With its invasion of Ukraine, Russia disproved New York Times’ pundit Thomas Friedman’s Golden Arches Theory, which posited that no two countries that have McDonald’s franchises had gone to war [What is the Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention?, by Jonathon Haeber, CBS News, January 28, 2008]. But what strikes me most about the war is its ethnic dimension. Whatever the geostrategic, balance-of-power and resource-extraction considerations, beneath all that is the irrepressible identitarianism that ends in war. Ukrainians want to stay Ukrainians, and Russians want to stay Russian. Both want to defend their people, their culture, and language, extraterritorially, if necessary. History has not ended.
From Ukraine’s right-wing organizations such as the Azov Battalion, Right Sector and Svoboda, that advocate an independent Ukrainian state, to Russian nationalists who want to “regather” Russian lands, good, old-fashioned Blut und Boden nationalism are at work:
For Ukrainians, this war is about its very national existence. Historically, independence has eluded Ukraine. Up until the early 20th century, Ukraine was under the control of the Kievan Rus’, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Golden Horde, the Crimean Khanate, Czarist Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Only the collapse of Imperial Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1917 offered Ukrainians an opportunity to enjoy independence.
From 1917 to 1921, Ukraine fought for independence in an attempt to prevent Soviet Bolsheviks from subjugating the Ukrainian People’s Republic [Ukraine: World War I and the struggle for independence, Britannica]. Ukraine lost. The Soviet Union absorbed the Ukrainian People’s Republic to create the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
I’m sympathetic to Ukrainian nationalism. Many Ukrainians, especially those in the country’s west, have long yearned for an independent nation. At times throughout the 20th century, they made uncomfortable political decisions to achieve that goal.
During World War II, nationalist leader Stepan Bandera gained notoriety as a leader within the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. He fought fiercely for an independent Ukrainian state and saw the Nazis as temporary allies. Geopolitics, as we know, makes strange bedfellows. For many Ukrainians who suffered during the Holodomor, the deliberate mass starvation of Ukrainians under Soviet tyrant Josef Stalin, forming an alliance of convenience with the Nazis made strategic and tactical sense.
However, it soon became clear that the Nazis had much larger designs for Ukraine, which collided with Bandera’s vision of independence for the country.
As a result, Bandera’s faction of the OUN established the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) to fight the Soviets and the Nazis. End goal: an independent Ukraine. Bandera’s efforts were quite messy, as the UPA ethnically cleansed Poles and others. But that effort ended after the Soviets defeated the Nazis. Not until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 did Ukraine achieve true independence.
For many Russian nationalists, parts of Ukraine, especially its eastern regions, are really integral parts of Russia [The irresistible rise of the civilization-state, by Aris Roussinos, UnHerd, August 6, 2020]. Russian leader Vladimir Putin firmly believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union was disastrous, though for reasons that go beyond ideology [Putin: Soviet collapse a ‘genuine tragedy, NBC News, April 2005]. “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin declared during a 2005 address to the Russian parliament. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”
Since beating back the instability of the 1990s and consolidating itself, Russia has tried to carve out a sphere of influence and reassert itself as a world power. Alliances like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization stand in the way. Moreover, Russia has understandable security concerns, given how easy it is for Western invaders—whether Napoleonic France or Nazi Germany—to pass through Ukraine and reach Russia’s principal population centers.
This partly explains why Russia has acted aggressively in Ukraine since the Maidan Revolution of 2014 [Ukraine’s revolution: Making sense of a year of chaos, by Andrey Kurkov, BBC News, November 21, 2014]. After a series of pro-Western protests got out of control in February of 2014, then-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, who had been legally elected, was forced to step down and flee to Russia.
Fearing the prospect of Ukraine’s joining NATO, Russia sent in troops and annexed Crimea, which is nearly 60 percent ethnic Russian [Population of Crimea, Crimea Historical Society]. Subsequently, with military and political aid from Russia, separatists in the predominantly Russian-speaking Donbas region attempted to break away from Ukraine for fear that the new pro-Western Ukrainian government would crack down on the Russian language and “Ukrainize” the region. (But note that Ukrainian Russian-speakers are sometimes Ukrainian nationalists, just as many Irish nationalists speak only English.) A “Russian Spring” kicked off in other parts of eastern Ukraine, albeit with less unrest compared to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that witnessed the creation of two independent republics [From the “Russian Spring” to the Armed Insurrection: Russia, Ukraine and Political Communities in the Donbas and Southern Ukraine, by Oleksandr Melnyk, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, August 13, 2019].
One pretext for Russia’s invasion in February: the Ukrainian government’s constant shelling of the Donbas, which has reportedly resulted 14,000 deaths, including those of many Russian-speakers, since the Maidan unrest of 2014 [About 14,000 people killed during conflict in Donbass, top Ukrainian diplomat says, TASS, May 13, 2021].
In other words, the war proves that when foreign powers have significant numbers of ethnic conationals residing inside another country, those powers almost always exert their influence under the pretext of defending their coethnics. That’s happening in the U.S. with Mexico’s interference with U.S. immigration policy on behalf of millions of illegal Mexicans. As well, Chinese migration, especially legal migration, has allowed the Chinese Communist Party to set up an enormous Fifth Column here. Having surreptitiously established a beachhead, the CCP is gradually carving out a de facto sphere of influence.
So it is with Russia and Ukraine.
One can argue for hours on end who is right. But one thing is certain: Neither side is fighting to boost its gross domestic product or for abstract political concepts such as liberal democracy or human rights. This is a fight over territory, culture, and language, with both sides asserting revanchist claims.
The war is a stark reminder that human nature doesn’t change. People across the globe still cling to their culture and will go to war to defend it, or to retake lands that they believe historically belonged to them. National and ethnic identity cannot be so easily micromanaged away. No matter how digitized modern economies may be, people will be attached to blood and soil.
Lesson: Diversity is not a strength. Bromides about the virtues of diverse polities do not erase the uncomfortable realities of how heterogeneous societies fall victim to cross-border geopolitical intrigues.
As for the war itself, Europe has already experienced two of the worst fratricidal wars in human history during the 20th century. Worse still, the continent is undergoing declining birthrates and alarming levels of non-white migration. The last thing the Old Continent needs is another prolonged war of European against European, and more basically, white against white.
Pedro de Alvarado [Email him] is a Hispanic dissident who is well aware of the realities of race from his experience living throughout Latin America and in the States.
As a native of lands conquered by brave Spaniards but later subverted by centuries of multiracial trickery and despotic governance, Pedro offers clear warnings to Americans about the perils of multiracialism