There is an ongoing discussion among researchers and intellectuals about whether the power of Moscow (and St. Petersburg, before that) over Ukraine can be deemed colonial. Be that as it may, the modern war of the Russian Federation against our country is nothing but colonial.
Everything in the rhetoric and behavior of the invaders indicates that they treat their so-called “special military operation” as putting down a rebellion of the aborigines. The Russians came to Ukraine by the right of the masters, the true owners.
Firstly, the owners of land and assets. They keep on repeating the tired talking point that all the material assets used by the Ukrainian aborigines are the fruit of the efforts and the heritage of the metropolis – the Soviet Union. Whereas the USSR is now the
Russian Federation, that has returned to take its own. If it wants to, it destroys. If it has the mind, it rebuilds. It draws new borders as it pleases. As to the aborigines, they got out of hand and forgot the master’s stick, and disposed of the property entrusted to them recklessly. It’s time to restore order.
Secondly, the Russians also consider themselves masters over the aborigines themselves. Purely in the slave or serf sense. The masters treat the human resources as their property. They punish. They rape. They re-educate. They deport. That’s why the arrest warrant for Putin by the International Criminal Court for the deportation of Ukrainian children (a genocidal act) was like a bolt from the blue for the Russians. How could that be? They took care of the little Mowglis! Like any normal person who would take care of a kitten or puppy picked up from the street.
At the same time, the re-flashing of mass consciousness – from maintaining decorum to outright predation – is surprisingly easy and fast for the Russians.
This was notable even during the Second Russian-Chechen War. A small side note. When Russians claim that Chechnya was a separatist region that, temporarily fallen away from Russia, one might make parallels with the “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk. In fact, these have nothing in common! There was no puppeteer and patron behind Ichkeria, whereas the Donbas “people’s republics” clearly had one. In its relations with Moscow, Chechnya demonstrated both factual and formal agency.
Maskhadov’s elections in 1997 were competitive and took place with the participation of the OSCE observers. His inauguration was attended by the Secretary of the Russian Security Council and a number of other Russian officials. The “separatist” Chechnya conducted direct bilateral negotiations and made treaties with Russia. Ichkerian officials paid official visits to Russian cities. In the federal media, Maskhadov was called the President, and generally the sovereignty of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CRI) was reckoned with, if not de jure, then at least de facto.
But with the beginning of the war, the attitude towards Chechnya changed instantly. Its leaders and officials suddenly became “illegitimate” and “self-proclaimed”, and its servicemen – “militants”. In the blink of an eye, CRI ceased to be a foreign country for Russians, and the very name of the republic and its symbols began to be viewed as “terrorist.”
Russian troops once again turned Grozny into rubble, just like Mariupol later on. The news showed the ruins, offering a simple explanation: “it’s the war”. At the same time, a real “charity fair” unfolded: refugees were placed in tent camps, they were fed from field kitchens, and there were promises to rebuild, “to restore peaceful life.” Putin gave the order to take care of the Chechen children. Of course, without Russia there’s no chance to have a normal education. In a nutshell, the real master returned to Chechnya.
It worked in the Caucasus. The Russians destroyed it all themselves, they rebuilt it themselves. They also re-educated. Those Chechens who resisted were killed. No vocal protests ensued, there was quiet international consensus. So, why not doing the same with Ukraine? So what, if the “separatists” have holed up in Kyiv not for years, but for decades? What difference does it make?
But in the end, there was a difference. And it came as an unpleasant surprise. The Russians perceived the international reaction to the war against Ukraine as unceremonious interference in their “internal” affairs. Like hooligans trespassing into their backyard.
Moscow likes to juggle the word “sovereign”, claiming that interference in the affairs of sovereign states is unacceptable. In effect, referring to the opposition of the international community against Russia “taming the Ukrainian separatists”, while at the same time denying any sovereign rights to the “separatists”. The multipolar world advocated by the Kremlin is the world of colonial powers with their inalienable right to have colonies. It’s curious, what do the Arabs and Africans who are so inspired by the anti-Western pathos of Russia make of it?
And by the way, how do the Arabs feel about the fact that the Russians openly justify their right to a war against Ukraine with the case of the US war against Iraq, and with other examples of Western interventions in the countries of the “global South”? After all, the implications here are quite transparent: when you are that “sovereign state”, you can do anything with impunity to all those Ukrainians (or Iraqis). Russians are annoyed when they are denied the right to mirror (to the best of their understanding) the “thuggish West.”
In the Russian logic of rights and mirroring, there is no understanding of the role of the Iraqis, or Ukrainians for that matter. After all, these aborigines are a kind of property, a prize for the winner in the geopolitical game. Moscow does not believe in the agency and capacity of the aborigines. Rather mistakenly.
After all, Ukraine’s resilience in the fight against aggression and vital large-scale international support is not just luck. We managed to rally it, unlike the Iraqis and Chechens. Ukrainians are a very tenacious nation. And if there is any global conspiracy, it’s the Ukrainian one. We conspired to knock on all doors and make friends. We conspired not to give up and to dodge unfavorable reconciliation initiatives coming from our partners. So Moscow should rather take offense not at the West, but at the Ukrainians who managed to act somewhat differently than the Iraqis and Chechens while repelling the aggression.
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