Tag Archives: Ukraine

What Ukraine’s ‘Left’ Just Doesn’t Get

Apart from sharing similar political views, I don’t have much to do with Jacobin. It’s produced some very interesting articles but I don’t see much point in regularly reading a source that tells me what I already know or agree with. That being said, one thing that is consistently disappointing about Jacobin is their poor coverage of Ukraine.

Probably the worst offender on their site was this article by Daniel Lazare. It starts off rather good, taking Timothy Snyder to task for some of his ridiculous assertions in his very popular book The Bloodlands. Snyder is an accomplished historian and we definitely agree on a lot of things when it comes to the present, but one thing I cannot stand about him is his often emotionally-charged reinterpretation of historical facts and his pandering in the present. But Lazare goes from legitimate criticism of Snyder’s history to full-on Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine’s present later in the article. If Snyder was wrong in the past, he’s right in the present, pandering aside. And with Lazare it’s just the opposite.

But you could almost forgive Mr. Lazare because at least according to his bio (what I could find of it), he has no background in Ukrainian history, politics, or culture. I have no idea if he’s ever even visited Ukraine. One might be led to believe that he was getting his info from Russian sources like Sputnik or RT, but in fact that isn’t even necessary. There are plenty of other independent publications, and even supposedly independent Ukrainian sources, which produce this kind of drivel.

For an example of something much more subtle but far more dangerous because it deceives leftists, look no further than this more recent article by Alona Liasheva and Mikhail Khokhlovich. If I were to rate my reaction to this article as I read it, it basically proceeded in the following order: Strong suspicion > Okay that’s fair > Getting better > YOU FUCKING BLEW IT! Let us therefore go through the stages.

The article begins with the stabbing of Stanislav Serhienko, and attack which happened while I was living in Kyiv this year. Make no mistake about it- the attack was brutal and totally unjustifiable. But the authors use manipulative language so as to paint the picture of a neo-Nazi dominated Ukraine, exactly as Kremlin media would. Take a look at this sentence, for example:

“Serhienko had publicly criticized both Russia-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army, which had allied with far-right battalions in the war in the country’s east.”

The first thing that leaps out at me here is the claim that the Ukrainian army had allied with far-right battalions. For one thing, most of the volunteer battalions were more or less non-political or at least not far right. Second, it’s not like the Ukrainian military had much of a choice at that point in 2014. The whole Ukrainian armed forces had been in tatters since the 2000’s and was essentially a token army. Even after three years of war and with instruction from NATO armies, it is still rife with parasitical, corrupt, incompetent individuals, especially among the officer corps (I have some personal experience with this). In 2014, the government simply didn’t have the luxury of politically vetting every soldier who or volunteer who stepped up to perform a vital service at such a critical time, and knowing how cynical and burnt out many Ukrainians are when it comes to politics, I doubt anyone really cared. There were more pressing issues to deal with.

But what really angers me about this kind of talk is that it perpetuates the myth that the use of far-right organizations and volunteers is something exclusive to the Ukrainian side, which of course is bullshit. In reality, there were and still are far right elements on both sides, and one could reasonably argue that the Russian side has more far right elements, both from Russia and pro-Russian far-right parties from Europe. The only difference is that Russia, with its monolithic state structure, is far better at managing the optics.

I am one of the first people to call out the idiotic idea that the presence of neo-Nazis on the Russian side somehow cancels out those on the Ukrainian side. I do think the the far right in Ukraine, in spite of its lack of real political power, is a serious problem which must eventually be dealt with in order to achieve full victory over Russian aggression and occupation. But Khokhlovich seems to understand nothing about his potential audience, the Ukrainian people, or what they’ve been hearing from the Russian propaganda machine since 2014. Defeating the far right in Ukraine entails mobilizing the Ukrainian people against it, making them understand why the far right can never overcome Russian imperialism, and how they actually aid that imperialism indirectly (and occasionally directly). One way to start communicating that message more effectively is to tell the truth- both sides rely on far right elements, and Russia probably more.

The authors then go on to describe a number of other hate crimes in Ukraine, pointing out quite correctly that these crimes are rarely if ever prosecuted. Often no suspects are found. However, this is somewhat misleading because the sad truth is that much of what they describe occurs regularly not only in Russia, but also all throughout Eastern Europe. Hell, it’s happening a lot more in America these days as well. Russia’s SOVA center tracks hate crimes in Russia every year. In recent years, Russia’s government has been doing a better job about cracking down on far right nationalists. This is partially for optics, but it is also for internal stability. That does not mean, however, that the Kremlin doesn’t have legions of far right thugs to do its bidding in Ukraine or Russia, however- it just means they typically won’t be sporting swastikas. Furthermore, when they are attacking the “correct” targets, they not only attack with impunity, but do so often with the help of the state or state media.

I should also point out that anyone who believes the Kremlin has fully broken with the more radical ethno-nationalists in Russia is to say the least, extremely naive. The Kremlin, like many other authoritarian regimes, is infamous for using front groups or agents to manipulate and keep tabs on any political group. It is also worth noting that in spite of the government’s desire for national unity, the state media routinely produces racist and xenophobic material on a weekly basis. How can you tell the Russian people week after week that Europe is degenerating due to “tolerance” for rapacious Muslim hordes and expect them not to develop negative feelings towards Tajik and Uzbek guest workers, for example? It’s no secret that the Russian government supports and sometimes funds far right parties and organizations throughout the West, or that the state allows them to hold conferences in St. Petersburg without fear of being charged with “extremism.”

