17 April 2022

We are watching a significant moment in history unfold before our eyes in Ukraine, a heroic struggle that will be spoken of for centuries. We need to appreciate what is occurring and should consider what will be said of us. At present NATO is still doing what essentially amounts to bunk. It’s somewhat surreal to sit and consider that we bombed Belgrade but we send Moscow money. NATO has zero moral credibility it’s all just theatre at this point, socks and haircuts. (If you don’t get that reference, ask a Canadian). There seems to be a lack of appreciation for what is being confronted in regards to Russia.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens argued that there are 4 conditions under which a country can be said to have surrendered its sovereignty and Hitchens’ reasoning remains, as always, rock solid. Under this construct Russia has absolutely surrendered its sovereignty, having met all 4 criteria. The 4 criteria listed by Hitchens are, repeated aggression against neighbouring states, genocide, harbouring gangsters and internationally wanted terrorists, and fooling around with the non-proliferation treaty.

On the first point, Repeated aggression against neighbouring states,

Do I really need to make an argument? Not only is Russia doing so in Ukraine, it has previously done so in Crimea, and the Caucasus before that, in both Georgia and Chechnya. The latter having been forcibly absorbed by Russia after two wars through the use of brutal and repulsive military means that leaves me questioning whether it is appropriate to refer to the Russian military as such or call its members ‘soldiers.’

A Chechen fighter runs past a burnt Russian armoured personnel vehicle during the battle for Grozny.

In addition Russia has explicitly threatened the Baltics, Scandinavia, and the Balkans. The Kremlin only days ago ‘warned’ the United States there will be “unpredictable consequences” if it refuses to stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

War crimes brings us to the second of Hitchens’ criteria, Genocide.

There are claims emerging that it should be stressed are, as yet unproven, of a new Russian campaign to hide the scale of their campaign against Ukrainian Civilians through the use of ‘mobile crematoria.’ France 24’s ‘Truth or Fake’ discusses these claims in detail which can be found here. The fact that these likely falsehoods are, even for a moment, believable is itself something worth considering as a reflection of how bad things are.

Inhabitants of Bucha city killed by Russian troops

What we do know with absolute certainty is that there has been heavy Russian indiscriminate artillery shelling of populated centres across Ukraine with a particularly intense campaign currently underway in Donetsk. As if to underscore the Russians’ indiscriminate campaign, in response to the sinking of the Moskva, the Kremlin has promised, and now delivered, further cruise missile attacks against Kyiv.

Getting to the heart of the genocide argument, there have now been numerous confirmed reports of discoveries across Ukraine of mass graves of executed civilians, which without question is clear evidence of not only war crimes but what is self-evidently a program of genocide. One that point it should be mentioned that this is a carbon copy of what the Russians perpetrated in Chechnya where the majority of recovered bodies from mass graves similarly showed close-range bullet wounds, typical of extrajudicial summary executions, as well as signs of mutilation.

A Russian soldier inspecting bodies of civilians in a mass grave in Chechnya in 1995

The United Nations defines genocide as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” To argue the Russian campaign is anything else is to commit a crime against reason and humanity. I say Russia’s program of genocide is self-evident, by the way, because Putin himself has repeatedly stated a view which challenges Ukraine’s legitimate historical foundations, implying it is a fallacious concept.

This brings me to Hitchens’ next criteria, Harbouring gangsters and internationally wanted terrorists.

In this case I would argue that the state is not simply harbouring, but is run by gangsters. Russia is, like Saddam’s Iraq, a gangster state.

At this point I would like to make a small digression to rail against this idea being punted around by parts of my camp “the Left” (which I increasingly find unrecognisable and disgusting, in equal measure) which rather condescendingly states that they are being reasonable, smart, and cautious because they don’t want to escalate things and start WW3. This is absolute, utter unadulterated nonsense. To borrow from British MP, retired Army Capt. Tobias Ellwood: “Please can we STOP referencing WW3 to justify dismissal of tactical options. It exudes weakness, a lack of self-confidence and the absence of the Cold War statecraft skills that illustrate our grasp of the escalatory ladder. It also emboldens Putin to commit more war crimes.” It’s worth noting that Russian state media has already begun referring to this conflict as WW3.

With this in mind the idea of not stopping genocide and war crimes because a country that is in the process of doing so might follow through with further threats is an absurd rationale. I understand the fear of the costs associated with ‘starting WW3,’ I share that fear. However, this has been thrust upon us, its no longer a question of if but when. The longer we wait the higher that cost will be, the Ukrainians are already paying the price.

The reality is that we have been at war with Russia for years, or more correctly they have been at war with us, using irregular methods like their prolonged campaign of cyberwarfare. Were Russia to bomb an American power plan how would the US respond? Why then when it is hacked we brush it off as something other than what it is, an attack? This represents antiquated thinking and leadership that has not wakened to the new world in which they operate. This also serves as further evidence of its repeated aggression against neighbouring states.

These are the tactics of gangsters, and a gangster state it is. Russia is run by a small cadre of, largely ex-KGB, oligarchs that seized or were gifted control of the various assets and organs of the Russian state in wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. This has been extensively documented. We have a clear understanding of how this ‘state’ kleptocracy works. It is run by a mafia and Putin is the Capo, they rule through terror and oppression.

