Tag Archives: sovereignty

Eastward Expansions

Before a barrage of bombs began to fall on Ukrainian cities from Kyiv to Kharkiv, newspapers of record predicted that “Days of whiplash developments made unmistakable the volatility of a crisis that American officials fear could lead to an assault by one of the world’s most powerful militaries against Ukraine, Europe’s second-biggest country,” as artillery exchanges grew in the Eastern provinces. Fears of Russia staging a unilateral invasion of the nation grew as “a development that Europeans never thought they would see,” alerted the New York Times, challenging if not undermining Europe’s–and NATO’s–expansion of geo-strategic alliances in recent years. But the nominal accusations of an expansion of NATO has blurred, to be sure, with the accusations of the persecution of ethnically Russian populations in eastern Ukraine in the current charges of waging a war of “de-Nazification,” rallying national interests for a Russian homeland that seem to be a reaction to the processes of globalization against which Putin’s right wing allies–from LePen to Donald Trump–have recently railed against.

If rooted in fears of preserving a lost Russian empire, an ethno-state eroded by the breaking away of Soviets, the recasting of Donetsk and Luhansk as “People’s Republics” in eastern Ukraine hearkens back to the soviet history in which Putin and Co. were molded, a reaction to by military formations in the ear of the Trump Presidency, as pincers around eastern Ukraine, long before the current invasion of Ukraine began–a show of force of tanks, artillery, and rocket systems poised to illustrate the porous nature of any nominal borders when it came to the old Soviet Union. For as if in refusal to let the post-1989 territory emerge as a liberal state–or a separate state–the resurgent ethno-nationalism of “preserving” or “protecting” Russian speakers from allegations of Genocide offered an Orwellian Newspeak by a totalitarian state George Orwell saw as critical tools to rationalize ongoing war, death, and cast as  “subversive” the very concept of free will.

July, 2020/Ukrinform

The dramatic massing of Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s border in the Spring of 2022 seems to have been engineered to question that border’s status as a guarantee of sovereignty. As if to mirror but were unlike the erosion of borders in globalism, however, the massing of troops was a display of Great Powers doctrine on the part of Moscow, echoing the emphasis on the expanded range of supersonic bombs that Vladimir Putin had foregrounded in his announcement of the range of nuclear bombs in 2018 when he announced to the world a new arsenal of “invincible” nuclear weapons before a video graphic that imagined warheads hitting the United States.

The apparent invincibility of Russian armaments that Putin suggested in a dramatic tableaux of Russian military dominance–

–was reprised in reduced form at a local level as Russian troops massed an unprecedented show of force on Ukraine’s border in the postwar period. Their congregation seemed to firm up Russian power after Putin had dismayingly, misleadingly and perhaps self-servingly asserted was an existential threat to Russia more than an expansion of a defensive alliance. And if Putin later, after the invasion began, argued with duplicity “What is happening in Ukraine is a tragedy–they just didn’t leave us a choice. There was no choice“–the invasion that sought to reunify the old soviet that had become a breeding ground for liberal reforms was not really about the expansion of NATO, but the consecration of the boundaries of the old USSR, and the absence of “true boundaries” for Russia in the old Soviet bloc.

The border was already being denied in the massive show of force that massed in the Republic of Belarus, that old Soviet, in the larges mobilization of troops in postwar Europe. As 90,000 troop joined an assembly of 100,000, equipped with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, fighter jets, and armor on the area where the borders of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the show of force seemed to erase any sovereign border or notion of independent sovereignty.

The robust show of force that established its theater of influence and refused to be hemmed in by borders of sovereignty. Whether they reflected Vladimir Putin’s beliefs, or, far more likely, offered an excuse for military mobilization of such unprecedented scale against a country with few natural or geostrategic defenses, global media disinformation were filled, at the same time, with the fake news, amplified on Russian news and RT, calling NATO and Ukraine as threats to Russian sovereignty, even as Ukraine’s sovereignty was effectively bracketed and taken off the table, a pretext for Russian escalation whose size recalls imperial wars of the nineteenth century. The refusal of Viktor Orbán of Hungary to let military aid flow to Ukraine through Hungary, a reflection of his nation’s considerable dependence on Russian natural gas, and Budapest’s invitation of for the Moscow-based International Investment Bank, or IIB, whose founding ten member states of 1970 reflected the political geography of the Cold War–was relocated to Budapest in 2019, was long a conduit for Russian intelligence, and is led by the son of a KGB official formerly stationed in Budapest. As Central European states from the Czech Republic to Romania accelerated their exits from in response to the invasion of Ukraine, Orbán threatened Russia’s aggression would overflow far beyond Ukraine and charged opponents had designs to “drag Hungary into this war” and “make Hungary a military target” to his political advantage in a recent electoral campaign.

The vivid reassertion of a Cold War political geography haunts Central Europe today. Aggressive military moves one-upped the seizure of the Crimean peninsula and eastern Ukraine, but the massing of military presence outside Ukraine’s borders ramped up the abilities for invasions that would create a potential impromptu blitzkrieg that would leave, Russia hoped, a stunning memory of Ukraine’s limited sovereignty. Indeed, the clarity with which Volodymyr Zelensky has urgently asked the world to recognize Russia’s hopes to “break our nationhood” is evident in the way Putin’s ally, Belarusian President Lukashenko, addressed the Parliament as a schoolteacher, informing them of the splitting of Ukraine into four theaters of operational command, and several arrows that showed the planned movement of troops into Ukraine,–

Belarusian State Radio

as if the nation that borders Belarus were not really secure, and the plans to use Belarus as a platform for staging an invasion was indeed already underway. The map used as a basis to lecture Parialiament displayed on state television was a “misunderstanding,” authorities claimed, but the pink arrows that staked out the routes by which Russian troops would invade Ukraine already affirmed the absence of Ukraine’s defensible borders; the pointer he used as a school-teacher to describe the impending display of Russian power as if to replace the actual Belarus President-elect, since 2020, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the former English teacher in Minsk who replaced her husband, Serghey, leader of an opposition Lukashenko had jailed. While Tsikahanouskaya has long left Vilnius, but resists the Russian-based orthography “Svetlana Tikhanovskaya” and Lukhashenko and his security forces relied on Putin for power, Tsikahnouskaya is a government-in-exile who long pinned her hopes to Joe Biden’s victory.

