Political scientist Gladden Pappin was in last week’s group meeting with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, and offers a richly detailed analytical account of it. It shows what a sophisticated thinker Orban is. Excerpts:
“The real problem,” Prime Minister Orbán told us, “is that there is nobody who would argue against the mainstream”—namely, the mainstream view that the war should be approached as a matter of being on the right side of history. The West has been caught between the view that materially supporting Ukraine is required in order to be on the right side of history, and the reality that such support carries risks with it. This analysis was the context for the prime minister’s conclusion that, “consequently, we”—that is, the primary Western actors whose view he was outlining, not Hungary itself—“are getting more and more involved in the war.”
What evidently weighed on the prime minister was the lack of a heuristic for deciding between the, if you will, world-historical and risk-adjusted approaches to material support for Ukraine. Is direct support for Ukraine a world-historical imperative (if so, why not go all the way?), or does the risk of uncontrollable escalation advise caution? Orbán’s specific conclusion was that, because no Western actors are seeking to evaluate the whole situation or pick one answer, “the situation is getting worse and worse.” In no sense was his remark a declaration that the West is at war per se. Rather, it was a lament that the West is “getting more and more involved” because of its stepwise approach over the last year, where grand rhetoric about the clash between democratic and authoritarian regimes actually yields only marginal—but increasingly dangerous—commitments of Western resources.
My interpretation is only slightly different. According to my notes, Orban did say that the West is at war with Russia de facto, but he very clearly thinks this is a terrible idea, and, in my recollection, said it in the context of warning Hungary’s Western allies that it is playing a dangerous game here. In other words, I understood him to be saying that decision-makers in other Western countries are deceiving themselves about what they are really doing in Ukraine, and putting us all in danger of a much wider conflict. More on this point:
The West has thus reached a kind of strategic paralysis (my term, essaying to capture the thought): it is not seeking an immediate cease-fire since that would fail the world-historical importance test, but it is not seeking an immediate or total victory since that would risk nuclear war. When asked what the answer to the conflict would be, Orbán did not hesitate to answer, almost axiomatically: “if we would like to have a peace, first we have to convince both sides to have a cease-fire.”
This seems right to me. Our leaders, by their rhetoric, are making a negotiated end to this extremely risky conflict less and less possible. This is the idiocy of the constant references in the American press, and by certain American politicians, to Munich 1938. If peace negotiations are described as Chamberlain’s “peace in our time” foolishness after meeting with Hitler, then any attempt to bring this conflict to an end before further bloodshed, a widening of the war, or, God forbid, a nuclear exchange, becomes politically impossible. Whose interest does this serve? Not America’s. Not the West’s.
Another clip from Pappin’s piece, because it conflicts slightly with my own reporting of the event:
It was at this point that the prime minister introduced his impression of the Russian view: first, that they believe time is on their side; and second, that they consider that they need a buffer between themselves and NATO. Combined with the West’s stepwise approach, Russia’s divergent view also reduces the likelihood of an immediate cessation of the conflict. It was in this context that Orbán described his impression of Russia’s view of Ukraine. The primary goal of the Russians, he said, is to keep NATO away from the Russian border and, “if it is not possible, to create an Afghanistan between Russia and the Ukrainian border.” Contrary to some initial impressions, the prime minister did not equate Ukraine and Afghanistan, but said that Russia has been, unfortunately, creating a destroyed “safe zone.”
I understood Orban to say that Russia has turned Ukraine into Afghanistan, in the sense of turning much of the nation into an ungovernable, chaotic mess, for the sake of creating, yes, a destroyed “safe zone” between Russia and NATO countries. If Pappin’s quote is correct — and it might be; unfortunately my notes don’t offer a clarification — that’s a meaningful difference. It makes strategic sense that if Russia cannot conquer Ukraine, it would attempt to destroy it to the point where it is useless as a NATO ally. (I’m not saying this is what Orban meant; I’m talking about my view.) When pro-Ukraine Western intellectuals and politicians talk about bringing Ukraine into NATO — as then-President George W. Bush did in 2008 — then they are condemning that suffering country to being wrecked by Russia, which cannot tolerate that outcome.