This might seem like splitting hairs or whataboutism, but it’s very important because the image that the authors of this article present is the typical Russian-slant, i.e. Ukraine is a country dominated or otherwise inherently associated with the far right, but Russia somehow isn’t. In reality, in Ukraine dealing with Pravy Sektor or Azov might be difficult, but if you’re up against a government-aligned far right group in Russia, you’re facing the full force of the Kremlin and its repressive machine. Even if one doesn’t go as far as to point that out, to be truly honest would mean acknowledging that Ukraine’s far right troubles are no worse than those in several other Eastern European countries.

Later in the article the author does make some fair points, for example explaining that the organization Borotba (which is inappropriately named), not only participated in the Anti-Maidan movement but then actually went over to support the separatists. What I didn’t see however, was any explanation as to how Borotba, in spite of claiming to be left-wing, has actually put out far right propaganda and justified alliances with the far right in the so-called DNR/LNR. It also mentions the banning of the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) without pointing out how corrupt it was, how some people called it the “Capitalist Party of Ukraine,” or how it was essentially itself a right wing party. Few Westerners are aware of the “Red-Brown” alliance that reared its ugly head in the wake of the Soviet collapse. In Russia, for example, wherever there’s a Soviet flag, there’s often an imperial tricolor.

wtfflag

And sometimes there are both in one, as in this monstrosity.

Lastly another thing must be said about the impunity with which the far right commits attacks in Ukraine. Khokhlovich lives there, which means he should be more than familiar with the level of lawlessness and corruption there.

In a country where public figures brazenly steal millions of dollars from the public and still get away with it, it’s not hard to understand why many of these street assaults go unpunished. The only way to get any justice is to generate sympathy, outrage, and popular support- and Ukraine’s left seems wholly incapable of doing that for reasons I’ll explore later.

Next the article contains some deceptive information about the assassination of Pavel Sheremet, claiming that “much evidence” points to far right involvement in that case. In reality, the evidence points primarily to the SBU, and thus the authors are equating SBU with far right. It would be more accurate to equate the SBU with organized criminal activity, not far right politics, and it is more likely that Sheremet’s killing was connected with exposing corruption rather than ideology.

Wrapping up the “suspicious” part of the article, I notice that it plays up the level of political representation the far right has in Ukraine. While the authors touch on the lack of representation, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to point out, for example, how there are no nationalist parties in the Verkhovna Rada, the parliament. Unless something’s changed from the last polls I’ve read (courtesy of Michael Colborne), in order to make the threshold to get seats, all of Ukraine’s far right parties would have to merge into one bloc. To be fair, I’ve heard rumors they might be considering this, but being well acquainted with far right politics tells me that would at best be a short-lived alliance. On the far right, there are always too many wannabe SS Obersturmführers and not enough SS Schützen. 

It also wouldn’t have taken much effort to show that Ukraine’s approval for the far right is far lower than it is in other countries, including supposedly tolerant Western Europe. Let’s face it- if Ukraine were such a far right-dominated country, the far right would do better, period. Western far right parties would be having their international conferences in Kyiv and not St. Petersburg.  If Ukrainians approved of the far right, they’d just vote for far right parties. What’s stopping them? The short answer, of course, is that most Ukrainians know that the far right have no real solutions for Ukraine and are often times little more than thugs with ties to criminal activity. They are not about to turn over true power to such people. These are all things the article should have pointed out.

I might also take a moment to mention how the article handles the subject of LGBT and tolerance in Kyiv. The Kyiv Pride March was extremely successful, which the authors acknowledge. They point out, however, that this was thanks to the large police and National Guard presence. Very true, but what they don’t tell you is that the crowd of marchers was far larger than the paltry group of nationalists who came out to oppose them. And yes, the city authorities did cave when far right activists objected to the painting of the Arch of Friendship as a rainbow, but when it comes to the issue of LGBT rights, progress is being made.

I will give the authors one more credit for devoting a whole section to how the state finds itself in conflict with the far right in Ukraine. By detailing the contradiction between the government and far right groups like Pravy Sektor, the authors either wittingly or unwittingly help break down the “nationalist junta” narrative- clearly nationalists wouldn’t be so violently opposed to a government that supposedly shared their values, after all. Gold star for that I suppose, but it’s about to get worse…

The poison pill of this article comes at the grand finale, the part where the authors totally destroy any credibility they had and inadvertently demonstrate just why the Ukrainian left can’t get any popularity in Ukraine these days. Ladies and gentlemen, behold the final conclusion of this article, the piece de merde! 

 “Real resistance to imperialist influence — from both Russia and the West — can only begin with a democratic dialogue with unrecognized republics based on the Minsk peace agreements, not repression against Ukrainian citizens.”

And that’s where you fucked up, son. First of all, the idea that Russian and Western imperialism are, for Ukraine at least, equal, is simply nonsense. Russia has invaded and occupied a significant portion of Ukrainian territory. The war that they started has killed over 10,000 Ukrainians and displaced nearly 2 million others. Did the West do that to Ukraine? No. You can talk all you want about the IMF or Western investment in Ukraine all you want- but no NATO country has literally killed people in Ukraine, nor have they occupied any part of it with their military. Only in the twisted bizarro-world logic of the Kremlin and its foreign supporters did anything resembling that happen, and that is in reality nothing more than a contrived a priori justification for Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Rest assured that on the very day that a NATO military forcibly takes control of a part of Ukrainian territory against the wishes of its elected government, I will more than happily declare Western imperialism in Ukraine to be equivalent to its Russian counterpart, but not a minute sooner.

