Posts Tagged ‘Russia’


November 12, 2017


This year’s November 7th passed in Ukraine almost unnoticed. Just another day in late autumn – short, dark and dull. That’s not what the Communist party leaders hoped for when they celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Great October Socialist Revolution” (that was the official name) fifty years ago. I remember 1967 very well. General euphoria flooded the three existing television channels and all the paper media were crammed with “reports” about the achievements of the working people and working intelligentsia on the “labor fronts.” There was no end to all sorts of functions and meetings, to congratulatory telegrams sent by leaders of “brotherly” parties from all over the world. My fellow student said to me then, “Can you imagine what it will be like when the centenary of the Revolution is celebrated?” However, there was nothing on November 7, 2017… Just another November day, dark and boring…

Political experts and analysts have written volumes about the collapse of the Soviet Union, emphasizing various reasons why the implementation of the communist ideology failed. All of them may be right. I am just going to present a layman’s arguments why I am strongly against this ideological experiment to be repeated now or any time in the future.

At first sight, I don’t have much to complain about. I grew in a family in which there were three more children. When our father died, two of the children were still in high school (my brother, who was three years younger, and I were already university students). Our mother, being the only bread-winner in the family with a rather small salary – just enough only to make both ends meet,  managed to raise the younger ones and they also graduated from universities.  I received what I consider to be good education and I felt (and continue to feel 🙂 ) quite comfortable in such areas as pedagogy and foreign languages. Later, when I met American and British educationalist, and then when I taught at schools of Sheffield and Chicago, I saw for myself that my level was not lower than that of my colleagues in Britain or the U.S.A. At the start of my career, I was “given” an apartment to live in. In those days apartments were not bought – they were “given” for free by the administration at your place of work if they thought that you were an efficient and perspective employee, i.e. if you “deserved” this benefit. Apartments became immediately the property of those to whom they were given, and no one could take them away from you, even if you changed your place of work and started working for another enterprise, or even if you went to another city to work.

When I began working after the university, I could afford to buy good books. I collected an excellent home library which contained the best works of world classical literature. My own children were basking in the atmosphere of books and music. When they were little kids, my wife and I used to take them to the seaside either in the Crimea or the Caucasus practically every summer.

No unemployment, residence given for free (and used in perpetuity), free education, free medicine, the motto “A man is a brother (not a wolf) to another man…” Why, then, am I AGAINST that communist experiment?

In the first place, it’s because not everything was free… You could openly say only what the Big Brother expected you to say. I had to be cautious when I was teaching classes. In one of her lectures, in the 1970s, one of my colleagues mentioned (in passing) that millions of people had been murdered on Josef Stalin’s orders. She was reported by an anonymous informer and kicked out from the university within a couple of days.

Earlier I mentioned my home library: John Steinbeck, Harper Lee, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, William Golding, Dylan Thomas, Muriel Spark… Their works were (and are now) on my shelves at arm’s length. But to possess such books as The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitsyn meant much trouble if the possession was discovered. And should the owner give The Gulag Archipelago to a friend to read, that could lead to an arrest and imprisonment of the giver because such an action came under the provision of the law about anti-Soviet propaganda. Myself, I was able to read Solzhenitsyn’s work only in the United States. Earlier, in Britain, I read George Orwell’s 1984 and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, which were also banned in the Soviet Union.

All schools, factories, farms (there were only “collective” farms), all enterprises, offices – no matter how small they could be – each had their “party bureaus” which kept a watchful eye on the behavior of their employees. If anyone (even not a Communist party member) stepped back from the “party line,” repercussions followed right away. In my time there were no mass arrests, as they were in the 1930s,  but dismissal from work was common. There were expulsions of students from universities too. One of our students who knew English best was sent to Alma-Ata (the then capital of the Kazakh Republic in Central Asia)  to participate in an all-U.S.S.R. English competition. There he told (in private, with only a few people present) a “political joke.”  A week or two after his return from Alma-Ata, the local KGB informed the university rector about the “disloyalty” of the student. He was saved from expulsion only because he was in his last year of the university and was already assigned to a certain place to work after graduation.

