Reverse psychology on Ukraine

Azza Radwan Sedky
Friday 29 Jul 2022

Azza Radwan Sedky uses reverse psychology to understand the causes of the war in Ukraine.


What if Cuba decided to form a present-day strategic coalition with Russia? What if Canada bestowed preferential treatment on Russia akin to what it provides to the US? What if Mexico enhanced its security ties with Russia via military exercises and the purchase of armaments? What if Greenland or Iceland had alliance agreements with Russia? 

These countries are all considered to be self-governing sovereign states. They determine their own future and foreign policy course. Canada ranked seventh in the world on the Freest Countries Index in 2022. All of them should in theory be free to make such hypothetical choices.

However, even if Russia acted discreetly in such highly unlikely and improbable scenarios, the whole world would soon become aware of their infringement of the security of the US and other countries in the West. Tensions would intensify through a media upheaval and the declarations of official spokespersons. 

Actions of this kind would not be accepted lightly, and reactions would commence. In fact, they would likely be swift and devastating. Any notion of “freedom of choice” on the part of the countries concerned would vanish into thin air.

Let’s pause and absorb these scenarios. First, they are fictitious and farfetched. For one thing, allegiances amongst the Western countries are tight and long-lasting. Canada and Mexico cannot be considered to be at arm’s length as far as the US is concerned, and they in turn would never repeal their alliance with it. Greenland is happily devoted to Denmark, and Iceland remains peacefully uninvolved. 

More importantly, Russia would think twice before taking such a route. What is considered to be the Western Hemisphere would remain within the West. 

As for Cuba, it has learned its lessons the hard way in the shape of over 60 years of arbitrary US sanctions. However, let’s indulge ourselves in the fictitious schema of a Russian alliance with Cuba, so please play along. The uproar would be deafening. Every media outlet and official in the West would question Russia and Cuba’s right to solidify their cooperation. It would not be considered a democratic action. Rather, it would be seen as an act of pure and simple aggression.

Everyone would immediately cry foul. Russia’s action would be considered as demeaning of Western “liberal” ways and a violation of the free world. 

Across the world, leaders and countries alike would be horrified at the Russian move. They would spout anger, venom, and rancour and call on Russia to resolve the crisis by withdrawing its presence in the region from Cuba or anywhere else.

With no pause for thoughtful negotiation or rational dialogue, the US would immediately quash the alliance. It would not wait a decade in order to convince Russia that it was taking the wrong route. Instead, it would likely attack Cuba.

In reality, a storyline of exactly this sort occurred in Cuba in 1962. The US and the former Soviet Union were at a standoff when the latter installed nuclear missiles on Cuban soil just 90 miles from US shores. Then US president John Kennedy, perceiving the Soviet action as a threat to US national security, was ready to use nuclear weapons. 

The world was thus brought to the brink of nuclear war because the Soviet missiles in Cuba were a threat to the US. However, the crisis was resolved when the Soviet Union agreed to remove the missiles in exchange for the US not invading the island and, more importantly, for the US removing its missiles from Turkey. The US had deployed nuclear weapons on Turkish soil in 1959 in what was seen as an act of aggression directed at the Soviet Union itself.

Infringing on buffer zones, or regions that serve as shields to safeguard countries from foes, is something that must be avoided so that we do not all fall into the dilemma that Ukraine and the world are facing today. 

The war on Ukraine is akin to the scenario just described, and yet the world seems blind to the motives behind Russia’s actions. Russia’s borders and security have seemingly been allowed to fall by the wayside. 

For example, the US writer Rand Paul wrote in the US publication the American Conservative recently that “when Western intelligence agencies worked with Ukrainian Maidan protesters to topple the Russian-backed leader of Ukraine in 2014, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin reacted by taking Crimea. When the Biden administration signed an accord with Ukraine reiterating an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO last fall, Putin responded with a massive invasion of Ukraine. Of course, nothing justifies the invasion, but it is an error to argue that it was not predictable.”

In 2018, Ukraine joined the US and seven other NATO countries in a series of large-scale air exercises in Western Ukraine. Complicating matters further, in 2019 the former US Trump administration sold anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in the first sale of its kind of US weaponry. 

Then, in their Brussels summit in June 2021 NATO leaders confirmed the decision taken at the 2008 Bucharest summit that Ukraine would become a member of NATO and supported its right to determine its own future and foreign policy course without outside interference.

Tensions between Russia and neighbouring NATO countries rose, and in February 2022 US President Joe Biden deployed 3,000 US troops to Poland and Romania. Sweden and Finland, another two countries bordering Russia, are planning to join NATO.

The war in Ukraine has taken a worse turn since then, and it is dragging on with no end in sight. But even as Ukraine is destroyed and the ramifications of the war affect the whole world, attention has been shifting to other matters and other crises. The world is starting to forget about the war in Ukraine. There can be no winners in this war, though there is one definite loser – Ukraine itself.

Double standards, or unfairly applying different responses to different crises, will continue to haunt us. What is not acceptable in one situation should not be accepted in another. 

*The writer is a former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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