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An ignoble boycott calculated to hurt Russia


9 May AnniversaryWhy should Australians bother about a faraway solemn national ceremony, Russia’s Victory Parade in Moscow on 9 May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the final defeat of Fascist Germany?

I suggest we should pay tribute on this day to the heroism of the Russian people, soldiers and civilians alike, for their huge sacrifices and sufferings in our common cause of defeating Nazism, in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War and we call World War II.

Many Western heads of government including George Bush and Gerhard Schroder attended the 60th anniversary event ten years ago, out of solidarity and respect. But the coming event is being boycotted by NATO and EU countries. This boycott is being hailed by NATO policy wonks as a great success.

The rationale – mostly specious – is entirely linked to opposing Russian policy in Ukraine. The boycott is intended to send Mr Putin the sharpest possible message regarding Western anger over Russia’s incorporation of Crimea and continuing diplomatic and military support of the East Ukrainian rebel territories.

Who designed this offensive and fruitless strategy? Only blind Freddie could believe it was spontaneous. More likely is that it was orchestrated by the same people who have led US covert efforts over the past few years to detach Ukraine from Russian influence and instead incorporate it into NATO’s sphere.

Russia has been in no way intimidated or deflected from its foreign policy by this strategy of attempted regime change in Ukraine: quite the contrary, as this recent English-subtitled Russian documentary Crimea: the Way Home makes clear. (However it should be noted that there are incidents here that have never been properly reported in our Western press, and westerners will need to make their own judgement as to their accuracy).

This is not an essay about Ukraine: it is a critique of a hamfisted, gratuitously offensive diplomacy that ignores adverse consequences.

It was open to NATO governments to say to the Russian government: we disagree strongly with your present policies on Ukraine, and our economic sanctions against you will therefore continue. But we were strong allies in defeating Hitler’s Germany in World War II, and as a mark of respect for the Russian people’s huge sacrifices in that war, we will attend and share with you at appropriately high political level those bittersweet memories on this important day 9 May. Diplomacy 101, I would have thought?

But no: it was thought necessary to send Putin and those Russians who support him (over 80 per cent by now and increasing, on recent Western-sourced polling) a sharp message that no memory is sacrosanct in the current confrontation. Germany’s leader Angela Merkel, to her credit, will personally visit Moscow the next day – a deft but pointed message to NATO what she really thinks of this ignoble boycott.

Apart from that, the picture as reported on 30 April is gloomy. The list of international guests is steadily shrinking. Maybe some thirty nations will attend at high political level, but very few major ones. This will be a massive slap in the face to the Russian people.

Leaders of three of the four non-Russian BRICs – India, China and South Africa – have confirmed they will attend the May 9 procession. Brazil’s President is reported as still considering.

Russia has openly accused the US of pressuring European states to not attend.

As reported, the leaders of Iceland, Norway, Slovakia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Greece and Cyprus have confirmed their participation at various levels. The Czech President originally accepted his invitation, but changed his mind after political pressure at home.

All other European governments have either declined or have not yet made a decision. Besides South Africa, seven other African states are sending delegations. From Eurasia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan – all former Soviet states – will send their heads of state. They will be joined by Vietnamese and Mongolian heads of state. Cuba is so far the only American state to confirm its attendance. Ban Ki Moon is attending.

New fighting has broken out on the East Ukraine front in recent days, threatening the fragile ceasefire agreed in Minsk.

Each side blames the other for starting it. There may be heavy fighting in Ukraine by 9 May.

I could not begin to explain here why this day matters so much to Russians, though perhaps having just commemorated the 100th anniversary of ANZAC Day some Australians might understand it. Russians threw everything they had into throwing back Hitler’s invading armies, and suffered grievously, with between 23 and 40 million dead in the range of reliable historians’ estimates. Without their sacrifice, Europe would be a Nazi empire today.

It is not yet clear if Australian politicians from any party will attend the 9 May events. I suspect not. Perhaps our ambassador in Moscow will be instructed to represent Australia as Russia’s wartime ally. This will be what most NATO countries will do. It is totally inadequate to the occasion.

Will this deeply insulting and hurtful boycott achieve anything? The boycott will not tarnish the day. It will achieve nothing good on Ukraine – it will further consolidate the growing view among Russian people that the West is irrevocably hostile to their nation’s aspirations and security, and it will thus steel Russian patriotism and resolve.

Eureka Street’s David James has suggested there could be unintended consequences, including an acceleration of the redrawing of the world’s strategic economic map, with the growing trade clout of the BRICS grouping, and with Russia’s intensifying bilateral economic and political cooperation with China under the latter’s tough new leader Xi Jinping.

Russia having had the European door slammed in its face this year will now push ahead faster with closer economic linkages with China, a strategy which has its own powerful logic but risks speeding up division of the world into two opposed camps, Eurasia and the Atlantic Alliance.

Well played, NATO.

Tony KevinTony Kevin is a former Australian ambassador to Poland.

