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The Ukraine War, in black and white; Comic strip aims to ‘debunk Russian propaganda’

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | For most Americans, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear-cut act of aggression that must be condemned. They naturally support Ukraine and also the West’s arming of the Eastern European nation to help it defend itself against its much-larger neighbor.

However, some on the far left, as well as on the far right, openly support Russia or just oppose America and European nations helping arm Ukraine. They give a variety of reasons for their position — among them that Putin is allegedly waging a war to “denazify” Ukraine or that aiding Ukraine will lead to the worst-case scenario, nuclear war.

Trying to cut through all the confusion, as they see it, two East Villagers — comic-book artist Seth Tobocman and political journalist Bill Weinberg — recently teamed up to produce an informative comic strip simply titled, “Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine? Debunking Russia’s War Propaganda.”

In black and white, it’s 14 pages long. Weinberg provided the text and Tobocman the art. Politically, they themselves are both on the far left.

Russia apologists point to the divisive figure of Stepan Bandera. (Illustration by Seth Tobocman)

Artist Tamara Wyndham, Tobocman’s partner, inked the comic strip’s images, which were penciled by Tobocman. She also contributed a piece under her comic art byline, Tamara Tornado, “Hands and Heart,” for the strip’s back cover.

“It was Seth’s idea,” Weinberg said. “Seth approached me — to his credit. I’ve been blogging about this every f—ing day practically and ranting about it on my weekly podcast, on Countervortex, for months now, since the invasion and even before.”

As for how the war is going, he said, “Ukraine’s been kicking a– and Russia’s in retreat. The fear is, though, Putin’s going to draw Belarus into it and it’ll be like a pincer.”

As for how things might end, Weinberg offered, “I’m with Yogi Berra: I don’t make predictions — especially about the future. I just know I’m on the side of Ukraine. I’m on the side of an anti-colonial struggle and self-determination. But certainly Ukraine is doing much better than was expected in March.”

However, in terms of who is winning the war of popular opinion, it’s less clear. Although the majority of Americans back Ukraine, Weinberg said the number of those who don’t is higher than most realize.

“My guess is 40 percent for the country as a whole,” he said, “given that Fox News is also basically in Putin’s pocket. On the left — and the right — the figure is much higher.

The pro-Russia position is hegemonic on the left,” he noted. “ANSWER, Code Pink, Noam Chomsky, The Nation magazine, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Democracy Now — they are all, blatantly or with some degree of slipperiness, toeing the Moscow line. Me and my friends are the dissidents.”

As for why that is, there are several reasons, he said.

“We call them ‘tankies,'” he explained of the Russia supporters. “They’re still rooting for Moscow today even though Putin is not a communist: He’s a f—ing fascist.”

(Illustration by Seth Tobocman)

The term “tankies” comes from when Soviet supporters stood by Moscow as its tanks rolled in to suppress the Hungary Revolution of 1956 and, later, the Prague Spring uprising of 1968.

Weinberg was outraged that antiwar groups — or the “pro-Putin tankies,” as he called them — rallied in Times Square on the weekend before Martin Luther King Day against what they called the “U.S.-NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.”

“ANSWER and Code Pink are supporting f—ing Putin,” he fumed, “taking a prowar position. Martin Luther King would not be down with that.”

Meanwhile, Weinberg and his friends held a smaller rally in the rain in Union Square a few days later, at which they expressed support for imprisoned Russian antiwar protesters.

The anti-Ukraine side charges that the Maidan Revolution of 2014 there empowered neo-Nazis, drawing a line back to Stepan Bandera, a former far-right leader who today continues to be a divisive figure.

“They’re echoing the whole Nazi-coup line, Ukraine-is-fascist line,” Weinberg scoffed.

In addition, another reason given for opposing the Ukrainian resistance is Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons.

“They’re saying Ukraine has to give up territory in the interest of world peace,” he said. “There’s been this very, very glib nuclear threat. I don’t even like to use the f—ing word. … The notion that Ukraine’s surrender will make the world a safer place is completely ahistorical, and is a betrayal of the Ukrainians living in the territory that would be ceded to Russia. What right do you have to bargain away another country’s territory?”

However, he slammed the pro-Putin crowd, in general, as “indoctrinated fools.” Part of it, he explained, stems from a distrust, on both the left and the right, of mainstream media.

