In Climate and Ecology, Ukraine

his poster is displayed on the side of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow and shows the number of people killed in the Donbass between 2014 and 2022. If you walk down the Arbat in the same city you will see hundreds of poster sized billboards memorialising the children killed by Ukrainian shelling into the Donbass in that time. If you go to Donetsk City, you will see a memorial garden for these children. That shelling continues daily even now.


Originally published by Urbanramblings.

Framing an argument to bury the truth

There is a manipulative form of polemic that starts with a particular image, or emotive incident, that is guaranteed to mobilise an empathetic emotional response from a viewer or reader. If you watch BBC News reports on Ukraine, and think about what they are doing as well as what they are saying (and not saying) you will see this in an almost perfect form. Everything is geared to eliciting an emotional, sympathetic response on the calculation that – because emotion always trumps reason – this will then blot out questions about why these events are taking place; because it will be taken for granted who is to blame.

You might argue that that’s what I’ve done here, but images like that above will never appear on the BBC, or in the Guardian, because its the wrong sort of emotional response. The wrong dead children. The wrong sympathy. None of these kids will have Fergal Keane deployed, with sad backing music and beautifully filmed mordant images of grieving parents, your heart strings will not be expertly plucked to resonate with theirs. But they are just as dead. And the imposition of an ideological no fly zone, through the current banning of RT and policing of social media, means that you are very unlikely to see them anywhere else either. But they are just as real. So, this is just a small challenging counter image to stick onto the gigantic montage of images that have created the one sided picture that you’ve been exposed to already.

And if the deaths of those poor people in the pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk this week is to be taken as justification and fuel for sacrificing even more people to pursue this war with an enhanced sense of moral indignation; is that not equally true for the people in Donetsk?

Because in narrative framing, anything that is out of sight is out of mind. In the case of wars, some people’s deaths are framed as their just deserts because they have the misfortune to belong to a people or state targeted by ours. As the infamous Sun headline crowing over Croatia’s ethnic cleansing of the Krajina in the Yugoslav wars put it, “Serbs you right”.

The Climate Movement and truth

There is now a move to align the climate movement in the Global North/West with the war aims of NATO. A press conference in Kyiv at the end of June, with President Zelensky, Mary Robinson and Greta Thunberg, announced a European body to evaluate “the environmental damage resulting from the war, formulating mechanisms to hold Russia accountable and undertaking efforts to restore Ukraine’s ecology”.

A Commission to examine the ecological damage done by the war as such is, however, not what this Commission is. Such a Commission would have to recognise that the way to stop the ecological damage is to end the war. NATO does not, yet, want to do that, so this Commission is structured to attribute all the blame to one side. Participants in this Commission from the climate movement, whatever their intentions, will find themselves providing a moral fuel to continue the war with single minded righteousness: thereby providing a thin green fig leaf for the most destructive militaries in the world. These are now rapidly expanding and increasing their carbon boot print to an unprecedented degree; and intend to use it. This Commission’s effect will be to prolong the war; thereby generating ever greater ecological damage and human loss.

A frame that aims to “hold Russia”… and only Russia…“accountable” means that ecological damage committed by Ukraine or NATO are either outside their purview, or considered not to exist.

Shells and missiles fired by the Ukrainian armed forces are no more ecologically benign than those fired by the Russians. In the case of the depleted uranium shells supplied for British Conqueror tanks, they can be worse. Ignoring this requires a level of cognitive dissonance that can only be sustained by an act of intense will; or generated by a red mist of moral indignation – generated by the the narrative framing above – sufficient to enable people to look straight at it, and not see it.

Anyone arguing that any ecological damage is ultimately the Russians’ fault “because they invaded” should not forget that this war started in 2014; when the Ukrainian Air Force bombed Donetsk city, opting for a military solution to a political crisis. Does anyone doubt that this would have led the Kyiv government being universally denounced in the West as a regime that “bombs its own people” had they been US opponents?

If you think that the road to peace runs through a Ukrainian victory, have another look at the picture of that girl in the ruins in Donetsk, and the picture of the Crimean Theatre students below, and reflect on the fact that the full realisation of Ukrainian/NATO war aims will involve the ethnic cleansing of their whole region; and that Kyiv has been completely explicit about that.

