TLDRUpFront: As we approach the first full week of conflict the InfoMullet provides a special “improve your arguments” Russo-Ukrainian War edition.
Time for an overdue “Improve Your Arguments” where we give the context to help keep you from looking like a fool. I split this edition into two sections, with the following arguments addressed. As more “bad arguments” are submitted, I may update this page.
Casus Belli Bad Arguments
- Is Ukraine a fascist country, and does it need to be de-Nazified?
- Did a coup remove President Yanukovych?
- Did NATO cause the war?
Other Bad Arguments
- Would former President Trump have done better?
- Did the Afghanistan withdrawal encourage Putin?
Casus Belli Bad Arguments
1. Yes, there are fascists in Ukraine, but they neither “run” the country nor justify an invasion.
Putin has claimed “de-Nazification” as a goal in Ukraine. Not only is there enough of a kernel of truth to make it complicated, its an argument offered by both Trump Stalinists; who would love to tag someone elsewith the fascist label, as well as elements within leftist and progressive spheres; who love to tag everyone with the fascist label. After all, if we’re supposed to punch all Nazis, and someone is pointed out as a Nazi – don’t they deserve some punching?
Putting aside the most effective ways to counter and defeat fascist threats – Ukraine is not a “Nazi” country that deserves to be punched into “de-Nazification.”
But the roots of Russian perceptions of fascism in Ukraine go deep. After the Soviet genocide of Holodomor and the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939, much of what was now western Ukraine did not look fondly on Soviet leadership. During Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of Ukraine, the country split into two administrations along geographic lines that still resonate today.
In the western regions, including Kyiv, the collaborationist regime Reichskommissariat Ukraine, run by Ukrainian politicians favorable to Nazis, held power, not unlike Vichy France. Regions to the east, including Crimea, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Donbas, were placed under military administration. (1) From east and west, many took up arms as paramilitary resistance or sought to join the Soviet Army. Under Hitler’s occupation, the toll on Ukraine was as brutal as Stalin’s Holodomor. The Ukrainian branch of the Holocaust would claim .9-1.6M Jews and 3-4 non-Jewish Ukrainians were killed. (2) And the cultural perception of “western” Ukraine as fascist collaborators has lingered in some parts of the east.
And though purged under communism, fascist renewal movements emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s. Political parties such as Svodoba have fascist and neo-Nazi roots. (3)
During the Maidan Revolution of 2014 – these fascist groups provided some of the most militant protestors to fight in the EuroMaidan street battles. The blinding speed of change in February-March 2014 makes understandable concerns in the east over “what’s happening with the fascists in Kyiv in the west.”
This plausible concern increased when the Russo-Ukrainian war broke out with the annexation of Crimea and separatist uprisings in the Donbas. Volunteer militias were forming everywhere, and a neo-Nazi militia known as the Azov Battalion(4) volunteered to fight in Donbas. (At the time Ukrainian government would not send conscripts into Donbas, only volunteers.) Though only a few thousand members strong, the Azov Battalion or Regiment, as it is sometimes known, is notorious for human rights violation, neo-Nazi sympathies, and anti-Semitic leanings. As Ukraine formalized its volunteer militias into national guard units, the Azov Regiment became legally recognized. A new political party appropriately named the National Corps for anyone not getting the message yet formed the regiment and its veterans. Although claiming no neo-Nazi sympathies, the National Corps has, not surprisingly, ultra-nationalist tendencies. (5)
But past does not always anchor the present. 2014 was a tumultuous time in Ukraine: a revolution toppling one regime, annexation of one territory by a foreign power, and that same power backing separatists who began a war in the Donbas? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” comes to mind. Ukraine needed fighters, and they weren’t picky about who took up arms.