“These people are so indoctrinated,” he said, “they will even look to RT — which is Russian state media, it’s a propaganda arm of the Kremlin —for alternatives to mainstream media.”

(Illustration by Seth Tobocman)

Weinberg noted that, while prominent leftist intellectual Noam Chomsky made a name for himself by calling out the coverage of leading mainstream media outlets like The New York Times, the media universe — and the variety of political opinion — has expanded exponentially since then.

“What Chomsky started doing in the ’60s was a worthwhile project — the whole notion of critiquing media slant,” he said. “But he has become part of the problem. He did not keep up with the times and how the media landscape changed with the Internet. It’s not just The New York Times and the three big networks anymore. That was the era of the Cold War and the U.S. supporting right-wing dictatorships. Now there are plenty of democratic revolutions that the United States has thrown its support behind, if for its own purposes. Portraying the Maidan Revolution as a U.S.-supported right-wing coup is a denial of reality. Chomsky is now basically saying Ukraine must capitulate to Russian aggression in the interests of global stability. Which amounts to support for Putin, however much he may deny it — so f— him.”

Some Ukraine foes argue that Russia’s invasion is justified because of Eastern European countries falling under the sway of NATO on Russia’s border, to which Weinberg retorted: “Why are we supposed to be concerned about Russia’s security and not Ukraine’s? This is the politics of might makes right — and is antithetical to everything that Martin Luther King stood for.

“There isn’t any doubt in my mind that if Martin Luther King was around today,” he declared, “he would be protesting Russia’s aggression — not protesting the U.S.’s aid to Ukraine.”

(Illustration by Seth Tobocman)

In December, The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, at 155 Avenue C, at E. 10th Street, put up an international art exhibit, “Stop the Invasion,” about the war, curated by Tobocman and Tamara Wyndham. The comic strip is part of the show.

While Weinberg’s focus is on dissecting the politics of the invasion and breaking down who is behind which side, Tobocman’s has been on the art show. But he also found time to illustrate the comic strip.

“Basically, I had been aware of Bill Weinberg as someone on the American left who had been one of the few people who had been consistently warning about Putin for the last 10 years,” he said. “Bill is an important voice.

“My main focus is to create a forum where Ukrainian and Russian artists can express their point of views,” he said of the larger art show concept. “Tamara and I got involved with Ukraine because artists in Russia wanted to do a show.”

Initially, though, in the backlash to the war, there was opposition to having any show of Russian artists in New York. Instead, one exhibit, called “Glory to Ukraine,” opened at Shalom Neuman’s IF Museum/Academy in Easton, Pennsylvania. Art for the show was curated from behind the Iron Curtain by Tobocman and Natasha Konyukov, a Moscow artist, and from America by Neuman. Neuman,who formerly ran the Fusion Arts Gallery on the Lower East Side, also toured with the exhibit through Prague, Paris, Warsaw, Verona, Berlin, London and Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, a separate show, “Perevort” (“flip,” meaning “revolution,” in Russian), was held at two secret locations in Russia, in St. Petersburg and Moscow, plus a city in Armenia.

These were then followed by a third exhibit — at last, after a year, in New York City — “Stop the Invasion,” still currently up at MoRUS. In addition to Ukrainian and Russian artists, there are works by Palestinian and Israeli artists in the Avenue C show.

The invitation card to the opening of the “Glory of Ukraine” show in Easton, PA, in April.

As for his own view of the war, Tobocman said, “I don’t know when it will end but I know how it will end — they’ll go home. They could go home next year or they could go home in 20 years. It’s the same as Vietnam, as Afghanistan, as Iraq. It’s the same as the British in India. Eventually, the Russians will go home. It is imperialism and colonialism. They could go home in 100 years or they could go home now. The result will be the same. It does not work to colonize people now.”

As for the pro-Russia lefties, Tobocman explained, “They see the United States as the big problem in the world, so they support anything the United States is against. There’s a long history between people on the left and Russia — so there’s that, too.”

On Fri., Jan. 27, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., Weinberg and Tobocman will be at MoRUS to give a live reading and slide-show presentation of the comic strip, as part of a night of multimedia presentations and performances for the “Stop the Invasion” show. Katie Halfin, a Ukrainian performance artist, will be there, as well. To register for the event, click here.

