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From Guernica to Mariupol

From Guernica to Mariupol

Friday, 25 March, 2022 - 05:30
Amir Taheri
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987

Whatever the outcome of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the crisis it triggered may have one lasting effect: the return of war as a routine instrument of politics on a global scale.


Before the invasion there was an implicit consensus that war was something that happened in the so-called “developing world” where Arabs fought Israelis, Africans slaughtered Africans, and Indian and Pakistanis were at each other’s throats.


Europe, however, was believed to have closed its book of wars for good. The Balkan wars of the 1990s were regarded as a multi-layered civil war involving component parts of the failed Yugoslav state.


Putin’s invasion showed that even Europe, and tomorrow perhaps even North America, are not immune from being dragged into war by a destabilizing agent.


To justify his invasion, Putin has cited irredentist demands coupled with kith-and-kin claims and national security interests. If adopted as acceptable behavior Putin’s scenario would be applicable to numerous other cases across the globe.


The most obvious example is that of China where the Communist regime can threaten Taiwan on the basis of Putin’s arguments. But the same arguments could also be used against Russia by China and Japan. Russia occupies large chunks of Chinese territory along with the Japanese archipelago Kuril.


Doing a Putin could also provide India with an excuse to try and regain control of the part of Kashmir it lost to Pakistan at the time of partition. India could also use the Putin model to try and regain the strategic territory it has lost to China.


Vietnam Laos would also have an excuse to try and retake territories they have lost to China while Myanmar could stick a claim to Andaman which the British gave to India.


For its part, Iran could adopt Putinism and try to regain control of the territories it lost to the Tsars in Transcaucasia and the Caspian Basin. It could also revive its “right of supervision” on Iraq’s “holy cities” granted under the Qasr-e-Shiri treaty. While we are at it, why not let Iran annex the whole of Iraq? After all, Baghdad was the site of the Sassanid Empire’s capital for centuries just as, according to Putin, Kyiv was the heartland of Russia.


As successor to the Ottoman Empire, Turkey could revive claims to parts of northern Iraq and chunks of Syria, while Syria, if it ever returns as a nation-state, could pursue the claim to al-Iskenderun which the French handed to Turkey under a shady treaty. Syria could also revive its claim to the Lebanese Shebaa farms now under Israeli control, not to mention the Golan Heights annexed by Israel.


Putin’s claim of trying to reunite the kith-and-kin could also be used by Afghanistan, if it ever returns as a nation-state, to annex Pakistan’s Pashtun territories.


Africa provides endless opportunities for Putinism. Eritrea, another of the three supporters of Putin’s invasion, could see Putinism used against it by Ethiopia, which owned it as an enclave for centuries, just as Russia supposedly owned Ukraine.


Northern Somalia could use the Putin model in Donetsk and Luhansk to claim its own independence from the rest of the failed state based on Mogadishu. The English-speaking part of Cameroun could adopt Putin’s “linguistic jihad” as a model to secede from the French-speaking half of the West African state. The so-called Democratic Congo could use Putin’s argument about Russia’s right to Crimea and the Sea of Azov to at last annex Cabinda and have access to the ocean.


If one goes by Putin’s “kith-and-kin” claims one would have to redraw the maps of at least 30 states in sub-Sahara Africa.


In Latin America, Bolivia could use Putinist arguments to attack Chile to gain access to the ocean. Chile and Argentina could go to war to sort out their perennial dispute over Tierra del Fuego. And what about Mexico trying to “liberate” California and Texas from the Yankee Imperialists?


Putin-style revanchisme could also inspire Canada to try and regain territories lost to the United States. Putin who blames Lenin for “creating” Ukraine might try to correct anther Russian “historic betrayal” by returning Alaska, sold to the Yankees by corrupt tsars, to “Mother Russia”.


Back to Europe, what about Italy reclaiming the Savoy, annexed by France in the 1870s, not to mention Corsica, which the French snatched away from Genoa. For its part France, now engaged in a so-far bloodless war with Britain over fishing in the waters of the Anglo-Norman islands, could do a bit of Putinism by invading Jersey and Guernsey. Then what is to prevent Serbia from trying to regain control of Kosovo, the Serbian “holy land” as Ukraine is supposed to be for Russia, and annex the part of Bosnia-Herzegovina not yet under Serb control?


Putinism could also be used against Russia itself in Europe and Asia. Shouldn’t the Kaliningrad enclave, the heartland of Prussia and birthplace of Kant, return to Germany? And what if Finland invaded Russia with the excuse to retake its lost territories? All that not to mention the vast terrorizes that the tsars took from khanates in Central Asia; and Siberia right to the Pacific Ocean. Russia expansionism continued in both Soviet and most-Soviet eras with Putin casting himself as the latest “greatest conquer” by invading Georgia in 2008 and starting its war against Ukraine in 2014.


Using Putinist arguments, either the Baltic States should return to Russian rule or Russia should return to rule by Lithuania or Sweden. Poland could, once again, disappear from the map and, as French satirist Alfred Jarry quipped, “become what it really is: nowhere!”


If we adopt the Putin Doctrine we end up with a lawless world in which Hitler’s slogan “Force is Right” operates, we would take a giant leap back into an age in which war was the principal arbiter of relations along nations.


In Ukraine, Putin has created a new version of Guernica in Mariupol.


The world ignored the lesson of the original Guernica, thus encouraging those who created the tragedy. The result was the most savage war in human history. It would be absolute folly to ignore the message of Mariupol and not to try and stop the spiral to global hell created by a senseless war.


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