The threat of a cross-border movement of military troops were part of a theater of power and destabilization that had been central to Russian hopes to consolidate an old bloc. Beyond its hopes to affirm its presence in Crimea and around eastern Ukraine, now used as launching pads for an invasion in the above map, beyond countering an expansion of NATO, the hope was to drive fear into the old bloc and gain support from nominally democratically elected allies, from Viktor Orban in Hungary . Russian air force had flown nuclear bombers with missiles of expanded range over Poland’s borders, in November 2021, and in the airspace of Belarus, contesting the ability of NATO forces to move to the east and protecting what it saw as its crucial sovereignty over energy transport to central European states from Hungary to Poland, once part of the old “Soviet bloc.”

As Orbán posed with Hungarian generals and tarred his opposition with trying to drag the nation into war with Russia, Russian television news by March, 2022 remapped a nation in Cyrillic whose eastern half seemed to have collapsed, after Russia taken control of the airspace, with cruise missile strikes on airfields, fuel depots and infrastructure, even if the capitol had not fallen–hoping Ukraine’s inhabitants might decide to accept Russian suzerainty rather than continue war. Perhaps the capture of “territory” in the Russian imaginary that extends through the Dnieper River would provide the symbolic imaginary that Putin seeks to hold, although the ability to “hold” the lands that Russian forces have terrorized and flattened will be steep, even in the steppe lands of Ukraine’s Trans-Dniepr where about a dozen brigades–some 60,000 men–of Ukraine’s best troops are located. The image of Russian control of the Trans-Dnieper symbolically “restored” to Russian suzerainty ethnic Russians, promoting the illiberal logic of an ethno-state reducing Ukraine to a rump and cast Kiev as a border town, wiping Ukraine’s old border off the map.

The result would be to reduce the sovereignty of any Ukrainian “state” to a permeable polygon.

The initial mobilization of increased materiel that the Russian government had invested from hypersonic missiles to potential nuclear torpedos, eager to be installed in the Black sea and stationed in increased proximity to much of Europe, whose energy independence was already steeply compromised by their acquisition of and dependence on Russian oil and gas.

Ukraine became a “red line” to which Russia wanted to gesture, and indeed prominently fix on the map, as visibly as the US-Mexico Border Wall, as the Kremlin repeatedly warned the “red lines” on its maps could not be ignored by any “broadening NATO of infrastructure on Ukrainian territory”–as if the defensive alliance were intended to provide a challenge to Russian sovereign authority.

To be sure, the challenge of Ukraine’s hopes for its own sovereignty were already unprecedentedly threatened by massing from 2020 of military to the east within Russia–

Ukrinform, July, 2020

–far, far beyond the occupation forces that were already located in occupied eastern regions of Ukraine, and which completed a possible pincer operation simultaneously invading Ukraine from multiple borders and sides, as it tacitly pointed fingers at Washington, D.C. for encouraging Ukraine as an upstart by a growing escalation of force.

Russian Presence in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts by 1st (Donetsk) and 2nd (Luhansk) Army Corps (AC) 

If Moscow shifted troops to Ukraine’s border to prevent Ukraine from becoming European, or, more accurately, to prevent its development as a democratic liberal state, the demonization of an imagined “expansion” of NATO eastward was imagined as an invasive virus, and a threat to an imagined Great Power status not of Russia, but the Soviet Union, and indeed Russian empire. Yet one can only understand the violence of the massive attacks that were to be unleashed against Ukraine as a last gasp of empire, an in a late imperial rationality of defending the imagined sovereignty across borders, boundaries, and ethnic identity, at a time when Ukraine was a part of the USSR, as much as a satellite states, and “satellite states” were not mapped by GPS satellites but rigid lines and shades of red, whose borders were more nominal than meaningful.

Soviet Satellite States | Schoolshistory.org.uk
Soviet Satellite States

We risk presenting the struggle for Ukrainian independence in the narrative of great powers, however, overlooking the deep threats of the denial of Ukraine’s architecture as a nation-state. The great-power narrative unhelpfully Vladimir Putin as a chess grandmaster whose strategic planning were not thuggish and indecorous land-grabs of illegality. By annexing Crimea, provoking uprisings in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donbas–Donetsk and Luzhansk, or carving out a “confederation” made of breakaway “republics” of the evocative name Novorossiya, Putin had made Ukraine less a state than a mythic geography, conjuring it as part of a Greater Russia of Romantic cast. If WInston Churchill suggested with despair that Russia so opaque to be was a riddle, wrapped in mystery, wrapped in an enigma, a belittling metaphor of evoking the Beriozka doll, the alleged anger at Ukraine joining NATO mapped by an imperial imaginary of Russia tied to Ukraine, and to the seat of the historical Kievan Rus’, long sacred to the Orthodox church, wrapped in the historical Warsaw Pact, wrapped in the hopes for a future petrostate, but haunted by the fear of any recognition for a neighboring liberal state and its political autonomy

Putin seemed to have abandoned Novorossiya as a stillborn project by 214, but continued to meet with cronies in Gazprom over maps. We cast Ukraine as a chessboard, not a nation, but the Russian hostility to the NATO membership of Ukraine openly ignores the fear of recognizing Ukraine as an independent state. Ukraine’s reduction to an ethnic battleground in a Cold War geopolitical landscape led the imagined “Union of People’s Republics” to force Ukraine back into a new rebirth of the old USSR where Vladimir Putin was a lieutenant colonel, the “New Russia” foreign to any maps returns Ukraine to a Russian “sphere of influence” more nostalgic than actual, but with its own secure lines of transporting natural gas into the old Eastern bloc, and deep ancestral ties to the old empire whose imaginary remains stubbornly slow to fade. While Russian negotiators told Americans that they didn’t plan to invade Ukraine at all–“There is no reason to fear some sort of escalatory scenario” rebuffed Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister in early January–demands not to allow Ukraine into NATO were an apparent denial of its sovereign status, long before bombs rained indiscriminately on civilians, including hospitals where doctors were forced to heal wounded Russian soldiers at gun point.