Incidentally, placements after graduation were another headache for most of the students. The graduates had to work where the educational authorities sent them to – even if the students had found better places of work which were more to their liking and where they were welcomed. Places for students in the first 2-3 years of graduation were in remote (“God-forsaken”) villages, hardly accessible in late fall or winter time, and with very limited number of conveniences.

Travelling abroad was a privilege of the few who were chosen. Again, such trips had to be approved beforehand by a party bureau or a party committee, which supervised subordinated party bureaus. If any stepping back or away “from the line” was revealed before the trip, the candidate was barred from travelling. The same took place when a person returned from a trip abroad with “tarnished reputation” (usually it became known also from anonymous reports). Then, violators were blacklisted and banned from future trips. Another colleague of mine bought a crucifix (a small, next-to-skin baptismal cross) while being on a tour in Bulgaria. A few days after his return, there was a phone call from the regional party committee, followed by a staff meeting where the colleague’s behavior was discussed, and only because he was not a communist party member, the punishment was mild – just a reprimand registered in his work record book.

As regards religion, officially it was not banned, but by default (a popular word in our computer age), it was frowned upon. Scientific Atheism was a required course at all departments in all universities. My mother was a Baptist believer, and I was reticent about it knowing that I would hardly be allowed to work were I was working if the administration found it out.

As a child, I listened to what my parents told me about their childhood. In the 1930s, my grandparents (both on the paternal and maternal lines) had been dispossessed of their land and evicted from their homes just because they were a bit more successful than most other villagers, i.e. they had a few more horses or oxen, their houses were more spacious, etc. After the eviction and their property – even their kitchen utensils – taken from them, they had to go and live at other people’s homes – as a rule, with their distant relatives. And since the relatives could not physically accept the whole family in their houses, the parents lived at one place and the children at another, sometimes in another village. My father’s father was arrested for being “rich” but managed to escape, and lived secretly in another part of the country.

And then, there was so much of deception and lying behind pompous phrases and speeches from TV screens and rostrums. The party bureaucrats, unable to work the command economy, which they called “planned economy”, generated continuous shortages of food, clothes, services, etc. They tried to calm the people by their “skoro budet” (“it’s coming soon”) slogans. However, they did not tighten their own belts. They had special shops (including food shops) which had all sorts of goods inaccessible to “lesser mortals”, special  clinics and hospitals for themselves, right connections… Only one telephone call from a local party boss was enough to solve any issue — even if “to solve” meant to break the law. That was called the “telephone right.” In case with higher education, the telephone right was used, for example, to secure the admission of their sons, daughters and other relatives, or just those from their own clan, to universities, though in most cases young people who were admitted this way didn’t match the admission standards.

I have cast a glance at the latest stage of communism in my country, as I experienced it myself. I could write hundreds of more pages with thousands of examples about why I cannot accept that ideology. It looks human only on the surface – free education, free medicine, “homo homini frater est,” etc., etc. It is inhuman — basically and fundamentally.



May 13, 2017

2017-05-13Victory Day

Having seen quite a few Ukrainian presidents and governments for the last twenty-two years, I cannot but arrive at the conclusion that all of them may be diagnosed with what the psychiatrists call a “multiple personality disorder.” Within the last quarter of a century our leaders and ruling bodies were positioning themselves both as socialists and capitalists, internationalists and nationalists, Euro-Asians and Europeans, conservatives and liberals, Soviets and anti-Soviets, etc. The holidays and events which are marked in this country and which conflict with each other are a consistent pattern of this attitude. There was a time when we celebrated the Day of (Ukrainian) Independence along with the Day of October (Russian) Revolution – the latter actually did away with the Ukrainian independence in 1917. Until recently the Ukrainians celebrated the Day of their own Armed Forces and the Defender of (Russian) Fatherland Day, the International Women’s Day (in March) and Mother’s Day (in May). It must be admitted, however, that this practice has its tradition: we have always had two Christmases, two New Years and, very often, two Easters.

