Tag Archives: Ukraine

How Putin “Won”

So about eight days into his first term and Trump has already managed to spark nationwide protests, rebellion within the government, a constitutional crisis, and he may have already committed an impeachable offense (apart from being utterly incompetent and unfit to serve in any public office whatsoever).

And while this was happening, there was a seriously escalation in the fighting around the town of Avdiivka in Ukraine. As a result, the government has been talking about evacuating the town’s population after Russian shelling knocked out its power and heating. When I was in Avdiivka, I’d been told that the town had lost water and power for a significant amount of time in the past, but as far as I know full evacuation was not mentioned. The situation now is most likely more serious due to the low temperature and the scale of the damage to the vital infrastructure. If authorities do decide to completely evacuate the town, this means the transfer of between 16,000 to 20,000 people.

Naturally, with all the Trump/Putin conspiracy theories still fresh in everyone’s minds, there’s a lot of speculation that this has something to do with the two presidents’ telephone conversation a few days ago. My take? Yes and no. Trump, who claimed that Putin would respect the United States if he were elected president, could have warned Putin about any provocative moves in Ukraine. He could have made it clear that escalation means increased consequences. While we don’t know what was said, it’s fairly safe to assume Trump issued no such warning to Putin. That is on Trump. But some kind of grand bargain in Ukraine? That’s unlikely.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of the recent fighting. The Russian forces have suffered several embarrassing setbacks, one of which was recently in Avdiivka. Naturally, they are thirsting for revenge and no doubt want to take back at least some of the territory they’d lost. Since this process started quite some time before the phone conversation, we can’t quite attribute the most recent escalation to something Trump told Putin. Again, if anything it was what he didn’t say to the Russian president.

That being said, let’s get one thing straight- Putin is benefiting from Trump being in office, and it’s not because they’re ideological blood brothers or because Putin has “kompromat” (blackmail material) on Trump.

During the election, when the Trump/Putin “bromance” became a meme, I gave an opinion as to what the Kremlin sees in Trump, and I think the past week’s events have tentatively confirmed that hypothesis. In short, I wrote that the Kremlin most likely sees Trump as the incompetent buffoon that he is, but more importantly they see him as a highly polarizing and controversial figure who will create so much scandal and discord with his domestic policies so as to distract him and much of the American establishment from foreign policy. It’s not that the truly intelligent people in the Kremlin believed that Trump would give them what they want, but rather he wouldn’t be able to stop them, and he’d keep anyone who might be able occupied as they react to his bumbling idiocy.

And look what we’ve got here? The orange moron almost immediately plunges the whole country into confusion to the point where pretty much the entire American media has forgotten that there’s a war going on in Europe which has killed nearly 10,000 people. Sweet deal for Putin.

But that’s not all! Trump’s clowning serves the Russian state media’s narrative that democracy is nothing but a corrupt circus everywhere. In reality, the infighting we see in the US government at the moment is actually a positive thing- it’s what proves our institutions and laws still matter more than the will of one deranged man in the Oval Office. But Russian state TV will spin this as the dreaded “chaos,” and disorder- both the opposites of the precious and holy “stability” which only Putin provides. In other words, they’ll portray it as an even bigger version of a Ukrainian Rada fistfight and tell their viewers that America is falling apart.

And what I cannot stress enough is that none of this requires Trump to be a true lover of Putin, and ideological soulmate, or an agent carrying out the Kremlin’s orders because he thinks they have footage of him getting pissed on by prostitutes (as though the release of such a tape could faze Trump). Trump just being Trump is all it takes.

If you’re still not convinced, look at it this way- suppose there’s a parallel universe Trump who’s totally identical to our Trump except for one difference. Instead of the praise of Putin and promises to better relations, he takes a hardline anti-Putin, anti-Russia stance. Now since this Trump does everything else the same, do you see him pushing aside everything that’s going on at the moment in order to make a firm statement about what went on in Ukraine in the past couple days? Would interrupt everything he’s been doing to start drawing up new sanctions? Of course not. Roughly ten days ago the guy was whining about how big his inauguration was, and now he’s in even more hot water.

