Eight Self-Serving Myths The West Seeks To Perpetuate After Ukraine Invasion
Self-serving myths prevent coherent actions for change. There is no risk greater than the risk of self-delusion, which the Western world has in plenty.
It has come to believe in all its self-created myths.
Several myths that we have been led to believe have been shattered by the Russo-Ukrainian war that was indirectly instigated by the US and its allies. The war is widely believed to be the result of Vladimir Putin’s move to ensure regime change in Ukraine, but it is equally about regime change in Russia itself, which is what Uncle Sam wants.
If we do not want this war to trigger a wider conflict involving many powers in many places, we have to rid ourselves of the myths we have bought into willy-nilly. You cannot resolve conflicts by believing in falsehoods.
The first myth that needs shattering is this: nations are not necessarily more secure by having puppet regimes on their borders or what they see as their “spheres of influence”. The war happened because neither Russia nor the West has learnt the simple lesson that puppet regimes seldom have internal legitimacy. Sooner than later they help create another leader who will address this lack of legitimacy by wearing his nationalism on his sleeve.
Putin rose to power only because Boris Yeltsin, the West’s favourite Russian, was seen by ordinary Russians as having gifted away bits and pieces of the former Soviet Union under US pressure. The Russian population may not want Ukraine to be brought under Putin’s thumb by force, but it does not necessarily think the opposite. If we accept that all people must choose their own leaders, we must learn to live with prickly neighbours. Ordinary Russians may not want a war with Ukraine, but they do not want Nato on Russia's borders either.
The second myth that needs debunking is the glib claims by the West that Russia is the sole villain in endangering the “rules-based global order” that was carefully crafted after the Second World War. Let’s assume that Russia needs to be assigned the bulk of the blame for shattering peace in the region by invading a sovereign country. But by imposing deep financial and other sanctions against Russia, including its central bank (whose assets have been frozen), its businesses, its media, and even private assets belonging to Russia’s wealthy, the US has sent a powerful message to all countries that they could be next.
China never allowed the US and its companies to dominate its economy (it has its own parallel system), but India, Africa, Latin America and the Arab and Islamic worlds will have taken note. Every country which is not a minion will now seek to create its own back-up plan, which means they will want to rely less on the West, and more on rival systems or their own home-grown solutions. If they are large enough like India, they will create their own systems and insulate themselves from Western blackmail.
Uncle Sam’s “rules-based order” is over; now many big countries will start making their own rules and build alliances to accept parts or the whole of their rules. We are going to see a world which will increasingly have to negotiate artificial boundaries in trade and other areas.
The third myth that needs questioning is Europe’s own assumptions about being more “civilised” and less inclined to war. Many TV commentators were caught making racist remarks that Ukraine was somehow different because the victims were white Europeans - "people like us", read here, here, here - the truth is quite the opposite. It is European history, including its colonial history, that is replete with war and strife. Wherever the Europeans went, they created strife – in Africa, India, Latin America, etc.
This is not to suggest that these places were peaceful idylls before the European colonial powers entered the picture, but those wars were nowhere as lethal or threatening to the existence of the pagan civilisations that existed before. And whenever the European powers exited, they left behind huge scars that encouraged future conflicts.
Now, of course, it is difficult to pretend that "uncivilised" wars happen only outside Europe, in places like Africa or Asia. Ukraine is as European as France or Germany. But even before Russia invaded Ukraine, Europe’s post-war facade of peace was broken by America’s mindless interventions in the Balkans (post-Tito Yugoslavia in particular), and US-European interventions in West Asia and Africa. Relatively stable regimes in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Africa were pushed into fratricidal conflict.
So, no, Europe was never about peaceful coexistence. Its heritage does not allow for anybody to be left in peace. This is because in the Eurocentric binary, if I am right, you have to be wrong. If I am civilised, you are by definition uncivilised. Europe’s “I-am-right-you-are-wrong” DNA got imprinted into America’s soul when it became the world’s foremost superpower after the Second World War.
The fourth myth one must question is Western media's alleged "objectivity" and ability to "speak truth to power". We have to take with large doses of salt the claim that it is somehow freer than media anywhere else, though it is certainly more sophisticated. Western media has been unanimous that Russian media is largely spreading fake news, as if their own media has not been unduly biased and unwilling to even consider the Russian side of the “truth”.