And despite

Putin Alexei Miller
Putin and REUTERS/Aleksey Nikoskyi/RIA Novosti/POOL
Lugansk and Donetsk
“Novorossiya,” c. 2014

Despite notoriously low participation in the Crimea’s “referendum” on rejoining Russia–a vote estimated by Russian President’s Human Rights Council, per a leaked report, at a measly 30%–the annexation of the region was accepted, rather than risking open conflict, despite military presence of Russian soldiers in the Crimean peninsula. The deep danger for viewing Russian aims in Ukraine in a “Great Powers” lens grows almost a decade later, imagining the division of Ukraine into sectors that resonate with a Cold War paradigm, is that it ignores the largest fear of a liberal state on Russia’s borders.

Ukraine was compromised as a nation-state, long before its borders were threatened with troops. Divided not by a Civil War so much as by Russia militarily occupying Crimea and significant parts of its east where Russian language remained dominant. The Russian government had recently fast-tracked nearly 800,000 passports, as part of a policy of “passport proliferation” that seemed to have aimed to restore a reduced Warsaw Pact by issuing a slew of some five to ten million passports to the diaspora of Russians from Georgia’s South Ossetia, Moldava’s Transnistria, and Ukraine’s Crimea and Donbas–a sort of “buffer” of peoples that Russia decided it would decree to expand the boundaries of state security, and even military intervention–both to address a growing demographic crisis by 2019, and to cement an ethno-linguistic identity as a regional foreign policy for annexing Crimea and Donbas by 2014–

effectively exploiting the division between “Russian” and Ukrainian language to undermine the hopes of a nation-state. While the intense violence since directed to Ukraine may have no logic, its undermining of Ukraine’s borders is an undermining of a project of sovereign status in favor of the idea of a “Russky Mir,” or a “Russian World” that reassembled a mythic Russian collective that denies the existence of Ukraine as a nation unable to be wracked by civil war.

As the government of Russia has responded to the threat of the expansion of NATO by a policy of increasingly ‘passporting’ former subjects of formerly Soviet territories, time past was folded into time present and the future, and time future projected as present in time past, and all of time eternally present in the invasion of Ukraine, in a historical pastiche of postmodern proportions. T.S. Eliot references aside, the burning of Kyiv and many wonder if Russia’s end was not lying in its historical beginnings, as the fixation on the political identity of Ukraine suggests Putin’s plans to affirm his historical legacy as reversing the dissolution of the Soviet spheres of influence by recuperation of the mythic imaginary of the historically Russian areas of the Kievan Rus’ beyond the early restructuring of Crimea. And if Putin had already commissioned a new global atlas of the world that will adjust the possibly problematic names of cities from Ukrainian to Russian toponymy, so that the resulting product will better rerlect “historical and geographic truth” by ensuring, as he quite aspirationally told the Geographical Society of Russia, and “preserve Russia’s contribution to the study of the sciences and the planet, lest they vanish from the map from the South Pole to Crimea, pushing back on how some nine hundred Ukrainian cities and towns shed previously imposed commemorative place-names since 1990, once honoring Marx, Engles, Lenin, or the leader of Russian Secret Police, Felix Dzerzhinsky, under auspices of Ukraine’s Institute for National Memory, a Gorbachev-era forum dedicated to “decommunization” and reckoning with the Soviet past: 946 towns and cities were slotted for renaming by 2016.

Vladimir Putin Is Redrawing the Map of the World to Reflect How Russia Sees  It
Putin Studied Map of Crimea, 2016

Yet if such linguistic maps are argued to be an explanation of civil strife or sovereign combustability of Ukraine, in ways that justify the intervention of Russia in Ukrainian territory on ethnic grounds, the ethno-national logic of Putin’s justification of meddling in Ukraine’s bounds and sovereignty rests on the deep commitment to “moral values rooted in Christianity and other world religions” that Putin has argued the “Euro-Atlantic states have taken the way which they deny or reject,” linking the Russian Orthodox church to Russian government and moral values, extolling the icon in early modern ways. Even as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church metropolitan Epiphanius I has likened Putin to the Anti-Christ or that the “spirit of the Anti-Christ operates in the leader of Russia,” the invocation of orthodoxy as a basis to justify Russian expansion plays on ethno-nationalist grounds akin to the proliferation of passports to discredit the West in Eastern Europe in ways that have only grown since the possibility of NATO’s expansion eastward: if only in 2018 did the Ukrainian Orthodox Church split from the Patriarchate of Moscow, to which it had remained subservient since 1686, the religious split reveals deep tensions in redrawing the map.

While the European Union had offered the possibility of membership to Ukraine and Georgia back in what seems the other world of 2008, dangling the prospect of “Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO” of both states as an opportunity that was on the table. The promise presumed eastward expansion of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization beyond Poland and Hungary, to Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, as well as Slovakia and Romania able to pick up the peaces of the disbanded Warsaw Pact. Russian reaction to Ukraine the affirmation “these countries will become members of NATO,” was perhaps far less a “whiplash” than the culmination of Putin’s immediate warning of “most serious consequences of European security” would provoked an unprecedented “direct threat” of almost existential terms, that would make Ukraine not a “border” of Russia–it gained its name as a “borderland” of the Kievan Rus’–but, in ways by which Putin seems to have become increasingly haunted, with its own identity as a nation-state.