In a way, this is even worse than if Trump were a pro-Putin agent. Today it’s Avdiivka, but in a few weeks some other part of the globe might ignite and meanwhile the president’s too busy explaining how he “never said” something that he’d actually said dozens of times on camera.

What to do? Well obviously Americans can’t stop their resistance now just to focus on Ukraine, Syria, or any other country, but it’s worth bringing those issues into the larger conversation. This is a president who campaigned on being a tough guy who would make dictators respect America. Instead he’s making them laugh and letting them do as they please. That needs to be added to the long list of Trump’s offenses.

 

The Ongoing Saga of Ukraine versus Little Russia

Well it’s time for one of those posts, the kind that gets me shot in the back people on my own side. Yes, it’s time for another frank discussion about Ukrainian politics.

In order to stave off immediate accusations of ZRAAAADAAAAA!!! (treason), let me first state that I felt very positive throughout my most recent trip to Kyiv. I had many good interactions with the locals, and I am extremely grateful to Yevhen Fedchenko, dean of Kyiv Mohyla Academy’s school of journalism and co-founder of Stopfake, for inviting me to speak to a group of journalism students who have begun a master’s program. This was my first opportunity to directly address a group of young, civic-minded Ukrainians, and though it was entirely improvised I felt we had a good rapport. Their concerns and ideas were very interesting for me to hear.

As I suspected before the talk, there was some concern about entering the field of journalism given the political climate in Ukraine right now. Prior to my arrival the region was shocked by the apparent assassination of veteran journalist Pavel Sheremet. A couple days later, the office of the broadcaster Inter became the target of an arson attack  that was clearly politically motivated. Whereas American parents might express concern about their sons or daughters enlisting in the military, I get the feeling that becoming a journalist in Ukraine may be considered as dangerous as joining the military. In some ways it is more dangerous; at least in the Ukrainian army you have a weapon with which to defend yourself and your assailants have uniforms.

Naturally when it comes to the topic of the Inter attack, people are going to inevitably call the station out as pro-Kremlin. There is certainly some truth to this claim, but the attack is still inexcusable. There are other, legal ways to counter any actual pro-Kremlin messages being broadcast by Inter. The continued attacks on journalism in Ukraine, often carried out with total impunity, closely resemble what we’ve long observed happening in Russia to independent media voices.

Of course the idea that Ukraine is controlled by some kind of fascist regime is nothing but laughable propaganda, but this does not mean the country does not have a problem with far right extremism. It might be easy for the much larger segment of Ukrainian society to ignore something like an attack on Inter, but they do so at their own peril. I have more than enough experience with far-right movements to know that their definition of “patriotism” shifts rapidly and radically. So much so, in fact, that such groups often end up fighting among themselves.Today you may think yourself safe because you don’t express “pro-Russian” opinions in public, but that is not really up to you to decide; as is the case in Russia, the self-proclaimed “patriots” make that call. You may give them a pass for fighting for Ukraine, but what will you do when they decide you’re responsible for their inability to achieve victory? If that time should come, you’ll regret giving such people the leeway to determine what is good for Ukraine.

Another key thing I must remind those who supported Maidan is that you claimed that your revolution was about dignity, freedom, rule of law, and bringing Ukraine into 21st century Europe. If you supposedly chose the West over Russia, why, concretely is Russia bad? Is it because freedom of speech, the press, and assembly are basically a joke in that country? Is it because self-proclaimed patriots, often with the blessing of people in government, are allowed to harass dissidents at will? Is it because there is no rule of law but instead a system where connections open all doors? Is it because the state promotes hateful xenophobia and a myth of Russian superiority? If you agree that these are indeed good reasons to want to escape the Russian orbit, please do explain how the very same behaviors and ideas which you find so repugnant in Russia are somehow tolerable if not desirable in Ukraine. Essentially this is what I’ve gathered from Ukraine’s self-proclaimed “patriots” over the past couple years. Russia is labeled as backward, yet the very same things that make her backward will somehow boost Ukraine into the future.