Theatre students in Simferopol Crimea wearing orange and black ribbons and singing songs on Victory Day May 6th 2023. Photo Dan Kovalic. For a view of how Crimea broke from Ukraine in 2014 and what it is like now see Dan’s article with Rick Sterling here.

President Zelensky was quite blunt that this Commission will be “support for Ukraine”, in the context in of him rejecting any prospect of a ceasefire and frozen conflict and promising to continue the war regardless of the cost. That cost will be measured in escalating environmental damage and human lives and the devastation of his country. The remark of the US officer in Vietnam who remarked that “in order to save the village, it was necessary to destroy it” haunts his speeches.

Collusion in confusion

Participation in a Commission on partisan lines will by definition require collusion with an a priori propagandist interpretation of any event. Four extreme examples of this that pass for conventional wisdom in the West so far.

  • The oft repeated narrative that the Russians were shelling the Zaporozhe nuclear power plant, when it was occupied by their own troops. Even after the Ukrainians admitted they were doing it, the media here still tried to muddy the waters. Ukraine being not only willing to shell a nuclear power station but having actually done it is not something they want us to dwell on. Especially now. The statement from President Zelensky at that press conference with Thunberg and Robinson alleging a Russian plan to blow up the Zaporozhe power station in the coming weeks is particularly alarming in this context; because it might be a cover to resume the shelling – with the blame preemptively allocated -as a pivot for global outrage and mobilisation, as argued by Dmitriy Kovalevich here.*
  • The bizarre accusation that the Russians blew up their own Nordstream gas pipelines releasing up to 350,000 tonnes of methane, doing an enormous amount of environmental damage. It has been a US aim to cut Europe off from Russian gas supplies for over a decade; well before the war. Blocking the certification of Nordstream 2 in February 2022 was a big victory for them. But only a provisional one, because the Russians remained in control of the pipelines and any peace settlement would see them turned back on. Blowing them up rules that out and stops the Russians having that option. It takes peculiar mental gymnastics to imagine that the Russians would destroy their own infrastructure to hand a geopolitical advantage to the United States. Articles by Seymour Hersch detailing US involvement have been largely suppressed in the media here.
  • The case of the ammonia pipeline blown up in Kharkiv is similar, in that the flow of ammonia from Russia to the West had been shut down by the Russians weeks previously as a tit for tat for the West not fulfilling its obligations under the Russia- Ukraine grain/fertilizer deal; so blowing it up would only make sense for a force trying to cut all potential trade between Russia and the West.
  • Claims from the UK Ministry of Defence that the depleted uranium shells they have supplied with their Conqueror tanks are really nothing to worry about, repeated in the media with a straight face. The use of these munitions in Iraq has had horrific impacts. For example The Falluja Hospital’s birth defects Facebook page, where medical staff catalogue cases, reveals the striking diversity and quantity of congenital anomalies. Babies in Falluja are born with hydrocephaly, cleft palates, tumors, elongated heads, overgrown limbs, short limbs and malformed ears, noses and spines. The use of these shells will poison wherever they are used in Ukraine for years after the guns fall silent, while the British politicians who supplied them have roads named after them in Kyiv.

A further example and exemplar of the approach that we are likely to see more of in the framework of this Commission is a recent article on Open Democracy Khakhovska dam destruction is part of the climate emergency. This makes the valid point that the dam’s collapse is environmentally disastrous, but then rests the gigantic accusation of “ecocide” on a conditional presumption, that the destruction of the dam is likely to have been the work of Russian forces”. “Likely”. Not definitely. Not even probably.

“Likely”. So, how likely? If your brief is that all ecocide is carried out by the Russians, it becomes necessary not even to ask this question; allowing carte blanche to the Ukrainian/NATO side to do their worst and just attribute the consequences to the other side. “Likely” is a small word, easily passed on from when reading at speed, but it is an admission that everything that follows by way of emotional mobilisation could very well be applied against the cause the author supports if readers allow themselves to think and question a bit.