Far more egregious is the authors’ suggestion for “resistance” to said imperialism, which just happens to almost perfectly match Putin’s own demand to the Ukrainian government. It’s hard to decide where to begin when debunking such an idiotic suggestion, so bear with me.

First let me state that there is no way for Ukraine to begin a “democratic dialogue” with the unrecognized “republics,” because they are not democracies- they are puppet entities controlled by the Russian government, its military, and its intelligence services. They were never set up to be viable states or to achieve some kind of just demands on behalf of the Ukrainian residents of the Donbas (most of which is under Kyiv control, by the way). They were erected with the help of Russian mercenaries so as to give Moscow leverage with which to control Ukraine’s foreign policy and to secure the interests of certain Russian businessmen who had investments or other business ties to the east. The Ukrainian government already attempted such a dialog two times in 2014- once in April before the war actually started, offering full amnesty to those who were occupying buildings if they would lay down their arms, and the second was a unilateral ceasefire later in the summer of that year. The “rebels” also broke the first Minsk ceasefire and ignored the second until they had secured Debaltseve in early 2015. They have continued to break ceasefires ever since. Considering that the first point on the Minsk II agreement is a total ceasefire, how is one supposed to open up a dialogue, democratic or otherwise, with that?

Secondly, the reason Putin wants Ukraine to engage directly with his “republics” is because he wants to freeze the conflict in a manner similar to Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. Doing so would be a huge boon for Putin, allowing him to pull most of his forces out of the territory while trying to use the Minsk II agreement to get Ukraine to foot the bill for his military adventure. To be sure, the structure of Minsk II creates some contradictions which have turned the whole mess into a stalemate, but the Ukrainian government giving some kind of de facto recognition to the “republics” would go a long way toward accomplishing Putin’s aims.

While the authors make token comments about Russia’s role in the war, they never call out Russia for what it’s actually done. The onus always seems to be on Kyiv to solve a problem they didn’t create. This is typical of many Putin apologists out there, and if the authors do not consider themselves to be Putin apologists, they might want to consider their wording a bit more carefully. For example- don’t basically repeat the Kremlin’s demands almost verbatim.

To be sure, I believe that the population of Eastern Ukraine and of the occupied territory will play a crucial role in the liberation of the country, far more so than anyone in the West. But the dialogue cannot be with Russia’s puppets. It must be with the people themselves, and it must be a dialogue about resistance to Russian occupation. Nothing else will matter. And I have no time for those who disingenuously object to this, saying that it would lead to more violence. Violence has already come to Donbas- Russia brought it. It will remain so long as they are occupying that territory. If one objects to violence aimed at ending that occupation, then what is to stop Russia from grabbing more territory, killing people in the process, and then demanding “peace” for the sake of “human life?” Send the butcher’s bill to Moscow for those who have been killed or maimed in Putin’s war.

And this, it pains me to say, is why Ukraine’s paltry left is so hated or ignored in their own country. The far right may be run by immoral criminals commanding ignorant football hooligans, but when their country was invaded and Ukrainians started dying, they stepped up and did something- they had just enough functioning braincells to figure that out. Where was the “left?” On many occasions they were on the wrong side of the barricades, either backing the invader or playing down the threat- which in fact only amounts to allying with a far right, reactionary regime which has far more resources and power. I’ve had conversations with some of these figures who keep demanding peace, acting like both sides are equally guilty in this war, and refusing to acknowledge when I point out that it is Moscow, not Kyiv, who holds the key to peace. And I must confess sometimes I want to smack them, either because they do in fact have a pro-Kremin agenda or because they are so dense as to not notice they sound that way.

I’m going to be very frank with the rest of the Ukrainian left- if you want to win hearts and minds, if you want society to be outraged and favor you instead of turning a blind eye to the far right and the self-proclaimed patriots, you must stand up for Ukraine. You must call out the main threat to Ukraine- Russian aggression. If you had any proper Marxist theoretical grounding and praxis you would know that a foreign colonial power dominated by a reactionary regime trumps internal contradictions. This has been put into practice several times in the 20th century- in Vietnam, China, Albania, and Yugoslavia to name a few examples.

Is there anyone so foolish as to think that if there had been real Ukrainian leftist volunteer battalions, the political situation would be as it is today? Sure, the government might be more uneasy about them than they are with far right battalions, but that could be offset by popular support. Maybe I’m just getting old,but I’m pretty sure popular support is kind of an important in a war of resistance and a socialist revolution.

Imagine, for the moment, something that may seem impossible today. Imagine a leftist inspired militant organization begins a guerrilla campaign against Russia’s proxies in the east, pulling off daring attacks that neither the Ukrainian army or even the Azov regiment would ever even consider possible. In short- imagine this leftist militant faction gets results. Do you think attitudes would be unchanged? Do you think people wouldn’t raise hell if the government attempted to crack down on this rogue movement, if it were the one thing in Ukraine the Kremlin actually feared?