Topic tags: Tony Kevin, NATO, Russia, Ukraine, Fascism, Cold War



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Existing comments

with all due respect tony I don't agree that the west should be present after all the host is under sanctions by the very countries u are aspiring to be present-that's what u call hypocritical -do we do the same with countries like iran/north korea or Syria who are regared as pariah regimes & ignore current situations-when the putinski regime ends then perhaps a re-look may be in order,but for now don't entertain a party with those that are responsible for countless deaths in the vincinity-merkel has also boycotted the ''party'' & is only laying a wreath the next day which is polite seeing she represents the country that caused this disaster. me

bob | 06 May 2015  

We all know who broke Ukraine (It was never Russia). Western Politicians are living in La La land.. Because they have not a clue what is coming. Now lets go watch master chef or Australian Idol while the world burns/

Babylonian | 06 May 2015  

Dear Tony Thank you for this article. I wholeheartedly agree. I am not sure whether the sanctioning countries understand that Victory Day has almost religious significance for most Russians. In most cities and towns in Russia, even very small ones, an "Eternal Flame" lights a list of those from that place who died in the war. There can be no doubt that the vast suffering in the war has been a propaganda staple for Soviet and Russian leaders - a perennial problem (as I have previously noted in ES) with the stories we tell ourselves about wars. Nevertheless, the suffering and occupation themselves were real and, in places like St Petersburg, every family lost members (in the 900-day siege). I suspect that not only is this campaign policy orchestrated but it is horribly shortsighted. Putin is often portrayed as bogey-man du jour. While much discussion is had in the West about the "liberal opposition" as an alternative government, the fact is that there are more nationalistic leaders than Putin in Russia - and dishonoring the memory of Soviet World War II dead makes it more likely that any successor to Putin will be less, not more, accommodating of the West.

Justin Glyn SJ | 06 May 2015  

It should be noted that the west openly supported a coup against the democratically elected government of Ukraine because he refused to sign a trade agreement with the EU all opinion polls showed a relatively small minority of the population supported. Then they insisted the new regime put down the opponents of the coup militarily, the very thing they warned the democratically elected government not to do with the coup plotters.

Peter | 06 May 2015  

Bob, Countries of the world deserve respect and self determination. This runs contrary to the desires of Empire and hence the bombardment of propaganda finger pointing the misdeeds of any country that doesn't bend to Empires wishes. If you don't know who the Empire is I will give you a clue, that dysfunctional country that sits in between Canada and Mexico. The country whose main exports are Hollywood propaganda and War. A truly Fascist construct whereby finance controls the war machine. First documented by General Smedly Butler in his book War is a Racket. They broke Ukraine, deliberately and are directing the Government there in the killing of citizens of Ukraine in the East. Look at the song I Was Wrong by DJ Rha on youtube for some idea of the terror being committed there.

Justin | 06 May 2015  

BTW, as against, for instance, Lithuania that has become the only EU state which decided completely boycotting the Moscow's 70th anniversary Victory Day celebrations http://baltictimes.delfi.lv/eu_ambassador_to_russia_from_lithuania_will_head_victory_day_delegation/ such EU locomotives as Germany and France sends their Foreign Ministers to attend the May 9 events in Red Square as they realize pretty well that they cannot afford completely boycotting Victory Parade in the country that saved the whole Europe from horrors of fascism. Russians really "threw everything they had into destructing Hitler's armies and suffered grievously, with between 23 and 40 million dead"! And presence at the Moscow's 70th anniversary Victory Day celebrations is, in fact, a mark of respect for the Russian people's huge sacrifices in that war! As to Lithuania, some facts speaks that actually it, as well as, other Baltic nations, was not interested in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1235492?ref=feeds%2Flatest as most of them welcomed German Nazis as liberators, and some of them even fought shoulder to shoulder with them against "Soviet occupiers"...

TommyB | 07 May 2015  

Why don't you write for Pravda?

Adrian | 08 May 2015  

Tony, While I completely concur with your assessment of the West’s boycott of the Victory Day parade in Moscow, I think we should be a little careful in designating Soviet losses as “Russian”. Leningrad and Stalingrad, along with hundreds of towns and villages, saw staggering numbers of Russian military and civilian casualties (including Putin’s older brother). There was, too, as older Russians will tell you, many, many kaleki (cripples) left by that terrible war. So it does behove us, as heirs to the peace in large part won so bloodily by the Russians, to join them in their act of remembrance. Not to do so is shameful and stupid ? it belittles us, not the Russians. But we should also acknowledge that many of the Soviet casualties were Ukrainian and Belarusian. Indeed, as Russians readily recognize, WWII was no more atrociously lethal than in Soviet Belarus. We should also acknowledge that WWII had two phases for the Soviet Union. The 1939-41 period included the seizure of the Baltic states, the partition of Poland (including the Katyn massacres) and the attempted invasion of Finland ? not much to be proud of. H.A. Willis

H.A. Willis | 08 May 2015  

I would like publicly to apologise to the Russian people for my government's participation in the shameful NATO -led ( effectively, US-led) boycott of the 9 May Victory Day parade in Moscow. See 9may.rt.com. I am sure that many Australians, especially of an older generation, would silently agree with me. This episode has brought home to me how dangerously close the world is now to a new Cold War. The events in Ukraine have led to a very ugly polarised situation in which irresponsible voices in Europe increasingly have captured the media microphone. There is no such thing any more as sensible balanced mainstream reporting of East-West relations: even in the New York Times, everything is at the service of propaganda and everything written is subtly or unsubtly slanted to portray Russia in a bad light and to give comfort to its critics. What was it Yeats said - the good are silent and the bad are filled with passionate intensity? Or something like that. ???????? ???, ???? ??????.

Tony kevin | 08 May 2015  

Sorry about the many question marks at the end .. I had tried to write in Cyrillic script - 'Prostitye nas, Lyudi Rossii' Translation - 'Forgive us, people of Russia'.

Tony kevin | 09 May 2015  

I agree with you 100% as an Australian citizen. I can only imagine "Cold War Warriors" and Nazis opposing this. And those wanting to ramp up a new Cold War or Start a World War 3. Those of you stroking the flames of the fire should be ashamed of yourself (I'm looking at those Nazi sympathizers or collaborators or those whose families passed down this tradition to you. Thank you for writing this story Mr. Kevin.

Tony | 10 May 2015  

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