Ukraine, Russia, Annexation; and Learning from History

Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs, photo showing folks looking for bodies. Gagarin building of the secondary school number 18 in Chernihiv. (March 6, 2022)
(From Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Looking for bodies in Chernihiv’s secondary school number 18. (March 6, 2022))

I hadn’t planned on writing about the mess in Ukraine this soon.

But stuff happened.

So I’ll be writing about Russia’s purported military. Also what two alleged generals said, and a whole lot of allegedly-dead Ukrainians.

“Purported?” “Alleged?” “Allegedly?”

Pulitzer's New York World front page headline and illustration stating that a torpedo or bomb sunk the Maine. (February 17, 1898)Seeing news services avoiding “Remember the Maine”-style sabre-rattling is nice. So is their implied caution about claims which haven’t been verified.

But the “purported” proliferation of “alleged” has gotten on my nerves.

So I’m not dropping “alleged” and “purported” into every other sentence.

But I haven’t verified everything I’ll be talking about, much as I’d like to. I don’t have the resources available to outfits like BBC News and Reuters. And even they see fit to qualify their statements.

So I’ll skip “alleged” and “purported,” and assume you realize that I’m not omniscient.

Another thing: I don’t like war. It kills people and breaks things.

Avoiding war is a good idea.

But sometimes war is better than the alternative. I talked about life, love and legitimate defense last month.1

So, much as I’d prefer that Ukraine stop being a war zone, I sympathize with Ukrainians who have been fighting Russian troops.

Scylla, Charybdis and the Moskova

Chernilevsky's photo of the Russian cruiser Moskva. (July 22, 2009)
(From Chernilevsky, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(The Moskova, pride of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, while it was still afloat. (2009))

The guided missile cruiser Moskva was the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, and arguably most powerful warship in the Black Sea region.

Then it sank.

Why it sank depends on who’s talking.

Ukrainian officials say it’s because they fired two R-360 Neptune missiles at it. A senior American official says the Ukrainian version fits available evidence.

Russia’s Ministry of Defense say the Moskova sank because it caught fire, which set off some of its munitions.2

I’m not sure which version makes the Russian navy look worse.

They Said What?!

From Mack Sennett Studios: a publicity still from 'In the Clutches of the Gang.' (1914)
(From Mack Sennet Studios, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Keystone Kops. On screen, funny; as role models, not so much. (1914))

The Moskva may not have been state-of-the-art, but the Soviet-era missile cruiser had a sophisticated defense system.

The outer layer of its triple-tier defenses should have detected and stopped the missiles three or four minutes before they hit.

And if the first two layers didn’t work, the Moskva still had its AK-630 rotary cannons.

Granted, the AK-630 was designed for defense against aircraft and helicopters, not missiles. One the other hand, firing several thousand rounds per minute as a missile flies the last couple miles, pinpoint accuracy may not be vital.

At any rate, the Moskva’s S-300F and OSA surface-to-air missiles, chaff and decoys, and electronic jamming should have kept both Neptune missiles from reaching the ship.

Maybe the Moskva’s radar wasn’t working. Or the crew was distracted. Or the ship’s missiles wouldn’t fire. I don’t know.

Whatever the reason, Ukrainian missiles flying through the Moskva’s three-layer defense system doesn’t make the Russian navy look good.

Russia’s official explanation isn’t much of an improvement over Ukraine’s.

Their version has the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship run by folks who let their ship catch fire, after which it sank.

Either way, the captain and crew of the Moskva come out looking like latter-day Keystone Kops.3

Nazis and NATO

A frame from Ukraine's National News Agency's video showing aftermath of Russia's liberation of Bucha. (April 3, 2022)
(From Ukrinform TV, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ukrainians, liberated by Russian troops in Bucha, Ukraine. (April 3, 2022))

What’s happening in Ukraine depends, again, on who’s talking.

I gather that Russia’s line is still that they’re hunting neo-Nazis. Or liberating Ukrainians. Or something like that.

And anyway, Putin and company say NATO is out to get Russia. So Russia is just defending itself. And Ukrainians who are really Russians. You can tell which Ukrainians are ‘really Russians.’ They’re the ones whose bodies aren’t littering the streets.

The national parliaments of Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine say that Russian troops are committing genocide. Some legal scholars say yes, others say no.

Oddly enough, I haven’t run across claims that disagreeing with Putin proves that Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine are run by Nazis: neo- or otherwise.4

Sadly, what Russian forces have been doing in Ukraine will probably reult in NATO members becomming more actively hostile towards Russia.

Perceptions and Responses

Ministry of Defense of Ukraine's photo, showing results of a Kramatorsk railway bombing. (April 8, 2022)
(From Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Some of the 57 Ukrainians who missed their train in Kramatorsk. (April 8, 2022))

I’m no legal expert, but I suspect that proving genocide will be difficult. Mainly because it strikes me as needing proof of intent.

That said, assorted rapes, torture, informal executions — “extrajudicial killing” in academese — and looting by Russian troops look like genocide.

Or maybe the result of giving weapons to a bunch of marginally-trained yahoos. Who are upset because Ukrainians fought back.

