On March 18, 2023, the Hamilton Coalition to Stop the War held an online event in which it invited me to explain why I have decided to travel to Russia in the weeks ahead. Below is the text of the speech that I delivered at the outset of the event. Following my speech, there was a lively and thoughtful Q&A. A full recording of the event will soon be posted online, including on this website.
Two days after the launch of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, I authored an article about the invasion and posted it on my website. The article was entitled “The Art of Peace Requires Us to See the World Through the Eyes of Our Enemies”.
In that article, I offered a preliminary legal opinion, in my capacity as a lawyer with experience in the field of international law, that Russia’s invasion likely violated the United Nations Charter. I also argued that Western powers bore considerable responsibility for this war.
Since then, my views about the illegality of the invasion and the culpability of Western governments have evolved.
Although I continue to believe that the invasion likely violates the U.N. Charter, I have less confidence in that opinion, based on what I have learned in the past year.
Moreover, I am now convinced that, not only did the U.S. government and its Western allies provoke Russia, but that it was in fact the goal and intention of the U.S. and British governments — and possibly other Western governments as well — to ignite a full-scale war between Ukraine and Russia. In my opinion, the U.S. and British governments actively sought this war. I now consider the evidence of this to be overwhelming.
In the past year, however, one thing has not changed: I continue to believe that the art of peace requires us to see the world through the eyes of our enemies. In fact, I believe this more than ever.
What do I mean by “seeing the world through the eyes of our enemies”? By this phrase, I do not mean that we must agree with our enemies. Rather, what I mean is that we must try to understand them and their perspective. Understanding is not synonymous with agreement. Understanding, however, can create a basis for finding at least some common ground, and finding common ground is a prerequisite to a negotiated peace.
If we are seriously committed to finding common ground with our enemies and to achieving the peaceful resolution of conflict, then we must endeavour in good faith to understand our enemy’s grievances, fears, needs and objectives. Only by developing an understanding of these things will we have any real prospect of finding sufficient points of agreement and mutual compromise to resolve our disputes.
Although I am not and have never been a military man, I do have considerable experience with dispute resolution. I have practiced law for over thirty years. During that time, I have specialized in prosecuting class actions against sophisticated, multinational corporations that have harmed large groups of ordinary citizens. My opponents are Bay Street litigators of the highest calibre. My clients are ordinary citizens who are appointed by Courts to represent the victims of mass wrongs.
Once a class action is commenced, the parties and their legal counsel become engaged in what might be regarded as the jurisprudential equivalent of war, with one side – the corporate defendants – generally possessing vastly greater litigation resources than the plaintiffs and their counsel.
It is true that, in the type of warfare that we class actions lawyers prosecute for our clients, the belligerent parties are not sent to their deaths. They are not grievously wounded or permanently disabled. Civilian infrastructure isn’t destroyed.
Nonetheless, litigation is the product of conflict, and it is the means by which conflicts in our society are resolved non-violently. In class actions, the stakes are generally huge – often reaching into the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. The lives of class members and defendants can be affected significantly, even dramatically. In many class actions, reputations are destroyed or redeemed. Economic security is strengthened or undermined. And at every step of the way, emotions can and often do run high.
In these jurisprudential wars, the battlefield is the courtroom. Predictions as to how courts will determine the dispute are fraught with uncertainty and risk, because the issues are complex and their resolution requires the application of careful judgment and discretion, usually with less than full information.
Yesterday, I was interviewed by a German media outlet, AcTVism Munich, about the Ukraine war. After I argued that Ukraine should enter immediately into negotiations with the Russian Federation, the interviewer put to me this question: “many argue that Ukraine has a right to defend itself. How do you respond to that argument?”
My answer to him was this:
Of course, Ukraine has a right to defend itself, as do all sovereign states, but having a lawful right to pursue a certain course of action does not necessarily mean that pursuing that course of action is in one’s interests. If the exercise of a right is likely to result in the destruction of one’s country, then the humane and rational course of action is to pursue compromise with the enemy rather than insist upon the full exercise of one’s lawful right.
On many occasions, this is the very advice that I have given to my clients. It is generally the right of my clients to have their day in Court, to push the jurisprudential war to its ultimate conclusion, to soldier on until the victor and the loser have been determined by a judge in a zero-sum contest. Generally, my clients are legally entitled to insist upon a trial of their claims by a court of law, and to request a final judgment on the merits.
However, pursuing a trial of their claims and full compensation for the wrongs they believe they have suffered does not always make sense. Often, the rational course of action is for my clients to avoid the immense costs and severe risks of multi-year litigation in exchange for the certainty of limited, negotiated benefits.
And so it is with war. Indeed, the costs, horrors and dangers of war are so extreme that the logic of compromise is even more compelling in the military context than in the litigation context. This is especially true when the combatants possess the capacity to destroy the world many times over, as NATO and Russia do. In such circumstances, the logic of compromise is overwhelming. In a war between nuclear-armed powers, the refusal to compromise is potentially suicidal for all of humanity. In that context, the refusal to even attempt a negotiated resolution is an unforgivable sin.
