By Howard Machtinger

It’s hard to talk about anything but Ukraine, as the world seems to have taken one more turn in an unexpected direction. Let’s start with Mike Davis’s accurate, but not exactly upbeat, view of our world and then work our way toward something more positive to work with.

“Does hegemony require a grand design? In a world where a thousand gilded oligarchs, billionaire sheiks, and Silicon deities rule the human future, we should not be surprised to discover that greed breeds reptilian minds. What I find most remarkable about these strange days – as thermobaric bombs melt shopping malls and fires rage in nuclear reactors – is the inability of our supermen to validate their power in any plausible narrative of the near future….” Never has so much fused economic, mediatic and military power been put into so few hands”

Tom Engelhardt similarly laments:

“As it turns out, our leaders have done all too good a job of providing options for ending the world. I mean, in a century when it should be hard not to know that, if the burning of fossil fuels isn’t brought under control, life as we’ve known it will cease to exist, two great powers with preening, overweening leaders thought it made far more sense to order their militaries to invade other countries based on lies. [not just Ukraine, but Iraq and Afghanistan].”

Up to now, I’ve analyzed the war as a geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the US/western Europe. Listening to Tim Snyder has led me to question this view. He argues that geopolitically Russia’s war in Ukraine makes little sense. It can only result in Russia being further dependent, as a vassal state, to the adjacent, more powerful China.

I would add that it will also result in a reanimated NATO, instead of a weakened one. So then why? Snyder, judging from Putin’s own words, argues that the Russian leader is captured by a mythological, fascist view of blood ties with Ukraine in which the unity of Russia will thereby be restored by a Russian takeover.

Part of this mythology is a deeply felt sense that Russian sacrifice in World War II has been discounted by the rest of the world. Framing the invasion of Ukraine as an anti-fascist move, in a repeat of World War II, two days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Russian State Duma introduced a bill attaching fines and prison sentences to a 2021 law banning “any public attempt to equate the aims and actions of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during World War II, as well as to deny the decisive role of the Soviet people in the victory over fascism.”

This aimed at barring any discussion of the notorious 1939 Hitler/Stalin pact, in which the Nazis and the Soviets collaborated in dividing up Poland, and the USSR seized the Baltic states. “Last September, the Russian Foreign Ministry doubled down on its characterization of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 as “a campaign of liberation” that was undertaken to protect Belorussians and Ukrainians after the invasion by Germany.”

This is a true act of doublethink, worthy of Orwell.

One part of Putin’s reactionary politics is his attacks on LGBTQ people as part of his rationale for invading Ukraine:

“The Kremlin has constructed a pernicious ideology of homophobia as geopolitics.”

Snyder does see some hope. It’s high time to move beyond the stories of World War II or other national myths.. “What I want to say is that what’s interesting about the Ukrainians is that they seem to be moving more towards the argument that the nation is not about a clear story of the past. It’s more about action directed towards the future… But I think there may be one other thing here, which we’ve learned, which is that it’s time to start again with a lot of things… You know, I’ve enjoyed talking to you about history. That’s what I do for a living.

But Mr. Putin has kind of showed how you can reach so far down into the past that what you come back with is perverted and dirty and destructive… What we need is less the kind of casual references to models, more historical knowledge, but also just a kind of a sense of, ah, the future could be very different. So thinking forward from this crisis, we should be thinking about things like conceptually now, this was a hydrocarbon war. If it weren’t for a certain hydrocarbon oligarch, Vladimir Putin, there wouldn’t have been this war… Looking into the future, this war is the kind of war we will have if we become the kind of world which is dependent upon the natural gas and the oil and the people who are able to control the profits from them.

I mean, this war is an argument, a strong argument for avoiding the kind of catastrophe which global warming is going to bring to us, right? So there are ways to take this war and use it not to revive all of like the various analogies, but also to use it as a moment, as an impulse where we can say, aha, OK, we did some things right here.

But there’s a deeper lesson… about the structure of energy, which we need to be getting from this too. Because the horror of the way Mr. Putin uses the past, those kind of logical extreme to which he’s pushed that, reminds us that what we really need is a future and that democratic politics can’t be just about defense. You know, it has to be defended.

But if democratic politics is going to be continued… it has to be a practice which is aimed towards the future. And there are lots of bad ideas. But if we’re going to have a future, we’re going have to start thinking about different ways that things could turn out. And if the Ukrainians have given us anything, it’s that they’ve bought us that time, right?”

A time to understand and communicate the dangers of fossil fuel dependency in a war initiated by a petrol-country. Do we need more wars over energy or can we get to necessary global cooperation against a threat to all of humanity? Can necessity be the mother of invention? Only if the ongoing catastrophe in Ukraine be halted! And if escalation to nuclear warfare can be avoided!

Bill McKibben expands on the links between the war and the fossil fuel economy:

“This is not a ‘war for oil and gas’ in the sense that too many of America’s Middle East misadventures might plausibly be described. But it is a war underwritten by oil and gas, a war whose most crucial weapon may be oil and gas, a war we can’t fully engage because we remain dependent on oil and gas. If you want to stand with the brave people of Ukraine, you need to find a way to stand against oil and gas….Today, 60% of its exports are oil and gas; they supply the money that powers the country’s military machine. And, alongside that military machine, control of oil and gas supplies is Russia’s main weapon. They have, time and again, threatened to turn off the flow of hydrocarbons to western Europe…

“So now is the moment to remind ourselves that, in the last decade, scientists and engineers have dropped the cost of solar and wind power by an order of magnitude, to the point where it is some of the cheapest power on Earth. The best reason to deploy it immediately is to ward off the existential crisis that is climate change, and the second best is to stop the killing of nine million people annually who die from breathing in the particulates that fossil fuel combustion produces. But the third best reason – and perhaps the most plausible for rousing our leaders to action – is that it dramatically reduces the power of autocrats, dictators, and thugs.”

Bill McKibben continued:

“President (Joe) Biden should immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power,”

There is also hope in the brave and powerful action by Marina Ovsyannikova who interrupted Soviet TV with her antiwar sign; found guilty of violating the administrative law and fined 30,000 rubles (the equivalent of $280 USD). (She could still )face future criminal charges for her on-air protest.) With her simple act she has become a model for us all. And she has not backed down despite being under
great pressure.

D. asks the following important question for the anti-militarism movement, for which I wish I had an answer: “”What is a minimum acceptable defensive posture for Europe to have in regards to Russia?” One not entirely satisfying answer, but still interesting is offered by Stephen Wertheim here.

Heather Cox Richardson reports on China’s growing queasiness with the Russian invasion: “Today China, which was allied with Russia when the war began and initially refused to condemn the assault, today declined to co-sponsor a “humanitarian” resolution with Russia at the United Nations. At the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China joined Russia in vetoing resolutions. Then China abstained. Now it is refusing even to co-sponsor a “humanitarian” resolution. While Chinese state media continues to indicate friendship for Russia, today it showed a video illustrating the story that Russian troops killed people standing in line for bread in Chernihiv, a city in northern Ukraine”