Naturally someone will say, “But Ukraine is at war! This is a hybrid war in which propaganda plays a great role!” This is true, but to those who use that argument I can say two things. First, propaganda does play a large role in this war, but the greatest propaganda is practice. You can tell people you want freedom, that your society is freer than that of your opponent, or you can actually build that society and let people experience it for themselves. Until people both inside and outside of Ukraine can honestly say it has freedom of speech, freedom of press, and rule of law, Russia’s propaganda machine will happily proclaim that Ukraine’s Maidan revolution has accomplished nothing, and that Ukraine is no better than Russia when it comes to individual freedoms. And it pains me to admit it, but so far they’re mostly right.

The other thing I would say in response to those who raise the war card or say that Ukraine “has the truth on its side” is simply- so what? As I told those students last week, simply being morally right does not mean you’ll succeed or that justice will be handed to you on a silver platter. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn the hard way several times in my own personal life, and it applies here as well. Yes, it is unfair that Ukraine should grant freedom of speech and freedom of press to outlets or individuals who occasionally voice support for the aggressor nation, particularly considering how such dissenting voices are suppressed and harassed by that nation’s government. It also might seem unfair that Ukraine should face criticism for the continued use of far-right wing paramilitary groups while Russia’s neo-Nazi volunteers are rarely mentioned. It is unfair, but then again, so is life. If Ukraine is to succeed it must hold itself to a higher standard. It is simply not enough to say that it is different from Russia, it must actually be different. So often people look only at the military side of the current conflict without giving any thought whatsoever to the political side.

For Ukraine to be a smaller version of Russia with a perpetual frozen conflict is the path of least resistance. Tribalism and crude “patriotism” can be uplifting and simplify a complicated world. By contrast, building not a Little Russia but rather a free Ukraine is complex, counter-intuitive, and humbling. But whereas nationalist posturing and ego-stroking is akin to sitting around and masturbating, working towards a truly free Ukraine is like training for the Olympics. It takes time and it’s tiring, even painful, but you emerge from it stronger.

 

 

You are not special

Recently a move by Poland’s right-wing government has caused major uproar among some circles in Ukraine. A resolution now officially recognizes the ethnic cleansing of Polish civilians in Volyn by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during WWII as an act of genocide. Indeed, all evidence hitherto points to this as an act of genocide, though the timing of the Polish resolution seems odd, as if a historical event somehow isn’t genocide without a ceremonial resolution. For his part, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko seems to have played the role of the bigger man, visiting a memorial to the victims of the event and asking forgiveness from Poles on behalf of Ukraine.

Naturally some Ukrainians went ape-shit over the matter, spitting out arguments that sound really, really similar to the logic you tend to hear in another country that happens to border Ukraine. We’ve got whataboutism in the form of bringing up Polish “Pacification” against Ukrainians during the interwar period, as well as attacks on Ukrainian civilians during the same period when the UPA was attacking Poles in Volyn. While it is true that Polish underground forces did similarly massacre Ukrainian peasants in the areas they controlled at the time, it’s also worth noting that the UPA itself murdered about 20,000 Ukrainian peasants from 1944 till the end of its existence as a fighting force in the 1950’s. It is also true that some Poles have been reluctant to acknowledge these atrocities,  a fact pointed out by such scholars as Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe. But then we might ask those upset nationalist apologists why they think Ukraine has the right to write its history as it sees fit, while Poland and Russia apparently don’t according to their worldview. What’s good for the goose…

Another eerie similarity I’ve noticed is the implication that criticism of the UPA is “anti-Ukrainian” or “Ukrainophobic,” and that even Western critics of the organization are out to get Ukraine for some reason. In their mind the whole campaign against the history of Bandera, the UPA, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, etc. is a massive global conspiracy against Ukraine orchestrated by Moscow. We might be inclined to take this a little more seriously were these scholars in question silent about other nations’ atrocities (such as those of Poland, the Soviet Union, etc.), but guess what- they’re not. As it turns out, the world does not consist solely of Ukraine and its eternal enemy Russia.

