Spring Report: Ukraine
Why the crusade for war with Russia over Ukraine?
This is Autonomia’s first news report.
Where is Ukraine?
Ukraine’s in Asia, though it’s arguably also part of Europe. One historian writing about Ukraine points out that its location might be described as Eurasia. The answer’s centrally related to Russia. Over 20 years ago, in Russia and the Russians: A History (the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), Geoffrey Hosking asked: “Who were the Russians? What were the appropriate borders of their state?”
Part of the author’s conclusion is that “[b]y Russia’s imperial mission, as the creator and sustainer of a great multiethnic empire in northern Eurasia; this is the view which has the firmest basis in history, and it would imply borders similar to those of the USSR…[and that as] a nation of east Slavs, this would imply some kind of formal union between Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia.”
Even the leftist Washington Post, leading the current crusade for the U.S. to wage another altruistic war—this time over Ukraine—once admitted that the matter of Ukraine’s history and borders is complicated. As recently as 2015, the Post reported that “[b]eneath the political divisions of the present lies a country's deep, complex past. The land that's now Ukraine has long been dear to Russian nationalists. But it has also been home to a host of other peoples and empires. Its shifting borders and overlapping histories all have echoes in the current heated moment.”
The newspaper detailed “how Ukraine became Ukraine over 1,300 years of history, mapped by the Washington Post's cartographer Gene Thorp…” (read the article here.) That said, Ukraine is a sovereign state between Poland and Russia.
What is the essential conflict in Ukraine?
It’s not easy to trace, let alone simply explain, the origins of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But it’s clear that the new American administration under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, as against Donald Trump’s presidency, signaled an interest in allowing Ukraine to join the West, i.e., NATO and the European Union. This was widely known to be unacceptable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
According to Time magazine, “…On the last day of February, [Ukrainian leader Volodymyr] Zelensky appeared before a camera in the government compound to sign a formal application to join the E.U. ‘Our goal is to be together with all Europeans and, most importantly, to be on an equal footing,’ he said. ‘I’m sure it’s fair. I’m sure it’s possible.’ All of a sudden, after nearly two decades of frustrating talks with E.U. leaders, Ukraine appeared to be within reach of joining the bloc. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told reporters the same day that Ukraine is “one of us and we want them in the European Union.”
The catalyst for Ukraine’s sudden admission to the West appears, according to Time, to have come with the Biden administration: “Days after the inauguration of President Joe Biden,” Time reported, “America’s allies in [Kiev] decided to get tough on [Russian-allied, Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor] Medvedchuk. The Ukrainian government [led by Zelensky] started by taking [government opposition] TV channels off the air, depriving Russia of its propaganda outlets in the country. The U.S. Embassy in [Kiev] applauded the move.”
Subsequently, Ukraine seized Medvedchuk’s family assets, including a pipeline bringing Russian oil to Europe, enriching Medvedchuk and his family, which includes Putin‘s goddaughter, Daria, and funding Medvedchuk’s political party. Putin’s response came less than 48 hours later in a statement from the Russian Defense Ministry announcing the deployment of 3,000 paratroopers to the Russian/Ukrainian border for “large scale exercises,” training troops to “seize enemy structures and hold them until the arrival of the main force.” Russia’s military buildup escalated to more than 100,000 troops.
Previously, as Time reported, “[w]hen Medvedchuk brought the offer [to supply a coronavirus vaccine] to [Kiev], the [Ukrainian] government rejected it. So did the U.S. state department, which accused Russia of using its vaccine as a tool of political influence. But as the death toll mounted in Ukraine—and no vaccine shipments arrived from the West—voters turned away from Zelensky in droves. By the fall of 2020, his approval ratings fell well below 40 percent, compared with over 70 percent a year earlier. In some polls taken that December, Medvedchuk’s party was in the lead.”
