Russian nationalism, NATO, and the threat of nuclear annihilation
If the post-Soviet chapter in the age of capitalism is neoliberalism, then the proliferation of identitarian modes of perception can be considered as a main aspect of the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism. False duality is, in turn, a defining aspect of the prevalent identitarianism. In the absence of an international/sit egalitarian movement, today even the most direct capitalist and expansionist conflicts over the sources of raw materials and energy are mystified using an idealist (as opposed to materialist) frame of reference. Thus, fundamentally similar right-wing fronts are portrayed as fundamentally opposing parties with contrasting sets of values. To further distort the reality, the supposed opposing value systems are implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, racialized.
An example of such a false duality is the West versus Russia, or NATO versus the Vladimir Putin regime. The ruling regime in Moscow is superficially depicted as the moral other of the Western bloc. Throughout this conflict, the bourgeois propaganda machine in the West have insinuated that there is an affinity between the left and Putin’s regime, often compelling leftist platforms to adopt a defensive discourse thereby repeatedly emphasizing their condemnation of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in the clearest possible words. On the other hand, the self-proclaimed leftists who never get tired of attacking the left to prove their own supposed ability to think autonomously play an effective role as a proxy ideological apparatus of the totalitarian bourgeois system. To these non-Marxist leftists, the left is permanently suspected of having sympathies for authoritarian regimes.
Neither Putin has any sympathy for the left anywhere nor the left could in any way be sympathetic to his anti-communist and racist regime, yet somehow every leftist critique of (capitalist) liberalism is interpreted as a definitive sign of illiberality and, thus, a symptom of authoritarianism. The leaders of the Russian regime are those who literally buried Soviet socialism alive, and they have shown no tolerance for anything remotely communistic. Let us not forget that the Putin regime is the direct successor of the Boris Yeltsin regime, which, along with the broader anti-Soviet Russian nationalist movement was wholeheartedly applauded by the prophets of neoliberalism who, inspired by the likes of Milton Friedman and Francis Fukuyama, declared the beginning of a supposed glorious and eternal reign of capitalist liberalism. Indeed, Putin and the elites that rule the Russian Federation have been not only the fatal enemy of the Russian left but also an ally of various conservative regimes and fascist movements in the world. We should not be deceived by the imposed false duality or compelled to choose a side between two imperialist fronts. One of the outcomes of this ideological imposition is silencing critique. From the perspective of the ruling class in the West, anything short of unconditional approval of NATO’s policies is automatically perceived with suspicion, but that should not intimidate the left. The ongoing conflict between NATO and Putin’s regime is a capitalist conflict between imperialists.
While the collapse of the Putin regime could be a matter of time, the sanctions have made the situation more challenging for the marginalized majority in Russia. This also means that the post-Putin era could be far worse for most Russians, just as the Post-Saddam era has been by far bloodier than the Saddam era for most Iraqis who had already been devastated by both political oppression and the international economic embargo (for more see Ahmed 2022). What is clear is that not even Putin’s fans believe his regime’s propaganda. However, the same thing cannot be asserted about the ways in which the majority of citizens of Western countries perceive their own governments or NATO. There is a common habit of equating between NATO’s strategic agenda and an imaginary program formed around the political ideals of liberalism.
There is another widely common but less explicit assumption that entails yet another false dichotomy: (civilized) Europeans versus (barbarian) Asians. While Russian aristocratic and bourgeois elites have always considered Russians as Europeans and the unsung gatekeepers of the Christian world, Western European elites systematically Othered Russians. Again, both sides operate within the same identitarian mode of perception, which is so fundamentally racist, no amount of political correctness can effectively conceal the centrality of race to its system of interpretation. “Race” may be replaced with less provocative pseudo-concepts such as “culture” or “ethnicity,” but at the heart of the ongoing classifications and generalizations race remains to be both the paradigm and the parameter.
