Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 23 April 2022


Xi and Putin put a sick twist on ‘peace’ and ‘security’

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Melaniya Kovalenko, 90, hugs a donated toy doll outside her home in Bucha, Ukraine, on April 18. She said she intends to give the toy to her grandchildren. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Ukraine is once again blighted with mass graves and, where war has prevented the digging of pits, littered with individual corpses of innocent civilians. But according to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the great threat to peace in the world is not the murderer Vladimir Putin. It is “the Cold War mentality” of the West, which has the nerve to use sanctions to try to end the carnage.

Xi spoke April 21 by video to the annual Boao Forum for Asia. Nearly two months had passed since Russian troops and tanks invaded Ukraine unprovoked, in the worst strategic blunder of the 21st century. Putin, annoyed at seeing his army’s incompetence exposed by brave Ukrainian defenders, had purged his inner circle; meanwhile, Russian troops were committing war crimes. Yet none of this merited Xi’s notice.

Instead, he fatuously congratulated himself on China’s supposed leadership in fighting the covid-19 pandemic (made in China) and proposed a “Global Security Initiative” to end “bloc confrontation.”

Opinion: As the pandemic exploded, a researcher saw the danger. China’s leaders kept silent.

Let us be clear about the so-called security Xi has in mind. He wants China to have the security to conduct cultural genocide of the Uyghur people, to steal the intellectual property of its trading partners, to impede scientific investigation of the pandemic diseases that erupt within its borders, and to crush freedom of expression in Hong Kong. Following Russia’s lead, he shows his respect for the sovereignty of nations by hacking Western countries’ social media to widen divisions and inflame suspicions.

Any “bloc” that might object to these ugly abuses of “sovereignty,” he says, is a threat to world peace and progress, even when the bloc comprises the vast majority of nations. (Being lectured on peace by Xi Jinping is like being lectured on decorum by Charlie Sheen.)

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Meanwhile, he wants Russia to be secure in its century-long effort to annihilate Ukrainian identity — no matter how many millions of Ukrainians must die.

Putin’s savagery in Ukraine is but the latest chapter in Moscow’s efforts to erase a nation and its people. Like much of modern Europe, Ukraine took shape as the old empires shattered after World War I. The Red Army of the Bolsheviks, victorious in the Russian Revolution, countered by imposing Soviet rule. When an independent Ukrainian culture persisted, Russian strongman Joseph Stalin moved to destroy the nation’s identity.

He ordered the seizure of all Ukrainian farms, to be reconstituted as state-owned and -operated “collectives.” Ukraine’s most skillful and successful farmers were designated “kulaks,” classified as enemies and either executed or shipped off to the growing network of Soviet labor camps.

This ill-conceived action had the foreseeable effect of producing a famine. Yet Stalin seemed to think that farming should be as simple as issuing a directive from the Kremlin for so many tons of wheat and corn. When the mismanaged and demoralized collectives failed to deliver the assigned tonnage, the dictator perceived the shortfall to be proof of Ukrainian disloyalty.

Stalin decided to starve the independence out of Ukraine — much as Putin’s army appears to have decided to starve the last defenders of Mariupol. Soviet troops swept in, seizing the crops and livestock of small subsistence farmers to make up the supposed shortfalls from the collectives. When the hungry farmers tried to flee, the Russians imposed a system of internal passports, essentially sealing off Ukraine from the outside world as its people wasted away.

Families slaughtered their house pets for protein. Children near death dug for food in empty gardens with their bare hands. Some people sank to cannibalism to survive. Meanwhile, Stalin refused to allow relief organizations to ship food into Ukraine.

The total dead in the Holodomor — the name eventually given to the Ukrainian genocide of the early 1930s — will never be known. One sophisticated analysis of demographic data put the toll at 3.9 million, roughly the equivalent of the entire population of Los Angeles today. Ethnic Russians were relocated by the tens of thousands to take the place of the dead and thus remake Ukraine in Moscow’s image.

The trauma of this genocidal famine was so great that many survivors actually welcomed the armies of Adolf Hitler when they invaded the Soviet Union via Ukraine in 1941. Anyone was preferable to Stalin. Yet today, Putin uses that history to convince his duped nation that the Ukrainians are nothing but Nazis.

Contrary to Xi’s implications, no interference by a bloc of Western nations was needed to stir the desire of Ukrainians for freedom. NATO and the European Union recruit their members by offering prosperity and human rights, not mass graves and starvation. The attraction for bullied and brutalized people is obvious. If that constitutes a “Cold War mentality,” so be it. Free nations have no choice but to resist Orwellian tyrannies that call murder “peace” and oppression “security.”

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