If the Cold War ever ended, it only ended in appearance and rhetoric for a few years, but the mistrust and sniping has continued regardless. Now, given events over the last 5 years especially, the amicable appearance and rhetoric has ended.
Its seems that most politicians and main stream media outlets, either in Russia or in the West, only report negative based news about one another. This helps to condition audiences to interpret, and maintain the interpretation that the other side is the enemy in everything they do and to remain suspicious at all times.
The situation really soured recently when the Euro-Maidan protests erupted in Ukraine with protesters demanding closer ties to the EU after Viktor Yanukovich reneged on signing a deal with the EU for a last-minute Russian counter offer.
Ukraine shares a border with Russia and, among other things, Russia has seen it as an important buffer zone helping to separate it from the ever-expanding EU and perceived Western influence creeping ever closer.
It regarded many protesters and opposition politicians that filled the vacuum of Viktor Yanukovych’s departure as harboring ultra nationalist, fascist and neo-nazi ideologies. There was some truth to this as many far right and right-wing groups took advantage of the vacuum created, forming militias as security collapsed and made in roads politically.
These groups assisted in the protests, suffered casualties and deaths, so understandably from their perspective, they did not want to see the protests usurped by politicians that might revert back to the status quo and roll back gains they had made.
Many civilian protesters wanted to see change towards the EU, improved human rights, freedom of speech, investment and many other norms found in the West. The West regarded the Euro-Maidan protests as a legitimate process with legitimate demands that culminated in the shooting of protesters and Viktor Yanukovych escaping to Russia before the protesters came to see him.
Russia regarded it as an illegal coup due to the forcible ousting of a democratically elected president.
After events surrounding the Euro-Maidan escalated and ended with many protesters being shot, a number of police being shot and mystery snipers targeting both sides to fuel the events, Russia moved to annex Crimea.
Crimea had long been part of Russia before being transferred to Ukraine in 1954. The majority of Crimea’s inhabitants are of Russian ethnicity, approximately 65% currently with the main language spoken being Russian.
Russia moved to take control of Crimea under the narrative of protecting the Russian majority from an illegally installed government with fascist views that may threaten its people. It also stated that the majority of citizens did not recognise the events taking place in Kiev as being legitimate.
Russian president Vladimir Putin then signed a treaty absorbing Crimea into the Russian Federation following a fairly swift and suspect referendum to legitimise Russia’s actions by democratic means. Although the referendum is suspect and roundly criticised by Western politicians, it is probably fair to say that the majority who voted genuinely wanted Russia to take control.
This is borne out by independent surveys taken a year after the referendum showing that approximately 80% of Crimean’s support the inclusion of Crimea into the Russian Federation.
Ukraine’s new pro EU government, The West and the majority of the International community do not recognise Russia’s actions in Crimea as legitimate following the turbulence of the Euro-Maidan. They state that it was an illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory and has been widely condemned.
Russian media maintained that the new Ukrainian government was suspect, harbouring dubious far right groups that may cause security issues for the predominantly ethnic Russian’s in Crimea. According to Russian politicians and media, Russia acted to protect its ethnic Russian civilians for what it saw as an illegal take over of the Ukrainian government.
This is true to a certain extent but they did happen to expand their territory at the same time by crossing the border into sovereign territory and taking it. Is this not against International Law?
Western media portrayed Russia as aggressively expanding its territory and illegally taking land from Ukraine. This is true to a certain extent but the majority of Crimean’s actually wanted Russia to take control and absorb it into the Russian Federation after watching the Euro-Maidan protests. Did Russia not act in line with the democratic will of the people?
During this time, eastern and southern provinces of Ukraine also protested at the events taking place in Kiev. Following the Crimean annexation, provinces such as Luhansk & Donbass quickly joined in the request for Russian assistance to break away from Ukraine. They hoped to be absorbed into the Russian Federation like Crimea, citing the same reason of fascist Nazi groups usurping the state structure of Ukraine.
Ukraine said that the eastern provinces were being usurped by Russia which was trying to expand further into Ukrainian territory and sought to take more land illegally. Again, there is truth on both sides but as ever, the narratives of respective politicians and news outlets ignored them, denied it or down played it at best.
Russia did have advisers working to help eastern Ukrainian separatists, supplying weapons and munitions, as well as alleged active Russian military personnel taking part in fighting on the ground.
Ultra nationalist groups did become more influential in Kiev, and have continued to do so. Increasing their numbers following the polarizing events of the Euro-Maidan, militias like the Azov Battalion and the Right Sector have become increasingly powerful and have helped the new government fight separatists on front lines in the east of Ukraine.
Recent events in Syria however seem to have widened the divide between the West and Russia still further.
Western politicians and mainstream media news outlets are currently portraying the Russian intervention in Syria as propping up the Assad government and indiscriminately bombing civilians while targeting mainly moderate groups and not IS.