The concerns of processing the presence of some twenty Russian or Russian-allied military forces around the nation’s border forced us to try to an intractable geographical impasse of Ukraine’s place in Europe, or, as Russia insists, the periphery of Russian sovereignty–if not the sovereignty of the borders of Ukraine. As Ukraine tried to shift its status as a borderland in Cold War maps of old, and the new security structure of a European Union, the world confronted the emergence of a New Cold War, haunted by the division of separate spheres of dominance.

r/MapPorn - NATO members (blue) and warsaw pact members (red) in cold war era
Separate Spheres of Dominance in Cold War Global Map

1. The public perception of an “inflection point” of the eastward expansion of NATO resuscitated a Cold War geography: yet can the fixity of these old spheres of influence fully explain the massing of troops on Ukraine’s borders? To be sure, right-wing American commentariat, obsessed over the dangers of NATO expansion and eager to see American disentanglement from Europe, openly argued that NATO expansion was the precipitating reason for broad military invasion that would kill civilians and destroy hospitals, schools, monasteries, and villages. But the illegality of the invasion that only led Russian state news to recycle Tucker Carlson’s buoyant defense that the Russian invasion is “only protecting its interest and security,” was as popular among Russian government as his asking viewers “how would the United States behave if such a situation [of placing military bases] developed in neighboring Mexico and Canada?”, evoking a Cuban missile crisis playbook of the past. Carlson’s isolationist pro-Putin rhetoric imitates Russian government in subsuming “Ukraine” as a nation in the long memory of spheres of national influence, in which eastward expansion of NATO boded a redrawing of a global map–and ignored the range of missiles, radar systems, and missile interceptors that have already been deployed in the European theater by an expanded NATO since 2019–all exclusively purchased from American contractors and weapons systems manufacturers, long imagined as a “missile shield” over Europe.

NATO-Ballistic-Missile-Defense - Silk Road Briefing
NATO Ballistic Missile Defense System

The demand for “security guarantees” Russia had demanded from Western powers as NATO and the United States since before December has lead, however, to the placement of the Ukraine conflict in a Great Power narrative, as if this were at all informative. Yet the expansion of military defense systems across Central Europe belies the continued finger-wagging of right-wing political scientists like John Mearsheimer long wagged their fingers at NATO expansion in the face of a great power geography.

Germany to send additional troops to Lithuania | News | DW | 07.02.2022
NATO Battlergroups in Eastern and Central Europe, 2022

The Times found Russia’s unprecedented massing of troops along the northern border of Ukraine risked “Reigniting the Cold War Despite its Risks” (January 20, 2022), describing a global power struggle as as if Ukraine’s independent sovereignty was not a crucial puzzle piece in the dilemma. The headline trumpets fears of a new Cold War in Europe, over thirty years after the original Cold War had ceased as the primary lens for geopolitical security, triggered fears of a familiar tinderbox on the borders of Russia, as its leader invoked a narrative of border security and national vulnerability to invade a separate sovereign country. Indeed, the possible rejoining of a Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the United States abandoned in 2019, accusing Russia of long violating the terms of a treaty signed thirty years ago, in the Cold War world. If these missiles were long seen as a basis for European security, Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, missile deployment is a smokescreen for deep fears of an open democracy.

Even if Ukraine, once in the Warsaw Pact, shares a border of over 2,000 km–about the span of the United States’ frontier with Canada on the 49th parallel from Washington to Minnesota, or, alternatively from New York to Chicago. But the border was less the point, or even its length, than the pipelines that allow the petroleum state to reach other members of the old Warsaw Pact, leaving them dependent on Russia for gas.

Image
Brian Taylor

As much as the expansion of NATO, however, the possible of claiming Ukrainian sovereignty of its borders was denied by the troops clustered along Ukraine’s borders who menace crossing into its territory on world view. The massive stationing of Russian and pro-Russian troops on the border seemed something of a performance piece, and something of a threat to end Ukrainian’s European aspirations.

Global conflicts along borders have long been dominating the national news, but all of sudden the edges of borders are up for debate as a debate that contrasts national identity to spheres of influence inherited from the Cold War. The presence of some 190,000 assorted troops of the Russian Federation on or near to Ukraine’s borders is a power play, committed to wrench the region from NATO, if by asserting, as Vladimir Putin has claimed, Ukraine is not in fact a state. Fears of the destabilization of a Cold War geography seem to lie far more deeply rooted in the calculus of Vladimir Putin, who had entered politics after over a decade as a Cold War spook, two years before the declaration.

NATO: Why Russia has a problem with its eastward expansion | Europe | News  and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 23.02.2022

The characterization of Putin the intellectual image of the “chess player” looking at long-term national strategy seemed less in evidence than attachment to the borders of the Cold War bent against the formation of a liberal state. Putin’s preposterous claim that Ukraine was only born as a state as a geostrategic part of the USSR is not only preposterous, but deeply haunted, one might speculate, by a lost geography of the Kievan Rus’, and a sense of preserving the former Soviet Union from the autonomy that its individual states, or soviets, were allowed–and indeed the danger of according such privileges to regions as Georgia and Ukraine, each of which had been offered a partial promise back in 2008 by NATO that they might join the security organization, after Putin had already refused to allow Ukraine to gain such a degree of independence or sovereignty as a state.

The survival of that promise by December 2021 was deeply troubling to Putin as he began to open dialogue with Joe Biden about the military architecture of Europe, and feared the increased unity of Europe and NATO as an alliance. As NATO secretary stressed these plans had not changed, Putin dismissed the “right of every nation to chose its path [and] . . . what kind of security arrangements it wants to be part of” by denying the rights of Ukraine as a nation. And as he claimed Ukraine to be a creation of the USSR, as if it were its property, “entirely created by Russia,” he denied any sovereignty as a state, as if a new Cold War might begin by reassembling the Russian diaspora from an earlier, mythic imaginary, not rooted in a map of nation-states, alliances among states, or national security but indulging a deeper ethnic identity.

