It’s difficult (if not impossible) for an essay to fully cover all of the related Russian-Ukrainian complexities. Hence, articles on the subject at hand serve to encourage a follow-up. Alexander Clapp’s lengthy April 25 National Interest article “How to Join a Ukrainian Militia” has some key omissions.
Among them is Nadiya Savchenko’s association with the Aidar group, which Clapp describes as the least reputable of Ukrainian nationalist militias. When compared to Clapp, some other sources are more negative on that militia. Uncritically lauded by the Obama administration and some other Western officialdom, Savchenko received Western attention after her incarceration in Russia, where she’s serving a controversial sentence for complicity in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. (Savchenko and Aidar are discussed in my Strategic Culture Foundation piece of this past March 17.)
Some of the Ukrainian nationalists oppose the EU – something that Clapp doesn’t really get into. He notes some socially conservative thinking in the Ukrainian nationalist militias, which greatly explains their opposition to the comparatively more liberal minded EU.
Concerning the Ukrainian nationalist militias, issue can be taken with the degree of pro-Polish sentiment expressed in Clapp’s article. Oleksandr Muzychko, a slain close confidant of former Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh, openly stated anti-Polish views, along with negative comments about Russians and Jews. Lesser known folks have said the same as well. By no means complete, the Polish support for Ukrainian nationalists isn’t without second guessing in Poland. This apprehension has to do with the contemporary Ukrainian nationalist lauding of the OUN/UPA/Bandrea legacy, which violently opposed Poland for a period prior to and during WW II.
With some validity, Clapp says that much of the present day pro-Stepan Bandera sentiment is ignorantly premised and doesn’t in itself always reflect extremist thinking. Without being substantively contested, such ignorance on Bandera and the extremists (among his supporters) can lead to more provocative comments and action. Prior to Hitler’s political ascendancy, Germans en masse were considered one of the more cultured and educated of peoples.
In alternative media, the recently appointed head of Ukraine’s Rada (parliament) Andriy Parubiy, has been critically assessed for his extremist views. In contrast, some others highlight his change (over the last few years) to a different political grouping as a moderating change. Notwithstanding, it’s still within reason to regard Parubiy with suspicion.
The recent appointment of Volodymyr Groysman as Ukrainian prime minister, has included a reference to his Jewish origin. His predecessor Arseniy Yatsenyuk has some Jewish background. Jews are among the prominent Ukrainian oligarchs involved with the Kiev regime. One can find varying instances of anti-Jewish behavior in Russia, Ukraine and the West. The level of this behavior varies. As the Soviet Union was breaking up and thereafter, some Jewish organizations and individuals have lauded the vastly improved condition for Jews in Russia. Likewise, Ukraine has received some kudos on that particular.
More so than in the past, modern day human rights challenges are more likely to include less of an anti-Jewish message, on account of the efforts made in highlighting and condemning anti-Jewish behavior, in conjunction with intolerant forces having other targets for disdain. With this in mind, the trumping of good conditions for Jews can serve to cover-up other human rights abuses. (Retired Israeli General Ephraim Sneh lauds Azerbaijan’s treatment of Jews, as a basis for good Azeri-Israeli relations. Meantime, Azerbaijan has been the subject of numerous human rights related criticism.)
When downplaying the level of anti-Jewish manner in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine, the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko falsely claimed that Jews in Crimea (since its reunification with Russia) are barred from attending synagogue services. The likes of Euromaidan Press and StopFake probably didn’t mention Poroshenko’s aforementioned fallacy.
The acclaimed US journalist Robert Parry, has emphasized the suppression of ethnic Russians in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine. This is too broad of a characterization which serves as propaganda fodder for pro-Kiev regime advocates, who seek to discredit the counter-Euromaidan/pro-Russian position. This can be done by noting that Russian is spoken in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine, with some ethnic Russians expressing support for the Kiev regime over Russia.
For accuracy sake, Parry and some others should emphasize that the counter-Euromaidan/pro-Russian stance is held by some ethnic Ukrainians. The Euromaidan suspect Donbass region is mostly populated with people listed as ethnic Ukrainian. In addition to personal accounts, polling indicates that most of Crimea’s ethnic Ukrainian population support that area’s reunification with Russia. Since Crimea’s reunification with Russia, a small percentage of Crimean residents have left for Ukraine. During this period, a greater number have migrated from Ukraine to Russia than vice-versa.
Ukrainian born ethnic Ukrainians Vladimir Medinsky and Valentina Matviyenko are appointed Russian government officials. There’s the matter of political division among families with former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic roots, as noted in Alexei Pankin’s April 20 Russia Insider article “Ukraine’s FM’s Father-In-Law Is Russian General Who Helped Reunite Crimea With Russia”.