Again there is truth to this narrative, by bombing opposition groups and IS, they are propping up the Assad government, and civilians will be killed and injured during airstrikes that take place when targeting groups located & situated in populated areas.
However, it is widely known that there are many fundamentalist groups operating in Syria aside from IS such as al-Qaeda’s branch Jabhat al-Nusrah, Ahrar al-Sham and many more including fundamentalist coalitions like the Islamic Front. They have and continue to collaborate with groups or coalitions deemed moderate by the West and are undeniably dominant & influential on the battlefield.
If Assad’s government falls and groups like this take control, will this be the free democratic state allegedly first called for by protesters in 2011? Or will it become a new Sunni Islamic state, run under sharia law that despises the West for their involvement?
Russia would also lose its strategically important naval base in Tartus on the western coast of Syria and it would lose a strategic partner that they have had business with for over 60 years. So there are genuine long-standing strategic and national interests for Russia to support the Assad government and see a transition of power over a period of time.
Of course, this is what Russian politicians and main stream media news outlets focus on and there is truth to it. But they ignore the fact that Syria is a failed state, at least a large portion of it. Even if Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces win the war, there will be a continued insurgency from the losing side for years and possibly decades to come. Sectarian violence will continue and despite what politicians and main stream news outlets will say, it will continue to be a failed state.
However one thing is for certain, if the tables were turned and the US had a long-standing strategic influence in a country that resembled the Syrian conflict at this time, they too would act to protect their strategic and national interests also as they have done previously.
So here we are again in 1980’s Afghanistan, except it’s 2015 in Syria.
During the Cold War, Russia invaded Afghanistan to help prop up the pro-Russian government of the time against a popular rebellion. Russia developed influence in Afghanistan after World War Two and Instead of trying to seek a political solution as they did in Syria in 2012, they responded to the governments ever-increasing requests to intervene in the rebellion militarily.
Within a year of initial Afghan government requests, large numbers of Russian personnel including military hardware and aircraft were deployed into Afghanistan. The US along with Gulf and Arab states saw an opportunity to capitalise on the deteriorating situation to benefit their own national and strategic interests, and confront the communist threat.
They began to arm the opposition including radical fundamentalist groups with an ideology contrary to that espoused by the West. They increased arms supply and continued their support until Russia finally left Afghanistan after suffering badly both militarily, politically & economically.
The war lasted nine years, injured and killed countless civilians and helped foment a failed state for decades to come. A civil war followed with sectarian and tribal allegiances at play until the Taliban eventually came out of the other side as the victors, largely taking control of Afghanistan.
A few years later it would be the turn of the US to get bogged down in Afghanistan along with other western countries after invading to remove al-Qaeda’s presence following events that took place on 9-11 for which al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. After al-Qaeda was routed in relatively short order it quickly moved into an attempted nation-state building exercise, fighting the Taliban also who saw the US as illegal invaders and occupiers of sovereign land.
Western politicians and main stream media now focused on the Taliban and other groups as radicals and terrorists after previously supporting them just over a decade prior during the Russian intervention in Afghanistan.
Now it’s Syria, a once secular and relatively prosperous country that is now in a terrible state. Countless civilians, soldiers and opposition fighters have been killed, even more wounded, an ongoing civil war persists with sectarian undercurrents and problems that will persist for years to come. Syria has become so unstable recently that interested parties with either something to gain or something to lose have noticeably escalated their input to gain the initiative.
Russia has now intervened militarily to support the governments faltering military and state that has facilitated their national and strategic interests for decades. Iran and Iraq are also providing support to the Assad government for their own strategic and national interests as well as underlying sectarian reasons.
The US, UK, Gulf and Arab states support the opposition by sending weapons, military hardware, munitions, ‘advisors’ and funds to groups deemed moderate but who also appear to include, or associate closely with, radical and fundamentalist groups on the battlefield. Gulf and arab states are also supporting these groups along sectarian lines as the majority opposition to Assad is made up of Sunni muslims.
Narratives and rhetoric used by politicians and main stream media news outlets of both Russia and the West is intended to slant the truth in their favour. It also provides condemnation of their opposition and ignores any truth found within opposing narratives and rhetoric. If the situation was reversed, the narratives and rhetoric would become similar to that which they currently refute.
Those who follow world events closely over a period of time and source information from all sides see the hypocrisy and contradictions laid bare time and again.
The fact is there is truth to both sides and consequences to each direction taken, but only the truth that supports the narrative of the time is focused on, while the rest that adds additional context is ignored or is under represented.
Ultimately the majority of the public in respective nations are led to war, after being led there by politicians and main stream media narratives that only represent their side of the truth while masking the real underlying motivtions that revolve around world dominance, power & economics.