But the situation, bad as it is, could be worse. As far as I can tell, not even Russian officials are trying to brush off bodies in the street with “boys will be boys.”

And a remarkable number of national governments are acting as if Russia’s invasion isn’t business as usual. Some are even saying they’ll help Ukrainians avoid being wiped out.5

I strongly suspect having everything from satellite imagery to camera phones giving us something besides government press releases as evidence helps.

Information technology, evidence, testimony, propaganda and bias — are cans of worms I’ll leave for another time.

Today Donetsk, Tomorrow the World?

Ishvara7's map of empires and colonies. (1900-1910)
(From Ishvara7, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(‘The good old days’ of empires and colonies, before World War I. I don’t miss them.)

Hitler didn’t say “today Germany, tomorrow the world.”

But he might have said “Denn heute gehört uns Deutschland/Und morgen die ganze Welt.” At any rate, that’s part of “Es zittern die morschen Knochen,” a marching song for the Reich Labour Service.

“Tomorrow the World!” is also a 1944 film hardly anyone watches any more, and I’m drifting off-topic.

Or maybe not so much.

Germany annexed Austria and Sudetenland in 1938.

The Slovak Republic became, on paper at least, an independent state in 1939: a day before Germany annexed part of Bohemia and Moravia.

Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia had been part of Czechoslovakia.

Czechoslovakia is a country that happened when World War I’s winners decided it should stop being part of Austria-Hungary. I gather that the territory became a couple socialist republics in 1992 or thereabouts.6

Although all that annexation sounds like what Russia’s military has been doing in Ukraine, I don’t think Putin is a Nazi.

But I do think remembering people and events that happened before this week’s news cycle is a good idea. And I think that, although the 1938 Munich Agreement may have seemed like a good idea at the time, its “peace for our time” didn’t last long.

Goals and Fears

Lencer's map of Ukraine, showing areas which were disputed or not internationally recognized. (March 6, 2022)
(From Lencer, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Map of Ukraine, including places previously “annexed” by Russia. (March 6, 2022))

I don’t see much chance of achieving “peace for our time,” Munich 1938-style.

Ukraine war: US wants to see a weakened Russia
Matt Murphy, BBC News (April 25, 2022)

“…Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of attempting to ‘split Russian society and destroy Russia from within’.

“Mr Austin, a retired four-star general, was speaking after meeting Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv….

“…At a news conference in Poland after the visit, Mr Austin told reporters the US wants to see ‘Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine’.

“The Pentagon chief added that US officials still believed Ukraine could win the conflict with ‘the right equipment’ and the ‘right support’….”
[emphasis mine]

Kyiv accuses Moscow of ‘imperialism’ after Russia flags interest in south Ukraine
Pavel Polityuk, Reuters (April 22, 2022)

“KYIV/MARIUPOL, Ukraine, April 22 (Reuters) – Moscow wants to take full control over southern Ukraine, a Russian general said on Friday, a statement Ukraine said gave the lie to Russia’s previous assertions that it had no territorial ambitions.

Rustam Minnekayev, deputy commander of Russia’s central military district, was quoted by Russian state news agencies as saying full control over southern Ukraine would give it access to Transnistria, a breakaway Russian-occupied part of Moldova in the west.

“That would cut off Ukraine’s entire coastline and mean Russian forces pushing hundreds of miles west beyond current lines, past the major Ukrainian coastal cities of Mykolaiv and Odesa.

“Moscow says it is conducting a ‘special military operation’ to demilitarise Ukraine and liberate its population from dangerous nationalists. Ukraine and its Western allies call Russia’s invasion an unjustified war of aggression….”
[emphasis mine]

A Newfangled Idea that Makes Sense

Thomas Nast's 'The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things.' (September 2, 1871)Even if I wasn’t Catholic, I’d almost certainly think that genocide is a bad idea, or any government policy based on the notion that having the ‘wrong’ ancestors made folks enemies of the state.

Mainly because many of my ancestors are Irish. And that’s another topic.

Again, I don’t know if Russia’s leaders have decided that since Ukraine should be part of Russia, culling Russia’s metaphorical flock is okay.

If that’s the case, then we’re looking at what happens when one nation’s leaders uphold traditional values while others act as if a newfangled idea makes sense. The newfangled idea in this case is the notion that genocide is not a a ruler’s sovereign right.

“…When Lemkin asked about a way to punish the perpetrators of the Armenian genocide, a law professor told him: ‘Consider the case of a farmer who owns a flock of chickens. He kills them and this is his business. If you interfere, you are trespassing.’ As late as 1959, many world leaders still ‘believed states had a right to commit genocide against people within their borders’, according to political scientist Douglas Irvin-Erickson….”
(Genocide, Wikipedia
and see Raphael Lemkin, Early years, Wikipedia)

I think what’s happening in Ukraine looks like genocide. But I also think that it could be what happens when kill-happy thugs are let off the leash, an old-school ruler decides that it’s time for conquest, or maybe a combination of the above.

“Actions that Threaten the Security of the Continent”

From Lx 121, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.