It was crystal clear from the very beginning that Day of Memory/Reconciliation that is observed on May 8th, and Victory Day celebrated on May 9th are poles apart. One day, we are supposed to grieve over the victims and reconcile with our former adversaries, and the next day, we should be jubilant over the victory and, shaking our fists at the enemy, say: “We may repeat it, if need be.” Besides, those who were laying wreaths at memorials on May 9th, remembered not so much the World War as they were filled with malice, if not hatred, towards Ukraine. They were chanting anti-Ukrainian slogans, they identified with St. George’s ribbon in the lapel of Putin’s coat and with his “immortal battalions.”

There was at least one good point in what happened on May 9th: it helped draw a more distinct demarcation line between Russia and Ukraine and see more clearly who Ukraine’s enemy inside Ukraine is. Should we, then, observe Day of Reconciliation?

P.S. The cartoon introducing this blog was posted in the Int’l Herald Tribune 12 years ago. However, it looks quite modern. Alas!


May 9, 2016

In Soviet times there circulated a story about the Russian traffic police trying to solve the problem of road accidents. The decision was made to look into how traffic is arranged in the country with the fewest number of such accidents – Britain. It turned out that in the UK they had left-hand traffic. “That may be the key to the solution,” thought the authorities and were about to introduce that system in Russia. However (better safe than sorry, they thought), they ordered that, as an experiment, only private cars and bikes should ride on the left side of the road. Lorries should keep running on the right side, as before.

The story popped up in my mind these days, when Ukraine is marking a double holiday: the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation on May 8, and the Day of Victory over Nazism in WWII on May 9. Having nothing against May 8th holiday, which is on the list of the UNO international days and which is formulated as Time of Remembrance and Reconciliation, I’m against the celebration of the Day of Victory. There are at least three reasons for that. First: only German Nazism was crushed in WWII. Soviet Nazism (or, fascism – I don’t see much difference between the two) was alive and kicking – with its reprisals and persecution of free thinking, its gulags and brinkmanship, with its “socialist camp” of East European countries, with its propaganda, brainwashing, isolationism, etc. Second: for Ukraine, as a Russian colony in those days, the end of WWII was no victory at all. And the poof of it was the self-sacrificing war waged by the Ukrainian Rebellion Army against the Soviets that continued in Western Ukraine into the early 1950s. Third: to celebrate the DAY OF VICTORY  NOW (I emphasize the “Day of 2016-05-09Hitler and Putin-bVictory” and “now”) means to dance to the music of the Russian Hitler. This morning, in a threatening military parade in Moscow, the latest nuclear weapons were on a boastful display. And this morning, in a number of Ukrainian cities the Russian fifth column was demonstrating with the chauvinistic St. George ribbons. Wasn’t that a consequence of the Ukrainian’s government’s left-right-hand-traffic schizophrenia?


2016-05-09-b-Remembrence and ReconciliationAs for the Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation, I’d rather mention the forgiving spirit of the Ukrainian people again. I say “again”, because I described it in my very first blog entry, in September 2007, when I wrote about my uncle who had been a Soviet soldier and had been killed one day before the war in Europe finished. Soon afterwards, his wife married again and left her daughter Katya (my cousin) with her own parents (Katya’ grandfather and grandmother) . Katya, being actually an orphan, once told me that she had never felt any animosity towards the Germans, although the killed-in-action notice informing the family about her father’s death had always been with her.


May 4, 2016

2016-05-04Monstration-8Monstrations (shortening of “demonstrations”) are the only thing I have liked about Russia  in the last 30 years. Launched in 2004 in Novosibirsk, monstrations gained popularity and were held in a dozen other cities of Russia. I like them for at least three reasons. First of all, the participants mock official demonstrations and slogans by making a travesty of them. It is done in witty way: on the surface a “monstrated” slogan may look quite innocent, apolitical, and not prosecutable at all, but the implied meaning ridicules the stupidity and insolence of the officialdom.  In Putin’s retro-Soviet Russia party functionaries and other bureaucrats are rather sensitive as regards any gibes directed at their god-like status.

Second of all, I like young people (and monstrators are mostly young) maintaining their right to look and to sound  absurd. In an authoritarian country, which Russia undeniably is, absurdism is a kind of social protest.

