‘Events in Ukraine are not as distant from the Middle East as they seem’

Ukrainian Territorial Defence fighter takes the automatic grenade launcher from a destroyed Russian infantry mobility vehicle GAZ Tigr after the fight in Kharkiv on February 27, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
At this very moment, we may be witnessing a seminal moment in the history of the 21st century. Russia has launched a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, in violation of international law, citing the security concern of a possible Ukrainian accession to NATO. اضافة اعلان

As Middle Eastern people, we should be able to feel immense sympathy for Ukraine. The David and Goliath scenario of a small nation being encroached upon by a large imperialist power is one we are all too familiar with. The images of America’s rape of Iraq and the Soviet brutalization of Afghanistan are fresh in the minds of many Arabs and Muslims. We are used to an aggressive neighbor as well; recall Israel’s constant attacks on the Palestinians and its many violations in Lebanon. The plight of Ukraine and its people is one we can feel on a deep and heartfelt level.

Yet, in some Middle Eastern circles, this is not the case. Many Middle Eastern commentators and laymen have adopted the simplistic mentality of supporting whoever America opposes, no matter how repulsive their actions and ideas. Particularly, some “anti-imperialists” liken Ukraine joining NATO to the way the US bullies Iran: surround the country with bases and effectively suffocate it. This is quite a false comparison. Iran, while a powerful state, is not nearly on the same level strength-wise as the US, unlike Russia, which is at a comparable level.

Furthermore, Russia is not some beacon of resistance. It has a traditional and recent history of vicious division and conquest. It does what America does, but in its own backyard.

Just this century, Russia attacked Chechnya, invaded Georgia, annexed Crimea and helped crush grassroots protests in Kazakhstan, amongst many other violations of international law.

Iran also engages in reprehensible intervention beyond its borders, but this is relatively new in the grand scale of modern Iranian history. It is deep defense, a reaction to incessant American and Israeli hostility.

Perhaps Russia is right to be concerned about potential Ukrainian membership in NATO, but with Russia hounding Ukraine for decades, it is no wonder Ukraine is seeking a deterrent.

Even with these facts in mind, the Middle Eastern street may be hesitant to fully support Ukraine. It is not a close country. By contrast, it has ties with the West and Israel. But the fact of the matter is that this goes beyond Ukraine in particular. If the Middle Eastern street is aloof to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it would be far harder to gain sympathy for our own struggles. We have an obligation to be morally and logically consistent in the way we think of foreign policy.

Despite all this, discussing the practical implications is of equal importance to discussing the ethics of such a move. How the US responds to Russia’s provocation may determine the direction of geopolitics for some time to come. If America puts its foot down, either through debilitating sanctions or boots on the ground, it is not likely that Russia could handle the pressure, and the possibility of de-escalation would be realistic.

However, if America fails to take concrete action, it would most certainly give the impression that it is an unreliable ally.

There is historical precedent for this. When the US failed to back the UK, France and Israel in the Suez Crisis, the Soviets took this as a green light to violently crush anti-Communist protests in Hungary. In the current context, this could have a great effect on the Middle East. The “axis of resistance” camp, led by Iran, would be motivated to pursue further action against pro-Western governments, leading to a general trend of the region’s larger local forces clamoring for influence in a potential American power vacuum.

Russia could expand its influence beyond Assad’s Syria, but this is wishful thinking, given the cost of war and the steep decline of the ruble.

On the other hand, China, with its economic prowess, can swoop in if it maintains its tactful neutrality. It is difficult to determine what approach China would take in regard to the Middle East.

Historically, Communist China has firmly supported Arab causes, chiefly the Palestinian movement, but the current generation of technocrats seems to be guided more by pragmatism than ideology. If that is the case, what is certain is the Middle East’s quick integration into the planned Belt and Road Initiative.

The current events in Ukraine are not as distant from the Middle East as they seem. Russia’s constant misdeeds against its neighbors are reminiscent of all foreign invasions and war mongering in the Middle East. Despite the fact that this time it is occurring in another part of the world, it is easy to draw a parallel.

Furthermore, the invasion of Ukraine is a test for the western bloc, led by the US. If it fails to take adequate action to stop this heinous act of war, it could set off a domino effect and shift the balance of power, which would have massive ramifications for the Middle East.

Mohammad Rasoul Kailani is a writer and first year student at the University of Toronto. Amongst various other topics, his interests are in Middle Eastern affairs.

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