Fast forward to the recent 2019 Presidential elections, and neither Sdvoba nor National Corps has much in the way of popular support. Both polled only ~2.5% in the popular vote, and although that’s a lofty goal for both the American Libertarian and Green parties, it wasn’t enough to pass a 5% threshold to gain seats in Parliament. By contrast, President Zelensky’s political party, Servant of the People – is explicitly Ukrainian-centrist and gained 43% of the vote in parliamentarian elections, while Zelensky himself took 73% of the popular vote in the Presidential Election. (6) (As a fun aside, Servant of the People is named after the hit-TV show, which then actor Zelensky starred in as a common man who became the President of Ukraine. It’d be like if a West-Wing party ran a campaign seeking to elect Martin Sheen during the peak popularity of that show.)
So during a time when nationalism, and arguably fascism, was on the rise in many regions globally – in Ukraine, it declined in popularity and failed to gain a seat in Parliament or major governing position in the Presidential office. Hardly a strong argument for a military invasion with an explicit purpose of “de-Nazification.”
2. Yes, President Yanukovych was removed by a legislative coup.
This one may surprise some people. But by technical definition, at least my technical definition, how President Yanukovych was removed from power was technically by a legislative coup. I’ve been recovering Historical Mullets from Facebook coverage of the events of the EuroMaidan and Maidan Revolution, and this is what I wrote eight years ago February 22nd 2014, after the February 21st Agreement stripped President Yanukovych of power:
“This is in part because Yanukovych’s removal did not follow normal impeachment procedures, instead using his flight out of the capital in a time of crisis as justification. These irregularities may come back to haunt the Maidan Revolution if Yanukovych and the Party of Ten Regions set up a shadow government in Kharkiv. Some are already claiming the Maidan Revolution is not a legislative act – but a coup.
Coups can be tricky to call as they are not well defined. But normally, a small body with vested legal authority such as military units, police, or government departments exceeds their legal authority to remove an official from power. General Sisi’s use of the Egyptian Army to remove President Morsi from power in Egypt and then crush the Muslim Brotherhood is a textbook coup. And though this is not the same as that, one could still call it a coup for failure to follow Constitutional procedures. But even though the vote had a less-than-legal flavor, it was approved by an overwhelming amount of democratically elected representatives – including many members of Yanukovych’s party. Though there remains a question of whether the vote was held by these MPs under threat of force from protestors (implicit or explicit).”
The context, of course, is key. Interior Ministry forces under Yanukovych’s orders had just killed dozens of EuroMaidan protestors in the immediate days prior, and the President fled the capital, as did many of the President’s party members in Parliament. By way of very rough analogy, it’s as if President Trump’s crackdown on Lafayette Square had resulted in the deaths of several hundred, adjusting for population differences, and after his most ardent supporters fled from of Washington DC like Senator Cruz fleeing a winter storm in Texas for Cancun. The remaining House and Senate voted unanimously to remove him from power. A vote by an overwhelming number of duly elected officers of the country – but not following the Constitution. So there’s a valid ethical and moral argument for the justification of the removal. But it was still, by technical definition, a coup. The February 21st Agreement further clouded matters by replacing the then-current Constitution with a previous 2004 version.
And due to the January 6th Insurrection, I had a chance to deconflict terms of conflict including protest, riot, domestic terrorism, rebellion & Insurrection, seditious conspiracy, treason, insurgency, revolution/civil war, and coup. Though the analysis is rooted in US legal code the discussion about what constitutes a coup is applicable to this case.
3. NATO didn’t cause this – Russian Imperialism did.
A bad argument is that “NATO caused” the war or “NATO expansion” is to blame. In his own words and consistently over a long time, President Putin’s strategic goals have been to re-establish the Russian empire over former Soviet republics and exert a larger hegemony that reaches Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. (7) Just ask Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan, Georgia(8), Mozambique, Sudan, Madagascar, Mali, and the Central African Republic(10). None of these, last I checked, were under consideration from NATO, bordering Russia, or creating any strategic threat to Russia.
The theory that NATO will invade or conquer Russia is laughable – as anyone with a passing familiarity of Swedish, French, or German military histories will testify too. More plausible are concerns over deploying either ballistic missiles or anti-ballistic capabilities in NATO partners that border Russia. Fifty years ago, the time shaved from launch to boom by moving missiles into closer proximity could create a strategic threat; see the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, the continuing move towards hypersonic ballistic capability means anywhere on the globe is reachable in just a fraction of the time it was before. And the same technology may outpace anti-ballistic capabilities due to trajectory and speed.