I am embarking on this journey to contribute in any way I can to mutual understanding. My objective is to gain a better understanding of the perspective of those Russians who support the actions of the Russian government — and all indications are that the vast majority of Russian citizens do support their government. Perhaps, too, I might succeed in enabling some of the Russian citizens whom I meet to gain a better understanding of Western views about this war. For the sake of peace, I aspire to see the world through their eyes, and to do whatever I can to enable Russians to see the world through my eyes and the eyes of my fellow Western citizens.
A journey of this nature is made all the more imperative by the highly regrettable measures taken by Western governments to deprive citizens of the West of access to the perspective of the Russian government, as well as the perspectives of those Russians who support the Russian government.
One such measure is the banning in the West of Russian media affiliated with Russia’s government, such as Russia Today and Sputnik News.
Do these media organizations have a pro-Russian bias? Do they sometimes disseminate disinformation? Without a doubt, they do, but the same can undoubtedly be said of Western media organizations: overwhelmingly, Western mainstream media possess a pro-Western, pro-NATO bias, and often disseminate disinformation about the causes and state of this war, as well as NATO’s and Russia’s motivations and objectives.
I categorically reject the notion that limiting the citizenry to one side’s biased perspective is the surest path to truth. On the contrary, I have always believed that the truth is most likely to emerge from vigorous and open debate between those whose interests are most deeply impacted by the dispute.
Indeed, that principle is the very foundation of our system of litigation, which we Canadian lawyers refer to as the “adversarial system”. This principle is also the foundation of democracy itself: if ordinary citizens are not equipped to discern truth from falsehood, then what possible justification could there be for empowering ordinary citizens to decide who will govern us?
In the entirety of the Western political elite and the Western mainstream media, there is not one person – not a single one — whom I trust more than I trust myself to discern the truth about this war. And neither should you.
You, each and every one of you, you are the best arbiters of the truth about this war, and in order for you to make the best judgment about this war, you must have unfettered access to as many perspectives as possible about this war.
When it comes to war, never surrender your judgment to Western political elites and Western mainstream media.
Have they not lied to you enough? Did they not lie to you about Vietnam? Did they not lie to you about Iraq? Did they not lie to you about Libya, Afghanistan and Syria? Did they not lie to you about Israel’s apartheid regime being a democracy? Did they not lie to you about torture at Guantanamo Bay, at Abu Ghraib, and at the CIA’s hellish “black sites”?
How many times must Western governments and the mainstream media lie to us about war before we refuse to take them at their word?
Decades of shameless Western deceptions about war lead inexorably to one conclusion: we must exercise our own judgment about war, and in order for us to make fully informed judgments about war, we must have access to as many sources of information as possible.
We must never confine ourselves to those sources of information that are approved by our governments, or by the well-heeled corporate executives who preside over mainstream media organizations. They simply cannot be trusted. They have forfeited the right to be trusted.
For many weeks now, the website of Global Affairs Canada has included a dire warning about travel to Russia. In big red letters, GAC declares “Russia — Avoid all travel.”
GAC goes on to advise:
Avoid all travel to Russia due to the impacts of the armed conflict with Ukraine, including partial military mobilization, restrictions on financial transactions and increasingly limited flight options. If you are in Russia, you should leave while commercial means are still available. If you remain in Russia, maintain a low profile. Canadians holding Russian citizenship may be subject to call-up for mandatory military service.
Now maybe Canada’s government is entirely justified in issuing this warning. Maybe I will soon regret that I did not heed GAC’s stark warning and that I went to Russia despite that warning.
But after having been lied to so many times by my government, I cannot help but have a suspicion. My suspicion is that at least part of the government’s motivation for issuing this warning is that it does not want Canadians to discover truths about Russia that undermine the mainstream Western narrative about Russia and about this war.
Finally, before I conclude my opening remarks, I want to clarify a few points about this journey.
First, no person or organization has invited me to Russia. There is no welcoming committee waiting for me. My decision to travel to Russia is entirely my own. I took this decision on my own initiative.
Second, this journey will be entirely self-funded. No one has offered to defray any part of my expenses, and if by chance I receive such an offer, I will refuse it.
Third, I have not been paid one penny of compensation by any person or organization to write or speak about Russia or the Ukraine war. On my website and on various independent media platforms, you can find numerous articles that I have written about this war. On social media, and particularly my Twitter account (@dimitrilascaris), you can find hundreds of posts about this war and about Russia. I have not been offered, nor have I received, a penny of compensation from any source for any of those articles or posts. Moreover, I have done numerous interviews about this war, including on Russia Today. I have not been offered nor have I received a penny of compensation for any of those interviews.
Finally, I have no illusions about the limitations of this journey. I have never been to Russia before. I do not speak Russian. I will be there for only one month. Given the vastness and complexity of Russia, these constraints mean that there will remain formidable gaps in my understanding about Russia, its people and this war after my journey has ended. Also, the dialogue that I hope to facilitate with Russians may very well have little impact – and maybe even no impact whatsoever – on the Canadian or Russian public discourse about this war.
But of one thing I am certain: when this trip is over, I will have a better understanding of Russia and its people than I have today. In fact, I will have a better understanding of Russia and its people than I could ever have by relying on Western governments and Western mainstream media to inform me about Russia and its people.
Ultimately, if improving my understanding of this country and its people is the only good thing that comes from this journey, then the journey will have been eminently worthwhile.