The European Union has banned Russian state media, such as Russia Today and Sputnik, from being broadcast in its territories, which indirectly means that the so-called democracies have no particular faith in free dissemination of news. Whether it is YouTube or Facebook or Twitter, all Russian voices on social media have been silenced or deplatformed (read here, here, here, here, here).
Banning other states’ broadcasts is only done during war-time, and this implies that Europe is formally in a state of war with Russia. But Western media is not going to emerge unscathed with its reputation intact. It is now toeing the political line of its leaders, as it did when George W Bush orchestrated claims about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq as a prelude to invading it.
The fifth myth that has been crumbling is the post-World War belief in inter-dependence and globalisation as the best way to reduce poverty and enhancing incomes everywhere. This myth was anyway dying a slow death in the wake of the frequent crashes on Wall Street, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, the Eurozone crisis and the Covid-prompted disruptions in supply chains, but US-led global sanctions against Russia have made it clear that no country can depend on the world for critical things – from energy supplies (a message for India), to payment systems (MasterCard and Visa have stopped operations in Russia), to critical components of weapons systems, not to speak of food and other essentials. Every country has to become atmanirbhar at least to some minimum level. Borderless globalisation cannot sustain in a world where borders are not secure any longer.
The sixth myth – not yet entirely busted but now being re-examined - is that nuclear powers seldom threaten the use of nukes. This is as bogus as other countries claiming they don’t use banned chemical agents during war or resort to biological warfare when threatened. Russia has already captured two nuclear plants in Ukraine and has vaguely talked about a third world war that could unavoidably go nuclear.
The simple point is this: when a country fears for its survival, the normal rules of warfare can be tossed aside. In any society, survival is the first ethic, not global rules. Nuclear war is avoided only when both belligerents have an equal capacity to inflict damage on the other, and is as threatening to both. But even this bet is off when one party fears for its life. If the West does not offer Russia a way out of this mess with its dignity intact, it is inching closer to nuclear war than ever before.
The seventh myth is about democracy. The liberal claim is that democracies seldom go to war with one another since they have public opinion restraining them. But the reality is not so simple. Cocky democracies use democracy itself as an argument to wage war, as the US did in the Balkans, in Vietnam, in Korea, and in West Asia. Various European powers did the same in Africa (France in Algeria and central Africa), the UK in the Falklands, and Britain and France in Egypt (during the Suez crisis). It was the democracies that waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Democracies that do not resort to war with external powers are often unable to prevent internal strife or civil war over issues of identity or resources, as we are seeing in Pakistan and large parts of West Asia and Africa (Rwanda). America itself fought a civil war over slavery.
The nuanced truth is democracies need more humility and less self-righteousness about the political system they have adopted. Their own democracy is not all that it is cracked up to be. Autocracies need to be more restrained about taking on external foes in order to strengthen themselves internally. But it is not only autocracies that make war. Democracies do too.
The eighth myth is about oligarchs. After Russia attacked Ukraine, the West went into overdrive to paint Russia as being run by oligarchs who are in bed with Putin. That may well be the case, but the West should worry about its own oligarchs. For example, America’s tech giants have market valuations that rival most countries’ GDPs (see here), and they have enough power to deplatform their own President (as we saw towards the closing days of Donald Trump’s tenure).
The assumption that only Russia has oligarchs is a dangerous myth. The richest Russian billionaire on Forbes’ rich list comes in at No 65. Of course, one can argue that wealth accumulated by talent and tech in a free market is different from wealth accumulated through cronyism. But why does one not mention America’s own crony system in the military-industrial complex? Isn't the war-mongering talk in Europe driven by the same military-industrial complex, which needs such crises to sell more military hardware to everyone?
The impact of corporate wealth on policy-making is huge regardless of how it is earned. Consider how easily US pharma giants like Pfizer got the US government to okay their new-fangled vaccines quickly while Indian competitors are forced to jump through hoops - and still being denied entry into the US market. Oligarchy and oligopoly exist as much in the West as in Russia.
We are entering a world fraught with risk and dangers of every kind, even if we discount looming natural disasters wrought by climate change and the prospect of continuing mass poverty. The worst way to tackle these challenges is to pretend that we still live in a rules-based world. Self-serving myths prevent coherent actions for change. There is no risk greater than the risk of self-delusion, which the Western world has in plenty. It has come to believe in all its self-created myths. India and other benign powers must do their best to puncture this delusion any which way we can.
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