Of course things would be different. In fact, I predict it would be the political death of the far right- they’ve had so many years to beat their chests and shout their slogans without actually achieving any results. If a leftist militant movement could step up and achieve what the “patriots” could not in four years with the support of the state, there’d be red flags flying next to blue and yellow ones in Kyiv. Volodymyr Viatrovytch could do nothing but sputter and tear his hair out with impotent nerd rage and nobody would listen.

But alas, it seems the Ukrainian “left” can’t even work up the courage to verbally condemn Russian imperialism without false equivalencies, which is why my hypothetical about a Ukrainian leftist Hezbollah-style resistance movement seems so laughably fantastical at the moment. I guess it will remain so for the foreseeable future, unless either this article becomes wildly popular or I win the lottery here in the States so I can fund shit just like Ukraine’s oligarchs do.

And thus once again, Jacobin fails to make a solid connection between the Western left and Ukraine. It’s not that there aren’t ways, either. Stephen Velychenko, for example, has provided some good work on this topic. The failure of Western leftists to develop a solid line on Ukraine is yet another reason why leftist politics are still unpopular in the country. Many Ukrainians hold progressive values, many of them are almost socialist or at least social-democrat in their outlook. They’d probably find much common ground with Western radical leftists, because the idea that capitalism is Ukraine’s biggest problem is basically on the tip of everyone’s tongue (as usual, even the far-right engages in anti-capitalist rhetoric). But what happens when those Ukrainians try to reach out and see things like these Jacobin articles? I mean this is a bit of an improvement because at least one of the authors is actually in Ukraine, but in many other cases pieces about the supposed right-wing domination of Ukraine are written by people who have never even been there. This does nothing but convince Ukrainians that the international left has dismissed them offhand as Nazis based on Kremlin propaganda.

To wrap up, let me once against reiterate. Yes, the far right is a big problem in Ukraine. But it is a problem largely thanks to the war that Russia initiated, and that war takes precedence over almost every other issue out there. If the left is able to demonstrate that it is more able to resist and repel Russian imperialism than the right, it will gain more popular support, and then it will be able to better push through its revolutionary changes. The left will not accomplish this by attacking the concept of pro-Ukrainianism, rather it must show how it is in fact the true pro-Ukrainian force, and that the self-proclaimed patriots, most of them hypocritical criminal parasites or street thugs, are in fact objectively anti-Ukrainian. It should point out that it was the radical Marxist left, and not the reactionary far right nationalists (who did not even exist at the time), that gave birth to the modern Ukrainian state in 1917, and that the roots of true, original Ukrainian nationalism were always the progressive ideals of revolutionaries like Hrushevsky, Vynnychenko, and Ukrainka, and not the twisted reactionary fascism of Dontsov, Bandera, or Shukhevych.

hrushevsky

“So you call your little group the Organization for Ukrainian Nationalists. That’s just precious.” 

Do not confuse this with some kind of call for “patriotism.” It is a call to stand up and recognize that Ukraine faces an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggle. The day may very well come when the next imperialist threat is from NATO or the EU, but it is not this day. Today, and for the foreseeable future, that most pressing threat cannot be anything but the Putin regime, followed closely by their proxies and the reactionary criminals of the Ukrainian ruling class. If Ukraine’s left cannot stand up and proclaim that simple truth which is self-evident to even the most politically apathetic Ukrainians, they have no one to blame but themselves for their failures.

Advertisements

Oh the Places You’ll Go…to Die!

Recently Russia lost a high-ranking general in Syria. Lt. General Valery Asapov (nope, not Valery Gerasimov in disguise) was killed along with two colonels in a mortar attack near the town of Deir-ez-Zor. Apart from the high rank of the deceased, this wouldn’t be particularly remarkable were it not for the fact that Asapov commanded the “1st Army Corps” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in a conflict that Russia calls a “civil war” and swears it has no part in.

Isn’t it amazing how despite being a “civil war” and an “internal matter” of Ukraine, so many Russian military personnel have taken part with zero reprimand from the Russian government? Here we have a general who decided to go on vacation to fight in a conflict for a “country” his government does not recognize, and then he returned to the Russian army with zero consequences (possibly with a promotion) and got deployed to Syria.

Given Russia’s constant denials (against overwhelming evidence to the contrary) of any significant involvement in this “civil war,” you think they’d want to come down hard on all these “volunteers,” especially the military personnel who supposedly “went on leave” to fight for Ukraine. I guarantee you that if US military personnel took leave and then joined the YPG in Syria, or any other military force for that matter, there would be hell to pay. For starters that’s desertion, plain and simple. Yet the only deserters the Kremlin sees happen to be those who left the army because they say they were being pressured to sign contracts and fight in Ukraine. Curioser and curiouser.

The Wallet Inspector

So recently the US and Germany have, for some strange reason, reacted with measured optimism toward Vladimir Putin’s latest suggestions about a UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbas region of Ukraine. What a great guy- he starts a war and then sells you the solution! Seriously though, I’m disturbed that the State Department and the German Ministry didn’t immediately tell Putin to shove his peacekeeping plan up his own ass once they heard his “conditions.”