Unpopular Zelensky grew especially concerned about the opposition party’s TV channels, which he decided to take off the air. This was conceived by Zelensky, according to Zelensky’s former security adviser, as a welcome gift to the Biden administration. Time reported that some of Zelensky‘s advisers, especially in the intelligence community, did not approve of the move against Medvedchuk. “At least he’s the devil we know,” one retired spy chief told Time in Kiev, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, U.S. federal police under Biden went after Putin’s allies. “Oleg Voloshyn, a prominent member of Medvedchuk’s party, was greeted by the FBI when he arrived in Washington last summer, according to Time. Other complicating factors exacerbating the conflict include that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and two others reportedly suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning after attending peace talks between Russia and Ukraine in March. All three recovered. Russia denies involvement.
What is Ukraine’s history—including its boundaries?
The answer is both chilling and mired in dispute. In terms of historiography, Ukraine’s history is also extremely mixed. History, reporting and writing demonstrates that Ukraine is a melting pot of the worst of what Ayn Rand described as “the bloodiest dictatorship on earth;” Soviet Russia.
Ukraine’s history includes a period of time in the mid-1600s when, according to Hosking, the Cossacks pledged their loyalty to Russia’s czar and Ukrainian aristocrats and municipalities were recognized—“the first time that Ukrainians had had their own state recognized in international law”—and took the Cossack name Hetmanate. Hosking notes that “[t]he concepts [forming Hetmanate] were one social stratum, not a whole nation, and [the Cossacks’] link to the Ukrainian peasantry was weak, not to say antagonistic.…The frustrated Hetmanate periodically flirted with the idea of returning to the Polish fold.”
Ukraine became a dumping ground for Jews when “…Moscow merchants petitioned in 1791 to be shielded from Jewish competition,” and Russia issued a decree forbidding Jews to settle in certain cities, confining Jews to Ukraine. Today’s Ukrainian culture began to form, including an embrace of “hereditary land tenure.”
One ruler, Petr Stolypin, hoped that new privatized markets would mark the establishment of a market economy in Ukraine, becoming a base for the monarchy and rule of law. “In practice,” Hosking writes, “the very peasants he hoped to see as pioneers of the new Russia proved to be the ones most attached to the commune.”
Ukrainians were self-doubting, and were particularly deferential to Russia. The most educated Ukrainians did not think “…it was possible or useful to develop their own literary language when Russians already had one. Perhaps the most talented Ukrainian writer of the 1830s, Nikolai Gogol, deliberately left his homeland, went to St. Petersburg, and published in Russian, because he believed that was the right way to make a contribution to serious literature.”
Of course, this became self-fulfilling. In 1876, an interior minister warned the czar that “permitting the creation of a special literature for the common people in the Ukrainian dialect would signify collaborating in the alienation of Ukraine from the rest of Russia…[and that t]o permit the separation of 13 million little Russians would be the most political irresponsibility.”
The tethering of Ukraine to Russia became permanent. As Stephen Kotkin writes in Stalin, Volume One: Paradoxes of Power, 1878 to 1928 (Penguin Press, 2014):
Russia’s double-headed eagle nested across a greater expanse than that of any other state, before or since. The realm came to encompass not just the palaces of St. Petersburg and the golden domes of Moscow, but Polish and Yiddish speaking wilno and Warsaw, the German-founded Baltic ports of Riga and Reval, the Persian and Turkic-language oases of Bukhara and Samarkand (site of Tamerlane’s tomb), and the new people of Sakhalin Island near the Pacific Ocean. “Russia” encompassed the cataracts and Cossack settlements of wildly fertile Ukraine and the swamps and trappers of Siberia. It acquired borders on the Arctic and Danube, the Mongolian plateau, and Germany. The Caucasus barrier, too, was breached and folded in, bringing Russia onto the Black and Caspian seas, and giving it borders with Iran and the Ottoman empire.”
The connection proved deadly on a mass scale. Ukraine was starved by the Communist dictatorship. In Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents, edited by Lewis Siegelbaum and Andrei Sokolov, one Soviet citizen reported during dictator Josef Stalin’s rule that in 1932 that starving Ukrainian peasants were desperate to trade all their possessions, including shoes and clothes, “for any crust of bread whatsoever.”
