Editor’s note: There is news and reporting in here, but it’s also an opinion piece. My opinions are my own. I won’t speak for anyone else at RMNB. I also encourage everyone to do their own research on this and not just take me- or anyone else– at face value. Frankly, I’d rather not write about this at all, but it seems inappropriate for a site named “Russian Machine Never Breaks” not to address this somehow.
Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin shared the above photo on Instagram this morning.
In the photo, Ovechkin, wearing a t-shirt that reads “No War,” holds up a sheet of paper pasted to posterboard, reading “#SAVE CHILDREN FROM FASCISM” [sic].
It sounds like an implicit message of support for the rebels of Ukrainian. Those rebels, allegedly been funded and armed by the Kremlin, have been fighting against the Ukranian government in an ever-escalating war. As of this morning, there are reports that as many as a thousand Russian soldiers have now joined that war. That, it seems, is how Russia intends to save children from fascism.
In short, this is chauvinistic Russian propaganda.
I’m not a historian or an expert in global politics, but I’ll do my best to summarize this extremely complicated story. You will probably find fault with my oversimplifications or lack of nuance here. That’s okay; share your thoughts in the comments.
So this is Ukraine:
From around the end of World War I up until December of 1991, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. In 1942, Stalin, who was not a good guy, enacted the Sürgünlik (or “exile”), forcing most of the indigenous Tatars, a Turkish ethnic group who claim Sunni Islam as their faith, out of Crimea (a peninsula hanging off the south of Ukraine) and into what is now Uzbekistan. In their place, Stalin moved ethnic Russians into Crimea, establishing a loyal population in valuable territory with access to the Black Sea. This will be relevant later.
In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev enacted policies of restructuring and openness. In 1991, the Ukrainians voted to become independent.
Jump forward to today. Two thirds of Ukrainians speak Ukranian, one third speak Russian, but fewer than one in five consider themselves ethnically Russian. They’re separate countries. From 1991 until 2004, Ukraine had been on a different path than Russia, though they still shared a lot in common — like political interests as well as the actual families who were split between the border. It’s complicated.
In 2004, Ukraine elected Russian crony Viktor Yanukovych as President in a sketchy election. The opposition leader, a guy named Viktor Yushchenko, called shenanigans and led protests, sparking the peaceful Orange Revolution. They got a new election, which was less sketchy. Yushchenko was named President.
This made Russia (read: Vladimir Putin) mad. Ukraine had reaffirmed its independence from Russia and moved to become closer to the European Union.
After that, Ukraine’s economy and government kinda blew up. In 2010, Yanukovych– the same Russia-friendly guy they had a revolution to oust just six years prior, won the presidency. Immediately, protests began in Kiev. Except this time, unlike the Orange Revolution, it got violent. The military killed scores of protesters. Putin used the chaos as an excuse to invade and annex Crimea, home to many ethnic Russians, in an action that Stalin sorta primed for him 70 years earlier. The US and the UN said that the annexation was illegal.
Ukraine ostensibly has an interim government right now, but it’s tenuous. Russia has been funding and arming rebels in the eastern side of the country, fomenting a broader conflict. Russia has not admitted this support and has actually accused the US of arming the rebels (which, in fairness, sounds like something we would do, just not this time).
In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine– likely by a Soviet SA11 surface-to-air missile system. Investigations are ongoing.
The continued fighting around Donetsk has led to a humanitarian crisis– lack of food, no running water, etc. Russia offered a convoy of supplies to help the Ukrainian people, though they didn’t have legal permission to enter the country. This is what was in the trucks:
The Russian government’s position is that the democratic processes that elected Yanukovych have been undermined, and the result is hashtag fascism.
Fascism is one of those words that loses its meaning when you change contexts, but it’s traditional definition is an authoritarian government with strong central leadership, nationalism, and militarism.
Here’s a picture of Vladimir Putin.
And that brings us back to Alex Ovechkin.
Alex is friends with Vladimir Putin, who is President of Russia and a former KGB agent.
Here’s Ovi flashing a peace sign next to Putin.
The photo Ovi shared today, taken I assume by Sergey Bermeniev, is implicit support for the Ukrainian rebels, fighting the good fight against the Ukrainian fascists.
It may also be support for the Russian military that arms and funds the rebels and, as of this morning, now fights beside them.
Again, the message on Ovi’s shirt says, “no war.”
I admit this is a complex issue, and there are a lot of valid ways of seeing it, but it’s tough not to see Russia as stoking the flames of war here.
And sometimes Ovi makes it really hard to be a fan.