Detail of 'The Apotheosis of Washington,' United States Capitol rotunda; Constantino Brumidi. (1865)My youth and the Sixties overlap, so I don’t have the old ‘Washington the ascended’ attitude toward my country.

That’s not, actually, a foregone conclusion, and that’s yet another topic.

I’m pleasantly surprised that so many national leaders, including mine, say that killing Ukranians is a bad idea. I’m even more pleased that a fair number are apparently backing up their words with actions.

But I am very much aware that not cooperating with a wannabe conqueror is risky.

Russia sharpens warnings as the U.S. and Europe send more weapons to Ukraine
Charles Maynes, NPR (April 29, 2022)

“MOSCOW — As the U.S. and Europe boost military aid to Ukraine, Russian authorities have escalated warnings and criticism, arguing the aid is not only fueling the conflict but also boosting the risk of direct confrontation between Russia and NATO powers.

“In some ways, Russian criticism over foreign military assistance to Ukraine is not new. Russian President Vladimir Putin seized on the delivery of Western arms to Kyiv as part of his rationale to launch what he insists is a limited ‘special military operation’ in February.

“Yet as Russia’s stated goals in Ukraine have narrowed to the ‘liberation’ of the eastern Donbas, the Kremlin’s amplified rhetoric reflects efforts to build public consensus for the need of a protracted — if not existential — war with the West.

“‘The tendency to pump weapons, including heavy weapons into Ukraine and other countries, these are the actions that threaten the security of the continent, provoke instability,’ Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday. It was the latest in a series of statements from Moscow that the conflict in Ukraine risks spilling into a wider conflict with the West….”

Helping Ukraine’s military keep Russia’s military from killing more Ukranians will offend Putin and his pals. Which could mean trouble.

United Nations General Assembly, March 2-April 7

Maps by Jurta and Pilaz: showing how countries voted on United Nations General Assembly Resolutions ES-11/1 through 3. (March 2 April 6, 7, 2022)
(From Jurta, Pilaz, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(UN General Assembly Resolutions ES-11-1, ES-11-2, ES-11-3, (March 2, April 6-7, 2022))

Whoever’s making decisions in Russia may decide that nations criticizing their “special military operation” are enemies of the state and must be destroyed.

Which makes what’s been happening at the United Nations so surprising. Maybe “shocking” is more like it.

UN General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council
UN Affairs, UN News (April 7, 2022)

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on Thursday calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council.

“The resolution received a two-thirds majority of those voting, minus abstentions, in the 193-member Assembly, with 93 nations voting in favour and 24 against.

“Fifty-eight abstained from the process.

“Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam, were among those who voted against….”

The United Nations General Assembly had been busy before that April 7, 2022, vote.

From March 2 to April 7, they’d passed United Nations General Assembly Resolutions —

  • ES-11/1
  • ES-11/2
  • ES-11/3

— None of which upheld Russia’s sovereign right to “annex” Ukrainian territory and kill Ukrainians.7

European governments, at least, may remember what happened the last time they achieved “peace for our time.”

Some non-European abstaining nations may be hoping that places like Canada and Poland will foil Russia’s ambitions. And, just in case Russia wins, hoping that they’ll be “annexed” without too much “liberation.”

The Weimar Republic, United Nations and Learning from History

'Reparations' cartoon.The UN General Assembly’s April 7 vote, calling for Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council may or may not actually have a practical effect.

The last I checked, the Russian Federation still has the Soviet Union’s old position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council: with veto power.

Just like the French Republic, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Maybe we’re looking at a major change in the international status quo. If so, I suspect it’s a change for the better.

I don’t see how the UN Security Council, or the United Nations, could have been formed without giving those five governments so much influence. But I think it’s among the United Nation’s biggest flaws.

As an American, I can ‘feel good’ about my national leaders having veto power in the UN.

But also as an American, I see it as equivalent to — say — Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York state having veto power over a major part of the federal government.

Finally, although I think stopping Russia’s military from killing Ukrainians is a good idea, I also think Russia’s military isn’t the problem.

And weakening Russia’s military may not be a good solution. Not in the long run.

As I see it, Russian troops are running wild in Ukraine because Russia’s leaders sent them there. With different leaders, Russian troops might be less likely to indulge in mass murder. And Russian sailors less likely to scuttle their own ships.

And although I sympathize with a desire to see “Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine” — that sounds far too much like efforts to cripple Germany, after World War I.8

Maybe the Weimar Republic would have made poor decisions, even if World War I’s winners hadn’t decided to punish Germany for having lost.

But I very strongly suspect that Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei would have had a much harder time getting control in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

And that’s yet again another topic.

This is where I’d start explaining why I think keeping someone from killing my neighbors is a good idea, and that treating my neighbors as if they’re people — even if they’re not acting nice — is also a good idea.

But it’s getting late, and I’ve talked about that before. Often:

1 Wars, old and new:

2 Pride of the Russian Black Sea Fleet:

3 Scylla and Charybdis, Keystone Kops and the Russian Navy:

4 One side says Nazis, another says genocide:

5 Dead Ukrainians and “Gulliver’s Travels:”

6 Remembering “peace for our time:”

7 Annexation and the 21st century:

8 A little 20th century history:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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