As Russian tanks rolled across the border, some of our fellow progressives called it a justified attack in response to a threat from Western military imperialists.
The year was 1939.
That year, some on the Left, a minority for sure, bent themselves into moral pretzels to justify the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the Russian-German murder-drenched conquest of Poland.
As a New York Tribune columnist, the abolitionist Karl Marx, wrote before the US Civil War, when some Britons supported the slavers: “History speaks twice; the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
Indeed, there is a nauseating, horrifying humor watching one-time fighters against injustice, self-proclaimed “anti-war” activists, dancing cheek to cheek with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ted Cruz, Tucker Carlson and fascist pin-up Silvio Berlusconi sharing their love, or at least, their sad excuse-making, for Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
At its core, these strange bedfellows’ sympathy for the Russian invasion rests, ultimately, on the canard that it was NATO’s expansion that provoked Putin to attack.
Pay attention to Putin’s own words.
On July 12, 2021, months before his tanks rolled, Putin issued a detailed statement of his casus belli, his justification for total seizure of Ukraine, not just the Donbas, in a 21-page-long essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” No one should speak of this war unless they have read this, Putin’s Mein Kampf.
Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere in his essay does Putin say one word about NATO expansion.
The meandering screed boils down to two points: First, Ukraine has always been an inseparable part of Russkiy Mir, the soul and body of Mother Russia, for more than a thousand years.
But it’s not true. Putin’s phantasmic claim reaches back to the 10th century, to Volodymyr, Grand Prince of the Kievan-Rus principality — founded, not by the Slavs they conquered, but as an extension of the Viking Empire. The rulers of Ukraine and this proto-Russia were Swedish. Volodymyr (namesake of both Zelensky and Putin), ruled from the metropolitan capital of Kiev over a vast land including the swampy little village of Moscow.
Volodymyr put to the sword those who would not worship the giant icons he erected to Thor and Loki — until, in 988AD, he converted to Christianity and put to the sword to those who would not destroy the old icons and swear to the new one, the Crucifix.
Thus was founded the Orthodox Church, based in Kiev, not in a “Rus-sia” that did not exist. Nevertheless, here is the germ of Putin’s second casus belli, reason for invasion: religion, specifically, restoration of the one and true Orthodox Church.
It would be a deep misunderstanding to call Putin’s once and future Russia a dictatorship. It is a theocracy, ruled now and forever, in Putin’s mind, by the one and only Holy Muscovite Patriarch. Today, that crown, to which Putin bows, is the Moscow-based Patriarch Kirill, the ultimate source of Putin’s political power and Putin’s hold on rural believers.
It was Kirill who taunted and demanded Putin “save” the Muscovite faithful in the Donbas who side with Kirill in the Orthodox schism — and blesses what the Patriarch sees as a Crusade to restore the rightful church and cast out the heretics, the Ukraine and Greek Patriarchs.
Putin’s and Kirill’s quest is medieval, truly a new Crusade to restore the Church and its Empire. NATO? Putin only gives passing mention at the end of his anti-historical fever dream as a new locus of attack against the values of the true church. More on this later.
Putin’s tale of the unbroken, Christ-blessed rule of Ukraine by Russia has a problem. It’s bullshit. The Kievan-Rus empire shredded and disappeared in the pinwheel of history nearly a millennium ago, in 1242.
For most of the vast expanse of centuries between, Ukraine was an independent and voluntary member of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It is a great shame that this huge empire, often called the Golden Freedom, has little mention in history books because its member states ruled in peace by consensus, a proto-democracy that elected its leader and whose constitution demanded only peaceful coexistence among its states and religious freedom.
History prefers its conquistadors, as does Putin, who picks up the tale of Ukraine as Russkiy Mir when Catherine The Great conquers its Eastern edge in 1793. (I’ve an inkling Putin takes note that “The Great” is only bestowed on those who grab territory by blood. Does he look in the mirror each morning and whisper, “Vlad the Great”?)
Ukraine, in Putin’s fantasy, was overjoyed to be occupied, given as a gift to Prince Potemkin, Catherine’s lover, a fiction worthy of the happy “Potemkin villages” the Prince created to hoodwink his visiting randy Empress. (When the Russians fled Kherson, they abandoned some of their soldiers to die — but carefully carted away Potemkin’s skeleton.)
Kiev was devoured by the Hapsburgs and spit out after World War I. It was never part of Russia. But that truth is niggling detail to Putin.