Essentially Putin wants the UN peacekeeping mission to include Russian participation (yeah I’m sure they’ll be totally impartial), he wants it to involve direct negotiations with his proxy actors in the occupied territory, and it should patrol the line of contact between his pseudo-states and government-controlled territory. Just as others have already pointed out, this amounts to nothing but an attempt to solidify control over the occupied territories and permanently freezing the conflict in the manner of Transnistria, South Ossetia, or Abkhazia. UN peacekeepers will keep Ukraine’s armed forces from retaking the territory and possibly firing back when his proxies decide to loose a few shells, and the world will treat the conflict according to the Kremlin’s rhetoric, i.e. as a “civil war.” As if all this weren’t enough to convince you that this plan is nothing but Kremlin bullshit, check out the “DNR/LNR” reaction to the plan, as reported by Russian state media.

Basically, Putin’s “peacekeeping initiative” is the diplomatic equivalent of the “wallet inspector” scam. While it’s obvious he’s not acting in good faith, it’s interesting to speculate why he might be offering this now. There do seem to be signs that Russia might be trying to extricate itself from Donbas. Since early 2015, Russia’s objective has been to shove the territories back into Ukraine so that Kyiv is forced to pay for them while maintaining proxy forces there which could continue to influence Ukrainian politics in the Kremlin’s favor. Of course Kyiv is well aware of Putin’s desire to have his cake and eat it too, which is why they have no plans to grant Russia’s conditions of Minsk II before Russia grants their demands, such as control over the Russian-Ukrainian border.

Putin’s latest offer just seems like an attempt to make an end run around this impasse and perhaps cut costs associated with supplying his proxy forces in the region. Also, if there are Russian “peacekeepers” there, Putin can always use an alleged attack on them as pretext to invade and take more territory, or at least punish the Ukrainian Armed Forces and destabilize the situation for Kyiv. Like in the 2008 Georgia War, Russia would benefit from being able to claim retaliation for attacks on “peacekeepers.”

I could go on, but I think by now it’s painfully clear that there is absolutely nothing good in this offer and really the best answer the US or any country could have sent to Putin would have been a note on official letterhead reading:

Dear Mr. Putin,

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

No. 

Sincerely yours,

(Department/Ministry name)

The media can also help. When reporting on Putin’s peace overtures, they can point out that Putin is actually a party to the conflict, as well as its initiator. As my friend Paul Niland in Kyiv has often pointed out, reporters should stop reporting Russian denials on involvement without adding that said denials are contradicted by “overwhelming evidence.” It’s clear that one more motive for this latest ploy is for Putin to once again promote himself as a peacemaker and advocate of stability. The media shouldn’t give him the opportunity.

Lastly, while everyone’s making wild proposals about peacekeeping missions here, let me present my official Russia Without BS United Nations Peacekeeping Plan for the Donbas (patent pending). It works like this:

Russia pulls all forces out of the Donbas. 

UN Peacekeeping troops deploy along the Russian-Ukrainian border, on the Russian side of it, with the mission of preventing Russia from invading again. 

Crimea, Kuban, and Far East go to Ukraine as reparations.

Sanctions are removed so Russia no longer has to squash cheese with bulldozers.

You may call it extreme, but it’s a small price to pay for peace and stability in the region. You’re not against peace,are you?

Veiled Threat or Realistic Admission?

Those who have been following Russia’s war on Ukraine have no doubt heard the increased buzz about the US potentially supplying lethal arms to the Ukrainian military. While I’m all for supplying Ukraine with military technology (though there’s a big difference between what they want and what they actually need), I find the hype to be ridiculous when you actually look at what US officials are saying. Basically Putin enthusiastically dumps tons of weapons and military vehicles into Ukraine without any reservations whatsoever, while US officials say things like “the US is now seriously considering the possibility of providing lethal weapons…” and the talking heads act like this is a sincere promise, as though the weapons are currently being crated for transport as we speak. Of course on the US side, and only the US side, there are also pundits who object to such transfers, but their arguments are typically poor.

Recently, Vladimir Putin reacted to the question of US arms for Ukraine during a press conference at the BRICS summit. His comments were rather ambiguous, with the first half seeming to indicate no reaction and the last half being a veiled threat about taking more territory in Ukraine. I give you his quotes here, translated by the Ukrainian UNIAN news service.

“This is a sovereign decision [providing lethal aid to Ukraine] of the U.S., whom to sell weapons or supply them for free, and the country that is the recipient of such assistance. We will not be able to influence this process in any way,” Putin said.

According to him, “there are international rules and approaches: the supply of weapons to the conflict zone does not contribute to the peace settlement, but only aggravates the situation.”

 “If this happens in this case, this decision will not fundamentally change the situation, in general will not affect the situation change, but the number of victims, of course, may grow,” Putin said. “I want to emphasize so that everyone understands – nothing will change,” the Russian president vowed.

“There is one more point to which those bearing such ideas should pay attention. This is about the fact that the self-proclaimed republics have enough weapons, including those seized from the opposing side – from nationalist battalions and so on. And if American weapons will be delivered to the conflict zone, it will be difficult to say how the proclaimed republics will act. Maybe they will get their weapons to other conflict zones that are sensitive to those who create problems for them,” Putin said.”

As far as interpreting the statement as a veiled threat, it seems that UNIAN focused on the last quote, wherein Putin hilariously claims that the “self-proclaimed republics” are somehow well armed entirely from captured weapons and, presumably, weapons that they either somehow manufactured or acquired from abroad. I tend to think the key takeaway in Putin’s statement comes before that, where he stresses there will be no change. Basically he’s posturing, trying to signal to the West that he won’t back down in Ukraine. To understand why you have to look at what “arming Ukraine” means in Western parlance.

