French ‘thinkers’ mistaken on Ukraine

Smoke rises from a Russian tank in UKraine

Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on a roadside in Lugansk region on February 26, 2022. PHOTO | AFP

The blame game over the true status and rights and wrongs of reversing the break-up of the Soviet Union is an extraordinary spectacle right now.

As a starting point, the former nations of the Soviet Union gained their independence up to 30 years ago. It wasn’t thrust on them. They fought for it, demonstrated, protested, voted. They wanted independence, which is a straightforward basic that Kenya and Kenyans understand well enough.

But now Russia has been taking the passports of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians it has captured and transported and reissuing them with papers saying they were born in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine.

It has been putting up Soviet flags, and some of its leaders and army officers are wearing Soviet insignia. The Soviet Union no longer exists. But its sudden reappearance follows the Russian President Putin’s declaration in February this year that Ukraine was not actually a nation state, but really a part of Russia.

And in some quarters that’s getting some buy-in, via the idea that Soviet influence did always persist, and needed to.

For, in France, right now, intellectuals are running the hot idea that it was a provocation by Ukraine to be moving beyond Russia’s sphere of influence, rejecting its chosen president, and viewing membership applications for the European Union and NATO.

This, say these leading French thinkers, has caused what they are calling Russia’s ‘American war’, by making Russia feel threatened.

Now let’s put this in perspective. If these intellectuals are suggesting sovereignty and peace legitimately require making neighbouring nations feel safe in the ways Russia wanted, then, presumably, France will now accept that if it isn’t prepared to have a British-backed president and join the organisations the UK feels safe about, as its neighbour, the UK will be perfectly justified in bombarding French towns to ashes?

Or, maybe this principle isn’t one of making neighbours feel safe, but actually a principle that countries that were formerly ruled by another nation must continue to honour their former ruler’s wishes?

By that principle, is Kenya supposed to ensure the UK doesn’t feel ‘threatened’ by Kenya’s alignment with other international interests? And if it doesn’t, would it have been right for the UK to re-invade 30 years after independence, in 1991 maybe, to put Kenya back onto a way of thinking the UK was happy with? Eyes widen.

In short, this whole proposition is so wrong and so muddle-headed, it makes me despair of who we call intellectuals these days. We could assign it to a French capacity to see ‘liberté’ for the French as one thing, and liberty for anyone else as a completely different matter.

But does it actually represent a broader and international malaise in the capacity to understand what a principle is and apply it to all? Has the world of social media, misinformation and disinformation simply addled the brains of even nations’ leading thinkers?

As it is, our Kenyan envoy to the United Nations stood up and spoke powerfully to the principle of sovereignty and was put down and diminished by Russia as a result.

But to be diminished by those who cannot recognise the nationhood of others is not about Kenya’s issues: it’s about the gulf in national respect of those doing the diminishing.

For here is the nub: there is a powerful narrative in Russia that Russians are God’s own people and meant to rule the world. Yet. at any time in history where one people convinced itself it was a superior race, and superior to others who had lesser and subsidiary rights, it has led to war.

I really believe God doesn’t rate Russia above Kenya, the UK, or France, or anywhere. Every nation has the right to its nationhood and not to be invaded by another nation set on taking it over and willing to rape, murder and pillage.

These aren’t 21st century principles, they are the principles we fought war on war to achieve: the right to independence was last century’s story. And, by 2022, surely, we require more of our thinkers than claims they would never accept as reasonable if equally applied to them. It’s so basic.