John Pilger’s Guardian column about Russia and Ukraine is fairly standard-issue left-wing cant, defending Vladimir Putin on the grounds that he stands opposed to the United States, which is the font of all evil. (Representative passage: “The name of ‘our’ enemy has changed over the years, from communism to Islamism, but generally it is any society independent of western power and occupying strategically useful or resource-rich territory, or merely offering an alternative to US domination. … All are subjected to a western media campaign of vilification — think Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, now Vladimir Putin.”)
A possibly more seductive aspect of Pilger’s argument is his claim that Putin is fighting the good fight against fascism. (Pilger: “it is a poignant irony that Putin is the only leader to condemn the rise of fascism in 21st-century Europe.”) Timothy Snyder actually has a brilliant (subscriber-only) essay in The New Republic explaining that, yes, there may be far-right elements among Ukrainian nationalists, but the automatic historical association between Ukrainian nationalism and fascism is itself a trick of Soviet propaganda. (One of the many facts I never would have guessed that Snyder brings to our attention: “more Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers — combined.”)
Obviously Pilger’s attempt to cast land-grabbing, ultranationalist dictator Vladimir Putin as an enemy of fascism is comical. But Snyder explains why even the less obviously deluded version of Pilger’s case is also ahistorical.