2016-05-04Monstration-12Lastly, many slogans exploit red-hot topics of Russian life and are built on a play of words, which makes them cross-culturally and linguistically attractive.

Here are a few “translatable” slogans and some pictures – to give an idea of this event held annually on May 1. The last picture presents a mock flag of the United States of Siberia, which is a reference to official statements that the U.S. “conspires” to break Siberia away from Russia.

1. Monstrators Go For Mocracy!

  1. Hell is Ours (the association with the annexation of the Crimea, which was accompanied by the motto “Crimea is Ours”)
  2. Spring Has Come –Monstrators Are Back (reference to the painting by the 19th -century Russian artist Aleksey Savrasov “Rooks Are Back.” The picture is known to every Russian. Once all of them had to write a high school essay “Rooks Are 2016-05-04Monstration-15Back” with Savrasov’s work mounted on a classroom blackboard).
  3. Were Were Made To Attend The Monstration. (this slogan scoffs at the mandatory attendance of communist civil parades in Soviet times.)
  4. “My Dad Makes Me Eat Porridge” (the banner is carried by a six-year-old boy)
  5. “Onwards – To The Dark Future!” (the bureaucratic cliché has always been: ”… bright future.”)
  6. I’m bored by our smooth roads (roads in Russia are far from being smooth)
  7. Don’t’ Tell The Keepers that I’m Here (the guy is wearing a straightjacket).
  8. Forbid to Ban!
  9. “Lift Up The Black Square: Malevich Is Our Elder Brother (the slogan is rhymed, which attributes more power to it.)

2016-05-04Monstration-13bSome banners are absolutely empty, but are still  being carried by the monstrators. On one of such banners you may read: “I had no time to write anything.”

Incidentally, an absurdist approach was used by a guy in Moscow who wore a Putin mask and had a sign “War Criminal” on his chest. Eventually he was detained by the police:

A REPOST from The Daily Vertical: Putin Smells Blood

February 9, 2016

by Brian Whitmore


As the shaky Minsk cease-fire agreement nears its first anniversary, Russia clearly smells blood in Ukraine.

Pro-Moscow separatists have increased their attacks in Donbas in recent weeks. Kyiv officials are reporting 71 attacks a day in the vicinity of Donetsk, Horlivka, and Mariupol.

Yesterday, Vladimir Putin ordered snap military drills involving ground troops and airborne forces near the Ukrainian borders.

And according to a report in Novaya Gazeta, separatists in eastern Ukraine are threatening to execute prisoners of war.

Meanwhile, a government crisis in Kyiv has paralyzed decision making and the military is struggling to find replacements for 40,000 soldiers who will be decommissioned in March.

And to top is all off, Western resolve to continue supporting Ukraine is clearly fading.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen told Reuters last week that it would be difficult for Europe to maintain unity on extending sanctions against Russia if Ukraine doesn’t step up reforms.

This, of course, all plays right into Putin’s hands.

Putin’s strategy in Ukraine has long been to keep the conflict simmering, wait for political dysfunction to set in in Kyiv, and hope for the onset of Ukraine fatigue in the West.

The Kremlin leader has been ruthless. He’s been duplicitous. And he’s been patient.

And it appears that his strategy is finally working.


January 13, 2016

I watched President Obama’s State of the Union address on YouTube and was surprised to hear that Ukraine, in his words, is Russia’s client state. The word “client” is not in the published text but that’s what Mr. Obama actually said (the words added by the President are in bold italics, though they are not found in the printed text of the address):

As someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time. But that’s not (primarily) because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower (out there). In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia. Economic headwinds blow from a Chinese economy in (significant) transition. Even as their economy (severely) contracts, Russia is pouring resources (in) to prop up Ukraine and Syria – (client) states they see (“saw” was the word used) slipping away from their orbit. And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

The statement that Russia is pouring resources “to prop up Ukraine” also put me at my wits’ end. Until that moment I had thought that Russia was doing just the opposite — destabilizing Ukraine. Mr. Obama also lumped the pro-Western Ukraine together with the pro-Russian Syria… And when he introduced this part of his speech exploiting the dichotomy of evil empires and failing states, how did he categorize China and Russia – as empires or as failing states? Or did he mean that Ukraine is a failing state? I don’t feel that my country is such.

