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The Banality of Evil, the Ukraine War and Russia’s Strategic Goals

Escalation of the conflict on the border of Ukraine with Russia – the concept of a 3d map with tanks deployed on both sides of the conflict – 3D render © guteksk7/shutterstock.com

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist, declared the end of history, which marked an ending point to the historical struggles of political ideologies, and the Cold War between the Eastern bloc consisting of centralized communist regimes led by the Soviet Union, and the Western bloc of liberal democracies led by the United States. In the End of History Fukuyama made the case for the superiority of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism over socialism and planned economies, considering it the zenith of human rationality’s evolution.  Liberal democracy became the para-ideology of the post-Cold War world, paving the way for bringing a new world order to humanity in the name of peace, prosperity, pluralism, positive and negative freedom, and the public-private divide. 

The advent of the new order, as the offspring of the modern para-ideology of liberal democracy, by its nature implies cohesion and solidarity on the world stage. The doctrines of liberal democracy are claimed to be universal and nation states are required to implement them to provide equality of opportunities, equity, in a context of freedom, individualism, and pluralism, all of which make up the infrastructural concept of human rights on the global stage. 

Citizens of the states are deemed to have signed the social contract, transferring their right to rule in their mother territory to the central government as the legitimate organ empowered to implement its sovereignty to uphold the nation’s rights and freedom. In this context, democracy is meaningless if plurality is suppressed since the concept of democracy includes at its roots the acceptance of pluralism. Any act that serves to deprive any human beings of their universal rights violates the principle of plurality.. 

For this reason, as well as for the maintenance of the global order, international institutions such as the ICC, United Nations, and IAEA were created. But apparently, no element of the new order has been perceived in the interest of the authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes like Russia, the People’s Republic of China, Iran’s Islamic Republic, and the last totalitarian Stalinist regime in North Korea are calling into question the liberal-democratic order across the globe. Russia’s invasion of  Ukraine lit its flame.

Strategic Goals of Russia in the Ukraine War

The vertical propaganda machine of the Russian Federation justifies the invasion of Ukraine as a anti-Nazi special Operation. Its stated ultimate goal is de-Nazifying and demilitarizing Ukraine, and preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. However, it is not all the aspects of the iceberg. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Donbas has been the industrial center of independent Ukraine, due to the fact that the land contains a large reserve of coal. Historically, Donbas has played a crucial role in the industrialization of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, the flocking of people of Russia to Donbas during the late 19th century created a strong cultural tie between the people of Russia, and the Ukrainians in the Donbas. Furthermore, throughout the history of the Russian Empire, since 1654, Ukrainians were prone to being systematically assimilated into the Russian Empire. The educational system followed the Russian model and Russian became the official language under the policies known as Russification

Hence the concentration of Russians and Russian culture in Donbas is multifaceted, with a historical, socio-cultural and economic dimension. The eventual annexation of the Donbas by Russia promises not only to enrich Russia economically but also to create a strategic dependence of Ukraine with regard to Russia. This is an important factor in the logic that underlies the Russian claims of historical and socio-cultural ties between the Donbas and the motherland of Russia. 

The Cold War began as the Second World War ended. The international arena found itself confronted with the bipolar pitting of the Western block against the Eastern bloc. The Western bloc was formed by the collective defense agreement of NATO. After the integration of West Germany into NATO, the Soviet-backed collective defense agreement known as the Warsaw Pact was signed in Warsaw, Poland. The Warsaw pact disbanded in 1991 as, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the communist structure had lost all legitimacy in Eastern Europe. 

NATO, however, experienced eight periods of enlargement since its establishment in 1949. The Russian Federation considers NATO a threat to its national security. They see it as an anti-Russia treaty. Thus the Kremlin feels it cannot sit idly by and watch the expansion of NATO to Eastern European countries, which they see as being part of their “historical land.” Therefore, one objective behind the invasion of Ukraine is Russia’s desire to forbid the expansion of NATO. 

The 20th century is known as the age of emerging ideologies. The map of the globe experienced revolutions, risings, significant wear and tear and a confusion of political ideologies. The fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 changed the trajectory of history, apparently in the direction of the interests of liberal democracy and free-market capitalism. That year stands as the starting point of a unipolar world. Democracy in line with the rule of law, individualism, freedom, the right to vote, equality of opportunities, equity and pluralism are the stated core values of the new order, which the democracies across the globe aspire to achieve. 

This order, led by the Western block, is now being challenged by authoritarian and totalitarian regimes seeking to establish and feed a multipolar order and a new era in international relations. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took place in the context of a global movement away from the unipolar world of 1991. Some believe it signifies that Russia is striving for the revival of the Russian Empire’s hegemony over Eurasia, Eastern Europe, and the Central Asia Countries. The People’s Republic of China is vying to become an economic hegemon under the Xi doctrine. It has engaged in a subtle cultural hegemonic war in its challenge to the dominance of Western culture. It is now taken for granted that Western liberal-based countries backed by the United States of America constitute one pillar of the emerging multipolar world order that may form a triangle with the Russian Federation and China in international relations. However, this triangle holds the potential of becoming a square, with the rising influence of political Islam. Nevertheless, the question concerning which among a trio of countries – Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia – may end up leading such an Islamic coalition and whether such a coalition can maintain a viable level of cohesion is far from settled. 

The Atrocities in Ukraine and the Banality of Evil

Hannah Arendt, the German political philosopher who coined the term “the banality of evil” after the trial of Eichmann for his role in the Holocaust, argued that in our age, the age of genocide, extreme evil is done when the perpetrator renounces the power human beings have of discerning between good and evil. For Arendt, the banality of evil is “thought-defying.” The perpetrator is only obeying bureaucratic orders, rather than being driven by ideological motivations or personal resentment.

The atrocities perpetrated by Russian forces in Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv Ukraine can be seen as the repetition of the banality of evil in our era. There are no ideological incentives behind this war, and there is no personal resentment of the Russian military forces toward the innocent civilians of Ukraine. 

Plurality is a feature of all human societies. No one can deny the existence of others, and their interests as nations or ethnical groups. Any act that implies ignoring identities, assimilation, war crimes, and genocides violates the principle of pluralism, and can thus be considered an act of dehumanization. Every evidence of war crimes and atrocities in the ongoing catastrophe in Ukraine is yet another act of dehumanization that points to  the reemergence of the banality of evil at this age.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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