April 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

Devil's advocate

By Christopher P. Winner
Published: 2014-03-06

Notwithstanding these circumstances, rife with ambiguity, intelligent, well-informed British and American columnists, reverting to their pre-Iraq form, are busy assigning all manner of untoward adjectives to Putin's behavior, as if one-upmanship and competitive juices hadn't ended with Sochi — where Russia annoyingly won the most medals. Many of these sure-thing comments are, to use the very Western phrase, "amped up," mimicking the ever-agitated flavors of social networking.

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Some mention the Nazi attack on Czechoslovakia in 1938, in which Hitler seized, and later annexed, the German-majority Sudetenland, never retreating from his position that he'd made the move to defend persecuted ethnic Germans. Others compare Putin's Crimea move to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev's ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a massive military advance whose catastrophic outcome all but condemned the Soviet Union to a slow death. Still others see Putin as hell-bent on giving Europe and the United States a comeuppance — a view fueled by Putin's singular machismo (a kind of imperious self-assurance the West actually admires so long as its values are embodied by one of its own). A few note "the tiger of quasi-religious nationalism, which Putin has been riding," a reasonable enough assertion since Putin has long stoked the embers of imperial nostalgia. Extremists — and most in the West are influenced by Putin's repressive "Pussy Riot"-flavored policies — are determined to see him as war criminal in utero who, having failed to "strong-arm Ukraine into rejection of the [December] deal," is now meddling in Ukraine as Stalin once did, thus betraying "grotesque amnesia" (except that Ukraine, better or worse, was then part of the Soviet experiment).

Finger pointing aside — and both sides are motivated — the West's quicksilver indignation, though often earnest, simply doesn't reflect the week-to-week and month-to-month realities as they gradually unfolded in a country that has been matching wits with Russia for two decades.

Again — and it bears repeated mention among offended democrats — Yanukovych was not a stooge but Ukraine's elected leader, disliked by many but nonetheless four years into legal term. Faced with the deadly protests, he had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to review the Moscow deal; to a reshuffling; to early elections. At the moment of his ouster, he had all but capitulated to the demands of a rowdy and eclectic opposition. But that opposition ultimately refused to let the capitulation play out, preferring the satisfaction of immediate redress for its street losses.

When the opposition took control of government buildings it overstepped actual or putative democratic dissent and triggered an event that was tantamount to a coup. Though a coup can be applauded, and its political target — in this case Yanukovych — blamed for inciting its makeshift plotters, it is no less a coup.

Russia responded only when that self-same coup had run the first part of its course, leaving Kiev in the hands of no one Moscow knew to deal with.

As certain as the West is of its moral high ground, and as confident as it is in the profound rightness of its contempt for Putin, action cannot arbitrarily be removed from reaction. Yet the West, rudely backed into a corner by Putin, is perpetrating just such an unruly disconnection, thereby adding another layer of irrationality to a situation that spun out of control the instant Kiev protestors decided to extract full-scale revenge for the dramatic wrath brought to bear again them.

After which Russia, uninterested in their fate, invested only itself and its goals, acted on its own behalf.

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