I understand that even a Harvard graduate cannot be jack of all trades. But, at least, he is supposed to have a team of experts who are geopolitically literate and who can give proper shaping to proper statements.


December 9, 2015

By Michael Bird, Lina Vdovii, and Yana Tkachenko

Peace in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region comes with high risks, as ongoing negotiations are greeted with scepticism by citizens, analysts, and authorities on both sides of the conflict.

Russian-backed separatists have been in control of large parts of the Donbass region of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts since March 2014.

Currently under negotiation is a settlement which returns the zone to the Ukrainian state in return for an amnesty for rebel leaders, local elections in February and semi-independence for the territories.

But critics argue this legitimises the Russian-backed rebels’ annexation of property and businesses in the conflict zone, further undermining the economically and politically fragile Ukrainian state.

“The Russians will give Ukraine a poisoned chalice,” says Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “The idea is to make sure that Ukraine fails. This suits Moscow.”

After 8,050 people died in the Donbass conflict, the separatists and Ukrainian army are slowly withdrawing heavy weapons from the conflict zone, although fighting continues.

Ongoing peace negotiations involve the Minsk Contact Group, including representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s republics (DPR and LPR).

This works in tandem with the Normandy Format of French, German, Russian, and Ukrainian leaders.

Russia pushing to return Donbas

Russia is pushing to “reinsert” occupied Donbas into Ukraine with huge costs for its redevelopment and a rebel leadership which has taken control of private property, Ukrainian state mines, hundreds of retail outlets and banks, while sanctioning the destruction of factories and other mines and the sale of their assets as scrap metal.

The rebels’ position could be empowered by a win in elections planned for the occupied LPR and DPR on 20 February 2016.

But this deal generates little enthusiasm among those in Ukraine on both sides.

The rebel leader of Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, has said in a video: “No one from us wants to return to Ukraine and as I understand it, Ukraine doesn’t want us either.”

But he indicated there is room for compromise. Kyiv would need to grant amnesty to rebels accused of war crimes and a “special status” for the LPR and DPR, which would require a change in the Ukrainian constitution.

Favoured by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, this could legitimise the rebels’ institutions, in exchange for maintaining Ukrainian sovereignty and ending the killing.

The head of the DPR security council, Alexandr Khodakovsky, also supports reintegration, but under terms favourable to the self-proclaimed republics. In September, he told he is “not satisfied” with what Kyiv has to offer.

But on the street of Donetsk, most residents are sceptical about the effectiveness of talks between Ukraine, the separatists, Russia, and the OSCE in Minsk.

“I consider all peace negotiations finished when world leaders appear and say: ‘Gentlemen, the war has ended, no one else will shoot!’,” says Oleg, a student. “Because when they start to talk about something in Minsk, the gunfire begins in Donetsk.”

Putin’s political death

Despite the promise of an armistice, many still witness violence as part of daily life.

“It is likely that the withdrawal of arms after some agreements is happening, but there is still shooting every night,” says a manager, Marina, from the Kiev District of Donetsk city.

There is a demand for more practical solutions

“We are tired and want it to finish soon,” says Marina. “It is necessary to prepare for winter, not to engage in conversation. It is not clear whether we have gas, water, or electricity. This is what worries me – not the next negotiations.”

Donetsk governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky (who is pro-Kiev) also has a pessimistic attitude toward the Minsk process.

“A democratically successful Ukraine would mean the death of imperial Russia and Putin’s political death,” he says.

“Putin is not ready to leave Ukraine alone. Without the tightening of sanctions against Russia and without the economic collapse of Russia, to say that peace will come to Ukraine and Donbas means to deceive oneself.”

The governor spoke in his office in Kramatorsk, 70 km from the makeshift border.

“The shelling became more frequent last night – 15 attacks, the night before – 18 attacks,” he said. “The rebels are accumulating forces near the town of Novoazovsk, near Mariupol [a port in Ukraine]. Therefore, peace is very far from here.”