For one thing, in the past few years the foreign media has spent a great deal of time reporting the rehabilitation of Soviet and to a lesser extent Russian imperial history in Russia. At times it seems that a bus stop ad featuring Stalin is apparently newsworthy material to some of these outlets. In fact, media coverage of Russian historical revisionism far exceeds that in Ukraine, Poland, or anywhere else. To be sure, this is mostly because Russia is a larger and more influential country, but the idea that the most prominent Western journalists or academics are criticizing the OUN and UPA while engaging in apologetics for their main opponent, the Soviet Union, is simply laughable. If such people were attacking Ukrainian nationalists ceaselessly while at the same time dismissing every negative claim about the Soviet Union or Poland, there might be an argument, but that simply isn’t the case with the people I have in mind.

Now we get back to Poland. Poland has been taking a lot of flak lately for the actions of its new conservative government, and justifiably so. Here’s a piece on that. Here’s another. And another. There are other stories I could dig up if I were so inclined, but from what I’ve seen the world media has been far harder on Poland for trying to rewrite its history than it has on Ukraine, though this is largely because the history of Ukrainian collaborationist organizations is far more obscure to the West. In any case, we need not stop in Poland.

Lately Croatia has become the next battleground over history, with its new culture minister who also happens to be an Ustasa apologist who glorifies the 13th Waffen SS mountain division “Handschar.” Coincidentally, the next division in line was the one made up of Western Ukrainian volunteers. Yet it seems that it is in Croatia, and not Ukraine, where we see a popular backlash against this kind of behavior. Perhaps all these people pushing back against the new conservative revisionism are all secretly Serbian agents, seeking to usher in a return of Yugoslavia by “slandering” the Independent State of Croatia? This would surely be the accusation if their discourse on history resembled that in Ukraine.

Naturally there are those who will say, “But Ukraine is at war!” Yes, it is at war, which is why it is far more important that Ukraine get its act together than Croatia, which is at peace. For one thing, in its current situation facing not only Russian aggression but internal corruption, Ukraine can ill afford to descend into childish fantasy concocted by academic frauds whose claims can’t pass peer review in the West. Second, the OUN cult has been the biggest weight around Ukraine’s neck as it struggles with Russia’s information war and the fight for winning international support. In Ukraine they can criminalize critical reading of the OUN or UPA’s history to their hearts’ content, but you cannot stop Westerners from doing proper research into these matters, and they will inevitably find that all Soviet propaganda aside, the OUN did collaborate with the Nazis, even after the arrest of its leadership, and it was involved in atrocities including the Holocaust. As such it remains the biggest target for Russian propagandists.

Additionally, Ukraine cannot hope to win its current war without a far better, more attractive national identity and idea. This idea must unify people across the country, including in occupied territory, and even Ukrainians within Russia and the rest of the world. The West Ukrainian cult of Bandera simply doesn’t do that, as we’ve clearly seen. More importantly, when it comes to the question of what sort of country Ukraine wants to be, the idea of substituting Bandera and Shukhevych for Soviet heroes and enforcing a false historical narrative via legislation is in itself rooted in the Soviet Russian mentality. In reality, Ukrainian nationalism was never the exclusive property of the OUN, which was in fact a relatively unpopular organization by far. There is a far larger, far richer, far more positive tradition of Ukrainian nationalism, much of it radically left wing and progressive, which seems to totally ignored. How does it look on the global stage when some Ukrainians prefer to associate their nation with the paranoid, fanatical right-wing Stepan Bandera instead of the progressive revolutionary Lesya Ukrainka? Tourists in Kyiv by the thousands handle notes with her portrait, having no idea who she is. I wonder how many Ukrainians know that Symon Petliura was a member of two Ukrainian socialist parties- the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party. I doubt many know about the Ukrainian Communist Party, which fought for a socialist Ukraine apart from the Soviet Union.

Ukrainians have every right to criticize the Polish government for pointing out Polish victimhood while simultaneously denying its own less savory episodes in history, but they ought to realize that this also extends to groups like Ukrainian Jews and indeed Ukrainians themselves who do not want to see their country associated with this cult. Few rational people criticize Ukraine over the crimes of the UPA; this is not only collective guilt, but truly ludicrous considering that the vast majority of Ukrainians did not support the organization and fought overwhelmingly for the Allied cause during the war. What they are criticizing is the efforts to whitewash its history and transform these right-wing nationalists into national heroes.