Perhaps, in this sense, any paradigm of earlier treaties are not the point, from the Cold War to the Warsaw Pact, even if Putin saw the prospect of NATO membership as an aggressive act that ignored his ultimatum. There may be much in Fiona Hill’s fearsome observation that the maps that Putin is reasoning from are not at all from the Cold War–“I also worry about it in all seriousness,” she confessed, that in the pandemic, as we pondered global biorisks, “Putin’s been down in the archives of the Kremlin during Covid looking through old maps and treaties and all the different borders that Russia has had over the centuries,” obsessing with how the borders of Russia and Europe have changed and how Russia might be reconstituted in Europe, and magnifying the consequences of Russians in Ukraine joining NATO. More than believing Putin intends to wipe Ukraine from the map, it was as a state that “it doesn’t belong on his map of the ‘Russian world'” and its borders or the borders of Europe were provisory on all maps: if NATO seems to think that it can dignify the state’s place in a security structure, Hill sees Putin as denying its sovereignty to affirm the notion of “Novorossiya”–a ‘new Russia’–that in 2014 he imagined as a republic from Odessa to Karkhiv, whose own borders interrupted Ukraine from a map; if the hypothetical confederacy was abandoned by the republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, following high level meetings of the United States and Russia, it had gained an independent flag and conceptual momentum bolstered by the decision of Russia and Bielorussia to withdraw from the International Criminal Court as it considered the criminality of actions of annexing Crimea–as it recognized the “armed conflict between Russia and Crimea” as claiming nearly 10,000 lives since men in military uniforms siezed control of the Crimean parliament, appointed a new prime minister who was a shadowy businessman nicknamed “the Goblin,” as the police-men who have been placed puppet leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk, with less practiced in politics than policing.

INTERACTIVE Ukraine Donbas region Feb
Putin’s Puppet “Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk

And as the emergence of Donetsk and Luhansk agains as “break-away” republics conjure a map of Russian transnational sovereignty that trumps Ukraine’s sovereign independence is often cast by Moscow as engaged in a “Civil War,” the proposed partitioned gained little traction or public support–and indeed invited such opposition to be classified as terrorist organizations: the mythic republic condemned for undermining any sense of self-determination were again recognized as states by Moscow in February, 2022, precipitating the invasion of Ukraine.

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Blurred Boundaries and Indigenous Lands

Geodesy has long increased the number of claims by extractive industries through remote sensing, and especially over indigenous lands. Yet crowd-sourced tools of geolocation have also enabled a range of counter-maps of indigenous native land claims that have pushed back on how industries that have increased access to the resources buried beneath the very lands to which indigenous groups have ancestral claims. Indeed, powerfully innovative webmaps like NativeLands provide not only a new standard for cartographic literary, but to achieve epistemic change. They offer an opportunity for ethical redress of the lost of lands indigenous have roundly suffered from the uninvited Anglo settlers of North America. And they reflect a broad legal search to redraw the bounds of indigenous maps, rooted less along exclusive claims of property–or property laws of fixed ownership that reflect a history of the session of land by native peoples, often signed under duress and without clear understanding of the historical consequences of treaties that ended precedents for land claims. The growth of consciousness of ancestral land claims has promoted a need to accommodate property claims that had promoted a mapping of jurisdiction along clearly demarcated lines, ending or eroding indigenous land claims, and parallel the search for a new legal framework to acknowledge and recognize past claims of historical habitation that had been eroded by a treaties, land cessions from claims of collective possession, and fit a new legal language of ancestral lands often excluded from property law.

Canada constitutionally only explicitly recognizes three groups of aboriginal or indigenous–the Inuit, Métis, and generic “First Nations”–the multi-color blocks of native lands and historic “cessions” of tribal lands suggested a new understanding of how Canada had long celebrated its multiculturalism as a “mosaic” and not a “melting pot”–but showed the divisions of the land claims of a plurality of indigenous groups never recognized by Canadian law–and still quite problematically recognized in public acknowledgements of respect for land long inhabited by indigenous or “autchothones” proclaimed with piety by national airlines whose flight paths criss cross endangered boreal forests that tribes have long inhabited.

Air Canada went to pains the national company took at presenting a land acknowledgment in the form of a public announcement to all passengers, as if a remediation of the incursion of their airspace. But the video quickly turns to promote the airline as a platform for personal advancement that actual indigenous elders–if not leaders–embraced, affirming the cultural mosaic called into question if not challenged by the shard-like divisions staked on NativeLands, and its maps of historical land sessions. The flight over land seems to acknowledge indigenous claims to regions of pure waters and lands of a boreal forest, that maps an odd acknowledgement of indigenous presence from the air–paired with testimonials from Air Canada workers of native parentage attesting to longstanding fascination with the planes flying above over native lands and in airspace that was never properly defined–and the company’s commitment to secure these rights, as the major national company of state-run transportation.

–that suggest a respect traditions from the perspective of the modernity of air flight–as First Nations asserted data sovereignty over the lands they inhabit by a system of automated drones from 2016, to build a transportation infrastructure available to communities often isolated from infrastructure roads–and the notable fact that Canadian indigenous constitute the fastest-growing population in Canada, a notable fact of increased political significance, raising questions of the integration of their communities that could be reconciled with the historical transfer of land in the numbered treaties, 1871-1012, to transfer tracts of lands to the crown for promises that were rarely kept.

The odd status of indigenous lands in the nation puts the national airline of Canada at a unique relation to indigenous territories in recent years: while Canada’s divided system of federal sovereignty has begun to affirm aboriginal title in legal terms, and recognize autonomy of regions of indigenous settlement within Canadian sovereignty of the entire nation, the status of First Nation’s title are like islands of federal supervision in provinces, leaving national agencies like Air Canada, which reserves Parliament’s legislative jurisdiction over “Indians and lands reserved for Indians,” in an outdated legal formulation, a unique and privileged ties to lands of aboriginal title: the title of the nation is understood as parallel to and not in conflict with historical title of First Nations, which are incorporated into the nation as islands of federal sovereignty which still exists over the regions of the Numbered Treaties, which have never been legally dissolved.