For a digital version of the “Why Did Russia Invade Ukraine?” comic strip, click here.

22 Comments

  1. Bob Holman Bob Holman January 25, 2023

    Thank you, Seth, Tamara and Bill! Terrific work. And thank you, Lincoln — local news on an international stage and vice versa.

  2. Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 28, 2023

    Sorry, but I’m disappointed by this seemingly one-sided piece plugging a comic book on Russia’s criminal invasion and war against Ukraine. It mainly quotes blogger Bill Weinberg, who does not appear to be an authority on Ukraine or Russia. He attacks prominent left-wing intellectuals like Noam Chomsky as allegedly supporting Putin’s aggression. It’s a shame The Village Sun didn’t get comment from Chomsky and other progressives on Weinberg’s varied allegations that they’re towing the Moscow line. Weinberg mentions The Nation magazine as among those left-wing entities he cites as supporting Russia but didn’t bother to buttress his claims or quote publisher Katrina Vanden Huevel, who has written extensively on Russia and also pens a column for The Washington Post. In November, she called for giving diplomacy a chance in Ukraine.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/11/15/ukraine-war-end-diplomacy-negotiations/

  3. Janet Wolfe Janet Wolfe January 29, 2023

    What a shock that you’ve posted an article so shockingly confusing and full of “alternate facts”–just one example being a statement claiming that the great Noam Chomsky encourages our giving in to the Russians!

    • John Semlak John Semlak January 30, 2023

      Oh the great Noam Chomsky. What powers does he have?

      • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 30, 2023

        At 94, Chomsky still possesses something called intelligence and a respect for knowledge, attributes conspicuously missing in many debates on Russia’s bloody war against Ukraine.

        • John Semlak John Semlak January 30, 2023

          He’s no great authority on Ukrainian affairs.

        • John Semlak John Semlak January 30, 2023

          He’s not an expert in Ukrainian affairs at all.

    • Jan Jan January 31, 2023

      Your “great” Noam Chomsky has frequently advocated that Ukraine give in to Russia, by ceding territory and “putting off” the question of Crimea. In fact, he has found common ground with the “great” Henry Kissinger on those areas. See his comments in truthout and and other publications.

      “Chomsky described the possibility of a “pretty sensible settlement” in which Ukraine would commit itself to neutralization, not joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), put off the issue of Crimea and “move toward some kind of accommodation on Donbas.”

      https://www.newsweek.com/henry-kissinger-noam-chomsky-find-rare-common-ground-over-ukraine-war-1709733

      • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 31, 2023

        Henry Kissinger reportedly issued his assessment on Ukrainian territories after reading a controversial opinion by the New York Times editorial board last year. In addition, another NYT editorial board Opinion stated that it would be “unrealistic” for Ukraine to try and retrieve territories seized by Russia after 2014. It notes: “Mr. Biden should also make clear to President Volodymyr Zelensky and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the arms, money and political support they can muster. It is imperative that the Ukrainian government’s decisions be based on a realistic assessment of its means and how much more destruction Ukraine can sustain.”

        • Jan Jan January 31, 2023

          That’s nice. Are you, in a rather oblique way, acknowledging that Chomksy thinks that Ukraine should cede territory to Russia.

  4. Bill Weinberg Bill Weinberg January 29, 2023

    And that evil malarkey has no greater credibility when it comes from the pen of Katrina Vanden Huevel. Talk to your Ukrainian neighbors first, my fellow East Village yokels.

    • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 30, 2023

      I live in Gramercy so your patronizing remarks linking me to “East Village yokels” are as uninformed as your simplistic claims about the stances of Noam Chomsky in his calls for a negotiations to end Russia’s bloody war in Ukraine. This is an exceedingly complex issue that you have confined to comic strip commentary and ugly slurs against opposing opinion. Clearly you don’t have the intellectual chops to deal with this awful war in any substantive way and you stand in relationship to Chomsky, a true dissident, like a wart to the Matterhorn. You’re not good enough to sharpen his pencils. I notice you don’t specifically quote him in Current Affairs, so here here is what Chomsky said about Ukraine’s embattled President Zelensky and what he believes needs to be done to find a settlement to a war that has killed at least 100,000 people each on both sides:

      “Well, I would not criticize Zelensky. He’s acting with great courage, great integrity. You can understand and sympathize with his position from where he sits. However, the Pentagon has a wiser stand. Yes, we could enter the war. We could provide Zelensky with jet planes and advanced weapons. Pretty soon Putin would be radically escalating the attack on Ukraine, would wipe it out, which he has the capacity to do. He would be attacking the supply chains that are providing advanced weapons. And we’d be in a war, which would be a nuclear war, which would wipe us all out.