“When you ask them, ‘who is to blame?’ They answer: Soviet power, which has taken our grain away from us down to the last kernel, dooming us to hunger and poverty.”
The 1999 Harvard University Press Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression attempts to document the horror. The book traces and details certain “particularities of Ukraine” to explain brutality among Bolsheviks against Ukrainian peasantry against Whites. Various Ukrainian armies opposed the return of landowners. Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev (now referred to as Kyiv,) was under different rulers 14 times in two years. Tribalism, warring and mixing added layers to the mix.
“Ukraine for the Ukrainians, down with the Bolsheviks and the Jews,” went one Ukraine slogan, according to the Black Book of Communism, which was accompanied by: “Share out the land,” “free enterprise, free trade” and “Long live Soviet power, down with the Bolsheviks and the Jews!” Peasants in Ukraine demanded the end of requisitioning, the elimination of taxes, “freedom for socialist and anarchist parties, redistribution of land” and more. As Stalin cracked down on any sliver of Ukrainian independence, Soviet Russia‘s slaughter became epic and historic. Italians in Kharkiv testified that:
… the peasants who flock to the towns because there is no hope of survival in the countryside, there are also children who are simply brought here and abandoned by their parents, who then return to their village to die. Their hope is that someone in the town will be able to look after their children… patrolled by dvorniki, attendants in white uniforms, who collect the children and take them to the nearest police station… Around midnight they are all transported in trucks [to] …where all the children who are found in stations and on trains, the peasant families, the old people, and all the peasants who have been picked up during the day are gathered together… Medical team does a sort of selection process… Anyone who is not swollen up and still has a chance of survival is directed to the Kholodnaya Gora buildings, where a constant population of about 8000 lies dying …Most of them are children. People who are already starting to swell up and are moved out in goods trains and abandoned about 40 miles out of town so that they can die out of sight. When they arrive at the destination, huge ditches are dug, and the dead or carried out of the wagons.”
Cannibalism was recorded in state documents and became a problem:
“[E]very night the bodies of more than 250 people who have died from hunger or typhus are collected. Many of those bodies have had their liver removed, through a large slit in the abdomen. The police finally picked up some of these mysterious amputators who confessed that they were using the meat as a filling for the meat pies that they were selling in the market.”
There’s evidence, according to Generation X author Simon Sebag Montefiore, who studied and traveled in Ukraine and wrote Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (Alfred Knopf, 2004), that Communist starving of Ukraine was, like the Nazi holocaust, trivialized, falsified and distorted, downplaying any tie to history and philosophy.
“The temptation has been to blame all the crimes on one man, Stalin,” Montefiore writes. “There is an obsession in the West today with the cult of villainy: a macabre but inane competition between Stalin and Hitler to find the ‘world’s most evil dictator’ by counting their supposed victims. This is demonology not history. It has the effect of merely indicting one madman and offers us no lesson about either the danger of utopian ideas and systems, or the responsibility of individuals.”
I think this is a particularly compelling point that has relevance to today’s war between Putin’s Russia and Zelensky’s Ukraine, which, in the old intellectuals’ push for war, elevates the latter to the status of heroic freedom fighter and reduces the former to a mad, demonic tyrant—oversimplifying the war.
In his 2004 book on Stalin, Montefiore does not minimize Stalin’s evil; he notes that, in “a village near Kharkov, then capital of Ukraine,” inhabitants were found dead, “except one insane woman” and rats were feasting in huts which had become death houses. When this was reported to the Soviet Ukraine bureaucrat in charge, he replied: “We know millions are dying. That is unfortunate but the glorious future of the Soviet Union will justify it.”
