All lives are equal but some are more equal than the others. Caucasian lives command a larger premium in the outrage market than others. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine leaches into its fifth week, hundreds of children have been murdered by Putin’s missiles. Thousands have died, been maimed and orphaned. Cities are being bombed to rubble. The nuclear-armed tyrant’s personal ambitions for historical glory have brought untold suffering to Crimea. The West, in a rare show of unity, has banded together to punish Putin and his billionaire cronies. Sanctions have pushed Russia to the brink of a crisis of survival.
In early January 2017, the Russian Air Force flew 19,160 combat missions including 71,000 strikes in Syria. Human rights organisations concluded that around 5,703 civilians, about a quarter of them children, were killed by Russian warplanes by the end of September. More civilians have been massacred in Syria in Russian attacks than slain by Islamic terrorists. The Russians used unguided bombs, cluster bombs, incendiaries such as white phosphorus and thermobaric bombs.
Many of these weapons are being used by Putin against ordinary Ukrainians now. He has threatened to use thermobaric bombs and even a nuclear strike. More sanctions are being announced each day. Western intelligence speculates that Putin may be assassinated in a palace coup—his inner circle is seriously alarmed at the effect the sanctions are having on their wealth, influence and Russia’s profile as a world pariah. Former soldiers and civilians from the US, UK and Europe are rushing to Ukraine to join the war against the invading forces: a former American Special Forces commando said that he couldn’t simply stand by without doing nothing.
However, in Syria, where Putin protects the murderous dictator Bashar al-Assad whose forces have murdered, tortured and raped their own citizens, no similar global outrage is apparent. In October 2018, Putin’s most powerful sycophant Donald Trump used a presidential order to pull US troops from Northern Syria, abandoning its allies in the war against Assad. In Africa, Russia is using military force to support dictators and kill rebels. Private military contractors like the shadowy Wagner Group, controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Putin crony, keep unpopular African leaders in power in exchange for resources and power. Wagner mercenaries fight in Libya, Sudan, Mozambique and the Central African Republic—all countries where Moscow uses disinformation, interferes in elections and barters weapons for resources and clout. Weapons that are used by autocrats on their own people.
After the military coup in Burkina Faso, celebrations involved waving Russian flags. A statue erected in the Central African Republic last year shows its soldiers, supported by Russian troops, protecting civilians. The template for proxy military action was perfected by the Americans and the Europeans in Africa and South America; a boilerplate which Putin is only happy to copy. But there is no global outcry over the thousands of victims of bombs and bullets in West Asia and Africa. They don’t have blue eyes, blonde locks and rosy cheeks. Tragedy makes a better photo-op when the victims are pretty.
The racism of suffering is as old as the colour of the skin. The derogatory attitude towards immigrants in white nations is almost as bad as the contempt and distaste Indian upper castes have for Dalits and OBCs. The conflict of cultures is between people who matter and all lives matter. Racism is just the hypocrisy of outrage.