In Cégep, I did a class presentation on a conflict for my politics course. I was always a bit over the top with research projects because I genuinely liked them, and I chose the conflicts stemming from Russian imperialism in Chechnya. To paint an accurate picture of Chechnya, you have to go back in time to fully contextualize the historical tensions between the breakaway territory and Russia. It was so much information that I asked my professor the permission to present for a full hour, which I did. It taught me that analyzing wars and conflicts can be complex, and that you really need to know the historical, sociological and economic factors behind a story that can seem quite simple.
Over the last few weeks, the coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine by some media outlets really cut corners and didn’t lay out all geopolitical facts to understand the conflict. Right now, we’re being presented a narrative that’s almost superheroes movie-like with the good guys and a bad guy. If you know me, you know I am not a fan of imperialism, whether it’s Russian or Western. The countries that are part of NATO also have economic and military ambitions just like Russia, and those ambitions are not always more ethical. As a people who have been subject to imperialist violence on our own land for centuries, we can understand that very well.
A few years ago, Canada met with and discussed providing weapons and training to the Azov battalion, a paramilitary group in Ukraine. Members of this ultra-nationalist unit possess neo-Nazi and white supremacist views and even sport the SS logo on their uniforms. This means that Canada was willing to arm a neo-Nazi group on the other side of the ocean to keep Russia away from Ukraine.
The Azov battalion has been formally incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, so there is a presence of far-right groups fighting for the defense of Ukraine. There is a known racism problem in the region, and it was made even more obvious by the footage of nearby countries refusing to take in Black refugees at the Ukrainian borders. Europe dealt with over two million Ukrainian refugees in a matter of days, but we all know Syrian refugees didn’t get the same treatment a few years ago.
Ukraine has formally requested its wish to join NATO many times. However, all members must vote unanimously for a state to join the alliance and Ukraine didn’t manage to get that yet; there are certain criteria a country must meet to join the treaty like political stability. Ukraine is a strategic location for many reasons, including its access to the Black Sea which is crucial for resource exports like oil. This is one reason why the country is subject to international interference, which adds to the political instability.
You can support Ukraine’s right to self-determination while being critical of its domestic problems. You can also be against Russian imperialism without cautioning the West’s long tradition of interference in conflict zones around the world. Invasions, arming rebels and destabilizing elected governments often leads to more conflict and more unjust deaths of civilians. My advice is to carefully research conflicts before giving your opinion. Not having an opinion after witnessing so much horror is also fine; war is an ugly thing and it’s not a hockey game where picking sides has no impact.