The author pegs the horror to its source: philosophy, noting that Lenin said: “the peasant must do a bit of starving” and that “[a] revolution without firing squads is meaningless.” Montefiore underscores a crucial distinction which is lost on many, perhaps most, modern historians:
The Bolsheviks were atheists but they were hardly secular politicians in the conventional sense: they stooped to kill from the smugness of the highest moral eminence. Bolshevism may not have been a religion, but it was close enough. Stalin told Beria the Bolsheviks were ‘a sort of military religious order.’ When Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, died, Stalin called him ‘a devout knight of the proletariat.’ Stalin’s ‘order of sword-bearers’ resemble the Knights Templars, or even the theocracy of the Iranian ayatollahs…”
The importance of Ukraine is also crucial to more recent Russian history, especially to the collapse of Soviet Russia. As Communist and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev loosened restrictions and controls while the Communist system failed and began to weaken, he sought to bridge a gap between freedom and slavery. This policy—dubbed perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), both of which are fallacies—included Ukraine.
As Geoffrey Hosking wrote in Russia and the Russians: A History in 2001, Ukraine’s final nyet to Gorbachev and decision to split from Soviet Russia—the Communist state was never a union in any real sense—popped the leftist American fantasy that glasnost and perestroika could be realized in what had been the world’s largest slave pen:
“Ukraine had declared itself independent,” Hosking wrote, “and most other [Soviet] republics had followed suit, some willingly, others with trepidation. All the nomenklatura leaders at republican level had understood by now that they could no longer rely on Moscow to back them up, and they must create a new power base at home in alliance with nationalist intellectuals and their own elites.”
Note Hosking’s emphasis on nationalists. As I wrote, nationalism and tribalism are an essential part of Ukraine’s philosophy, history and culture—as Putin rightly contends. Hosking went on:
Over the next few months Gorbachev tried to revive the project of a Union Treaty, even more decentralized, with only a vague coordinating role for the center in military and foreign policy. But republican leaders were evasive, and when on 1 December a popular referendum endorsed the independence of Ukraine, the efforts were finally abandoned. As Gorbachev had warned voters in March, “there can be no Union without Ukraine.”
Ukraine was so vital to Russia’s future that the December 1991 proposal to establish a Russian Commonwealth of Independent States, presented in Minsk, at first included only Russia, Belorussia and Ukraine. Instead, Hosking wrote, “Russia signed a treaty of friendship with Ukraine in May 1997 which recognized the inviolability of the two states’ frontiers and divided the Black Sea fleet and naval base between them. Russia refrained from capitalizing on widespread support within the Ukrainian population for reunion…”
Two years later, in the autumn of 1999, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin exploited attacks by Chechen terrorists and twin apartment block explosions in Russia, granting the military a renewed invasion of Chechnya, “in the hope” Hosking wrote, “of crushing the rebellion there once and for all. In that way [Putin] reasserted Russia’s great-power status and its determination to control its own sovereign territory. This stance earned him strong support among the Russian public and ensured good results for the bloc Unity, which he supported in the December 1999 Dumas election campaign. [Boris] Yeltsin resigned his presidency six months early, enabling Putin to take over.”
Who is Putin?
Vladimir Putin, favored by the second President Bush, who affectionately nicknamed the ex-KGB thug “Pootie” and “Pootie-Poot,” has ruled Russia for over 20 years. Putin has cooperated with the United States on occasion. He has defied or opposed the U.S. as well. Under Putin, Russia has never militarily attacked or become an enemy of the U.S., however, and, since the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has not initiated the use of force against America or her allies.
Putin granted refuge to Edward Snowden, the American whistleblower who, as a 29-year-old computer surveillance technician in Hawaii, fled America for Hong Kong when the Obama administration persecuted Snowden, a criminal prosecution which the Biden and Trump administrations continue to pursue. Snowden has criticized Russia and Putin while in Putin’s Russia and he remains there.
Putin is a dictator. For detailed analysis by an American who once traded in, and, later, denounced Russia, read Bill Browder’s essay, “Follow the Money.”
Who is Zelensky?
