Over at the Dispatch, Andrew Fink examines a piece of propaganda that Russia accidentally released. It was meant to be published after the successful conclusion of a few days of lightning war on Ukraine. The piece in question, supposedly written by Peter Akopov, casts the entire conflict in civilizational terms. The Anglo-American powers had tried to steal Russian lands, etc.
One thing that is totally absent from this essay is a direct mention of NATO or of NATO expansion. This “reason” for the conflict was everywhere in Western-facing propaganda put out by Russia and in the opinions of some Westerners before Putin’s invasion began, even if it was not the main theme of Russian-language propaganda. Now it’s possible there are other, unused propaganda op-eds that do address NATO, but it is interesting that Akopov did not mention it in the victory lap essay, instead proclaiming the end of “Anglo-Saxon” control of the West and harping on about the Russian empire and blood-and-soil guff.
Fink isn’t the only one noticing this absence, and seeing in it evidence of the theory — promoted by Michael McFaul and many others — that the war has nothing to do with NATO expansion.
I don’t find this persuasive at all. Ukraine’s guaranteed neutrality (its non-NATO status) is still demanded by Russia as one of its war aims. While this is joined together with all sorts of ideological guff about Russia’s civilization and history, that’s not unusual.
Think of our own wars. George W. Bush’s second inaugural address casts the war on terror entirely in ideological terms. We are “setting a fire in the minds of men” and putting every nation to the choice between democracy and freedom. Want to know what’s not mentioned in his address? Weapons of mass destruction and the threat they pose to the United States.
A cynical observer would look at the second inaugural and say, hey, all that stuff from Colin Powell at the United Nations was just a propaganda excuse, the Iraq War had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, and was actually all about America’s radical position as the leader and fomenter of worldwide democratic revolution.
The event of a war tends to join together strategic and ideological rationales, to blend them. That is, people and intellectuals try to do what Bush attempted in that very speech, delude themselves that their security interests and their most sacred values lead to the precise same conclusion, presenting no difficulties, tension, or contradictions.