Ukrainians have a choice to take criticism of the UPA or OUN as an insult against their nationality, for these things are not inherently connected anymore than I as an American am connected to the Confederacy or the KKK. When you declare these people national heroes and associate them with your nationality, that is a conscious choice and effort. One could just as easily do the opposite and say that associating the crimes of these organizations with Ukraine as a whole is simply idiotic and irrational. Objections that this would somehow aid Russia and its efforts in Ukraine are simply ridiculous. We’ve seen from 2013 onward how the Russian propagandists surely burst with glee at the news of Bandera memorial parades or the renaming of a street in his honor. Without boneheaded moves like this, they’d be stuck dreaming up new stories about crucified children or Poroshenko getting drunk.

Savchenko the Human

This May Ukraine and its foreign supporters rejoiced at the release of ex-military pilot Nadia Savchenko. Her two year captivity was a never-ending drama of hunger strikes against a background of the bizarre, Alice and Wonderland antics of the Russian judicial system. Some compared her to Joan of Arc, particularly those who have no idea who Joan of Arc was. To be fair, the drama did lead to the creation of this awesome painting:

savchenkopainting

I think I’ve chosen a backpiece.

 

Seriously though, Nadia returned to her native Ukraine not only a hero, but also an elected member of the Rada. As such, people had high hopes for Nadia’s political career. There was a belief in the air that Nadia would come in and smash the oligarchs and set things right. My friend Maxim Eristavi tried to warn everyone in advance, but it seems he ended up being Cassandra of Troy.

Some time later, Nadia ended up making some controversial statements about the war, namely expressing the opinion that the government should negotiate directly with the leadership of the DNR and LNR and “apologize” to the residents of the Donbas. It seems almost immediately thereafter, she has gone from heroine of Ukraine to Manchurian candidate deliberately released by Russia and working for the FSB.

While I too find her comments in this regard rather perplexing, I’m afraid Ukraine’s “patriots” have no one to blame but themselves for their disappointment. They turned an ordinary person into a deity. Christopher Miller did an excellent job painting a realistic portrait of Nadia Savchenko which definitely warrants reading. Perhaps if people had reported on Savchenko in this manner while she was incarcerated in Russia, the impact of the realization that she is an ordinary person might not have been so hard to take.

And on another note. While I don’t agree with Nadia’s apparent plan for peace in the Donbas, I challenge the nationalists who think they can win this militarily to put forth their plan. I’m not saying that a military solution isn’t possible. On the contrary, I’m certain that it is the only way. The problem is that whereas my solution is unconventional (but with a generally proven track record), theirs is almost certainly going to be something that will inevitably lead to another debacle like Ilovaisk or Debaltseve. I say this based on experience, namely that which has taught me that self-proclaimed chest-thumping Ukrainian “patriots” have virtually zero understanding of the political nature of war. What is more, Ukraine has yet to win the global information war with Russia. It is still laughably vulnerable to the same weaknesses Russian propaganda has been exploiting over and over again.

svoboda

Pic TOTALLY unrelated.

The point I’m getting at here is that Nadia might have expressed a very bad idea, but it’s most likely out of hopelessness and a general lack of imagination. Unfortunately in Ukrainian politics, as in much of the world today, there is a very narrow frame of what’s considered realistic or feasible. In the case of Ukraine, the “solution” that is being put forth by Ukraine’s supposed Western “allies” entails “fulfilling Minsk,” an agreement which pretty much ensures Russian influence in Ukraine while forcing the latter to pay for its own restoration. Meanwhile rather than ratchet up sanctions on Russia for its continued support for the separatist quasi-states, Western leaders continually remind the Kremlin that sanctions can be lifted as soon as Russia starts to implement the Minsk II protocols. The fact that Russia continually denies involvement and obviously refuses to implement an agreement that would actually benefit Moscow more than anything tells you that Putin obviously isn’t listening to these gentle reminders, yet Western countries continually insist on Minsk II as the only solution.