It’s a mystery. Answering this is not as easy as you might suppose, given how eager the predominant Western press, U.S. government and U.S. academia are to declare that Ukraine’s worthy of total U.S. military defense, including America going to war with Russia if it comes to that.
What is known about Volodymyr Zelensky, born on January 25, 1978, is that he has “a million followers on Instagram,” was an actor and hammy comedian in a comedy troupe, won Ukrainian dance contests, played the lead in a TV show about a history professor who becomes president and campaigned for president via social media.
A PBS documentary, recently reviewed here, amounts to a 25-minute, soft news recap. The host and narrator refers to his preference for wearing t-shirts and his knack for “short, sharp video presentations and snappy lines.” There’s no word—let alone a single sentence—about Zelensky’s political philosophy. policies or goals. He campaigned as an anti-corruption, anti-oligarchy candidate. In practice, Zelensky’s anti-oligarchy law, which even his admirers admit expanded and empowered Ukrainian oligarchy, is considered a failure.
The last words of the PBS program—“Glory to Ukraine!”—echo the nationalism for which Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelensky are widely associated.
“In the face of a brutal Russian invasion,” Time magazine reports this month, “Volodymyr Zelensky has inspired Ukraine and galvanized democracies around the world.” To what degree the invasion may be brutal could be a matter of dispute but there’s no doubt that this statement is true. However, Time published this under the headline: “The Freedom Fighter.” Is Zelensky fighting for freedom? This is not at all clear and remains to be seen.
In fact, there’s no evidence that Zelensky acknowledges the role of government as protecting liberty, let alone the supremacy of individual rights. Zelensky, Time reported, formed a “…new political party, which he had named after his sitcom, took a majority in parliament, becoming the first in Ukraine’s history to control both the legislature and the executive branch.”
During the pandemic, with millions of Ukrainians suffering without vaccinations, Zelensky refused an offer from Putin to provide Ukraine with Russian-made COVID-19 vaccines. Instead, Ukraine seized the assets of a political opponent’s—Viktor Medvedchuk’s—family and placed him under house arrest. Time admitted that “[e]ven some of Zelensky’s closest allies were dismayed at the decision.”
“It certainly raises questions about the rule of law,” Dmytro Razumkov, who had led Zelensky’s presidential campaign, told Time’s reporter hours before Zelensky ordered him ousted as speaker of the parliament.
Regarding the most basic function of Ukraine’s military defense, no one in the press, Western states or academia has seriously addressed why Zelensky failed to anticipate and plan for a military invasion of his country by Russia, which had clearly communicated to world leaders that Russia would invade Ukraine if the West tried to integrate Ukraine into the EU and NATO. As Time put it, “Zelensky and his inner circle did not believe an invasion was at hand.”
What is America’s interest in Ukraine?
This is unclear. However, several U.S. government, including top military and executive branch (including presidential), officials are cronies of or for Ukraine.
Here’s a partial list about Joe Biden’s ties to Ukraine from Peter Schweizer’s scathing and credible Profiles in Corruption: “Hunter Biden’s foreign deals were not limited to China, as strategically generous as that country was to the vice president’s son. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and even Russia offered him other wealth opportunities.” Schweizer reports that:
Ukraine boasts an abundance of energy resources, especially oil and natural gas. Burisma, a top Ukrainian natural gas producer, has deep political ties in the country. It was created in 2006 by Mykola Zlochevsky and has a Cypriot registration. He became the ecology and natural resources minister under the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych. As natural resources minister, Zlochevsky conveniently gave himself licenses to develop abundant natural gas fields. His oversight allowed Burisma to become the second-largest private natural gas company in the country. They currently rank first.”
Schweizer, reporting that, at that point, Biden’s son, Hunter, was added to Burisma’s board of directors, adds that “[w]e now know based on financial records that [Hunter Biden among other cronies] appears to have been paid $83,333.33 per month by Burisma, or a total of $1 million a year.”