      “So I’m not criticizing Zelensky; he’s an honorable person and has shown great courage. You can sympathize with his positions. But you can also pay attention to the reality of the world. And that’s what it implies. I’ll go back to what I said before: There are basically two options. One option is to pursue the policy we are now following, to quote Ambassador Freeman again, to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian. And yes, we can pursue that policy with the possibility of nuclear war. Or we can face the reality that the only alternative is a diplomatic settlement, which will be ugly — it will give Putin and his narrow circle an escape hatch. It will say, Here’s how you can get out without destroying Ukraine and going on to destroy the world.

      “We know the basic framework is neutralization of Ukraine, some kind of accommodation for the Donbas region, with a high level of autonomy, maybe within some federal structure in Ukraine, and recognizing that, like it or not, Crimea is not on the table. You may not like it, you may not like the fact that there’s a hurricane coming tomorrow, but you can’t stop it by saying, “I don’t like hurricanes,” or “I don’t recognize hurricanes.” That doesn’t do any good. And the fact of the matter is, every rational analyst knows that Crimea is, for now, off the table. That’s the alternative to the destruction of Ukraine and nuclear war. You can make heroic statements, if you’d like, about not liking hurricanes, or not liking the solution. But that’s not doing anyone any good.”

      If you want to say the above is calling on Zelensky to “cede” territory to Russia, then you are ignoring the history of a country that was once a territory of Russia and has regions today that are still solidly pro-Russian, as in Crimea, which Putin took without a single shot. As for your attack on Vanden Huevel spouting “evil malarkey,” you seem to be showing your ignorance and envy toward a much better writer and human being.

      • Theo Vee Theo Vee January 30, 2023

        It’s weird watching you retype a Chomsky quote that directly calls for ceding territory to russia and then make the claim that that’s not what he said. Did you read it when you cut and pasted it?

        • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 31, 2023

          Theo Vee, Chomsky never directly called for “ceding territory” from Ukraine to Russia in the quotes I cited. He said Crimea was “off the table.” I’m assuming he means that Crimea, which Putin annexed followed by a referendum by citizens voting for the takeover by 96 percent, should not be ceded back to Ukraine as a negotiating issue. That’s my understanding. Why don’t you explain yours?

          • John Semlak John Semlak January 31, 2023

            You are actually citing results of a kremlin rigged election in your argument ??

  5. Bill Weinberg Bill Weinberg January 30, 2023

    “…history of a country that was once a territory of Russia…”

    You actually said that. Legitimizing Russian annexation of Ukrainian territory.

    We are political enemies, Mary. Adios.

    • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 30, 2023

      If you could read or write with any clarity, I might care whether you regarded me as a political enemy. As it is, I’m mainly sorry your deeply flawed and reactionary opinions get extensive coverage in The Village Sun. I just hope people aren’t spending money on your comic strip about Russia’s bloody war on Ukraine. BTW, it used to be called The Ukraine. Much of it was largely taken over by the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great. Along the way it became a Soviet satellite until the collapse of the USSR. But, hey, I don’t think facts interest you.

      • redbike redbike January 30, 2023

        “BTW, it used to be called The Ukraine.” That was understood – by Ukrainians and Russians – to be a not-so-subtle insult of Ukrainians by Russians. Check the etymology of “Ukraine.”

        • Mary Reinholz Mary Reinholz January 30, 2023

          Yes, Obama got into trouble using 2 words, “The Ukraine,” after Ukraine became an independent country not so long ago.

          • John Semlak John Semlak January 30, 2023

            The point of it was never a “correct” usage, even if it used to be common. And in Ukrainian there are no articles anyway.

            It used to be called Rus or Kyivan Rus.

  6. Charles M. Fraser Charles M. Fraser January 31, 2023

    “Used to be called” conquered acquisition. Remains imperviously imperial.

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