With a deal in place, Russia gifts to Ukraine is to be a collapsed infrastructure, a gangster ruling class, a broken economy, and a traumatised population, almost half of which are scattered across the rest of the country.

Donbass may become the region nobody wants, but Ukraine needs to preserve its territorial integrity. The region is on the road to becoming de jure a Ukrainian province, but de facto a Russian-backed micro-state.

“Pragmatically, in three years Ukraine could easily live without that territory,” says a Donetsk businessman and politician in exile in Kiev, Vitaliy Kropachov.

“But it is ours and nobody can guarantee that once we let it go, other scenarios like this will not take place in other regions. Federalisation cannot even be considered. We are a united country.”

(The address of the article:


April 12, 2015

All the major news media reported about the anti-communist laws adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament last Thursday. The bill is still to be signed by President, but there is little doubt that it will be signed. According to the bill, propaganda and symbols of the “totalitarian Communist and Nazi regimes” in the former Soviet republic are banned. The list of prohibited items includes street names, flags and monuments commemorating Communist leaders. Items prohibited under the bill include the Soviet flag and hymn as well as monuments and historical plaques commemorating Communist leaders.

In my opinion, these laws are far more important than they look or sound. The parliamentary voting cannot be overestimated: the change of ideological memes in Ukraine, which are widely understood as cultural analogues of the human organism’s genetic structure, results in a Ukrainian turned from Homo Sovieticus (“Soviet man) into Homo Dignus (“man of dignity”). In the future the process may spread to other post-USSR republics including Russia. In fact, that’s why the Russian propaganda machine is at the moment so hysterical in its unacceptance of the new Ukrainian legislation: they were able to keep Ukraine in the Russian orbit only by sticking to the Communist dogma of the Soviet people as a “new historical community” solidified by the common historical past and by what had been achieved under the “(Communist) Party leadership.”

Interestingly, it looks like the Russian leadership is afraid that the events of the Ukrainian “revolution of dignity” can replicate in their country just as genes or memes replicate.  From April 2 till April 9 the Russian Interior troops (40,000 police out of the total number 170,000) were trained in a drill named “Shield-2015.” The training was arranged in the whole of the European part of Russia – and also in the annexed Crimea – in the light of what had happened “in one of the neighbouring countries”, as the authorities put it (of course, Ukraine was meant). To create the situation close to reality all the attributes of “those events” were used – down to burning tyres and stones and Molotov cocktails being thrown at the police. And all that was done despite Vladimir Putin’s rating of approval reaching 85 per cent, despite the media in Russia being under total control, despite a disheartened opposition and the hysteria of patriotism sweeping the country. How insecure the regime must feel!

As I said in the beginning, the Ukrainian Parliament voted on the anti-communist laws last Thursday. The Thursday before Easter Sunday is called “Clean Thursday” in Ukraine, which corresponds to “Maundy Thursday”, or “Shear/Sheer Thursday” in Western religious terminology. Hopefully, the day will also become a spiritual meme symbolising that the country started shearing itself of its shameful past.

Happy Easter!


April 11, 2015

2015-04-11putins-dog-koniWe were the post-war generation. I remember myself as a kid living in a tiny wattle-and-daub hut until I was thirteen. The matter was that my grandparents’ house had been burnt when a bomb hit it during the Germans’ retreat from our village in 1943, so a hut was hastily built instead – in the hope that something more solid would shortly be built after the war was over, but neither my grandparents, nor parents could scrape any money for it. The charred remains of the pre-war home were dug out all the time as soon as we started working in our vegetable garden next to the hut.

Another thing that I remember from those days was the fear of a future war with America. Moscow crammed it into our heads that the “imperialists” were ready to drop nuclear bombs on us as they had dropped them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We, in the Soviet Union, would certainly strike back, and the whole of the world would burn in the atomic war, but we, being generally PEACEFUL, would never use the nuclear bomb first, because nothing could be worse than a war, because most families in the village had someone who had been injured or killed in the war, because half of the village had been burnt in the war, etc.