Russian nationalism: Putin in the role of the tragic hero
The bitterly frustrated Russian nationalists have repeatedly expressed grievances about Westerns’ denial of the (racial) Europeanness of the Rus. It should go without saying that Russian nationalists do not have a problem with European white-racism or fascist ideologies that adopt the myth of white supremacy per se; rather, what they are upset about is that the Rus are being excluded from the (white) family, and their anti-Western rhetoric is primarily a reaction to this “unfair” exclusion. This seems to be the primary sense in which today’s Russian nationalism uses the accusatory term of “Russophobia,” an otherwise old term indicating different discursive usages in different times. At the forefront of the guilty parties are the liberals because their persisting antagonistic policies suggest an overwhelming tendency to exclude the Rus from the White clan. Until the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Putin was openly embraced by many conservatives and most far right-parties in Europe and North America. In fact, he served as an inspiring model of a brave white leader who stood up in defense of the threatened West and Christian values and did not shy away from fighting what to conservatives is social and moral decadence. When Western far-right figures pragmatically turned their backs to Putin, the overall sense of martyrdom and betrayal intensified among the Russian nationalists. Only when all doors were shut at his face, did Putin turn Eastward, still merely for strategic reasons. Of course, he was dead wrong to assume that the Chinese leadership would receive him unconditionally and with open arms for the sake of his blue eyes.
Historically, there is a deep sense of victimhood, sacrifice, and betrayal that runs through even Russian great literature. Ironically, even some of Lenin’s comrades within the Bolshevik leadership habitually distanced themselves from Asian-ness and preferred to associate with the European canon (to say nothing of Stalin’s infatuation with Western leaders and deliberate humiliation of Mao in late 1949 during the latter’s visit to Moscow shortly after the triumph of the communist revolution in China). The sense of Western betrayal of Russia goes back to the nineteenth century when the British and French empires repeatedly, and most significantly during the Crimean war of 1853-1856, allied with the Ottomans against Russia. Nonetheless, Russian Pan-Slavic nationalists have continued to hang on to their Euro-racist sense of identity. In nationalism, the sense of being betrayed could seamlessly transform into a sense of martyrdom thereby rendering the original nationalist mythology even more metaphysical.
From the perspective of the post-Soviet Russian nationalists, if the racial notion of European-ness is taken away from the Russian identity, there is hardly any way to cling to the superiority myth. Therefore, and given the Russian-nationalist prolonged frustration with Western Europeans that stretches over two centuries, at least since the reign of Nicholas I to the present, the Russian nationalists desperately and urgently had to form a new superiority myth as the nuclear of the identity that would preserve white-racism but be independent from Europeanness at the same time.
Interestingly, there is a new turn in Russian nationalism toward so called Eurasianism or Neo-Eurasianism led by the fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, whose star started to rise with the rise of Russian nationalism and during the nationalist reign that followed the demise of the Soviet Union. Dugin and his followers advocate for a supposed Russian civilization that is neither European or Asian. However, the feverish revival of this doctrine is essentially rooted in the frustration with the European family and is symptomatic of a neurotic reaction to the European rejection of Russia. Putin and his fascist mentors are lost in a deep sense of nationalist self-pity, and because the Russian army will almost certainly lose the war in Ukraine, it is very likely that Putin will fully take up the role of the tragic hero. As someone indoctrinated with idealist nonsense about Russian nationalism and someone who identifies as the embodiment of both the Rus’s hope and fate, if he gets a chance, Putin will translate the loss of the war into an apocalyptic ending. In the role of the tragic hero, embodying the collective nationalist fate, Putin must have securely and meticulously designed plan A, plan, B, plan C, and so on to leave no chance for his rivals to prevent the apocalyptic ending if and when he is faced with an avoidable and humiliating loss of the war. In the role of the tragic hero of a nation tragically betrayed by the brothers of blood and faith, Putin will push the button of nuclear annihilation. To Putin, neither a world without the great Russia nor a Russia without him as its great leader is acceptable. If fate has it another way, he will confront that tragic fate in his own way. Putin’s way no doubt will be nihilistically heroic.