Since the battle of Debaltseve in 2015, “arming Ukraine” has basically been boiled down to one issue- Javelins. For those non-military types out there I’ll give you the quick crash course. The FGM-148 Javelin is arguably the most effective portable anti-tank weapon in the world right now. It is “fire-and-forget,” meaning the operator does not have to guide the missile to its target and therefore can relocate to another position upon firing. It has incredibly long range, over 4 kilometers or nearly 3 miles. It also attacks from the top, where tanks are most vulnerable.

 

Of course there are some caveats- the system is extremely expensive and it’s not exactly a magic “Make Tanks Go Away” wand. We cannot say for sure how they would have affected the outcome of a battle like Debaltseve. More importantly, plenty of experts have correctly pointed out that Ukraine actually produces plenty of high-quality anti-tank missiles on its own– the problem is that Ukraine’s arms industry often fails to adequately deliver its products to the front. Ukraine’s arms industry also produces another product which is good at knocking out Russian tanks- they’re called other tanks.

But Putin’s quote about arms not making a difference may serve as another reminder of why the arm Ukraine debate should constantly revolve around Javelins. I’ve been saying for some time that Javelins would make little difference given the situation and the Ukrainian government’s position on the war. They can only serve as a deterrent to a Russian attempt to advance in the Donbas, something which they don’t seem interested in doing. Putin’s comment would seem to confirm this. Everything in 2014 from the Crimean annexation to the attempt at creating “Novorossiya” was nothing but a big gamble to see what Russia could get away with. After Minsk II in 2015, Putin knows his limit of advance. So in other words, Javelins would definitely serve as a deterrent, but they’d be deterring something Russia’s not planning to do.

Just to be sure, the Javelins could serve as a deterrent to something I’ve long worried about, especially after the winter of 2016-2017, which is a sort of punitive raid or small offensive aimed solely at isolating and destroying a Ukrainian front-line unit, in a place like Avdiivka or the so-called Svitlodarsk bulge. But beyond this, the only thing Javelins would be good for is sniping the occasional tank which comes up to the front to take potshots from time to time. The Russians could simply halt this practice and rely on their long-range artillery to keep inflicting casualties on Ukrainian forces. They’d be better off for it.

Of course there are ways Ukraine could use Javelins in a more offensive manner to actually retake territory, but the government clearly doesn’t have the stomach for that and doing so would require the military to adopt unconventional, insurgent-style tactics, something that conventional military forces typically don’t do unless they’re absolutely forced to. The Ukrainian military has worked so hard just to achieve a minimum of professionalism as a conventional army that I can’t imagine there’d be anyone among the top brass willing to consider more revolutionary methods of warfare, which is a pity because personally I think Ukraine’s only hope lies in such bold, unconventional strategies and tactics.

Getting back to the topic at hand, one can still read Putin’s final comment as a veiled threat, but it’s most likely an empty one. The meat of this statement is that he’s calling the whole situation a stalemate by saying that new weapons won’t make a difference. For the moment, at least, arms can only serve as a deterrent to something he’s not planning to do.

Of course there is one scenario in which Putin might make good on his threat, and US leaders and other officials had better pay close attention. Although the Russians naturally tell themselves that the US has been arming Ukraine this whole time (this is the a priori justification that Russia’s leaders so often use), if they see the US seriously talking about the matter they might choose to act before those weapons arrive and rule out something like a small-scale offensive. This could serve as a major spoiler and let the Russians chalk up one more operational victory to go along with Crimea, Ilovaisk, and Debaltseve. Therefore if the US actually wants to help and thinks the arms will make a difference, it would be a lot better if they would stop making ambiguous statements and hinting signals at Putin and just provide the missiles. Realistically, what Ukraine actually needs is more advanced electronic warfare platforms, but the rapid shipment and deployment of Javelins could at least prevent or deter a potential “now-or-never” offensive action from the Russian side.

Then again, you might choose to ignore Putin’s comments as another example of his increasingly delusional, rambling statements. After all, this is the guy who seems to have no idea whether he wants to run for president next spring, nor does he seem to have any idea what is supposed to come after him. Perhaps the real key to Putin’s statement is when he said Russia can’t do anything to influence America’s decision. Maybe the confidence from 2014 is beginning to wear off like a crystal meth high, and he’s starting to realize that all this time he’s been punching far above his weight (it’s easy when your opponents are all centrist dipshits who can’t fathom the idea that someone would question their so-called “norms of behavior”). Fatigue, desperation, belligerence? Who can say what’s going through that little man’s mind at this point?

Moscow Unveils Ukrainian Nationalist Monument in Response to Poland’s Removal of Soviet Memorials

MOSCOW- A 10-meter tall statue of the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA in Ukrainian) leader Roman Shukhevych was unveiled in Moscow’s Manezhnaya Square near the Kremlin on Monday. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the new monument is just one of the many “asymmetrical measures” his government promised in response to the Polish government, which recently announced its intention to remove Soviet WWII memorials on Polish territory.

“The Polish Second Republic, which occupied Ukrainian territory prior to the war, oppressed its ethnic minorities,” Lavrov said at a press briefing in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

“This monument shows our respect for a resistance leader who stood up to Polish chauvinism, the same way we are now standing up to Polish chauvinism today.”