Numbered-Treaties-Map.svg

Numbered Treaties and Land Cessions with Indigenous First Peoples, 1871-1921

Is Air Canada, the national airline service, not acting as a proxy of the federal government in acknowledging the continued land claims of Native Peoples hold to old growth boreal forests below routes the airline often flies? The question of indigenous properties and indigenous autonomy is in a sense bracketed over areas Canada acquired from Great Britain in 1867 and purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Company three years later? The increasingly pressing question of how to acknowledge native sovereignty is hoped to be accommodated to the Canadian image of a “cultural mosaic” of sorts, and the NativeLands offers what might be best seen as a response to that mosaic–not an image of interlocking shining cultures of sparkling individuality, but the overlapping rights of possession not rooted in firm boundary lines, but in forests, rivers, and streams, not as a generic bucolic region out of cities or accessible infrastructure, but a new form of mapping, rooted in notions of neighboring places, and acting as a neighbor to places–and inhabiting spaces–that is distinct from an Anglo-American system of property rights.

To Learn More about the Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Click the ‘About Us’ Onscreen Tab”

For although the maps of Anglo settlers–attracted by the shifting global markets for goods, from cotton, to gold, to petroleum, all claimed without consent from their longtime inhabitants–erased or omitted local claims to land by those seen as nomadic, and of an earlier historical developmental stage, with a cutting logic of relegating their very presence to the past, the reframing of collective memories to inhabiting lands and regions offers a plastic and particularly valuable cartographic resource for remediating the future. The change parallels the first assertion of reversionary practices to land title, marked by. the Nisga’a Land Title act of 2000, which guaranteed title to lands outside of a historic chain of property deeds, allowing the determination of titles dependent on competing interests, by which the state can ensure ownership that incorporate traditional ways of recording property interests, outside of a property system of deeds: the new legal authority of the state may as well have inspired, this post suggests, a new form of mapping, in a webmap able to register mutually competing interests in compatible ways, rather than privileging historical titles of written form. In this sense, the growth of webmaps offer a new form of an open repository for competing claims, not linked to a legal system that has long favored colonial or settler claims.

The problem of a project of decolonization of course was greater than a map could achieve–but the relentless colonization of indigenous spaces and places needed a public document or touchstone to return. The presence of native tribes was never in question during the colonization of the continent–if one can only ponder the notion of the Library of Congress, Daniel Boorstin, who commemorated the approach of European and native cultures as so culturally fruitful for American culture, rather than one of loss. But how to take stock of the scale of loss? Northern California has been recently a site of active indigenous resistance to a legacy of colonization, the cartographic unearthing of land claims offers a new appreciation of increasing pluralistic possibilities of occupying the land.

Webmaps offer the possibility of stripping away existing boundaries, in cartographically creative ways, by interrogating the occupation of what was always indigenously occupied in new ways. Henry David Thoreau was plaintive as he voyaged down the Concord River, realizing how native lands had been not only usurped by the introduction of European grasses and trees, not only leading the apple tree to bloom beside the Juniper, but brought with them the bee that stung its original settlers; pushing downriver and “yearning toward all wilderness,” he asked readers, “Penacooks and Mowhawks! Ubique gentium sunt?” The signs of longstanding presence are not erased, but present on the map. And although lack of fixed boundaries on native lands have long provided an excuse to stake claims that exclude inhabitants who are seen as nomadic, or not settled in one place, and laying claim or title to it, and “without maps,” the blurred boundaries of NativeLands re-places longtime residents on the map, wrestling with the long-term absence of indigenous on the map.

NativeLands.ca

It is, perhaps, not a surprise that the crowd-sourced interactive website Native Land Digital that was the brainchild of Victor Temprano, in the midst of the heady environment, CEO of Mapster who worked on a pipeline-related project, circa 2016. The sourcing of maps for indigenous land claims was pushed by his own anti-pipeline activity that involved remapping the place of planned lines of transport of crude oil from the boreal forest south to New Orleans on the KXL project and to Northwest ports Victoria threatened native lands and the ecological environments exposed to threats by drilling and clearcutting and risks of leaks. The current live charting at a live API offers total coverage of the globe, as may be increasingly important not only at a time of increasing unrestrained mineral extraction to produce energy but the retreat of ice in global melting that will alter animal migration routes, thawing permafrost, and sudden drainages of inland lakes that might call attention to new practices of land preservation.

The rich API provides a reorientation to the global map promising a powerful new form of orientation. Temprano, an agile mapmaker, political activist and marketer, framed the question of a more permanent digital repository of a global database of indigenous geography, that put the question of indigenous map front and center on the internet globally. The product, that led to an ambitious open source non-profit, sidestepped the different conceptions of space, time, and distance among indigenous communities, or the blurriness of fluid bounds, and opted the benefits outweighed the costs of an imagined the collection of maps of ancestral lands in term by the GIS tools of boundaries, layers, and vector files, as a rich counter-map to settler claims, able to collate lands, language and treaty boundaries on a global scale. The dynamically interactive open-source interactive project, known for its muted pastel colors, rather than the harsh five-color cartography that reify sovereign lines that posits divide as tacit primary categories of knowledge, is subtly compelling in its alternative non-linear format, that invests knowledge in sensitivity to the contributions of each of its viewers: dynamic, and administered by a non-profit with native voices on its board.

It is, inventively, able to maintain the dual display of a site where one could easily navigate between native and Canadian place-names and explore “indigenous territory,” as if it might be mapped by mapping space onto time in the broadly used cartographic conventions that have developed and flourished in online mapping ecosystems–and offered the benefit of creating layers able to be toggled among to layers of treaties by which land was legally ceded, overlapping language groups, and a decolonized space that was particularly sensitive in Canada, where the ability to engage outside colonial boundaries had been placed on the front burner by extractive industries. There is a sense, in the crowd-sourced optimism that recalls the early days of OpenStreetMap and HOT OSM, of the rewriting of maps and the opening of often erased land claims that crashed like so many ruins that accumulate like a catastrophe as wreckage that has piled at the feat of an Angel of History who is violently propelled by the winds to the future, so she is unable to ever make the multiple claims and counter-claims in the wreckage at her feet whole, and the pile of ruins constituted our sense of the progress of the present, even as it grows toward the sky. Was this a new take on the cultural mosaic of Canada, now revised as a problem of staking claims to the visions of property that the land cessions of the Native Treatise of Canada erased.