Of course, the peacefulness and non-aggressiveness of the state which had been Hitler’s ally some ten years before, and which had stolen the secret of the nuclear bomb right after the war – to arm itself in no time – could be doubted.  But the idea of using the Bomb was presented as the worst crime against humanity and it was firmly implanted in our brains that “we” (i.e. the USSR, or Russia) would not use it first. Actually, that attitude explains a much later uproar when President Reagan said facetiously into a live mike that he had signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever and that bombing would begin in five minutes. A few days after the gaff the official news agency TASS declared that this kind of behavior was incompatible with the great responsibility “borne by heads of nuclear states for the destinies of their own people and mankind.”

When I hear now that Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to start a nuclear war against Ukraine, the Baltic States or Denmark to keep NATO out of his back yard, I ask myself where the Kremlin’s “great responsibility” has gone. One reason can be that the new Russia has thrown off its disguise and shown its true face. However, I also think that such a cavalier attitude about the likely nuclear war is explained generationally.  The Putinites, who are now in power, didn’t see the mass carnage Khrushchev or Brezhnev saw. A war for them was a thing of the past, or something that other people do. So, why not grab a part of a neighboring country and flex their nuclear muscles now? Nuclear blustering for Putin is very much like demonstrating his masculinity when he poses with his shirt off, or when he scares Chancellor Merkel by letting his hound attend their meeting.

The line between the nuclear intimidation and the real war may be thinner than political machos think it is.  Or is it understood only by those who, as kids, lived in mud-huts and dug out burnt bricks in their gardens for years after the war?


January 26, 2015

A pessimistic , but very likely prospect for Ukraine in the article which I am re-posting from


January 23, 2015

Events this week may finally wake up Kyiv to the reality it is facing. Ukraine is at war with Russia. It has been so for many months, as was obvious some time ago to those with eyes wanting to see. Ukraine’s government has not been in that group, and as military reverses mounted, hiding from painful facts has continued. In their own way, Kyiv mouthpieces have been nearly as dishonest in their depictions of the Russo-Ukrainian War as the Kremlin.

In the face of mountains of contrary evidence, Kyiv insisted that the war in the Donbas has been an “anti-terrorist operation” and that the enemy found there are “terrorists” rather than the Russian soldiers that most of them are. In recent days, Moscow has dropped any pretence and is dispatching battalions across the border essentially openly. Once commonplace efforts to mask insignia identifying these units as regular Russian troops have dissipated as Vladimir Putin feels he no longer needs to hide his aggressive presence in Ukraine.

Why should he? Kyiv is a paper tiger, the Europeans are cowered in the corner, terrified of the Kremlin’s next move, while Obama is talking tough about how Russia is losing this conflict, despite the fact that obviously it is not. As usual, Obama is all vapid and chest-puffing talk, coupled with very little action. The White House’s tendency towards escapism in foreign policy has become increasingly marked in a manner that ought to worry all those who like a free Europe, but Obama has no grounds to criticize Kyiv for its dishonest depiction of events in Eastern Europe.

The fall of Donetsk airport this week says a lot about Petro Poroshenko and his presidency, none of it flattering. While there was little Ukraine could have done about the loss of Crimea last spring — they were floored by Putin’s unleashing of Special War with its “little green men,” just as NATO was, and Ukraine had no desire to confront Russia head-on, thinking a wider war might be averted — Kyiv’s leadership since then deserves harsh assessment.

Ham-handed summertime efforts to put pressure on Russian troops and their local proxies led to disaster at Ilovaisk, where ill-prepared and supplied Ukrainian troops and volunteers were cut to pieces. Rather than take the obvious lesson from this, that due to a lack of troops, especially battle-ready ones, Ukraine needed to establish more defensible positions in the Southeast, Kyiv did nothing of the sort.

Instead we wound up with the needless siege of Donetsk airport, an objective of no strategic value except that Poroshenko and his administration said many times that it must be held at any costs, implying Ukraine itself would be lost if this worthless heap of rubble fell to the rebels. Given such rhetoric, one might expect a no-holds barred effort to reinforce the defense, but this being Poroshenko, nothing of the sort happened.

