Stop it! Dangerous Reductionism about Ukraine

We don’t see things as they are but how we are.
— Anais Nin (1903-1977)

How can we begin to understand the events in Ukraine? Who are the conflict parties and elements?

Here is a quick checklist of 13, just a selection:

1. Ukraine – government (earlier/present), opposition (split), people (19 ethnic groups + Ukrainians abroad). Crimea with its diversity and Ukraine’s relations to neighbours – enough for a doctoral dissertation.

2. Russia – the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia and Russia’s more or less strong partners such as Syria.

3. Europe – the EU and European non-EU countries such as e.g. Turkey

4. The United States – the world’s only empire, with a foreign policy establishment in Washington deeply split in neo-conservatives on the one hand and Obama and the rest on the other.

5. China – with an increasing influence worldwide, including conspicuously in Ukraine

6. BRICS – Brasil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

7. World financial organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, IMF, finance institutions, banksters and those others who influence and can ”pay the bills” (and get to own the property) in Ukraine

8. Inter-governmental organisations - the UN, NATO, OSCE and others

9. Non-governmental organisations – civil society, protesters etc in Ukraine and CIA-related organisations like National Endowment for Democracy that run foreign policy of their own, to mention some.

10. International law – what applies in a case such as Ukraine? What is aggression, what is the right to self-defence, the role of threats, etc – and how can they be applied in this case?

11. General history – all the above have a history. There is their own history + the history of their relations with each other.

12. Conflict history What happened the last few years or months that led to the situation we know how.

13. Structures and strength – among all the above: For instance, who has what attitudes to whom (positive/negative)? Who trades what and how much with whom? Who is dependent on whom? How do all the actors relate to all others when the focus is on Ukraine?

Who has what weapons and soldiers, strategies and overall security policies? Where do they have interests – hard interests – and not only noble motives (such as talk about democracy, freedom and justice)?

In short – hundreds if not thousands – of interesting components and dynamics inside the complex thing called the Ukraine crisis – or conflict formation. Enough for decades of PhD productions!

From Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, etc. we should have learned this double truth: 

1. Things are more complex than what they seem to be and the geo-political nation-state perspective (in media and politics) is obsolete – and

2. Everything is related to everything else. It’s a bit like in the game of mikado – touch one stick and many, if not all, the others may move while the players think or hope they won’t. It’s also called multi-causality or global interdependence.

Questions and chosen drama

Given these checkpoints: What – grosso modo – do politicians and media in symbiosis make out of it all? What headlines do you see?

What does (mis)leading politicians say? What studio debates? What are the interviewers asking? And what are their chosen perspective and chosen bad cop-good cop investigation tactic?

It’s now all boiled down to this:

1. Russia has invaded a part of sovereign Ukraine!

Russia is now the ‘independent variable’ – the cause; the West is now the ‘dependent’ variable – the reacting party, the victim. The West has to react to the aggressive steps – as if nothing preceded Putin’s move. Goodbye to the conflict’s history!

2. Military perspectives and threats are basic!

Most pictures on the media is of weapons, soldiers – nobody talks about economy, the role of the IMF, trade or dependence (none of the elements above). Threats all over, translating into a demand for tough countermoves and armament against the old Cold War enemy.

3. Tragi-comic rhetorical extremism

Instead of prudence and measured statements: Full blast at accusations, derogations, intimidations, provocations, threats, warnings, perfidies, blatantly false comparisons (such as Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt’s calling Yanukovich ”Quisling” implying Russia = Nazi Germany), self-justifications and series of tragi-comic double standards, paternalisms, humiliations and what not. Oh boys with their toys!

Conflict illiterate reductionism

They used to say that truth is the first casualty in conflicts and war. It isn’t. The first casualty is complexity – balance, multi-causal perspectives and cool analysis.

And the first children born in war is hysteria and brother self-righteousness.

This is dangerous reductionism. It is irresponsible and could in itself lead to war.

Mikado, by the way, is also a comic opera and title of the Japanese emperor. In the present Ukraine crisis most of the wannabe emperors seem pretty naked.

Jan Oberg is a peace researcher, art photographer, and Director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research (TFF) where this article first appeared. Reach him at: oberg@transnational.org. Read other articles by Jan.