To be clear from the start: I think Russia’s 2022 Invasion of Ukraine is an act of criminal aggression, a blatant breach of the core principles of the UN Charter (of which Russia is—as acknowledged heir to the USSR—a founding signatory), a continuation of aggression that began in earnest in 2014 with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the support and encouragement of the puppet insurrections in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Why I Write This Now
On my game blog, I recently received the following comment on a post about how I adjusted one of my long-simmering works in the aftermath of the Russian invasion:
I have been reading your blog on and off for a few years now and I really enjoy your certain kind of creativity. Recently I have noticed, this is probably due to me changing more than you, that your political stance is starting to bother me.
Don’t get me wrong, I want you to be political and I like that your work is trying to emulate and is influenced by politics, but I think that you have to check your perception more thoroughly, as it seems just like a blind copy paste of western media.
Please do not think I am a conspiracy theorist for saying it, but if you look at the war in Ukraine or at the Red Army in WW2 or thing, please research it. Please do! Because there is always complexity to be found and their is always another point of view. You do not have to like that other viewpoint, but you have to respect it. West good, east bad is no basis for a political position.
I think that a nuanced approach that takes both sides into consideration is exactly what is needed to run a world filling and impactful RPG.(Post: https://www.wizardthieffighter.com/2022/creative-permutations-dead-city/)
As a rule, I avoid overtly political stances on that blog. In this case, I touched on how political events influenced my work. I judge this to be a legitimate encroachment of real world events into that blog, since — well, real world events did also encroach into my work!
However, after posting a very long comment in response to the above comment, I’ve decided to replace that lengthy reply with a simpler one:
I support Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression because it is right and because of who I am.—Luka, Tue Sep 27
My original response is personally important to me. I do not want it cluttering the game blog, but I do not want it lost. So, it follows.
In the response I speak to “you”—this refers to the author of the original comment. With apologies to that author for any misunderstandings, and with no intent to stir conflict—simply put, their comment moved me to explicate my position. So here we are.
Of What We Speak
I assume you [the original comment] refer to the despicable and criminal Russian invasion of Ukraine, of which the current phase began this year in February (2022), though folks make very reasonable arguments that this war began in 2014 with the illegal Russian seizure of Crimea and its direct and blatant military support of the armed insurrections in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts.
You state that you “think that [I] have to check [my] perception more thoroughly, as it seems just like a blind copy-paste of western media.”
I assure you, this is incorrect. English-language media are often less supportive of the Ukrainian position than I am, and less nuanced in their understanding of this war. I do not pretend to be an expert, and I am absolutely unwilling to predict outcomes (I was very wrong in both my estimation of the fighting and ethical quality of the Russian army, for example). However, I think I am quite well-informed about this war and it touches me deeply.
There are several reasons why I am willing to hold very strong and very public opinions on this topic, while preferring to keep my own counsel on many others.
To be clear, my opinions are that Russia is a blatant, unabashed, criminal, genocidal aggressor. That Russia, following its invasion of February 2022 is completely in the wrong, wholly responsible, entirely malignant, and in the process of strategically destroying itself as a viable, developed country and a responsible member of the global community for at least a generation, but more likely for two generations.
- Personal. I was born in a communist country, and know first-hand and from family the negative impact the communist Kremlin had on eastern and central Europe between 1917 and 1991.
- Personal. Direct ancestors of mine suffered due to Russian imperial actions in Ukraine before 1917.
- Personal. Close friends of mine have directly suffered due to Russia’s imperial actions in Ukraine since 2013-2014.
- Personal. People I know in Russia have suffered due to Russia’s actions under Putin.
- Reputational. As a Slav (Slovenian), I find that Russian (also Slavs) actions in Ukraine (also Slavs) reflect badly on my language and culture. Further, the Slovenian and Slovakian and Russian flags are very similar—white, blue, and red. Save that we (the Sloveni of Slovakia and Slovenia) have coats of arms, but it seems that the Russians lost theirs or something. Maybe the Batu Khan took it. I have experienced enough chauvinistic attitudes in other countries because of the Yugoslav wars, and particularly the genocidal actions of the Serb leader Slobodan Milošević, to feel that it is important to differentiate myself and my culture from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s destructive actions.
