all of this one thing that has impressed me the most is the continued rise of Vladimir Putin as one of the true great statesmen of our time. The West is so focused on his bad points that they fail to recognise that he seems to be the only leader now who seeks true peace, and not peace through bombing the hell out of anyone who you disagree with (and anyone else in the vicinity). Yes he may be a little authoritarian, but due to the fact that Russia is still an emerging democracy that is the sort of leader they need. It won't be until the current generation of Russian babies are in their 20's that we will have a generation that has been brought up knowing only freedom who may question the need for the paranoia and start to live truly free. You should see them on the roads to appreciate how dangerous uncontrolled freedom is in Russia..... He seems to be guiding the country into the 21st century, and that is a big step in itself, and stepping on corruption harder than it has ever been stepped on before. He is right to not recognise the self imposed "government" of Ukraine, he is right to accept Crimea into the Russian Federation at their request and he is right to keep working for democracy in Ukraine. He seems to have held out the hand of peace and partnership to the west throughout the Ukraine crisis in an endeavour to find a peaceful and bloodless resolution, only to have them continue to slap it away.
It seems ironic that the country that brought us Communism at the start of the 20th century is the champion for democracy at the start of the 21st century, while the self appointed Leaders of the Free World advocate bloodshed and autocratic rule....
Unfortunately as a New Zealander it doesn't sit well with me that we automatically take America's side in any argument and on this ANZAC Day would ask our government to remember the sacrifices that our soldiers made for our freedom and for the freedoms of all and question deeply our allegiances in today's world and whether those allegiances see us supporting freedom or contributing to oppression. I know it is hard for any of America's allies to stand up to them, as we especially don't have the means to defend ourselves against their might, (however we have done it once before), in the words of Edmund Burke;
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."