The Russian invasion of Ukraine and global white supremacy 

Local civilians walk past a tank destroyed during heavy fighting in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Taking Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014. Photo by Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo.

It’s been over two months since the beginning of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Current peace negotiations are uncertain if not stalled, and it is unclear the wherewithal of each nation to continue fighting or what their necessary conditions for peace are. 

There has been a substantial global response to Russia. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States have led the implementation of highly advanced sanctions which are contributing to the collapse of the Russian economy, widespread global shortages and rising prices, particularly on fuel. Further, the United Nations, European Union and NATO member states have injected continuous aid and weapons into Ukraine, as well as stationing NATO and U.S. troops in neighboring countries in preparation for further military escalation. Finally, there have been blacklistings, asset seizures and attacks against Russian people and businesses globally. 

As of April 14, according to the United Nations there are five million refugees from the country and there have been almost five thousand civilian deaths in Ukraine as a result of Russia’s invasion. While the response to this tragedy from the U.S., NATO and allies is unparalleled in the 21st century, it is easy to identify countless examples of violence and suffering around the globe which exceed that of Ukraine, yet which have been consistently ignored by the same groups.  

Consider the humanitarian crisis within Afghanistan. Since U.S. withdrawal from the country and Taliban government takeover in 2021, 23 million Afghan people face food insecurity and eight million experience acute hunger, there are an estimated 315,000 domestic refugees and since January 2022, an estimated 13,000 infants have starved to death. In February 2022, U.S. president Joe Biden appropriated $7 billion from the Central Bank of Afghanistan to distribute to U.S. victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.  

Examining the occupied territories of Palestine, a nation one-tenth the population of Ukraine, there have been thousands of deaths from military conflict alone in the past decade, in a nation without an army. In May 2021, attacks on Gaza by the Israeli military killed hundreds of Palestinians and displaced as many as 74,000. Cumulatively, settlement and ethnic cleansing dating back to 1948 has rendered five million Palestinian people refugees, 1.5 million of which live in refugee camps in neighboring countries and the remaining Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank regularly lack adequate food, shelter, medicine and the right to travel freely.  

A man with a dog walks in a street along damaged during a heavy fighting apartment buildings in an area controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in Mariupol, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022. Taking Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port and complete a land bridge between Russia and the Crimean Peninsula, seized from Ukraine from 2014. Photo by Alexei Alexandrov/AP Photo.

Within Africa, the history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is indicative of the struggle of many mineral-rich nations. Between 1998 and 2004, there were nearly four million deaths in the DRC, considered to be the largest humanitarian crisis since World War Two, related to a war over the country’s rare earth mines which supply advanced technology manufacturing globally. Since then, conflicts have continued between the neocolonial government and rebels, and ongoing humanitarian crises render 5.5 million displaced persons domestically and 27 million experiencing “emergency” food insecurity within the country.   

Finally, consider the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in which 1.5 million live in extreme poverty; nearly half the population — 27 million — experience “crisis” or “extreme” food insecurity; and there have been over 360,000 deaths since 2014. There are four million internally displaced persons, over two-thirds of the nation relies on humanitarian aid for survival and the United Nations projected that direct and indirect deaths from the conflict could total 1.3 million by the year 2030

It is impossible to note or analyze all of the countries in the world — most of which are found within the global south — where ongoing catastrophic humanitarian crises and unbelievable numbers of deaths are not matters of concern for western countries. Hati, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Lebanon, the Philippines and Myanmar are only a few more examples of nations suffering humanitarian crises harming millions and often taking thousands upon thousands of lives. Why does Ukraine’s recent invasion take priority over these nations? Where is the western media time, foreign aid and political attention towards these crises? 

For some of the nations I discuss above, their suffering does not warrant concern by western politicians and media outlets because these groups are really only concerned with maintaining the status quo. Afghanistan has been militarily occupied and economically devastated by the United States for almost twenty years. Yemen is being cut off from humanitarian aid and basic economic goods because they are bombed by Saudi Arabia, one of the United States’ closest allies in the region. Palestine is suffering under Israeli apartheid because the United States sends billions of dollars in military aid and weapons to the government of Israel annually. Finally, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has spent half a century intervening in the government of the DRC and other African nations in order to install neo-colonial governments friendly to E.U. and U.S. corporate interests in the continent.  

A member of security forces gives first aid to an injured man following a Russian bombing of a factory in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, killing at least one person and injuring three others. Russian forces attacked along a broad front in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday as part of a full-scale ground offensive to take control of the country’s eastern industrial heartland in what Ukrainian officials called a “new phase of the war.” Photo by Petros Giannakouris/AP Photo.

This one article relating to the invasion of Ukraine cannot encapsulate the depth and complexity of European imperialism and neocolonialism which keep people around the world from national sovereignty and economic independence. Nor have I cataloged the entire list of NATO’s war crimes and crimes against national self-determination, but it should be clear that the United States — the leading member of the NATO alliance — and other key allies are the main beneficiaries of such systems and have no concern for human rights or “values” beyond economic and military self-interest. Otherwise, we would see a global consistency regarding their respect for people to self-govern and be free from economic and military oppression.   

Instead, the narrative in western politics and mainstream media outlets is that NATO and allies take stances against Russia because of the formers’ principled positions in favor of self-determination and against unlawful invasions. Yet their history shows that these governments have consistently fought such rights on a global scale. It is a profound mistake to offer that alliance legitimacy and support in a conflict against Russia on the basis that they promote the human rights of Ukrainians or any other group.  

In reality, NATO, the United States and their supporters are guilty of maintaining white supremacy because, on a widespread basis, they neglect or perpetuate conflicts against non-white peoples across the world while rushing to the aid of Ukraine, the one country deserving of western support while under invasion — which just so happens to be a white country. This white supremacy is characteristic of anyone who advocates for Ukraine yet fails to address every other humanitarian crisis in the world, particularly those outside of Europe.  

Condemning and challenging white supremacy globally means multiple things right now. It means supporting the rights to freedom, peace and self-determination of every population around the world experiencing suffering and oppression, regardless of their skin color or nationality. It means holding our own governments accountable when they clearly deviate from such a goal. Finally, it means criticizing and dismantling the institutions, such as NATO, which uphold colonialism, imperialism and other modern forms of systemic white supremacy. 

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