Now put yourself in Nadia’s shoes and tell me what solution you come up with. An Operation Bagration-style offensive to recapture the Donbas isn’t on the table. If we were to assume that such an operation wouldn’t be fully known to the Russians before it got off the ground thanks to spies and informants (and idiot soldiers snapping selfies), Russia would just do the same thing it has done since the beginning of this war- let the local proxies and useless volunteers take the brunt of the fighting and then hammer the Ukrainian forces with the regular army’s artillery and armor as they near the border. Meanwhile, Ukraine possesses nothing with which it can twist Putin’s arm in order to force him to accept a deal that ultimately favors him, as already explained above. Oh I almost forgot- you’re dealing with this situation after two years in Russian captivity and numerous hunger strikes. So yeah, your mind might be a bit hazy and you might not be bringing your A-game to the brainstorming session.

In conclusion I must say that in spite of whatever disagreements I might have with Savchenko, I still respect her. I think she’s an important example for Ukraine’s women. I think her behavior in the Rada shows how ridiculous it is for its pretentiousness. And what about getting drunk on an army base out of boredom? Shit- that just brings the two of us even closer. And to the “patriots” calling her a traitor, remember this. She didn’t make herself into a demigod- you did.

Blind spot

So this morning I was reading a very timely and necessary article criticizing liberal tolerance for violent fascist groups. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the debate and don’t have time to read that article right now, it goes something like this:

Fascist: “We’re going to take control of your country and then use the state to suppress people we don’t like by force.”

Radical leftist:”I’d like to see you try, punk!”

Liberal: “Both sides are wrong! There’s no difference at all!”

In case that’s not clear enough, you could phrase it as liberal tolerance for intolerance. This sounds like a joke but it’s actually a very simple concept. Tolerance means that if you’re following the law and not harming anyone, you should have all the rights and freedoms of any other citizen. But what happens when you have someone who doesn’t want to follow this simple rule? They want to place restrictions on certain groups of people based on factors that have nothing to do with their individual behavior. They want to privilege certain groups while persecuting, maybe even eliminating others. And all the while, they want to use state power, i.e. a monopoly on legal violence, to enforce this system. This is something that should not be tolerated, and nobody should feel obligated to do so.

All in all it was a good article, until I got to this point…

“The current Ukrainian government used nationalists as shock troops to depose Viktor Yanukovych.”

Uh…No. No it did not. For one thing, the current Ukrainian government didn’t exist in any form until after Viktor Yanukovych deposed himself by running away. Second, the nationalists had their own parties, both of which found themselves shut out of the government as soon as new elections were held. And lastly- radical nationalists were a minority in the Euromaidan protests, which they did not initiate. A very loud minority capable of garnering more media attention, but a minority still. And I might also note that this is phrased in a way that makes it seem as if Yanukovych hadn’t deserved being driven out of power after years of rampant theft and an attempt to severely curtail people’s civil rights.

Overall I get the point the author was going for in that paragraph (you really have to read the context), and on that point I agree- reactionary right wing politics are on the march all over the world. I don’t think the author had any intention of deliberately spreading Kremlin propaganda. I think the problem is that even after two years of being in the world spotlight, Ukraine is still a media blind spot, more obscure and inaccessible in some ways than Russia.

Russia is obscure largely due to physical accessibility (you need a visa just to visit) and the language barrier, but anyone wanting to write about Russia will find their work much easier for a number of reasons. First of all, there are plenty of Russia experts out there but few Ukraine experts. Among the latter, you’re bound to encounter a few, shall we say, eccentric academics from time to time. Russian politics, as bleak as they can be, are simplified by Putin’s dictatorial system. Russia’s ruling class is for the most part rallied around Putin, the head of the state which serves as their feeding trough for wealth. By contrast Ukraine’s ruling class is fractured into groups with competing interests. Lastly, learning the Russian language is no small feat, but there are far more resources for doing so compared to Ukrainian. Although knowing Ukrainian isn’t necessary to communicate in Ukraine if you already speak Russian, it is essential for monitoring the Ukrainian press as well as chatter on social media.