In Putin’s essay, his bloviating fury is not aimed at NATO, but at “the Bolsheviks,” those Commie traitors who, from day one of the 1917 Revolution, recognized Ukraine as an independent nation. Indeed, in 1945, Ukraine won its own seat at the United Nations based on Soviet insistence that Ukraine is a sovereign state.
Now to Putin’s casus belli #2: the existential threat to Russia from the West. The West, says Putin, will not rest until Russia is destroyed. The threat is not from NATO’s cruise missiles, but from NATO’s homosexuals.
Like the Ayatollahs of Iran, to Putin and Kirill, the poison of cultural, moral decay reaches its zenith in the vile desecration of the nuclear family and all the intellectual freethinking, freakery and vices that come from it.
The Lord and his Patriarch are threatened — and indeed they are — by heretical freethinking that leads from liberty to libertinism. And like the prior restorers of the faith Grand Inquisitors and their armed wing, the Crusaders, there can be no vote, no newspaper chit-chat, when the word of God is defied and threatened. The post-Gorbachev orgies are over. Pussy Riot must be jailed. It is why Putin is the pin-up for the Christian fascist parties of the West, from Golden Dawn in Greece, Marine Le Pen in France, to the Proudboys and US Christian fascists, including Holocaust denier, January 6 suspect and Trump dinner guest Nicholas “Nick” Fuentes.
How odd, how tragic that some of my friends on the US Left, who will who rightly demand respect for appropriate pronouns, defend Putin who made simply advocating for LGBTQ rights a crime and empowers “gay-hunting” pogroms.
Putin accuses the West of poisoning Russians with the “monstrosity…that a boy can become a girl and reversely, [that] they can play five or six gender roles.”
Read carefully Putin’s declaration of the invasion of Ukraine and the his true cause is declared:
“[The West] sought to destroy our traditional values and force on us their false values that would erode us, our people from within, the attitudes they have been aggressively imposing on their countries, attitudes that are directly leading to degradation and degeneration because they are contrary to human nature.”
Putin, at his grand ceremony annexing Ukraine provinces, linked it directly to his war on Western-inspired transgender rights which he termed, “pure Satanism.”
I suppose that is provoked by NATO as well.
His presidential opponent, Alexei Navalny, after Putin’s bumbling assassins failed to kill him with the poison Novichok, is now in the IK-6 penal gulag commonly known as the ‘Torture Prison.’ Putin’s prior challenger, Boris Nemtsov, was shot in the back of the head, right in front of the Kremlin.
In 2018, I exposed GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s vicious suppression of the Black vote in Georgia, denying Stacy Abrams the governorship. But, Kemp didn’t shoot her in the back of the head. How can anyone decry Kemp and excuse Putin?
And if Putin’s panzers had succeeded in occupying Kyiv and installing his puppet, would that not be the ultimate in “vote suppression”?
And how is NATO’s presence in Hungary, led by Putin’s boy-toy Viktor Orban, an existential threat to Russia?
But what about NATO in Poland? I’ve searched and searched, and I cannot find evidence that Poland launched its missiles into Russia. And when Poland was part of Russia’s Warsaw Pact, would that have justified NATO’s invasion of Russia?
And if the threat is NATO, why is Russia bombing Ukraine? Why not bomb Poland? You know why.
Russia’s killing 130,000 in Ukraine because of a chimerical threat from Poland is like me having a shouting match with the guy in Apartment 2 so I knife the daughter of the guy in Apartment 4.
How can too many of my fellow progressives, who marched against Bush’s “preemptive” war in Iraq, now find preemptive war by Putin justified by “NATO provocation.” Thankfully, Putin has few such useful idiots.
They found my great-uncle Solie who supplied horses to the Polish cavalry, horses that fought the Panzer tanks. You know how that ended. The Nazis gathered the locals, and shot Uncle Solie in the head. Some cheered. He was, after all, like Zelensky, a Jew.
At the Dachau Concentration Camp is a plaque that says simply: Never again.
And today, it seems, some of my once-comrades have added an asterisk: Well, maybe, sometimes.
Zach D. Roberts and Leni Badpenny von Eckardt-Manzoni, who have reported from Kyiv and Kherson, contributed research for this article.
Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, Billionaires & Ballot Bandits and the book and documentary,
The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
His latest film is Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman
Support The Palast Investigative Fund and keep our work alive.
Become a monthly Contributor.
Or support us by shopping with Amazon Smile. AmazonSmile will donate 0.5% of your purchases to the Sustainable Markets Foundation which automatically goes to the benefit of The Palast Investigative Fund and you get a tax-deduction! More info .
Subscribe to Palast's Newsletter or his special list for Poems & Stories.