- Academic. I have a degree in international relations and one of the conflict zones I studied closely was the Caucasus, specifically the first Russian-Chechen War (1994-1996) and the second Russian-Chechen War (1999-2000). It is not unreasonable to call those wars genocidal. To say that Putin made his name as a war leader of the Russian Federation with the second Russian-Chechen War is an established fact.
- Legal. Due to my academic background I have more than a passing knowledge of international law. Putin’s actions prior to 2022 often broke international legal and ethical norms. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which was launched this year in 2022, is without a doubt the most flagrant and outrageous breach of the founding text of the United Nations, the UN Charter, by a major power since its ratification in 1945 by, among 46 other signatories, both the Russian and Ukrainian SSRs (we can skip how including the Belarussian and Ukrainian SSRs, though entirely subordinate to Moscow, in the UN was a ploy by Stalin to gain more votes in the GA). Specifically, Russia’s invasion blatantly violates the 4 core principles of the UN Charter (Article 2:1–4).
- National. As the citizen of a small democratic republic on the south-central edge of the European Union (the Republic of Slovenia), it is my patriotic duty to support the sovereignty, self-determination, and independence of other democratic republics and to make a stand against brutal imperialism by major powers (as, in this case, the Russian Federation).
- Ethical. Fundamentally, I believe that it is wrong to force individuals or groups of freely associated individuals (in this case, Ukrainian citizens) to act or believe against their conscience and reason. The citizens of Ukraine have clearly shown that they prefer to be citizens of Ukraine than subjects of Putin’s imperialistic dream of a great Russian world. To support a dictator (Putin) who wishes to kill them, enslave them, destroy their culture and language, would be abhorrent.
- Ethical. Fundamentally, it is impossible to not oppose a genocidal army or regime, or the people who provide physical or moral support to it by their action or inaction. After the evidence of the destruction of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol by massed Russian artillery, the mass killings of Ukrainian citizens in Bucha, the mass killings of Ukrainian citizens in Izyum, the public statements of Moscow government and media personalities about obliterating the Ukrainian language and culture, the indiscriminate Russian terror bombing of Ukrainian civilians and civilian objects, and more—it is clear to me beyond a reasonable doubt that Russian intentions in Ukrainian are genocidal.
You [the commenter] suggest that I do additional research on the Red Army in the 2nd World War. This is not directly relevant to my stance (see above), but I suspect that I am already quite informed on the history of the Red Army and the USSR, before, during, and after the reign of the dictator Stalin. I am informed for both personal reasons (I enjoy history books) and academic reasons (I had to study this part of history for my degree).
For example, I am well aware of the following historical events, which have a direct bearing on current events in Ukraine, and the attitudes of most eastern and central European countries to Russia:
- The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 between Nazi Germany and the Communist USSR, which divided central Europe between the two totalitarian dictatorships in the prelude to World War 2.
- The joint Nazi AND Communist invasion of Poland in September 1939, which is traditionally viewed as the starting date of World War 2. This joint Nazi AND Communist invasion destroyed the independent state of Poland for the second time in two centuries (I refernce the Russian-Prussian-Austrian partitions of Poland of 1772, 1793, and 1795). The south-western regions of Poland at that time included the territory of what is now western Ukraine (Lviv).
- The Communist USSR’s massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and intellectuals in Katyn. A genocidal war crime, which is still not taught in Russia today—no repentance, no acknowledgment. I am also aware of the hundreds of thousands of Poles who were deported to gulags and concentration camps in Siberia on the orders of Stalin by the NKVD. Note that the NKVD was, with barely any reform, the fore-runner of the KGB, from which a direct and unreformed line leads to the current Russian Federation’s FSB. In case there is confusion, this is a secret police force. Please note that points 1–3 make Poland a very keen member of NATO and ally of the USA to prevent a repeat of their experiences with Russia in the 20th, 19th, 18th, and 17th centuries.