With Western media attention leaving Ukraine even as fighting continues to escalate in the Donbas, we can be sure that coverage will continue to repeat the same cliches we’ve come to know and hate over the past few years. “Ukraine is a divided country consisting of the Ukrainian-speaking West and Russian-speaking East, Ukrainians literally died to join Europe,” and so on.

A step in the right…er..correct direction

It’s rare one finds good news coming out of Ukraine these days. Minsk II is a sick joke, corruption is still rampant, and the transfer bus from Boryspil no doubt still sucks. But lo! It appears that some folks in Ukraine, among them former presidents and other important public figures, have taken a bold step towards bringing the country into the 21st century.

A proposal has been put forth from the Ukrainian side to create a joint day of remembrance for the victims of the “Volyn tragedy.” To be sure, the word “tragedy” is a bit euphemistic. “Genocide” would be more appropriate to describe what the OUN-UPA committed starting in 1943 against the largely defenseless Polish population. But seeing as how the consistent tactic of the Bandera cult going all the way back to 1945 has been to outright deny any war crimes or atrocities of the OUN and UPA, this a major step forward.

There are a few key things to note about the proposal. Firstly, it may not be met with open arms by many Poles, especially considering the rise of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has hitherto demonstrated a propensity for whitewashing history. The “patriotic” Polish narrative of WWII generally portrays Poland as a wholly innocent and blameless victim of virtually all sides. More radical renditions posit Poland as a “savior” of Europe. As it pertains to Ukrainians, Polish nationalist have tended to deny the persecution of Ukrainians and other minorities during the interwar era of the Second Republic, as well as the murder of around 20,000 Ukrainians in areas outside of UPA control by forces such as the AK (Polish Home Army).

The second point to note is who is absent on this list of figures who support the proposal. We don’t see Volodymyr Viatrovych, for example, in spite of his being head of the Institute of National Memory. Perhaps that’s because rather than preserve and study national memory, Viatrovych seems to have spent his entire career whitewashing and distorting the legacy of Bandera and the OUN. A large part of that has involved transforming the ethnic cleansing of Poles in Volyn into a two-sided “war.”

This is a small step, but an important one, and while I’m cautious I must admit these days I’ll take any good news I can get. One last thing about this proposal that everyone should keep in mind is that while it is good that Ukraine collectively examines this event in a critical and proper way, this is not a question of Ukraine’s collective guilt. The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians did not support the OUN or UPA. A considerable number of those Ukrainians who did joint the insurgent army did so under duress. Another large portion joined, again sometimes under duress, long after these crimes had been committed. It bears keeping in mind that historically there have been two factions who have resolutely insisted on associating Ukrainians and Ukrainian culture with Bandera and his radical right-wing movement. The first is naturally the descendants of the Ukrainian right-wing nationalist movement, and those they have duped with their fairy tales about a heroic revolutionary struggle against the Nazis and Soviets. The other side is the Kremlin and its minions.

 

What did you expect?

So I was reading this RFERL piece about a Russian businessman who claims to have rendered crucial assistance to the Russian government in the annexation of Crimea and the subsequent, aborted “Novorossiya” project. The reader is free to question the veracity of the witness, who remains anonymous, but I will say that for the most part, his story fits what we know and his attitude is exactly what one might expect from a disillusioned Russian imperialist. One particular line caught my eye, however:

“The Russian World that I dreamed of, that the people of Crimea expected, that the volunteers who died in Donbas believed in, crumbled into dust before my very eyes,” he recalled.”

Since 2014 we’ve all heard of this so-called “Russian World” (Русский Мир), but nobody’s been able to really define it. Earlier in the interview, the businessman laments what went on in the Donbas, where some people tried to make the Russian World a reality:

“In the pro-Russian zone [in Donbas], weapons were handed out to criminals and drug addicts who robbed people, ‘commandeered’ businesses, homes, and cars,” he said. “The situation for the Russian World project became more and more catastrophic. That romantic of the Russian World, Girkin, could not cope with the anarchy that was developing around him.”