The website was the direct reaction to the active search for possibilities of extracting underground petrochemical reserves on indigenous lands in Canada. The growth of the website north of the border however has resonated globally, underscoring the deep cultural difficulties of recognizing title to lands that was long occupied by earlier settlers. If many of the claims to petroleum and mineral extraction in indigenous land is cast as economic–and for the greatest good–the petrochemical claims are rooted in an aggressive military invasion, and are remembered on NativeLands.Ca as the result of abrogated treaties and land cessions that must be acknowledged as outright theft.

The history of a legacy of removing land claims and seizing lands where Anglos found value has led many to realize the tortured legacy–and the unsteady grounds on which to stand to address the remapping of native lands. General Wesley Clark, Jr. acknowledged at Standing Rock, asking forgiveness in 2016, almost searching for words–“Many of us are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. . . . We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways, but we’ve come to say that we are sorry.” Crowd-sourced maps of claims on NativeLands offer an attempt at remediation, although a remediation that might echo, as Chief Leonard Crow Dog responded at Standing Rock, “we do not own the land–the land owns us.”

Oceti Sakowin (Sacred Stone) camp near the Standing Rock Reservation, Cannon Ball, North Dakota, United States on December 6, 2016.

The sacred lands that had long reserved sacred lands in ancestral territory to indigenous tribes were indeed themselves contested at Standing Rock in 2015-6, when the 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie that assigned Sioux territory east of the Missouri River and including the water that runs through these ancestral lands as including the water, but the protection of these waters as within ancestral lands was not only challenged but denied by the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, even if the water runs through Sioux territory, as it long had, leading the Sioux Nation to bring suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers for having planned the pipeline through their ancestral lands, and attracting support of military veterans who objected to the continued use of Army Engineers to route the pipeline through historical and cultural sites of the Upper Sioux that ran against the lands reserved fort he Sioux nation.

Indian Claims Classification Determination of Sioux Territory across Missouri River

The challenge or undermining of ancestral claims to land by the DAPL offered a basis for accounting or tallying of the respect of previous treaties and land claims. In the rise of the webmaps Native Lands, a new and unexpected use was made of the very cartographic tools that facilitate international petrochemical corporations–and indeed military forces–to target lands valued for mineral production with unprecedented precision have helped to stake a claims for the land’s value that undercut local claims to sovereignty. The website offers a way to preserve claims that were never staked earlier so clearly, and to do so in dialogue with broken treaties as a counter-map taking stock of the extent of indigenous lands. It is as if, within the specters of extractive industries’ deep desire to possess the targeted energy reserves, and at the end of a history of dispossession and destruction, the indigenous that were systematically killed and removed from their lands over the nineteenth century, at whose close 90-99% were killed, in a massive and unprecedented theft of land, forcing them from migratory habits to receive religious instruction and live on bound lands to which they were confined. In Canada, where NativeLands grew, displacement of land rights began from clearing herds of bison herds from Prairies to begin construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the principle commercial artery to the West, that had by 1869 shifted indigenous resources to rations that rarely arrived, to be replaced by cattle on lands settled by European farmers and style of agriculture. The melancholy history Plenty Coups framed of the extinction of Crow sovereignty went beyond land rights: “when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift hem up again: after this, nothing happened.”

Time stopped because the imposition of new modes of agrarian regime recast native lands as terra nullius to be settled by Anglo and European farmers, a surrender of land title from 1871-1921 that nullified local land claims. The cartographer and framer of the U.S. Census, newly appointed to what would be the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Francis Amasa Walker conducted the first review of 300,000 Native American in the United States of 1874, trying to sort out the theft of land over four hundred treaties. Walker’s agency was not clear, but if he bemoaned theft of ancestral lands fertile and rich with game, confined in land that could not support them and dependent on rations, there is some sort of redress in how the NativeLands maps invites us to retrace the sessions of lands that undermined these tribal claims, and erased these nations, not deemed fit to have place or stake belonging in American made maps that Walker helped to codify, placing the loss of land that Plenty Coups did so much to try to protect and retain, against all odds, in making trips to Washington DC to allow Crow claims to survive in this new White Man’s world. Even if the claims that he preserved were less than they had been originally allotted–just 80%–he forestalled desires to claim land for gold prospecting and mineral extraction that are effectively on the cutting block once again today.

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Filed under American genocide, California, data visualizations, native lands, thanksgiving

Get Me Out of Here, Fast: Escape from D.C.?

The forced monotone of Donald Trump’s public address to the nation on March 12 was a striking contrast from his most recent State of the Union address. He sought to calm the nation as it faced the pandemic of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in what was perhaps his most important public address. On the verge of breaking beneath the gravity of circumstances that spun far out of his control, however, rather than show his customary confidence, Trump seemed a President scrambling and in panic mode trying to rehearse stale tropes, but immobilized by events.

President Trump tried to look as presidential as possible, re-inhabiting a role of authority that he had long disdained, as he was forced to address a nation whose well-being he was not in control. The national narrative, as it was begun by WHO’s declaration of a pandemic, was perhaps seen as a narrative which seemed to spin out of his control, below his eyes, as he tried to calm markets by addressing the nation in what he must have imagined to have been as reassuring tones as he could summon. With his hands grasped but thumbs flickering, as if they were a fire under which he sat, as if he were wriggling like a kid strapped in the back seat of a car where he was a passenger to God-knows-where, wrestling with the increasing urgency that his aides demanded he address the outbreak of the virus in the United States that he had long tried to deny. Serial flag-waving continued to fuel President Trump’s attacks on China and the World Health Organization, as if trying to toe the line of adherence to America First policies of nationalism before a global catastrophe, that did not compute. If America First as a doctrine allows little room for empathy, affirming national greatness and the importance of a logic of border closures was all he could offer, and would be predictably lacking reassurance or empathy as he attempted to create a connection at a defining moment of his Presidency, but looked particularly pained.