Nihilist heroism is one of the central characteristics of fascist leaders. However, this crisis should not be simply pathologized or reduced to any other sort of abnormality. Putin may be taking bourgeois nihilism to another catastrophic point, but he is not insane. Like many other nationalists, his irrationality is rationalized through a metaphysical frame of reference whereby fate occupies the central region in the system of signification. What makes Putin stand out among all nationalists whether white or non-white, is a combination of things that must be considered together while keeping in mind Putin’s personality. Putin has: 1) a racist-imperialist sense of entitlement; 2) a bitter sense of being betrayed by his supposed European siblings; and 3) authority over the use of the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. In the final analysis, what Putin represents is an immanent global threat within countless crises produced by the capitalist order.
One of the ironies of the racist duality of Europe versus Russia is that the representatives of both camps both distrust and try to use the Turks at the same time. From a Western point of view, while Turkey cannot be perceived as a member of the European family, it is an important military ally to keep Asians at bay. Today, there is more readiness within the EU to welcome Ukrainian membership, than to accept Turkish membership of the union, even though the rulers of the Turkish Republic have been trying to join the European family since long before Ukraine was born as a nation state. From the Russian nationalist point of view, Turkey is the only adopted member of NATO and is racially excluded from the actual Western circle of trust. As such, Turkey is an ideal candidate to be used as a Trojan horse. On the other hand, Erdogan is well aware of the racist rules of the international game, and he does not miss any opportunity to exploit the unspoken dualism in the interest of his nationalist and Islamist interests. In this scenario, all sides represent the right. The left is made present fictionally by nationalists, conservatives, fundamentalists, and their apologists only to be blamed for everything that goes wrong. As a matter of fact, the crisis is precisely a crisis of the absence of the left.
NATO: Another fascist alliance?
Assuming that the world will survive this era of gentrified violence and universalized chauvinism, how will future generations perceive NATO? Would they perceive it the way we perceive the fascist alliance of the late 1930s and early 1940s, when the most exclusionary forces set out to totalize their exercise of power? Hitler’s Nazism and Mussolini’s Fascism, however, belonged to a rudimentary group of fascist movements who did not have a good chance of endurance mainly because of their self-destructive strategies and the presence of an internationalist movement of anti-fascism.
The absence of a comparable anti-fascist international movement makes the present moment gloomier than the years that led to World War II. However, there is another shift in the reality that renders the contemporary fascist picture almost unrecognizable, and, thus, less problematized in the public sphere, even under liberal democracies, where freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed. Most fascist forces, especially in the West, have developed and/or adopted new rhetorical devices and discursive personas that help them to propagate their undemocratic worldview democratically. Such a contradictory frame of reference has become not only possible but also most effectively utilizable under the prevalent system.
The banality of this retrogressive age is a direct result of a global political economy that is shaped primarily through the international hegemony of neoliberalism and the rise of right-wing nativism and religious fundamentalism on national and local levels. However, the aggressions committed by dominant groups against disempowered social class especially in the peripheries are not perceived as violence while those groups enjoy an ideological hegemony within the broader bourgeois hegemony. NATO is an imperialist alliance par excellence, and its politics of ambiguity can best be exposed in light of a critical analysis of the racist practices and strategies of the bloc as a whole and its state members individually.
If NATO officials had a slightly decent sense of responsibility toward human lives, they would at least admit their utter and shameful failure in Afghanistan after twenty years of occupation. Instead, as the Afghanistan fiasco was still at its peak following the final chaotic “evacuation” of Kabul, NATO officials and the leaders of state members continued to speak the same old language while they were moving more troops to Eastern Europe. NATO’s Afghan episode entailed punishing Afghans, especially the most oppressed groups among them such as women and the Hazaras, and rewarding the Taliban. Afghanistan and the fate of Afghans, after twenty years of brutalization in the name of fighting the Taliban, were handed to the Taliban in one of the most absurd showdowns in military history. Yet, the Afghan episode was immediately followed by another bizarre chapter of NATO’s alleged defense of freedom. This time the unfortunate receiving side of NATO’s gift of freedom and security is the Ukrainians.