However, critics say the move is controversial, pointing out that Roman Shukhevych served Nazi Germany’s military from 1941 till 1943, first in an army battalion known as “Nachtigal” and later in an Auxiliary Police battalion engaged in anti-partisan warfare in Belarus. Both units have been accused of committing atrocities against Jews and other civilians in occupied territory. In 1943 the UPA engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Poles from the region of Volyn. Shukhevych was nominally in command of the insurgent movement at the time, and the event has been a source of controversy between Poland and Ukraine in recent years.

roman

Roman Shukhevych, commander of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)

Lavrov responded to critics of the new monument by dismissing all accusations against Shukhevych and his men as “Soviet propaganda,” and alleging the existence of a decades-long international conspiracy to slander Roman Shukhevych and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, of which he was a member.

“I believe every people has a right to its own heroes,” Lavrov told reporters.

“Brutal times called for brutal measures. I won’t get into specifics of what those brutal measures were, but if anyone does they’re probably lying and repeating Soviet propaganda. Also what about Jozef Pilsudski, Michael Collins, or Menachem Begin? Were they angels? I don’t think so.”

Lavrov also dismissed the issue of Shukhevych’s collaboration with Nazi Germany by pointing out that the Soviet Union had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact, which he called an alliance between the two states. When one reporter pointed out that unlike Shukhevych’s movement, the USSR had a history of opposing Nazi Germany with force prior to the pact and after the German invasion it went on to destroy the Third Reich, Lavrov said such details were “Ukrainophobic” and called the reporter a “sovok.”

Reactions in Ukraine have been noticeably sparse, although the move was greeted with great enthusiasm from the head of Ukraine’s Institute of National Memory, Volodymyr Viatrovych.

“This shows that Russia has finally broken with its Soviet past,” Viatrovych said.

“Russia has long insisted, like I do, that all Ukrainians idolize Shukhevych and the UPA. On that we were always in agreement, but until now the Russians had never given my- er…our heroes the respect they deserve.”

Viatrovych said that he was most pleased with the size of the monument, noting that Ukraine has nothing comparable. He also added that every attempt to memorialize Shukhevych and other Ukrainian nationalist leaders in Ukraine has typically been met with controversy and opposition. By contrast, the decision to erect a monument was made within a few days, by President Vladimir Putin’s personal decree. According to Viatrovych, this shows the Russian president’s system is far more efficient.

“I now see the wisdom and true leadership ability of Vladimir Putin, I recognize the superiority of the Russian World, and I will assist in any way that I can,” Viatrovych said.

When asked why he would embrace the nation that annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and started a war that has so far killed over 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, Viatrovych said such questions were “Ukrainophobic.”

So far the Polish Foreign Ministry has declined to comment on the new memorial. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov promised that his country’s retaliatory measures would continue until Poland halts its destruction of Soviet WWII memorials.

“This is only the beginning,” Lavrov said. “We’re already talking about renaming Tverskoy Boulevard after Stepan Bandera, and we might even name one of our upcoming metro stations after Roman Shukhevych as well. We’ve even got a monument to the Ukrainian Insurgent Navy planned for St. Petersburg. GLORY TO UKRAINE! GLORY TO THE HEROES!”

However, when Lavrov was asked if he felt any solidarity with authorities in Kyiv who recently proposed renaming a major street after Roman Shukhevych, he strongly condemned the move and said that Ukraine was under the control of “Nazis.”

Tongue-Lashing

There’s nothing like busting a fresh fake in real time. Yesterday a mysterious post appeared, showing what looked like a street advertisement. Allegedly posted in Kyiv, the ad warns against the “disease” that is the Russian language. Nothing around the edges of the poster gave any clue as to its location.

It seemed from the start to be a phony Kremlin-inspired story, as neither I nor anyone else I know in Kyiv had ever seen the posters. I have on a couple of occasions seen small stickers with anti-Russian language messages posted on lampposts, but that’s it. The coup de grace came when several Ukrainian native speakers pointed out a number of obvious spelling errors in the poster’s text.

Sure enough, like clockwork, the poster resurfaces the next day, tweeted by the infamous Russian UK Embassy account:

This time the background has been blurred, to ensure we can’t have any clue as to where this was taken. There’s no photo of the border so we can see what company owes that particular sign. The outraged photographer only took this one photo. Curious.

Incidentally, it turns out that the poster was actually part of an art competition for “patriotic” posters in 2015. The original poster is somewhat different from the one the Russians have been passing around. It is no doubt extremely controversial, but again this is something made by one man, no doubt largely driven by emotion, participating in a contest. Do I even have to mention that’s a far cry from putting such posters up all over Kyiv, which, incidentally, is a mostly Russian-speaking city?

This, folks, is how the propaganda machine works on a regular basis. This is the bread and butter. Someone creates a fake story, maybe with a photo like this, and then it starts getting redistributed by the usual suspects- Russian government social media accounts and pro-Kremlin media sites.

Just in case you’re wondering- there’s no big controversy with the Russian language in Ukraine. I don’t normally agree with Taras Kuzio, but he has correctly pointed out that there are plenty of Russian language schools in Ukraine while Russia does not have any that I or he knows of. At best I found an article from 2008 which claimed that there were 15 Ukrainian-language schools all throughout Russia at that time, but without any more detail. There have been some laws on language quotas for TV, movies, and radio, but as some Ukrainians told me as far back as 2015, possibly late 2014, the quotas issue is largely an economic protectionist measure. Russia has long toyed around with the idea of limiting the showing of foreign films in its cinemas, and it’s by no means the only other country to engage in such measures.

