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The Bear in the room: Russia and the new Cold War

John Bell

May 4, 2018

The attempts by the Canadian government and its NATO allies to ramp up a new Cold War, casting Russia as public enemy number one, have peaked with the recent missile attack on Syria by the US, UK and France.

Russia, ruled by Tsar-wannabe Vladimir Putin, remains a dangerous nuclear power, playing out its imperial interests in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But that doesn’t mean I’m about to fall in behind a gang of people in Washington with even more nuclear weapons and their own imperial interests, flooding the airwaves with stories about how Russia is the anti-Christ of nations.

It has been creeping up on us for years. I recall the headlines in 2014, accusing Russian planes of “buzzing” a Canadian Forces ship in the Black Sea, there as part of a NATO “training exercise”. Rob Nicholson, then Stephen Harper’s Defence Minister, made the threat as clear as mud: “While the Russian military aircraft that circled the HMCS Toronto did not in any way pose a threat to the Canadian ship, their actions were unnecessarily provocative and risk escalating tensions even further.” The threat was non-threatening? NATO officials later suggested it never happened, but the “buzzing” was a front page headline while the backtracking appeared in the back pages.

Then a year ago this headline topped the CBC news: “Canadian jets intercept Russian bombers, 1st time since 2014”. Wow, pretty threatening. But North American Aerospace Defence Command representative Maj. Jennifer Stadnyk said the Russians remained in international airspace, and acted “professionally and safely” before returning home. In other words, much ado about nothing but a sensational headline.

A Russian spy and a guy named Boris

Consider the epic story/non-story out of Britain, of the attempted assassination of the Russian defector and his daughter. Theresa May’s embattled Tory government was quick to accuse Russia of attempted murder in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Colonel in the Russian military intelligence service who had defected to Britain, and his daughter Yulia. Buffoonish Foreign Minister Boris Johnson rushed to insist that he had undeniable proof from the Ministry of Defence–that the chemical weapon used was of Russian origin.

Reaction was swift. Russian diplomats were expelled, a serious provocation, the sort of thing that marks the path to war. In lock step, 29 other countries—including Britain’s NATO allies—expelled almost 150 Russian diplomats. And there was Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland sternly giving four Russian officials the boot. Her department directly tied the expulsion to the Skripal case: “The nerve agent attack represents a clear threat to the rules-based international order .”

But then the British Ministry of Defence sources that Boris Johnson had so decisively cited actually spoke up for themselves:  there was no proof that the chemical weapon used originated in Russia. Then Swiss researchers found that the nerve agent probably came from the arsenals of the US or UK.

Skeletons in Cabinet’s closet

So, did the Russian diplomats expelled for fallacious reasons get readmitted? Back in Ottawa Trudeau flipped the entire narrative. The Russians were expelled, it seems, because they were mean to Chrystia Freeland. They were undermining Canadian democracy by engineering a smear campaign charging that Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator in WW2.

The only problem with Trudeau’s moral high ground is that Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator. From 1940 to 1945 Michael Chomiak was editor-in-chief of a newspaper called Krakiuski Visti in Cracow. A Ukrainian ultra-nationalist, Chomiak was an enthusiastic supporter of the Holocaust and wrote approvingly of the slaughter of 33,000 of Kiev’s Jews: with them gone, Kiev was “beautiful, glorious.” He also hailed the creation of a fascist unit made up of Ukrainian volunteers, the 14th Waffen SS Division Halychyna.

Freeland has repeatedly lied about it, and now Trudeau has lied on her behalf. Why? She is not responsible for the sins of her ancestors. But this history reminds us of how easy it was for Eastern European fascists like Chomiak to emigrate to Canada. And it has more to do with Canada’s present military role in Ukraine than with the past.

It is an open secret that the Ukraine military—like its government, elected after a Western-backed coup in 2014—is riddled with fascists. Soldiers that aren’t in these far-right militias are either sympathetic to them or fearful of them. According to MP Andriy Biletsky, head of the fascist National Corpus Party, Ukraine is destined to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].” These are the forces Freeland and Trudeau would ally with to face down Russia. It isn’t the fascists of the past we have to worry about, it is the fascists of today.

There is no doubt Russia has imperial interests in the Crimean and Donbass regions. And there is no doubt it is backing President-for-Life Assad in Syria to maintain its political and economic interests in the Middle East. Whether or not Assad has used chemical weapons, he is guilty of a long list of war crimes against Syrians rebelling against his rule.

Russia is a shitty, dangerous imperial power, ruled by a slimy autocrat. But the powers whipping up the current round of anti-Russian propaganda are at least as shitty, dangerous and slimy—and, yes, that includes Canada. It must be possible to oppose Russia and its clients at the same time as opposing the US, UK, France, NATO and their clients. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.

All the breathless efforts to stoke a new Cold War with Russia need to be met with a massive dose of skepticism. Maybe we need to deal with our own oily oligarchs, our own war merchants, and our own lying politicians before we worry about Russia’s.

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