An Extra-Full Mullet of Ukrainian Context
We’re running a two-for-one special here at the InfoMullet. Ongoing coverage of the Russian invasion in Ukraine is occurring as it unfolds. But we’re also restoring over 50 Historical Mullets originally written and posted on Facebook from 2014-2015 as Euromaidan, the Maidan Revolution, Crimean annexation, and the start of the Russu-Ukranian war in the Donbas began.
Bad Arguments Not Related to Casus Belli
4. We don’t need to ask whether President Trump would’ve done better – we already know he wouldn’t.
This one should be simple. For context, Javelin missiles are the front line of defense by Ukraine against Russian armor. In 2019 President Trump declared a conversation with President Zelensky, who needed Javelins to defend himself against Russia, as “the perfect call.” In that call rather than support Ukraine’s military needs against Russia, President Trump extorted the Ukrainian President in an effort to investigate his political rival, then Presidential candidate Biden.
A ‘perfect call’, annotated.
Part of the “bad argument” that President Trump would’ve deterred Putin from invading Ukraine is most Americans, Red or Blue, don’t realize a war’s been going on between Russia and Ukraine since 2014 that’s killed over 10,000. It started in Obama’s administration, continued in Trump’s administration.
So even if we accept, for sake of examination the premise that President Trump would be able to “deter” Putin – it begs the question why didn’t he stop him if he could do so? A Trump “madman” enough to deter Putin is a Trump “madman” enough to get Putin from actively fighting once he’s already started. So why didn’t he?
Moving on to challenge the premise that a Trump Presidency “deters” Putin is the fact that *immediately* after Trump was sworn into office, President Putin escalated fighting with a heavy military intervention into Ukraine January-February of 2017 that lasted throughout the Trump administration.
That’s the question President Trump should be answering – not “what he would’ve done” today but what he *did* do 2017-2020.
Check out full coverage of the Whistleblower scandal that led to Charges of Impeachment by the House of Representatives and Acquittal by Trial in the Senate.
Check out additional coverage of the January 6th Insurrection, which led to the Second Charges of Impeachment by the House of Representatives and Acquittal by Trial in the Senate.
(Reserve this space for future Charges of Impeachment against President Trump if he wins in 2024, ed.)
5. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was a horrendous debacle – but probably not a key factor in President Putin’s decision making.
Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows how angry I am at the FUBAR the US withdrawal from Afghanistan became. Months later and every time I sit down to write the MegaMullet of bad that was I still get too angry at both President Biden and the commanding generals who went ahead with what was clearly going to be a catastrophe of an operation. Still, it’s not like President Putin suddenly sprouted his bellicose wings just the last year. Putin has been behind invasions and military interventions during every Presidential term in the 21st Century. I can quote Grozny Rules chapter and verse because this is the third time he’s implemented them.
Nor is it likely he looked at what was largely a failure of withdrawal in an insurgent campaign decide he wanted to go toe-to-toe with the same air force and full spectrum conventional operations that humiliated Russian forces at the Battle of Khasham where a small unit of only 40 US Special Forces, backed by airpower and artillery, decimated an advancing column of Russian and Syrian fighters killing hundreds before they were even able to engage the US soldiers. There’s a reason everyone picks a fight with the US on the terrain of insurgency and its not because our conventional capabilities are weak. Russia’s struggled to compete against near-peer rival Turkey in three recent conflicts, and if Putin was confident in his military capabilities against the US because of the Afghanistan withdrawal, he wouldn’t be using nuclear threats as deterrence to NATO intervention.
Obviously the Afghanistan withdrawal was black mark on both the US military and President Biden’s administration. But I’m really not sure, given everything else we know about President Putin, the historical context of Russian action in Ukraine, and local dynamics it was the primary, secondary, or even tertiary condition for invading Ukraine.