- The “winter war” that the Communist USSR under its dictator Stalin launched against Finland in November 1939, with the goal of occupying and destroying the independent state of Finland. Though it survived after ceding large territories to the USSR, Finland had to pursue a careful “non-alignment” policy, which limited its sovereignty as an independent country after that invasion and, essentially, until this year’s decision to join NATO in light of Putin’s threatening behaviour.
- The barbaric Communist USSR invasion of the sovereign and independent Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in 1940. The mass murders and deportations that followed, the Russification campaigns of the 1940s—1980s, and the extinction of these countries’ independence for over 50 years. Note that the experience of domination by Moscow in the 20th and 19th and earlier centuries has made the three Baltic states very keen members of NATO and allies of the USA, since they want to prevent a repeat of those experiences with Russian dominion.
- The Red Army invasion of Romania and seizure of Bessarabia (today Moldova) in 1940, and the waves of deportations that followed.
- The Communist USSR signed a neutrality pact with Imperial Japan in April 1941, in part to demonstrate their peaceful intentions to Nazi Germany.
- After the Axis invasion of neutral Yugoslavia in April 1941 by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the authoritarian Kingdom of Hungary, Moscow (i.e. the USSR) ordered the Communist Party and in Yugoslavia to assist the Nazi invaders. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia under Tito, then a client of Moscow, only joined the resistance against the Nazis AFTER the Nazi German invasion of Moscow’s Communist USSR Empire. Before that time, the Communist Party was active in hunting down nationalist, liberal, religious, and other civil opponents of the invading forces and their local puppets (such as the Fascist Ustashe in the Croatian puppet state). During the war and after, the communist party was active in hunting down members of the national liberation organisation TIGR, which had been fighting against Fascist Italian occupation of western Slovenia and Croatia from 1927 to 1941. Yep, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was killing anti-fascist partisans from April to June 1941, until different orders came from Moscow. Nice chaps.
- The Communist USSR survived and managed to help defeat the Axis powers largely due to the help of the factories of the USA. How the lend-lease scheme essentially armed the Communist Red Army and enabled it to prosecute its part in the war against Nazi Germany. Though the USSR provided the meat, the USA provided the guns and trucks and shells and planes.
- The Red Army’s drive through eastern and central Europe spelled the doom of the independent states of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania and their subjugation to brutal, illiberal, anti-humanist communist regimes (remember, I have personal and family experience of these shit regimes). Rape and looting followed the Red Army—it was (and remains) infamous for this throughout the region. Even in Yugoslavia, in the areas that were visited by the Red Army, the stories of their predilections are legion. After occupying these countries, the Communist USSR stripped them of their resources, their factories, their vehicles, their food. Under orders from Moscow, these devastated countries were prevented from accessing funds and resources from the Marshall Plan to help rebuild their devastated homes, infrastructure, and societies. Instead, well into the 1950s, Yugoslavia had “worker brigades” where young (and not so young) people were conscripted en masse to build shoddy buildings and infrastructure, largely by hand.
- Stalin’s USSR redrew borders in central and eastern Europe after WW2, resulting in the “ethnic cleansing” and forced displacement of millions of civilians.
- The Communist USSR’s role in setting up the brutal dictatorship that is North Korea cannot be overstated. Further, it encouraged the dictator Kim Il Sung to launch the Korean War, with all its horrors, in a bid to subjugate the entire peninsula under communist rule. Destruction, brutality, and death were the lot of millions.
- The Red Army’s role in suppressing the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and the Prague Spring of 1968.
- The Red Army’s brutal, colonial, and ultimately futile intervention in Afghanistan (and yes, the CIA had a role in baiting the Communist USSR to intervene).
