Moral Quandaries of Ukraine war

The west has put on a self-righteous lens on the conflict, making it a conflict between flawless virtue and pure evil, with Putin projected as a reincarnation of Hitler. The question is, can it claim the moral high ground?

AROUND the time Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a video clip of the Russian president Vladimir Putin recalling the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 started doing the rounds on social media: “They used the pretext of allegedly reliable information available in the United States about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As a result, we see a tremendous loss in human life, damage, destruction, and a colossal upsurge of terrorism,” the transcription of Putin’s statement read.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov,  in another viral video also made fun of those who can’t sleep over the Ukraine war: “there are advices to calm you down: Imagine this is happening in Africa, or the Middle East. Imagine Ukraine is Palestine. Imagine Russia is the United States (sic).”

The point here is not to somehow justify the Russian invasion but whether, as the statements by the two leaders underline, the west is in a position to claim moral high ground on Ukraine. It certainly isn’t. And in a world where social media involves almost everyone in the day to day issues of the world, this is obvious to all critical observers of evolving geopolitics.

Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 which made the US the sole superpower, the world has witnessed a series of US-led invasions geared to remake it in the American image. And in the process, not only were countries destroyed but lakhs of innocent people were also killed.

In the case of war in Iraq, it was the cooked-up intelligence about the then Iraqi president Saddam Hussain possessing the Weapons of Mass Destruction that became the basis for war. And the western media acted as cheerleaders for the destruction of the country. A similar script played out in US-led wars in, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and in the case of the US-backed Saudi war in Yemen.

The Ukraine war has rallied western nations and many other countries from around the world behind the US. And suddenly all we are hearing is a predominantly western narrative on the war. Social media companies have censored Russian state-sponsored media so there is little in the public domain that can be called an alternative discourse. And this is creating a situation we are all so familiar with. The west has again put on a moralistic lens on the war: a conflict between flawless virtue and pure evil. Putin is being projected as a reincarnation of Hitler. In fact, Time magazine’s recent cover page showed Hitler’s face lurking beneath that of Putin.

But this is not necessarily true. The conflict stems from  Russia’s legitimate fears of being encircled by the west and the NATO military bases reaching its doorstep.  Many of the Eastern European countries which were once a part of the USSR-led Warsaw Pact have become a part of NATO, heightening Russia’s insecurity. The growing likelihood of Ukraine also joining NATO became the last straw for Putin. While it is nobody’s case to countenance the invasion of a sovereign smaller country by its powerful neighbour, the solution to the evolving fraught situation can be resolved if the US-led West and Russia sit down and work towards addressing each other’s grievances and fears.

But that is not happening. Geopolitics is not a morality play and in international relations, moral concerns are also selectively and cynically used to advance national goals. This is why all the western policymakers and the media are focused on what is happening to Uyghurs in China or for that matter how autocratic and evil Putin is. As for the rest of the world, all is supposed to be well: these are the things that can only be occasionally talked or written about but never be a trigger for any policy action. That is, as long as it suits the powerful countries and alliances. And in today’s day and age, it is the US-led western countries. This bloc not only continues to wield a decisive military and economic dominance together with control of the global business and multilateral institutions but also commands a media that is fundamentally responsible for shaping world opinion.

True, China has come close to becoming a rival to the US but its power still largely rests on its economic progress. China is some time away from catching up as a military and a technological power. As for controlling the world’s information order, or owning the globe-spanning corporate behemoths, China still has a long way to go. So, the west continues to exercise a carte blanche as far as what we think and how we think. As Sergey Lavrov says, it would certainly have made a difference had the United States and not  Russia invaded Ukraine. Then, like Saddam Hussain who was falsely accused of stockpiling WMDs to make a case for invading Iraq, Zelensky would have been painted as an irredeemably evil figure who was a threat to world peace. And, of course, the invasion of Ukraine would be considered a salutary bid to liberate the country and transplant true democracy. What is more, most of the world would have played along, the media too.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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