Heidi Siegmund Cuda speaks to political scholar Michael MacKay on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and how the West has failed to respond to its dictator for a number of years

“What we’re looking at now is the offensive that we’ve been saying is coming with certainty for eight years, since Russia first invaded Ukraine,” Michael MacKay told Byline Times. “It is just heartbreaking that all these long years of suffering by the Ukrainian people, defending themselves, defending Europe, defending all of us in the West, has been wasted. That we’re as unprepared now as we were eight years ago.”

Michael MacKay is a Canadian academic with a PhD in political philosophy from the London School of Economics. An expert in Ukraine – having worked there as a university lecturer, internet project director and international election observer since its independence in 1991 – he has been chronicling the build up to the conflict that began today, as Russian President Vladimir Putin launched missiles into the country. 

According to MacKay, the West could and should have faced Putin down in Ukraine back in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea. This was the moment when it was “just the little green men stage of the invasion, the fake separatists stage of the invasion”. 

“We could have stopped this invasion by Russia, when it was this little occupation of Crimea with a bunch of special forces soldiers and a few mercenaries,” he told Byline Times. “We could have stopped it when it was in Luhansk and Donetsk. We could easily have stopped it when it was just a few pathetic locals, some mercenaries and a handful of Russian officers. We could have stopped it there. And now we face a multi-front war. I’m just heartbroken today.” 

Capturing the Western Right

The outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, MacKay argues, has been “enormously” enabled by the West and of “elite capture” of Western political forces.

“Russia’s been quite open about it,” he said. “There’s no secret in this, it’s not like in a spy movie. It stated: ‘We will buy off journalists, we will buy newspapers and media empires, we will buy the press in Britain to ensure the Brexit campaign will be successful’.

“Then in the US, it waged its most successful operation: the elite capture of the Republican Party… and large segments of the press. He just needs Tucker Carlson. And he’s got ’em.”

Despite debate on the right and left about what kind of war this is – with some on the hard left arguing for solidarity with Russia against an ‘imperialist’ America – MacKay is adamant that this is an imperial war for the “decrepit” modern-day Russian empire. 

“This isn’t an ideological war, like we had in the 20th Century,” he said. “It’s an imperial war. Western leaders should act, and they should act fast. Putin is so much more agile because he has no moral limits.”

The Russian President has given himself away with his comments about “de-Nazifying” Ukraine, MacKay insists, with the rhetoric revealing his true motivation. 

“When he talks about de-Nazification, he means it is a threat,” said MacKay. “What he is really saying is, ‘I’m going to do to you, Ukraine, what we did to Germany. I am going to bomb your capital city like the Soviet Red Army did to Berlin until it is rubble’. This is not about an ideological reorientation, but an excuse for a war of annihilation.”

Standing Up

Throughout the build-up to the invasion, Vladimir Putin received the support of his regional ally Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarussian dictator who in 2020 brutally crushed democratic dissent following elections. Many Belarussian dissidents have sought sanctuary in Ukraine.

Mackay believes that the weak response to Belarus has exacerbated the crisis.

“We gave Russia an extra front,” he told Byline Times. “We could have stood behind the Belarus people when they voted democratically, and stood up in their streets. And where are we now? Ten thousand Belarussians are political prisoners.

“Belarus is no longer an independent country. The Russian army is there. So now there’s a northern flank to attack Ukraine. And Russia is now on the borders of three more NATO countries.” 

That the West turned a blind eye to the situation in the country known as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’ was “incredible stupidity”, he insists. 

MacKay said he has confidence that the Ukrainian people will never surrender, but fears that their sacrifice “will be squandered”.

“I just think it’s an unbelievable tragedy,” he told Byline Times. “In the Ukrainian people, we have the greatest asset we could possibly have to defeat Russia. And we’re not standing behind them the way we should.

“I’ve been engaged with Ukraine since independence and I see people who stand up for themselves, who fight for a better future, who stand up because they believe in the principles of democracy and want a future for their children.

“We have to have to convince ourselves that it’s never too late. At any stage, you can stand up and fight and do something. We can still stand with the Ukrainian people. You can always save what can still be saved. Where there’s life, there’s hope.”

Michael MacKay said he will keep documenting the war tweet by tweet, giving voice to the Ukrainian people as he has done for eight years. “I’m not going to stop. What right have I got to give up when Ukrainians will never ever give up?”


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