So in case it’s not yet painfully clear- there is no problem with the Russian language in Ukraine. The language you will most often hear on the streets of Kyiv is Russian. The language I typically use to communicate is Russian. I can understand Ukrainian just fine but if I need to speak and get something done, the fastest, most efficient way for me is to speak Russian or surzhyk and nobody has ever given me any shit for that. I make an effort to speak Ukrainian as much as I can, not because of intimidation but because I want to. Nobody is being persecuted for speaking Russian in Ukraine.

Now maybe those who are so worried about language-based persecution can tell us about the situation with Ukrainian-speakers in the Russian-occupied parts of the Donbas or the Crimea. How are they faring?

 

 

Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe – A Great Introduction to Ukraine

I wanted to do a short post that was positive for a change, so I thought the book review I’d been planning to write for months would naturally be the most appropriate.

Some months ago I finished Serhii Plokhy’s The Gates of Europe – A History of Ukraine, and it is absolutely masterful. It’s strongest features? First, it is written by a Ukrainian historian. No, I’m not saying this like Viatrovych fanboy who says “Ukrainians should write Ukrainian history!” But when studying a country it helps to spend some time reading the work of that country’s historians to get their point of view. While outsiders’ detachment may help free them from potential biases, that same detachment can also cause them to miss or devote less time to those things in the country’s history which don’t necessarily catch their interest. A native historian can give you an idea of what local people find significant about their country.

Secondly, Plokhy strikes a good balance between detail and pacing. One thing about general histories is that they can sometimes be either too light, not delving deep enough into some important events or phenomenon and lacking crucial nuance, or they do the opposite, forcing you to slog through excruciatingly-detailed descriptions of sometimes minor events over the course of centuries. Naturally when I saw the book opens with the region of Ukraine during Antiquity I feared it would be the latter. Yet the author moves at a lively pace, moving more quickly over those parts which aren’t as crucial in the history of Ukraine. And speaking of crucial parts in Ukraine’s history, the book is also very recent, giving the reader key details about events such as the Maidan “Revolution of Dignity,” the Russian annexation of Crimea and the invasion and occupation of the Donbas region.

Having deliberately saved the best for last I can now tell you the greatest feature of Plokhy’s book- it truly brings the Ukrainian people, stretching back to the ancient Rus, to life. It does this by properly reclaiming Ukrainian historical figures whenever they lived, even if they died long before the ethnogenenis of the Ukrainians. Plokhy shows the Ukrainian people, particularly from the early modern era onward, as a coherent nation even though it lacked its own state.

Another great aspect of this portrayal is agency. For much of my life I’ve noticed the tendency of some Ukrainians or well-wishers to portray Ukrainian history as one of victimization and domination. In Plokhy’s history, different groups of Ukrainians act, and sometimes it doesn’t go well for them, but they are responsible. They are not simply acted upon. Even in the Soviet era, a period of Ukrainian history that some nationalists like to declare totally invalid, Plokhy shows that Ukrainians could be both victims and perpetrators, ruled and rulers via their dominance of key cadres after the Stalin era. Rather than treating the centuries of foreign domination in Ukraine as a black hole in which Ukrainians were simply objects and not subjects, he presents the long march toward Ukrainian statehood in a progressive way, from possessions of the Commonwealth and the Russian Empire, to a short-lived series of states in the revolutionary interwar period, to a unified Soviet republic and founding member of the UN, to an independent state suffering from Russian neo-colonialism, and finally to a state up in arms to overcome that neo-colonialism. Regardless of nation state status, Plokhy’s Ukraine has never died.

If I had to note some flaw I could say the book does skimp a bit when it comes to pointing out the role of the OUN-B nationalists and their role in the Holocaust (it does, however, clearly mention the ethnic cleansing of Poles), but if you look at the actual amount of text dedicated to those nationalists in general this is not particularly surprising or egregious. I think sometimes some of my Ukrainian readers infer that I insist every mention of interwar Ukrainian nationalists must necessarily include the laundry list of atrocities committed by some nationalist groups. I suspect this is because of the legacy of Soviet propaganda plus the Yanukovych administration, which often put up monuments to “victims of the Banderites” in places where no Banderites or any other nationalists even operated, such as the Crimea. This is simply idiocy.

Beating the dead nationalist horse is not my aim at all; I don’t really see them as being very relevant to Ukraine today. I’m far more opposed to the whitewashing, glorification, double-standards, and pseudo-history concerning the OUN and UPA. I’m sick of seeing them shoehorned into Ukrainian politics and Ukrainian history whether as heroes or villains. Thus Plokhy’s book truly shines because he gives the nationalists exactly the amount of text they deserve for a movement which never attracted more than a minority of Ukrainians as a whole, many of whom joined only under duress and not out of ideological fervor. The legend of the nationalists, which has been inflated by Soviet and Russian propaganda on one hand and the Bandera cult on the other, gets deflated to its proper place in Ukrainian history by Plokhy. So in the end, the one “flaw” really isn’t a flaw at all, or at least it is a totally defensible one.

In conclusion I highly recommend The Gates of Europe as an essential introductory general history of Ukraine. I think any Ukrainian or person of Ukrainian heritage reading this book would be proud to see that Ukrainians made important contributions in the history of the region and even globally despite lacking a nation state for much of their history.