March 11, 2020

If Trump rarely trusted himself to make hand gestures as he plighted through the speech, thumbs flickering, hands clasped, he every so often seemed distinctly out of synch with his austere surroundings, gold curtains drawn to reveal two flags, barely aware, perhaps, that the eyes of the world were very much on his performance in this new sound studio to which he was not fully accustomed, trying to explain that he had undertaken measures that had made us safe, even if he must have been worrying that the lack of worry he had been projecting and urging in previous weeks had risen across the nation, and his performance was not calming them at all. He was tasked with describing the vulnerability of the nation to the novel coronavirus whose effects he had downplayed repeatedly, but was no longer able to dismiss, and no longer able to concede posed a far greater threat to the American economy than the danger of “illegal” migrants he had so often pointed to as a cause of national decline: the virus that had already crossed our borders repeatedly, since the first cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in San Jose and Seattle, would potentially bring down his presidency, and he lacked any ability to explain the scale of the effects of the virus that he had effectively helped release by ignoring warning signs.

Oval Office address of Wednesday, March, 11, 2020. Doug Mills / The New York Times)

The link of America to the world defined in his America First candidacy–even made the very identification of a pandemic difficult to process. And he did so in the starkest national backdrop possible, vaunting his closing of borders, suspension of “flights” from China, and ties to Europe–even as he encouraged Americans to return from abroad, and had allowed unmonitored entrance of Europeans and world travelers into New York that would make it the site of the entrance of the disease to the majority of American cities where the viral load arrived, with over 900 people entering America through New York daily for months after China suspended travel from Wuhan on January 23–after China called the outbreak “controllable” on New Year’s Eve. The declaration that echoed the concerns of the World Health Organization may have been buried in global celebrations, even as Trump blamed it for starting a sense of false complacence before undeniably “real” news that he feared would come to define his Presidency.

Trump was unable to accept declarations of the World Health Organization had just called the coronavirus outbreak–an outbreak which, we now know, he had in fact been hearing alerts from American intelligence as early as November 17, about the outbreak of cases of the novel coronavirus in Hubei province, rather than January, when initial infections in the United States were reported. As much as Trump found it difficult to admit the vulnerability of the United States to a global pandemic–or to the recommendations issued by WHO–who set the caduceus that symbolized medical ethics authority over the North American continent–at which he bristled at the notion of a global scope of edicts across boundaries, as if a map where national divides were erased as if it compromised national authority for a disease the President has been uncannily persistent in localizing in China, even before an increasing preponderance of evidence of its global circulation and transmission over a series of months.

Fabric Coffrini, AFP

As cascading fears grew in markets across the world, Trump was perhaps forced to realize his new relation to the world, even as the German stock exchanges plummeted as the measures he announced seem either difficult to process, or failing to address the importance of maintaining trade ties–or of taking adequately prudent steps of public health.

Slumping in his seat at the Resolute Desk, perhaps contemplating how no predecessor had ever delivered on air unprepared remarks from the desk, and visibly discomfited in doing so. He must have hoped to make up for his televised performance by sending surrogates scrambling to social media, issuing clarifications for misstatements–as the exemption offered U.S. citizens to return from China, or the exemption of Ireland, as well as England, and an assurance that trade would “in no way be affected” by the ban, as markets had reacted poorly to his performance. While it seemed that Trump was cognitively unable to process the possibility of a crumbling American economy–and a decline of America’s place in a global economy–under his watch, a prospect faced since he had met with airline executives with whom he discussed the effects of stopping flights of foreign nationals from China in a March 4 meeting, offering them a bailout that limited the impact economic effects of heightened travel advisories, is it possible he had no sense of the massive fallout on the national economy?

March 11 Address/Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

As Trump spoke, global markets not only failed to register confidence–but plummeted, as he revealed no clear plans to to call for social distancing to contain the spread of the virus, and revealed that lack of national preparation for confronting an infectious disease that had no vaccine. He may have remembered that he had outright fired a former cabinet member, barely remembered in the rogue’s gallery of administration, Tom Bossert, who had demanded preparedness “against pandemics” and a “comprehensive biodefence strategy” of the sort the previous administration of Pres. Barack Obama had tried to institute, or that a simulation of a pandemic that could devastate the American economy and kill up to half a million revealed in October 2019 “just how underfunded, underprepared and uncoordinated the federal government would be for a life-or-death battle with a virus for which no treatment existed.”

It seems likely he was rather trying to conceal the massive scale of lying to the nation about the effects of an economic downturn unprecedented in scale, but which the increased lines at Wuhan’s Tianyou Hospital the previous November had already indicated had a problem of infectious diseases on their hands that would have a potentially global consequence. Trump tried to spin the consequences as purely local, in an unprecedented wishful thinking whose scale of deception far exceeded the pathological deceits he had long taken to perpetrate on investors, business partners, and even on family members–from hiding his older brother’s treasured trucks that were a Christmas gift and then admonishing him not to cry, or he would destroy them before his eyes. Even as satellite imagery showed a clear rush to hospital emergency rooms in Wuhan in November, as clusters of cars marked in red crowded the emergency rooms that revealed “a steep increase in volume starting in August 2019 and culminating in a peak in December 2019,” when China began epidemiological investigations that led to identifying and sequence of the novel coronavirus by January 12, ten days before the city went on lockdown to contain its spread.

Annotated Satellite Photographs of Wuhan’s Tianyou Hospital in September 2019

While Trump registered no alarm at the arrival of the very pandemic whose global impact American simulations feared would cripple the national economy, he tried to offer spin on having closed borders to the virus, as if it were not already diffused within the country, in a mind over matter sort of exercise that suggested limits purchase on reality, as if he was able to recognize the risk earlier administrations had identified as a national priority.

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Filed under borders, Coronavirus, COVID-19, data visualization, national borders