“The timing of [son of Biden’s] appointment to the Burisma board and the payments is more than interesting” and, within days of the cronyism, “[then-] Vice President Biden landed in [Kiev] for meetings with Ukrainian officials, bringing with him terms for a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) program to assist the Ukrainian natural gas industry…Even in a country abounding with corruption, Burisma stands out.”
According to Schweizer, whose claims have gone unchallenged:
“Hunter Biden used his contacts in Washington to help [a Ukrainian oligarch] in his corruption case. Burisma hired a former Obama Department of Justice lawyer named John Buretta and Blue Star Strategies, a consulting firm run by [a] former Clinton [bureaucrat]…”
“Under pressure from Joe Biden, Ukrainian officials fired the Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating Burisma. Joe Biden later bragged that he had the prosecutor fired by threatening to withhold one billion dollars in U.S. aid assistance to Ukraine.”
“On January 16, 2017, Air Force Two descended toward Boryspil International Airport, just southeast of [Kiev]. It was Joe Biden’s last foreign trip as vice president. Under Biden’s direction, the Obama administration had poured some $3 billion into the country.”
“Four days before Biden arrived, Burisma announced that the Ukrainian government prosecutors had ended the criminal investigations into the company and its founder Zlochevsky.”
“There is no complete public record of Hunter Biden’s foreign financial deals while his father was vice president, because neither he nor any other members of the Biden family, beyond Joe and Jill, had any federal disclosure requirements of their finances. However, court documents, including financial records from a trial involving Hunter’s business partner Devon Archer, offer some tantalizing clues involving other deals Hunter Biden made around the world during the time his father was vice president.”
“Kyiv International Airport (Zhuliany), Ukraine,” Weather Underground; Christopher Bedford, “Biden’s Good Friend Donor Receives $20 Million Federal Loan to Open Foreign Luxury Car Dealership in Ukraine,” Daily Caller, August 17, 2012,”
Why do today’s most powerful government officials and intellectuals want the U.S. to arm and defend Ukraine?
Some claim to want U.S. military involvement or intervention based on principle—explicit altruism. Others, such as various commentators on Fox News, including Bush family friend Brit Hume and anchorwoman and editor Martha MacCallum, argue that America must stop Putin on practical grounds that he’s a maniacal dictator bent on invading Europe.
“War has arrived,” Portugal’s former secretary of state for European Affairs, Bruno Maçães, argued in Time, implying that civilization will end unless the West goes to war with Russia over Ukraine. “There is only one world, one where the possibility of war never goes away, where peace must be built on strength. In this world, Ukraine is not a foreign country. It is the center, the very capital of Europe, the place where the critical issue of war and peace is being resolved.”
That Ukraine is a cradle of civilization is a common theme among pro-war voices. Peter Pomerantsev, author of This Is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality, makes a similar case in Time. Pomerantsev compares Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler and the invasion of Ukraine to the mass extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany.
Scott Irwin, writing an article in Time titled “The Looming Food Crisis,” forewarns that, if Ukraine falls to Russia, food may become scarce in civilized nations:
According to the USDA, Ukraine produces about 4% of global corn and wheat supplies, 7% of barley, and 31% of sunflower oil…It is not just the size of Ukrainian crop production that is worrisome for global food supplies, but the fact that so much of it is exported. Ukraine is now the fifth largest exporter of wheat in the world, supplying 10% of global wheat exports. Ukrainian farmers have fallen in love with corn, and now contribute nearly 15% of global exports.”
What’s the potential impact of war between the West and Russia over Ukraine?
The answer is unknown at this time. Russia threatens to use nuclear weapons in retaliation if the West intervenes and meddles in Ukraine. Biological and chemical weapons may also be used in modern warfare. While most pro-Ukraine Western intellectuals focus on what could happen if Ukraine falls to Russia, few if any address or write about what could happen if Russia, which controls thousands of nuclear weapons, collapses, falls or becomes another kind of dictatorship.