For starters, one could easily imagine that had NATO responded positively to the Ukrainian government’s repeated pleas to admit Ukraine into the alliance, Putin would not have dared to start the war. As a matter of fact, even if NATO had explicitly rejected the Ukrainian government’s pleas to become a NATO member, the war might not have taken place, since in that case the Ukrainian officials would not have acted on the basis of a false hope. Instead, NATO heads insisted on the worst of all possible scenarios: complete ambiguity. NATO deliberately created a yellow light situation in Ukraine amounting to maximizing the Kremlin’s distrust and minimizing its deterrence, and this meant all options were bad for Ukrainians.
As if the alliance’s disastrous failure in Afghanistan is entirely irrelevant, NATO leaders have continued the same rhetoric shamelessly. Supposedly, NATO members stood with Ukraine (insofar as that means Ukrainians would do the dying). During the first five months of the war Western governments have allocated over €70 billion for the war effort in Ukraine.
“The price is worth it,” we are told over and over again by a bunch of officials whose own luxuries are part of the costs while Ukrainian victims of the war and victims of the famine caused by the war are considered too insignificant to be included in the “price”. Moneywise, $2.3 trillion was the cost of the invasion of Afghanistan, which accomplished absolutely nothing other than destruction, famine, and mass graves. Of course, most of that money went to the manufacturers of weapons and NATO soldiers and contractors as well as the Islamist Afghan warlords who were part of the US-backed government in Kabul. Is there any reason to think that the Ukrainian episode will turn out to be any less scandalous than the Afghan one? Consider the following basic facts:
1) Ukraine is in ruins. Millions of Ukrainians are displaced. Tens of thousands are dead, and many more are injured.
2) While the main objective of the sanctions on the Russian Federation was to dry up the sources of income Putin would use to fund his invasion, the exact opposite has happened. Today, thanks to the situation created by the sanctions, the price of crude oil, of which Russia exports more than 10 million barrels a day, has doubled, securing a monthly revenue of about $ 20 billion for the Russian government (Evans 2022).
3) Another objective of the sanctions was, of course, “crippling the Russian economy.” Contrary to the predictions of an army of economists, the Russian ruble not only did not suffer a historic fall but in fact gained value. As of July 20, 2022, the ruble against the dollar stands at 1:0.018 while a year ago it was 1:0.014.
The list of absurdities goes on especially following the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of June. At this summit, it was announced that Sweden and Finland had already made a deal with Turkey, which meant the governments of these two EU member states have given in to the Turkish government’s conditions for approving their admission into the NATO club. The details of the agreement were not of much concern for the media. The content of the agreement is typed in what seems to be one of the most scandalous documents to be called a “memorandum” (NATO 2022). The poor wording of the document (see for instance article 5) makes it read more like humiliating vows of two frightened children to a bully. The bulk of this embarrassing two and half page memorandum comes down to guaranteeing the full compliance of Sweden and Finland to Turkey’s ongoing genocide of Kurds in return for Turkey’s approval of Sweden and Finland’s admission into NATO. In effect, the Swedish and Finnish states banned Kurdish pro-democratic activities and agreed to hand in Kurdish exiles to Turkey. These two members of the EU also listed not only the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) but the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the sole force on the ground who, along with its sister organization Women’s Defense Units (YPJ), were able to bring down the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the latter’s capital city, Raqqa. In short, the memorandum further frees Erdogan’s hands to go ahead with his planned de-Kurdification of Rojava without any objection from Turkey’s Western allies. Erdogan knows European politicians too well to fail to blackmail them during every major crisis. He has been playing on their phobias of immigration for over six years. Now, he invests in the European governments’ fair of the Russian boogeyman while at the same time he is busy making other deals with Putin.