Finally the question of Hitchens last criteria, Fooling around with the non proliferation treaty.

The cloud from FIZEAU, 19th nuclear shot of the Summer 1957 test series, Nevada Test Site, 14 September 1957.

Although I may apply this one loosely the argument can be made that by putting Russian nukes on high alert, even if meant simply as a scare tactic, that Putin has contravened what would be considered conventional standards of practice for a responsible nuclear power. By putting nukes on high alert as a signal of willingness or indeed intention to use them Putin has signalled that his regime can no longer be trusted with the responsibility that comes with possessing these weapons. Keep in mind that Putin has been quite cavalier in leveraging his nuclear arsenal, recently threatening to move nuclear weapons into the Baltics if Finland and Sweden exercise their sovereign right to join NATO. A sign of whats to come if Putin’s regime is left unchecked.

That threat of use is equal in terms of its impact upon the international rule based order as a rouge state attempting to develop such a weapon and should be treated as such. Again, to echo MP Capt. Tobias Ellwood, by not escalating we have signalled to Russia they are free to do as they please and their escalating behaviour is a reflection of this reality.

It seems increasingly likely that President Zelensky’s warning of Russia soon resorting to the employment of tactical nukes is credible, or at least not far-fetched. This is the view of the Director of the CIA who likewise has voiced this concern. We should take such concerns very seriously given Russian military doctrine. I would therefore argue that the suggestions floating around that we should not provoke Russia because they have nuclear weapons and this could escalate the situation to the point they might use them doesn’t really hold up when they have already put them in play.

I wonder will become of this line of logic once these are used? Will we say, “Well we better not do anything to escalate the situation further or Putin might use more nukes”? Should we just hand Putin a Crown and anoint him dictator of the world perhaps? Will we wait until he has actually launched a nuke to finally wake up and realise we need to act. This is a pretty pitiful moment for the West. It this to be our red line? The piles of executed civilians numbering in the thousands is not the line? If this is the case, that doesn’t say anything good about the West and we should take a hard look in the mirror and then at our so called ‘leaders.’

The analogy I keep coming back to is someone punching you in the face, the idea that you better not defend yourself or fight back because the attacker might punch you in the face is pretty idiotic given you’re already being punched in the face, as indeed we are.

People who feel as strongly as I do about what is happening in Ukraine say, ‘Ukraine needs to go on the offensive, but they need heavier equipment and they need it now.’ I agree with the sentiment but I don’t think that’s going to get it done. (although if anyone can pull this off on their own apparently it’s the Ukrainians).

I ask in response, ‘is this what has become of the most powerful military alliance that has ever existed? We let others suffer and bleed, offering them scraps, so we don’t get our billions of dollars in equipment dirty?’ That’s a pathetic testimony to who we are. Ukraine doesn’t just need equipment, they need brothers in arms willing to step in and fight alongside them in opposition to tyranny. What more noble a cause than that? If we’re not for that than what the fuck are we doing?

Russia is going to dig in and annex the Donbas, leaving Ukraine utterly ruined for no reason except so Russia can take on more dead-weight, a ruined Donbas for nothing but Putin’s ego. This is not only to the detriment of both Russia and Ukraine but the entire global order. Although I still harbour great hope the Ukrainians may answer history’s call and shame us all, this might be the best case at this point. However, it could prove much worse, Putin might begin using nukes yet, which will have massive, incomprehensible global implications.

Are we going to accept this? Are we going to allow ourselves to be led down the garden path by appeasers? We know where that goes…it emboldens bad actors. History has plenty of lessons for us on the point of what happens when you try and appease an aggressor. A weak response encourages an attack.

We need to wake up, miserly equipment transfers, ‘targeted sanctions’ and virtue signalling are not going to get it done. We need to recognize Russia for what it is, a rouge state with a nuclear arsenal. We must join Ukraine in the field. Regime change in Russia is an absolute existential imperative, not just for NATO but the entire international rules based order.


Feature Photo:  Bucha main street after Russian invasion of Ukraine, 4 April 2022. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.

Inset Photo: Christopher Hitchens. 20 January 2007. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.

Inset Photo: A Chechen fighter runs past a burnt Russian armoured personnel vehicle (BMP-2) during the battle for Grozny. January 1995. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.

Inset Photo: Ukrainian police examines aftermath of Russian occupation in Kyiv Oblast. 8 April 2022. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.

Inset Photo: a Russian soldier inspecting bodies of civilians in a mass grave in Chechnya in 1995. 16 March 1995. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.

Inset Photo: he cloud from FIZEAU, 19th nuclear shot of the Summer 1957 test series, Nevada Test Site, 14 September 1957. Wikimedia Commons, 2022.


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By Chris Murray

Chris is the Assistant Editor at DefenceReport and Senior Analyst. He holds a PhD is Defence Studies from King’s College London, an MA in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada, as well as both an Ba in Anthropology and an HBa in History from Lakehead University. He specialises in irregular conflicts, guerrilla insurgencies, and asymmetrical warfare. His areas of focus include the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, but are primarily aimed at the Balkans. Chris is an Associate Member of the of The Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies at King's College London, a Member of the Second World War Research Group at King’s College London, as well as an Associate of King’s College London. Chris has formally served as a defence and foreign policy advisor in the Canadian House of Commons to the office of a Member of Parliament. [email protected]