Clapp explains the ethnic Russian participation in the Ukrainian nationalist militias as an opposition to the Russian government. These Russians come across as individuals who’re the opposite of constructively critical pro-Russian advocates. Their position sidesteps numerous anti-Russian biases evident in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine (some of which are described in my July 7, 2014 Global Research article, in addition to some of my commentary in the Strategic Culture Foundation and Eurasia Review venues).
There’re interesting twists and turns regarding the fighters in the Ukrainian nationalist militias. As an example, Belarusian Azov militia fighter Sergei Korotkikh, once belonged to a party that sought to restore the Russian Empire. Several sources have described him as a neo-Nazi.
I respectfully question Clapp’s claim that approximately half of the Aidar militia are ethnic Russians. An earlier BBC piece notes a Chechen (not ethnic Russian) presence in that militia. Clapp quotes Aidar fighters invoking the name of Allah. Could Clapp be lumping together Chechen Russian nationals with ethnic Russians? On the subject of Chechens fighting in Ukraine, the referenced BBC piece and some other sources say that this ethnic group has been more evident on the counter-Euromaidan/pro-Russian leaning Donbass rebel side than the Kiev regime’s.
The Predominating North American Academia/Media Slant
How history is taught can greatly influence some people, who don’t actively seek other perspectives in full. It’s quite ironic when it’s periodically said that Russians in Russia are misled because they’re regularly subjected to one-sided depictions. In the US, I’ve run into numerous over the age of twenty Ukrainian born ethnic Ukrainians, ethnic Russians, Jews and any mix of the three (as well as some others), who’ve spent a good deal of time in the West. They include individuals whose views generally coincide with mine. This grouping believe that post-Soviet Ukraine (especially after the so-called “Orange Revolution” in late 2004) has seen an increased anti-Russian historical slant, that has nurtured a greater acceptance of factually challenged views.
Unlike the bully pulpit approach, many of these individuals (including yours truly) directly address disagreeable points. A number of them note the lack of tolerance among those in high profile positions who disagree with them and can do so rather crudely. Instead of feeling free to comfortably express themselves in the open, some in the counter-Euromaidan/pro-Russian grouping prefer to not risk being labeled a “Kremlin troll”, after making reasonable observations, without coming close to using such characterizations as “troll”.
At times, an academic standing can have the appearance as an unofficial license to launch faulty diatribes. How can this aspect influence the teaching environment? In some academic settings (not all), a student (prospective or otherwise) in fields like history, political studies and journalism, might understandably be inclined to see that a kind of self censorship might be needed to better advance. Unlike the hard sciences of precise formulas, there’s more wiggle room in the liberal arts to short change a valid perspective that’s unpopular with the predominating view.
In North America, the academic and non-academic likes of Alexander Motyl of Rutgers University and Serhii Plokhii of Harvard University, are more likely to get mass media action over others with a different overall take. I’m hard pressed to recall anyone at Rutgers and/or Harvard who’ve a mass media opinion piece in direct opposition to Motyl and Plokhii.
Plokhii wasn’t challenged when he made some (put mildly) questionable comments in a featured Q & A with Star journalist Olivia Ward this past February 29. Contrary to Plokhii, in the lead-up to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, public opinion polls in Ukraine regularly showed a difference of within 10% and in some instances a virtual tie, or slight support favoring either the EU or the Russian involved Eurasian Economic Union. It’s faulty to judge the prevailing mood in Ukraine on which group musters the largest street demonstration in Kiev.
Ward and Plokhii engage in revisionism when suggesting that Russia was the primary instigator of tension in Ukraine. The Kremlin and the then Ukrainian government weren’t against three way (Russia, Ukraine and EU) talks on how to best develop Ukraine. On this score, the West played more of the zero sum game.
Plokhii can be legitimately second guessed for saying that the Cossacks (in what’s now modern day Ukraine) had united under Ivan Mazepa, when he chose to oppose Russia. Numerous historical accounts note Mazepa’s downfall being partly attributed to the lack of support he received (from Cossacks and others) in the area he oversaw, after his changed allegiance from Russia to Sweden and Poland.
In several instances, Motyl has been featured in Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal. He has a blog at a venue dominated by a neocon to neolib leaning slant, favoring anti-Russian opinions over pro-Russian thoughts.
In a recent blog post, Motyl highlights Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s stature as a sign of a fascist Russia. Motyl is reluctant to categorize post-Soviet Ukraine as fascist, despite its issuing of stamps honoring Stepan Bandera, the elevation of Parubiy as Rada head and the level of post-Yanukovych period violence, in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine against counter-Euromaidan individuals.
Present day Russia doesn’t formally honor Andrey Vlasov, who in WWII, led an army of captured Russian soldiers in a nominal alliance with Nazi Germany. Vlasov’s track record isn’t as negative as what has been associated with Bandera. (The tenuous state of relations between Vlasov and Bandera is another intricate facet to the Russian-Ukrainian relationship. I recall historian John Armstrong and some others noting that up to 30%-40% of Vlasov’s personnel were ethnic Ukrainians. Bandera’s forces were greatly comprised of Galician Ukrainians. There were also the many Russians and Ukrainians who fought on the Soviet side.)
