One of the lies which Russian propaganda has successfully spread throughout the Western media and political discourse is that there was some sort of “Western imperialism” in Libya and Syria which caused chaos and war. This lie is also being spread by the German socialists who are bullshitting their way into appeasing Putin by refusing to help Ukraine to win this war. The ridiculous story as told by the usual Russian sympathisers is that by arming Ukraine, the West will create an unwinnable war like Afghanistan, Syria, or Libya. Afghanistan has got nothing to do with Syria and Libya and is a completely different case with a totally unique history.
I have no idea who this Ralf Stegner is, but I know where his thinking is coming from, and given he is from the SPD, I am definitely sure he has the kind of socialist and communist background which would have exposed him to the Soviet propaganda that still guides his ideas until today. Russian propaganda about the “evil Western empire” goes back to the days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union used to print literally hundreds of thousands of books, magazines, and pamphlets to distribute to socialist parties and NGOs across the world. The propaganda drive by the Soviet Union was relentless and it always projected the West as the evil imperialist which subjugated other countries with chaotic consequences. Russia’s narrative on the US and Europe today is still the same: the West wants to interfere in other countries and when it does so it always causes chaos like it did in Libya and Syria: thus sending tanks and weapons to Ukraine will only make the situation in Ukraine worse. The communists who in their young years romanticised Russia still believe this bullshit including Scholz and his MPs.
Ironically, the last Western imperialist was most probably Italy with its War in Abyssinia. After the conclusion of the Second World War, decolonisation began rapidly with the independence of India. And ironically, during the Cold War, it was the USSR that invaded a country that ended up controlling it directly: Afghanistan. The wars that the US had conducted during this period to counter communist militias, namely the Vietnam War did not end in its favor, yet these were not imperialist wars. They were wars that were unjustifiable and that the US has learned to never repeat but they were not wars of imperial expansion or direct subjugation and they were neither wars that it had started. In both Korea and Vietnam, the US entered an already existing conflict to back a particular side. One could say that the Russians did the same in Afghanistan: they backed one side over the other, but the difference is that the Russians stayed and ended up trying to control the country, unlike the Americans who allowed South Korea to decide its faith while leaving Vietnam altogether. The crimes of the US in the Cold War such as the bombing of Chile in 1973 are well-known and today we wouldn’t even imagine them happening again. Yet, today, the US is moving to another extreme in its foreign policy which is an extremist form of non-intervention that is paving the way for authoritarians like Putin to wage wars with impunity.
Bringing up Syria and Libya as an excuse for Europe and the US not to intervene in Ukraine is downright stupid because they are examples where US intervention was very minimal with non-Western countries being actually more active in these places. They are also both examples where the interference of Russia has actually exacerbated the conflict and entrenched criminal and authoritarian figures.
Let’s get to very simple facts. Libya although still going through a conflict is not a disaster and actually government revenue and GNI is higher than Ghaddafi’s years and remarkably, the Libyan Dinar also held up well against the US Dollar, despite the civil war. Libya’s oil industry is back in action and despite the country’s divisions, Libya has today, a democracy contrary to a brutal dictatorship that imprisons and murders its people while waging terrorist campaigns abroad. People speaking about Libya and Ghaddafi should speak to Libyans themselves who will tell you that Ghaddafi was about to massacre them in 2011 when the Arab Spring had started before French airplanes broke the taboo of Western intervention and bombed Ghaddafi’s forces before they could enter Benghazi and massacre demonstrators. Back then French president Nicholas Sarkozy had embarrassed the US and other Western partners for simply doing the right thing and taking action in Libya while the allies pondered their probabilities. Sarkozy became a hero to Libyans and it was they who eventually turned against their dictator and killed him in broad daylight in front of the whole world to see. They were quite straightforward about it, in fact. Nothing is perfect in history, but the Libyan revolution has put the country to a very brighter future. On the other hand, Russia has, directly and indirectly, damaged and compromised the democratic process in Libya by supporting criminal gangs a war groups such as general Haftar’s group who are fighting an illegitimate and sectarian war against the popularly-elected government in Tripoli. The fact is that in Libya, Western intervention benefited Libyans while Russian intervention is holding the country back.
In Syria, there is an even more clear situation because the West didn’t intervene against the dictator Bashar Al-Assad, but Russia intervened in Assad’s favour and bombed cities like Aleppo to the ground to keep him in power. Assad destroyed his country, displaced millions, and killed hundreds of thousands of people simply to remain in power as his people protested against him. It was very easy to understand the Syrian tragedy as it unfolded and was delivered to us by journalists and citizens. The Syrian rebellion did not begin with organised military groups as Assad would like us to believe, but it originated from soldiers and officers in the military who began deserting for refusing to fire on peaceful demonstrators. Assad only increased his brutal repression and violence which eventually escalated into a military rebellion that is still ongoing today in several areas. ISIS came from Iraq and not Syria, but expanded into Syria soon after taking control of large swathes of areas both from rebels and government-held areas. It was then that the West intervened in 2015 along with many other countries in the region to destroy ISIS, four years after the Syrian revolution had started. The West was never a party to the conflict between Assad and the rebels against him. Today, the US offers logistical and minimal military support to Kurdish rebels in the north after having helped them withstand the ISIS wave. Not only was the West completely absent in the Syrian civil war, but Russia’s support of Assad was so extensive that it could guarantee his power eventually turning him into a Russian puppet. Today, Russia is less involved in Syria after having moved its forces to Ukraine, Iran has a greater role in defending Assad and by default has even greater leverage on him.
It is no coincidence that there are many lies regurgitated about Libya and Syria where Russia has a direct military and political interest. The reality is quite opposite to the Russian anti-Western trope, especially with regards to Syria where the country could have made a democratic transition similar to Libya had the West announced a no-fly-zone promptly before Assad could mobilise his army against his civilians. Instead, Assad was kept in power thanks to Russia’s air support and the country is in ruins. Syria will go down in history as the result of the West’s failure to do the right thing and the magnitude of the tragic result is horrifying. Assad should still face trial for his war crimes and the world will never forget.