So, I would say, I am quite aware of the Red Army’s role and impact through the middle decades of the 20th century. I confess, I double-checked these events for the dates—I can never quite remember those.
Not directly part of the history of the inglorious Red Army, but I am also aware of the Stalin-made famine in Ukraine from 1932-1933, which killed millions of Ukrainians (3.5—5 million). The holodomor (in Slovenian, we would call it the “gladomor”). I am perfectly willing to call this event a genocide perpetrated by the Communist USSR.
Let me also mention the various other deportations and mass murders of whole populations and minorities by the Communist USSR (of which, recall, the Russian Federation claims to be the sole successor state); peoples and groups such as the Crimean Tatars, the Balkarians, Karachays, Kalmyks, Koreans, Kulaks, Jews, Turks, Chechens, Ingush, Karapapaks, Germans, and Cossacks. I’ve already mentioned the Poles, Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians, Finns, and Lithuanians, who were also deported. I should also add Romanians, Hungarians, and likely some others for good measure. Estimates are that around 20 million people were affected by these forced population transfers, of whom over a million died en route.
It’s quite a history, which has left quite a mark on all of Europe between Berlin and Kharkiv, from Helsinki to Sofia.
Now, you [the commenter] say that:
…there is always complexity to be found and their is always another point of view. You do not have to like that other viewpoint, but you have to respect it. West good, east bad is no basis for a political position.
To the first sentence, I would say that I am very deeply aware of the complexities of central and eastern Europe’s relationships with Russia. Of the variety of points of views, not just “Russian” and “Western”.
To the second sentence, I would counter that Russia’s viewpoint on central and eastern Europe, after its quite reprehensible history, deserves respect only under one condition: if it fully and comprehensively adheres to the principles of the UN Charter, of which it is a founding signatory member. If Russia’s viewpoint does not match the principles of the UN Charter, not only do I have no need to like it, I have no duty to respect it. Indeed, I feel ethically obligated to call its current viewpoint filthy imperialist garbage.
To the third sentence, I have never said West good, East bad. If anyone suggests that this is my position, or somehow the basis of my position, they are very much mistaken. However, in this illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine, there is a very clear distinction. Kiev good; Moscow (Putin) bad. Kiev, victim of aggression; Moscow, brutal terrorist imperialist aggressor.
The Nuance of Today
Obviously, I write roleplaying games and the commenter makes what I think is a very good point:
… a nuanced approach that takes both sides into consideration is exactly what is needed to run a world-filling and impactful RPG
Now, I’m assuming the commenter refers to an rpg that feels world-filling (real, tactile) and impactful for its players. Because, fortunately for all of us, roleplaying games are mostly a fun diversion. That said, roleplaying games and war games do have their place in politics and war, so I could make an argument for the broader relevance of the statement.
I would make one correction: in the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are multiple sides and actors. Ukraine and Russia, obviously, but also the USA, Turkey, UK, China, all the individual European states, each with their own agendas, from Poland going all-out to help Ukraine, to Hungary waffling and going on about the Trianon Treaty and what not, and so on. Going down the line of actors in the war, even individual lords, like Prigozhin of Wagner or Kadyrov of Chechnia, play their sides.
A nuanced approach that takes all the sides into consideration is precisely something that is helpful to try and grasp where we are now. And, when take all sides into consideration, we are in quite an incredible situation:
- Russia’s invasion.
- Russia’s nuclear threats.
- Russia’s terror bombings.
- Russia’s land grab and sham votes.
- Russia’s mass murders.
- Russia’s revolting (and, frankly, insane) propaganda.
- Russia’s weaponisation of fuel and food.
- Russia’s mobilisation.
- Russia’s increasing isolation.
- Russia’s falling reputation as a military power.
- Russia’s collapsing influence in the Caucasus (Armenia-Azerbaijan) and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan).
- Russia getting diplomatically told off by India and China.
- Ukraine’s dogged and heroic resistance.