Anyway, read the whole thing. You might also check out Niccolo Soldo’s report on what the left-wing Croatian president Zoran (Zoki) Milanovic has been saying lately about the war. Excerpt:
Since the beginning of this conflict, Milanovic has asserted two ideas: 1) this isn’t our (Croatia’s) war and b) Russia will be victorious one way or another, as it is an existential conflict for them, unlike it is for the West. The Presidency in Croatia is almost entirely ceremonial, except for the fact that the office holder is the Commander-in-Chief of the Croatian Armed Forces. Executive power is vested in the position of the Premier, who at present is Brussels’ favourite Andrej Plenkovic, of the centre-right HDZ. Unlike Milanovic, Plenkovic has chosen not to rock the boat on issue of the war in Ukraine, holding firm to the prevailing line coming out of Brussels.
OTOH, Milanovic has continuously stuck his neck out with his various declarations to the media, possibly due to concluding that an almost-entirely ceremonial role allows him the privilege of doing so. More on this below.
Zoki enraged supporters of Ukraine this past week by not only saying that the West (read: USA and UK) have been provoking Russia for years now, but that Kosovo was stolen from Serbia! I’ll now translate his words from a few sources in Croatia media.
Index (and others):
We cannot and will not be dragged into total submission to foreign interests in which we have zero influence. I see that the head of NATO is in South Korea and Japan. I’ve known that man for twenty years now and he does not represent me nor my country over there. That part of the world has nothing to do with NATO, but it is in China’s neighbourhood. Things are happening there in which we have no say, (and no one asks us anyway), but that could draw us in with deep obligations rather quickly.
We are utterly dependent on others’ ambitions and plans, and not just regarding Ukraine.
Some in EU Parliament are discussing the dismemberment of Russia – that is wildly inappropriate. Even us and the Serbs never hated one another this much! This is madness, best distanced from, otherwise you will get caught up in it too.
What is the objective of this war? A war against a nuclear power fighting in another country? Is there even a conventional way to defeat such a country? Who is paying the price for this war? Europe is. The USA is paying the least price.
The Russians? This is their Mexico….or Canada if you will. This is real and dangerous.
From 2014 to 2022 we have been watching how the West has provoked Russia into launching this war. The war was launched. After almost one year, we are now talking about sending tanks. Not a single American tank will go to Ukraine this year. We will, however, send all the German tanks, and they will meet the same fate as those sent earlier. A Polish MP demands that Russia be partitioned, but Russia hasn’t attacked Poland, nor will it, as it is not strong enough to do so.
What we as the West are doing is collectively immoral. German tanks will only further unite Russia and its peoples…..and the same goes for China too. My task is for us to avoid that, so that we are not a circus of poodles. Any participation in such a conflict would be deadly. Do you think I am a Russian agent? I am not the one who handed over Agrokor (Croatia’s largest company) to the Russians (signed off by current Premier and Brussels’ darling, Plenkovic).
Read it all. It might be paywalled, though; I’m a Niccolo Soldo subscriber, and you should be too.
I don’t see any of the US electronic media, so I don’t know what the discourse on the war is like on TV and radio (aside from Tucker Carlson clips I catch online). I read the main print news outlets on their websites, and though I can’t see everything, my impression is that the American people are getting very little of this perspective in the reporting and commentary about the war. I also don’t know how much of this kind of analysis and perspective Europeans are getting in their media. Is it all pro-war jingoism? If I have readers of this blog in continental Europe, please let me know what the mainstream war coverage and commentary is in your media. Email me at rod — at — amconmag — dot — com. It is incredible to me, just incredible, that the US-led Western alliance is walking steadily into the increasingly likely prospect of a shooting war with a nuclear-armed Russia, and there is little to no antiwar effort. It’s probably because the liberals and the progressives have finally found a war they can love.
I can’t say it often enough: I remember 2002, and the way we all talked about the coming war in Iraq. There was more debate and discussion back then, though a lot of us — yes, I was on this side, to my later shame and regret — did not want to listen to anybody warning against the war. Not Pope John Paul II. Not Patrick J. Buchanan. Not anybody on the Left, for sure. And look what happened. What’s going down now between Russia and the West over Ukraine is incalculably more consequential.
What I also can’t understand is why other major nations, like India, China, and Brazil, won’t use the United Nations as a way to get ceasefire talks started. Is it really in China’s interest for this thing to go on? What is the United Nations for, anyway?