Because its a matter of public record that the Ukrainian armed forces have been shelling and firing HIMARS missiles at this dam for months.

Their military and political leaders hastened to delete posts bragging about doing so as soon as it was breached, but many of them have been recorded and are in the public domain.

Taking a step back, there are three possibilities for how this dam was destroyed. Longer analyses of this can be read here and here, but in a brief summary these are the theories.

  1. The Russians blew up the dam to enable them to withdraw troops from the riverside to redeploy them against the main expected thrust of the Ukrainian army offensive further east; even though this would deplete water supplies to the Crimea. Resecuring this supply after Ukraine cut it off has been one of their main military objectives, and remains one. So, it would be an oddly self destructive to imperil it. It has also been reported, from Ukrainian sources, that Russian troops dug in on the east bank of the Dnieper were taken by surprise by the inundation; which would not be likely if their command were responsible for blowing the dam. More to the point, the Russians were in control of the dam. All they had to do to create a flood would be to open the sluice gates. No need to blow it up, so, why do so?
  2. The Ukrainians blew it up to wash away Russian minefields and defensive positions on the lower lying eastern bank of the river. Their earlier attempts to do so, to cut off the Russian forces on the West Bank before their withdrawal last Autumn, are well publicised. So, whatever the case in this instance, it was something they were prepared to do, it was well within their moral compass, with all the consequences that flow from that. They also appear to have been releasing water from dams higher up the Dnieper in order to keep the flood going; which is odd behaviour by anyone trying to minimise damage.
  3. The dam had been so weakened by the long term effects of the shelling and missile attacks on it that a build up of pressure from a greater volume of water building up behind it in the run up to the breach was too much for it; and both the Russians and Ukrainians have had to improvise a response.

Its hard to see the first option as anything other than the least “likely”, but judge it for yourself.

The media narrative in the UK, however, is not characterised by rational analysis or balanced judgement. The sort of spluttering rage you get from Simon Tisdall in the Observer is more characteristic;. “Of course the Russians did it…Only this malevolent Kremlin regime would wilfully inflict human and environmental havoc on so vast a scale…That’s what they do, these mobsters.” The sound of a man shouting down his own doubts because, as he admits “It’s impossible to prove at this point.” Obviously also a man with no memory of the 4.5 million people killed by the “War on Terror”, nor the far greater environmental destruction in Iraq inflicted by us and our US allies nor, more recently Yemen, thanks partly to the expert training provided by the RAF and RN to their Saudi counterparts; not to mention the after sales service provided by BAE systems making sure that their missiles were accurately targeted.

That’s why the argument on Open Democracy that “it is not enough to just lobby against fossil fuel extraction; we must recognise that the end of Russian imperialism is key to the struggle for climate justice” is so disoriented. It lets the the US and its allies, the world’s dominant imperialism, with the biggest military carbon boot print, completely off the hook to such a degree that it lines up behind its war aims. Anyone who thinks that the route away from the environmental damage caused by this war is via a Ukrainian/NATO victory has lost touch with reality; both in the concrete practical terms of the enormous human and environmental damage that would be required to secure one, and the horrendous consequences for the world of a triumphant retooled US alliance seeking to partition the Russian Federation, take charge of its fossil fuel reserves, really get stuck into oil and gas extraction in the Arctic, and get ready for the war in the South China Sea they’ve been pushing for; with Taiwan as the same sort of sacrificial victim that Ukraine has been.

Taking this stance would also sever links with movements and governments in the Global South; where people who have been on the receiving end of the US imperial system for decades see through its pretensions and fear its ambitions. It would be a disastrous course for the climate movement in the Global North to take. This is particularly in the context of governments like the UK cutting its commitment to global climate finance citing, among other things, “the costs of including help for Ukraine being included in the aid budget.”

Instead of becoming partisans of either side in this war, or any other, whatever our individual views, the climate movement here should stand for an end to the war, oppose militarisation, and campaign to get the global military boot print fully included in the Paris process, with a target to measure, monitor and cut it as fast as possible.

Post script. * The International Atomic Energy Agency has now confirmed that there are no Russian explosives set on the power station.




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