- Ukraine’s reinforced national identity.
- Ukraine’s generational enmity towards Russia.
- Ukraine receiving support from the USA, UK, Poland, Turkey, Germany, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Portugal, Belgium, Ireland, Denmark, and so on.
When I take all the current situation into consideration, when I add my awareness of the history behind current events, from Maidan to Holodomor to the broader histories of the 20th and earlier centuries in central and eastern Europe, which strongly influence modern politics in the region and beyond, I have no option but to even more fully condemn Russia’s invasion.
Looking back to 2010, 81% of Ukrainians had a positive opinion of Russia. Putin’s inspired leadership since then has resulted in 2% of Ukrainians having a positive opinion of Russia and 92% having a negative opinion. This is … an astonishing achievement by Russia.
where a nuanced approach that is well aware of the history behind current events can only come to more fully condemn Russia’s invasion.
In the brilliant quote of Antoine Boulay de la Meurthe, “C’est pire qu’un crime, c’est une faute.”
Worse Than A Crime
The terrifying thing is that, beyond the horizon of this war—which looks on balance like it will be Russia’s greatest strategic mistake since its entry into World War 1 in 1914—I see very few positive medium-term outcomes for the world in general, Europe or Russia’s other neighbours broadly, or Ukraine and Russia specifically.
I have no crystal ball. I won’t even pretend to be a general. My dog has stolen my armchair.
I can ask questions, but the answers are not just up for debate, they are up in the air. Like the apocryphal dice of Caesar, they are flying, yet to fall.
- What happens if the USA and Europe and Ukraine let Putin blackmail them with nuclear weapons? What would this say to North Korea? Nothing good, and nothing good.
- What happens if Putin launches nuclear weapons? Nothing good.
- What happens to Ukrainians if the Russians win? Nothing good.
- What happens to all the places that depend on imported grain as the prices go up because of the conflict? Nothing good.
- What happens around the world as rising fossil fuel prices contribute to a recession? Nothing good.
- What happens to Russians if the Ukrainians win? What happens to Putin? What happens if Putin is overthrown? Who replaces him?
- What kind peace treaty will Ukraine eventually sign? With whom?
- What happens to all the Ukrainians and Russians who have fled their countries? What happens to their host societies?
- What happens if civil war breaks out in Russia? What happens to Russian nukes in that case? What happens if Russia flat out disintegrates? Which way does Vladivostok turn? Krasnodar? Kaliningrad?
- What would Russia have to do to have sanctions lifted? What kind of reparations should it pay? How could its war criminals be tried?
- What happens to Russian society as sanctions bite over the next 30, 50 years?
- What do Russia and India and the USA do?
- How does the world deal with a poor, angry, frustrated Russia over the next decades?
- How does the world tackle climate change with a Russia more and more dependent on fossil fuel export? What happens after the falling price of solar and other renewables permanently holes the price of fossil fuels?
- What happens to all the people, soldiers and civilians injured in this war? All the traumatised? How do societies deal with that?
To all these questions, I can only say, “I don’t know.” If I’m feeling lucky, I might add, “I’m worried it won’t be good and will be messy.”
But, basically, I have no clue. Just questions piled on questions.
I hope for a peaceful resolution, with a complete Russian withdrawal from the territories it has illegally occupied. I hope for the restitution of Ukraine’s abducted citizens (including children). I hope the war criminals will be prosecuted. I hope restitution and reconciliation can follow.
But that’s just hopes. Again, I have no clue.
One thing I can say with certainty, the lives of a lot of people are going to be much nastier, much more brutish, and much shorter because of Putin’s stupid little “SMO”.
War is stupid and anyone who starts a war is an evil clown.
Slava Ukrajini. And not just slava, also življenje, zmaga, and mir.
I try to donate a little something to Ukraine every month. If you would like to, this is a good option: https://www.patreon.com/patron_dsns/ . There are also many others. As with every charitable donation, do your research and donate to a cause you are comfortable with.