As for Zhirinovsky, a substantial enough number seem to view him as a crude shtik comic with limited political influence. In 2002, he drew an enthusiastic audience in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach. A Belarusian-Jewish MD acquaintance who is Zionist in outlook and sensitive to anti-Jewish bigotry, told me that he finds Zhirinovsky entertaining and that he’d pay to see him speak live. (Zhirinovsky’s father was Jewish.) I gather from these instances that Zhirinovsky isn’t for the politically correct, while he has found a niche as an acceptable enough personality, for a noticeable number of people who aren’t necessarily extreme. At last notice, Zhirinovsky isn’t involved with any militias harboring neo-Nazi views.
These observations are made without meaning to give him a complete pass. Those opposed to anti-Russian propaganda at or near the degree of bigotry aren’t doing their cause right with inconsistency.
Motyl’s infatuation with the image of Russia and fascism is indicated in another blog post of his, with a reference to Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin. Putin has an appointed inner circle and makes decisions as the head of state. What privately goes on between Putin and his cabinet isn’t so well known. A recent feature in The Atlantic reveals that Obama has made decisions against his advisers. Does that make Obama a version of Mussolini? Motyl’s reference of Putin with Mussolini is off the mark. Much unlike the Italian dictator, Putin has openly exchanged views with people who disagree with him and doesn’t bite what he can’t chew.
Witness the Syrian and Ukrainian scenarios. The Kremlin assisted Syrian government was on the offensive before Russia committed to a Syrian Civil War ceasefire and a reduced Russia military presence in Syria. Likewise, the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine looked like they could’ve gained more territory, before Russia committed itself to the Minsk II ceasefire agreement. Libya, Ethiopia and Greece posed no threat to Italy. As they pertain to Russia, the more recent Syrian and Ukrainian situations are much different.
The Russian military support to the Syrian government includes the matter of a worse option that can blow over beyond Syria. Specifically, Syrian situated terrorists having Russia as one of their main targets, as well as prior US actions in Iraq and Syria, which have produced some negative results.
Crimea concerns a pro-Russian majority opposed to the overthrow of a democratically elected Ukrainian president, followed by a series of increased anti-Russian advocacy. The Donbass situation involves many in that territory with close ties to Russia, who aren’t comfortable with the post-Yanukovych Kiev based rule.
In comparison to Ukraine, the reasonable perception of a more secure and economically better off Russia is a main element of the counter-Euromaidan/pro-Russian stance. While not necessarily being anti-Western, this perspective sees limits in what the West is willing to offer Ukraine.
The Counter Perspective at the Ivy League Level
From the Fort Russ blog, I was informed of a lecture at Brown University by Stanislav Byshok of the CIS-Europe Monitoring Organization. There doesn’t appear to be an online video of this event. My response to his address (as posted by Fort Russ) include some of what I said in my Strategic Culture Foundation piece of this past September 29.
Byshok could’ve mentioned that “Kievan Rus” is a latter day academic characterization used to describe “Rus” and that a Novgorod prince, Oleg, moved his main locale to Kiev, at about the time that many begin the period known as “Kievan Rus”. In 1862, Russia formally acknowledged its 1,000 year existence based out of Novgorod.
Kiev was to become the leading Rus city. Before the Mongol subjugation of Rus, Kiev was showing a decrease in influence. Back then, there were signs that territory in contemporary northwestern Russia would become the leading Rus base. This land was geographically more accessible to the leading Western powers. Within Rus, there were efforts to develop that territory.
When historically hyping Russian-Ukrainian differences, the “svidomites” highlight Andrey Bogolyubsky’s attack on Kiev in 1169. (Svidomite is a derisively used term to describe Ukrainian nationalists with an anti-Russian lean.) Bogolyubsky’s action should be arguably seen more as something akin to William Sherman’s attack on Atlanta in the form of a civil war, than a foreign power attacking a different entity. Credited with developing Suzdal (near Mosocw), Bogolyubsky had a dynastic claim to the Kiev throne, with his grandfather being a famous Kiev crown prince.
The pro-Russian community in post-Soviet Ukraine was willing to live in a separate Ukrainian state. This willingness was compromised with the action taken in the overthrow of Yanukovych and the elevated influence of anti-Russian leaning proponents.
I remain somewhat more upbeat than some others on the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations. Some once bitter rival nations have put their past differences aside. Byshok suggests that the importance of Russia can lead to a lessened Western enthusiasm for pro-Kiev regime controlled Ukraine. Another factor can include a growing realization that the Kiev regime hasn’t been so virtuous. In one of his more realist moments, US President Barack Obama said (in his exchange with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic) that Ukraine means more to Russia than it does the West.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. This article is a closely related version of the two part feature, which appeared at the Strategic Culture Foundation’s website on May 7 and 8.