About one hundred years ago, on the basis of another agreement between a bunch of European leaders and the Turkish nationalists, the Kemalists, the fate of Kurds was sealed as a colonized people to suffer endless genocidal campaigns. The so-called peace negotiations took place in the Lausanne Conference from November 1922 to July 1923 resulted in Traité de Lausanne, signed on July 24, 1923 by all “the parties.” However, Arabs, Kurds, and Armenians were not considered to be concerned parties, and, therefore, their representatives had not been invited. In fact, there is no mention of Arabs, Kurds, and Armenians in the document. Basically, the European inventers of nationalist and colonialist genocides rewarded the perpetuators of the Armenian genocide, the Kemalists, who were represented by an army general, and a leading ultranationalist figure called Ismet Inonu, by giving them a vast part of what is historically Kurdish, Armenian, Yezidi, and Assyrian homelands. The area Kurds call Kurdistan was turned into an international colony divided among the French, the British, and the Turkish military forces. In return, the new nation state, Turkey, recognized the British and French colonial administrations in Syria and Iraq allowing them to do whatever they pleased in these formerly Ottoman ruled lands. In effect this region in Asia, or what is now designated as part of “the Middle East,” was divided among the colonial forces as hunting grounds and its disempowered population as nothing more than cattle completely at the mercy of the occupying armies.
Today, more than 40 million Kurds are deprived of all political rights and are subjected to systematic exploitation. Kurds in Turkey have suffered countless forms of colonial oppression from genocidal campaigns, including the genocide of the Yezidi Kurds, who were targeted along with the Armenians, and the genocide of the Zaza Kurds in 1937. The genocidal campaigns against Kurds have expanded to threaten the equivalent of Austria in terms of both territory and population. As of now, parts of the Kurdish majority regions not only in Turkey but also in Syria and Iraq are shelled on daily bases by the Turkish army and its proxy groups who are composed of jihadis from various parts of the world. The Yezidi survivors of the 2014 genocide have not had a chance to rebuild Sinjar due to the continual Turkish bombardment (Holmes, Hawezy & Cohen 2021), often by American manufactured F16 fighters. Meanwhile, in fall 2021, when Yezidi (Williams 2022) and other Iraqi and Syrian refugees were trying to enter the EU from the Belorussian border (Amnesty International 2021; Lucente 2021), the Polish government, with the blessing of the other members of the EU, heavily militarized and closely policed its border to ensure that the refugees will not have a chance of entering the EU. An unknown number of Yezidi survivors died in the forests on the border between Belarus and Poland from cold and hunger.
The Ukraine war is an absurdity among many others in the prevalent international relations. In the post-Soviet era, the triumph of neoliberalism was supposed to bring about peace and prosperity to the world. Thirty-three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, how peaceful and prosperous is the world under the rule of neoliberalism?
1) There are more border walls than ever, with the vast majority of them built during the neoliberal era (Vallet 2022). Most of these walls are built specifically to prevent those affected the most by poverty and violence from moving to safer places.
2) The ecological crisis is worse than ever and is only intensifying in complexity and enlarging in scope. There are continual signs of a planetary catastrophe already taking place. Thanks to the prevalent nihilism in the post-Soviet era, the catastrophe is moralized at best and metaphyscalized at worst (Ahmed 2020).
3) According to UN estimates, “almost 3.1 billion people could not afford a healthy diet in 2020” and “two in three children are not fed the minimum diverse diet they need,” the situation has already worsened significantly over the last two years (WHO 2022; ReliefWeb 2022).
Now let us take a quick look at some of the crises in the creation of which NATO state members have played direct roles:
1) Islamist movements, which had been empowered against communist movements from Indonesia to Afghanistan and beyond, have become a deadly threat on all continents, especially to defenseless and stateless peoples in Asia and Africa, including the Middle East and North Africa. If in the 1980s jihadist groups were armed and funded by the West, today such groups get their support from the Islamist empire Turkey has become, which in turn continues to enjoy the privileges of NATO and the unconditional support of the United States.
2) Populations of several countries, including Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Venezuela have been subjected to famine through the imposition of premeditated economic embargoes — not to mention, the continuation of similar embargos on the populations of North Korea and Cuba.
3) The Iranian regime is closer than ever from producing nuclear weapons while the international regime has done a terrific job impoverishing the Iranian population thereby weakening the prospects of popular movements of dissent.
4) The world lives under the threat of nuclear destruction as a result of the conflict between the Russian Federation and NATO.