Sounds to me like he got the Russian World right there. To be fair, it’s not so much exclusively the Russian world as it is largely the post-Soviet world, but of course a lot of that world happens to be Russia.

Honestly, what exactly was that Russian World he dreamed of? How was it supposed to be different than the actual, existing Russian World? Did these morons actually put their life on the lines believing that by carving out a portion of Ukraine, Russia would suddenly cease to suffer from massive corruption, crumbling infrastructure, and absence of rule of law?

The Donbas turned out exactly as we should have expected. It was a haven of organized crime, and then a government run by criminals hired those local criminals and sent some of their own criminals to start a war, and SURPRISE! The territories under the control of criminals are basically rife with, well, crime. How utterly unpredictable. Were I a Game of Thrones fan this would be the place where I write some joke referencing the unexpected death of a beloved character. But since I’m not I’ll just sarcastically say that turn of events was as unpredictable as the episode of BBC’s Fall of Eagles when Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Rudolf killed himself along with a woman of ill repute.

Joking aside, this question of the Russian World or Russian civilization is a pretty serious one. Increasingly we hear Russian politicians and their supporters claim that theirs is a unique civilization, as good as if not better than the West. Now I don’t believe in “Western” superiority, but I and millions of others can’t help but notice that this degenerate West, which was supposed to be on the point of collapse for at least 100 years and still managed to come out on top in spite of two World Wars, seems to be doing significantly better than Russia according to almost every indicator.

Point this out, and the Russian World fans will tell you that what their country lacks in material wealth, they make up for in “spiritual values” or “moral values.” First of all this makes no sense, because Russia doesn’t lack material wealth. On the contrary, Russia’s unbelievably rich. And yet somehow that wealth barely filtered down to the majority of the population. While there were definitely concrete successes under Putin’s long reign, some of which haven’t yet started to rapidly roll back toward 90’s levels, there are many other indicators which beg the question: “What did they do with all that money?” And the answer to that question can largely be measured in yachts, luxury cars, palaces, property in New York, London, and the South of France, for starters.

On the topic of moral values, we must first conclude that both lying and stealing are both immoral and roundly condemned by virtually every religion and value system the world over. So those are two strikes right there. But of course the vatniks like to claim they have some kind of morality based on “traditional family values,” which just as it does in any country, turns out to be a really bizarre obsession with sexuality. And here too, Russia doesn’t really have leg to stand on when condemning Western countries. They attack tolerance for LGBT people in the West, but this is not a moral argument. If you think it is, just consider that the Mormons, for example, believe masturbation to be highly immoral. See how that works? In any case it’s a moot point because contrary to the stated beliefs of Russia’s leaders, Russian LGBT people exist whether they want to acknowledge them or not, and I think some of them know very well that homosexual activity takes place all the time in their country behind closed doors. Oh yes, I think some of them are authorities on that topic.

Whether its corruption or sexual promiscuity, the Russian World advocates always have a way out. “Oh no that’s not us! That’s the Western influence!” The extreme version of this is the so-called “National Liberation Movement’s” hilarious thesis that Russia has been “occupied” by the United States since 1991. But to whatever degree, the claim is idiotic. If the Russian soul has this inherent value, if the Russian World is so unique, it should have manifested by now. It should look different.

Imagine for a moment: Someone recommends you check out a diet plan to lose weight. You meet the person who developed the diet, and notice they are grossly overweight. You meet numerous people who swear by the diet and they’re all morbidly obese. You never see a single person adhering to this diet who is not overweight. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something wrong with that diet.

The bottom line is, the Russian World is what the Russian World does, and not what delusional dreamers such as Alexander Dugin or  Igor Girkin think it should be. If these figures thought that carrying out the Kremlin’s will would lead to anything other than the perpetuation of thievery and corruption, what can we call them but ridiculous naive? This is why their whining about “disillusionment” just like the source in the article is so pathetically laughable. You help a criminal in his crimes and expect something other than more crime? These people are either cynical liars or utter morons.