Modern social media platforms have been hubs for controversy in 2022. Business magnate and CEO, Elon Musk, has produced his fair share of questionable tweets in the past, and it seems that he is back for another round. Lorenzo Capito explores the impacts of Musk’s recent tweet about Ukraine, given his immense following, and the problematic implications it has for the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
In the toxic infested hellhole that is Twitter, yet another figure has attracted themselves in controversy. This time, multi-billionaire Elon Musk provoked outrage with his tweet about a peace proposal for the Russia-Ukraine war that has been ongoing since February of this year.
On the 3rd of October, Musk tweeted out a poll outlining a potential peace plan between Russia and Ukraine, with terms such as to “Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision” and “Ukraine remains neutral”.
This has prompted a heated response from many; including Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who tweeted out a sarcastic poll asking if people preferred an Elon Musk who supported Ukraine or one who supported Russia. One of Ukraine’s top diplomats, Andrij Melynk, tweeted to Elon Musk to “F*** off” – a rather crude response compared to the Ukrainian president’s, to put it mildly.
“Millions of people may die needlessly for an essentially identical outcome”
Musk, after receiving a lot of backlash, attempted to justify his peace proposal, saying that “millions of people may die needlessly for an essentially identical outcome”.
While on the surface, it may be easy to see this tweet as Musk just practicing his freedom to express his political views, with the good intentions of preventing any more needless bloodshed from the conflict, and Twitter just being Twitter. However, a deeper look into the tweet reveals why it may be problematic.
To understand the outrage around Musk’s tweet, we need to understand the justifications for Russia’s war against Ukraine.
A look into Putin’s essay, ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians‘, can show some reasons for Russia’s invasion. Here, Putin argues that Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are ‘one people’, part of a greater Russian nation, and that a separate Ukrainian nation never existed. Putin, in essence, is questioning the very legitimacy of being Ukrainian as a distinct cultural identity and implying Ukrainians are a subset of Russians.
As such, Putin argues that Ukraine’s only rightful place in the world must be with a close integration with Russia, rather than pursuing an independent foreign policy, especially one that favours the West. This notion is made even more clearer with Putin openly stating that Ukraine’s true sovereignty would be with one “in partnership with Russia”.
The essay also questions the legitimacy of Ukraine’s current borders. Putin argues that Ukraine’s borders must be returned to it was previously before 1922, as it denounced the 1922 Union Treaty that created the Soviet Union. This advocates Ukraine giving up Crimea, which was given to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954, and serves to justify Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
That’s also not mentioning Putin openly stating that “Kiev simply does not need Donbas”, which outright rejects Ukraine’s legality of control over the region and possibly serves to justify the recent annexation of regions Russia took control of from Ukraine during its invasion.
Inadvertently endorses the denial of the right of a people to rule their own state
Of course, there’s also the reason of wanting a Russia-friendly buffer state against NATO expansionism to prevent a possible Western hostile action against the Russian mainland. But the reasons I’ve outlined previously is perhaps the most relevant in highlighting the problematic nature of Musk’s tweet, which inadvertently endorses the denial of the right of a people to rule their own state, and the denial of international law itself.
Musk’s tweet, while having good intentions, fails to understand why many Ukrainians continue to fight against Russia, despite mounting causalities and the destruction of its cities. To the average Ukrainian, the war isn’t just a defensive war against the Russians, but rather, it represents the fight for their nationhood to exist; to fight for their choice to choose their own futures. Musk is inadvertently advocating the denial for Ukrainians to govern their own land.
Musk’s tweet also fails to ignore the repercussions it has on how international law is treated. While the UN isn’t exactly well known for its ability to actually be useful when it’s needed the most, it does provide a useful framework on how global peace should be maintained. The UN charter prohibits the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, which gives countries some legal leverage when it comes to the legitimacy of their border and how them choose to interact with the outside world.
However, Musk’s advocation for not only to force neutrality onto Ukraine a violation of this, but the enforcement of Crimea and Donbass to remain in Russian control unless they vote to ‘join’ Ukraine. This ignores the fact that the regional elections set up by Russia to annex these regions were widely regarded to be illegal and sham elections by many observers.
It also doesn’t help that Musk’s celebrity status may influence others to indirectly supporting against Ukrainian independence and statehood. Studies have shown that a political view of a celebrity can influence the political views of others. Musk’s advocacy for a peace deal may hinder Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, as it may encourage politicians to significantly limit their aid to the Ukrainian war effort.
It’s a fight to exist, and for a right to independent existence
Of course, I want to emphasise that Musk has every right to express his political beliefs. At the end of the day, Musk didn’t do anything inherently wrong by wishing for war to end. After all, why would any sane person want to witness more men, women and children have their lives taken away? But what Musk, and those who share the same sentiment, need to recognise is that the war Ukraine is fighting in isn’t just a fight to defend itself against Russia – it’s a fight to exist, and for a right to independent existence.
To force Ukraine into neutrality and give away their own territories would prevent Ukrainians from their freedom to choose how their country’s future. After all, Ukraine had been subject to numerous foreign powers, and has only gained its independence from the USSR in 1991. To suggest that Ukraine give up in its war only serves to insult those who fought for an independent Ukrainian identity.
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