Today, the largest military alliance of democratically-elected governments repeatedly and shamelessly brings about destruction, violence, and famines. Considering its endless aggressions and imperialist sense of entitlement, NATO is today’s equivalent of the Pact of Steel between Hitler and Mussolini. Both the United States and Turkey, two main state members of NATO, have been involved in endless military aggressions and typically violate the sovereignty of other countries. Presently, Turkey has large occupying forces in both Iraq and Syria.
US officials continue to carry on an aggressive propaganda campaign to portray China as a global threat, by which they mean a threat to the absolutist hegemony of Western governments and corporations in the world. US official discourses had already been disseminating Sinophobia, and if Putin had not invaded Ukraine, US foreign policy could have become even more aggressive against China.
The current international regime, which is shaped by imperialist ambitions, racist motivations, and capitalist conflicts, will only bring more misery and destruction for the vast majority of the inhabitants of the planet. One hundred years after the rise of fascism in Europe, the world is not in a better place. In fact, the threat of a nuclear war renders the present situation incomparably more hazardous. However, what was true then remains to be true today: the existing order must be negated irrevocably. Such a negation takes a worldwide cosmopolitan movement for universal equality and the realization of an entirely different social, political, and economic order.
Ahmed, Saladdin. 2020. “The Ecological Crisis, Apocalypticism, and the Internalization of Unfreedom.” World Review of Political Economy. Vol 11(1):115-140. DOI: 10.13169/worlrevipoliecon.11.1.0115
Ahmed, Saladdin. 2022. “The Cost of Freedom in the Neoliberal World of Blood and Oil.” Marxism & Sciences 2, no. 1 (Summer): 223-241. https://marxismandsciences.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/The-Cost-of-Freedom-in-the-Neoliberal-World-of-Blood.pdf
Amnesty International. 2021. “Belarus/EU: New Evidence of Brutal Violence from Belarusian Forces Against Asylum-Seekers and Migrants Facing Pushbacks from the EU.” Amnesty International, December 20: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/12/belarus-eu-new-evidence-of-brutal-violence-from-belarusian-forces-against-asylum-seekers-and-migrants-facing-pushbacks-from-the-eu/
Evans, Brian. 2022. “Russia is Earning $20 Billion Per Month in Oil Sales As Higher Crude Prices Lift Export Revenue 50%, Says IEA.” Business Insider, May 12: https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/commodities/russian-oil-sales-20-billion-month-export-revenue-jumps-iea-2022-5
Holmes, Amy Austin, Diween Hawezy & Brett Cohen. 2021. “Five Years of Airstrikes: Turkish Aggression and International Silence in Sinjar, 2017-2021.” International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, August 2: https://www.icsve.org/five-years-of-airstrikes-turkish-aggression-and-international-silence-in-sinjar-2017-2021/
Lucente, Adam. 2021. “Thousands of Iraqi, Syrian Refugees Shiver at Belarus-Poland Border.” Al-Monitor, November 12: https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/11/thousands-iraqi-syrian-refugees-shiver-belarus-poland-border
NATO. 2022. “Trilateral Memorandum.” North Atlantic Treaty Organization: https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/220628-trilat-memo.pdf
ReliefWeb. 2022. “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2022: Repurposing Food and Agricultural Policies to Make Healthy Diets More Affordable [EN/AR/RU/ZH].” Reliefweb, July 6: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/state-food-security-and-nutrition-world-2022-repurposing-food-and-agricultural-policies-make-healthy-diets-more-affordable-enarruzh
Vallet, Élisabeth. 2022. “The World Is Witnessing a Rapid Proliferation of Border Walls.” Migration Policy Institute. March 2: https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/rapid-proliferation-number-border-walls
WHO. 2022. “UN Report: Global Hunger Numbers Rose to As Many As 828 Million in 2021.” World Health Organization, July 6: https://www.who.int/news/item/06-07-2022-un-report--global-hunger-numbers-rose-to-as-many-as-828-million-in-2021
Williams, Jessie. 2022. “Between Belarus and Poland, Yazidi Refugees Found Only Cold and hunger – Then ‘Came Back to Nothing’ in Iraq.” The Globe and Mail, January 13: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/world/article-between-belarus-and-poland-yazidi-refugees-found-only-cold-and-hunger