Instead the “cyborgs” bravely holding on to Donetsk airport remained outnumbered, poorly supplied, and dismally led, so their eventual defeat was only a matter of time. With astonishing stupidity, just last weekend Poroshenko, breathing fire, publicly promised that all lost Ukrainian land would be retaken, then turned around and said he was a peace president, not a war president. Then he promptly flew to Davos to hang out with the global one-percent-of-one-percent jet-set. It’s no surprise that many Ukrainian frontline soldiers hate Putin yet actively despise their own president.

I’ve already called on Poroshenko to step down if he cannot manage the war, and it’s painfully clear that he cannot. My counsel last week, that Ukraine must emulate Croatia in the 1990’s — and definitely not Georgia more recently — if it wants to win this war, has been met with pushback from fans of Poroshenko, whose argument really boils down to: this is hard. Yes, war is very hard, perhaps even hell if you believe certain battle-tested generals.

A lot of Ukrainians are angry that they have been left in the lurch by NATO, forgetting that they are not a member of the Alliance. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Ukrainians accept that and stop feeling sorry for themselves and get in the war, the better. To be clear: Putin has engaged in naked aggression against his neighbor, just as Milošević did against Croatia in 1991. Yet if Zagreb had approached that war as Ukraine has dealt with its current crisis, complaining instead of fighting, substituting hashtags for strategy, one-third of Croatia would still be in Serbian hands today, an eternally frozen conflict, and that country would still be decades away from membership in NATO or the EU.

Given the complete lack of serious mobilization for war by Poroshenko, the next move is Putin’s. Given rather strongly suggested Russian objectives, plus looking at a map, it’s likely Russian forces will next move on Mariupol, in an effort to create a land bridge to Crimea. Outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian troops will resist bravely, again, and again they will lose. At this point there is nothing militarily stopping Putin from creating Novorossiya, a Russian pseudo-state running from the Donbas across the Black Sea coast over to their pseudo-state in Transnistria.

Creating Novorossiya would deprive Ukraine of any coastline, which is another reason Putin may seek to do that. It needs to be understood that, after so many needless and humiliating Ukrainian defeats, Putin is only one operational-level victory away from breaking hard-pressed Kyiv’s military in any meaningful sense. The Kremlin can already dictate its terms in the Southeast of Ukraine, and soon it will be able to exert its political will, without a full-scale invasion, over the whole shambolic country.

Putin has the military means to take over all Ukraine, particularly given Russia’s total control of the air, but that would be a fool’s errand, a humanitarian nightmare coupled with an endless insurgency. We can assume the General Staff has told “the boss” what would happen in that case, and we can hope Putin is listening. More likely is the creation of Novorossiya, step by step, under the Russian tricolor, and with that the shattering of any Ukrainian conventional military capability — and political will.

After that, the partition of Ukraine will be easy. The most likely end-state would be a three-way cutting up of the country, with Novorossiya, like Crimea, being joined to the Motherland by a triumphant Putin. The middle of the country around Kyiv, still called Ukraine, would emerge a rump Russian vassal state, independent in name only, to serve as a buffer between Russia and NATO. Ukraine’s West would go its own way, by default. Consisting of an expanded East Galicia, Austrian until 1918, this is the heartland of Ukrainian nationalism, unclaimed even by Russian hardliners, who acknowledge its special status and history. Those with long memories will recall that in 1918, after the Habsburgs fell, the West did not seek immediate union with the rest of Ukraine: expect the Kremlin to “remember” this soon. West Ukraine, the remnant not eaten by the Russian shark, would soon join NATO and the EU, as the Russians off-record understand and accept.

This fate is not preordained, yet it approaches fast, and should be acknowledged as the likely outcome of this war by Ukrainians who seem unable to grasp the gravity of the situation Ukraine faces — starting with Poroshenko. Should Ukraine be broken and partitioned by Russia, a sad history will have repeated itself, and Putin will have thoroughly overturned Europe’s post-Cold War order. This is only part of a broader struggle between Putin and the West — since members of the Russian elite are publicly warning of war with the United States, we may want to pay attention — but Ukraine is the main battleground for now. There Putin is winning, and he will continue to triumph unless Kyiv decides to get serious about the war that has been forced upon Ukraine. They will lose much more than Crimea and the Donbas if they do not.

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