Simon Pirani: Bogus “Anti-Imperialism” Serves the Kremlin

I gave a talk at an online event on the war in Ukraine, arranged by the Future of the Left group on Monday. The meeting was shorter than planned, due to technical problems. Only two of the advertised speakers made it: Richard Sakwa, emeritus professor of Russian and European politics at Kent university, and me. Sakwa focused on the western powers’ failure to uphold principles of sovereign internationalism in the post-cold-war period, and concluded by opposing military aid to Ukraine. Against that, I put the case for supporting Ukrainian resistance as a matter of internationalist principle. I said that I think such discussions should continue. Here’s a recording of the session. Simon Pirani.

Here is a text, based on my talk. It is aimed mainly at the bogus “anti imperialism” widespread in the left, and among Future of the Left’s supporters, rather than at anything Sakwa said.

Thanks for inviting me to join the panel. It’s worth reflecting on what good panels like this, or gatherings like this, can possibly do. As a socialist, I believe that effective change is caused by the labour movement and social movements acting independently of the state. So I will say what I think the labour movement could or should do, and what people here could or should do, rather than declaiming principles with no reference to implementation. 

My main point is that we should build solidarity with Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. That is rejected by some people in the labour movement, and I think we have to find ways of discussing these differences on life and death issues.

Character of the Russian war  

Russia is a weakened empire desperately trying to restore its imperial status. It emerged from the break-up of the Soviet Union as an economically subordinate power, supplying the world capitalist economy with raw materials and pumping oligarchs’ wealth into the world financial system. Under Putin, since 2000, it has sought to make up for economic weakness by military means.

In the second Chechen war, Russia pulverised Chechnya and its population, rather than allow aspirations for national autonomy or independence to take root. Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, and intervened in Syria in 2015, to support a dictator who drowned citizens in blood rather than allow them any democratic freedoms.

The strongest imperialist powers tolerated all of this. Despite all their denials, they essentially had Russia act as the gendarme of capital in its sphere of influence.

Russia’s pretensions to imperial status have been most evident in its interventions in Ukraine. Ukraine is one of Russia’s oldest colonies; denying Ukrainian national rights was always integral to Russian imperial thinking; and of course before the invasion in February Putin made a speech claiming that historically Ukraine is not a nation.

The imperialist character of Russia’s war on Ukraine is evident from the military methods used. This is an imperialist force seeking to subjugate an enemy population.

Putin said Russian soldiers would be greeted with flowers, and there is not a single recorded case of that. There are plenty of examples of Ukrainians trying to resist the Russian army with their bare hands.

There have been massacres of civilians; rape used as a weapon; torture; forcible conscription; forcible deportation – all methods perfected by the British empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. As was the method of forcing into the army men from the poorest regions, disproportionately from ethnic minorities.

The targeting of politicians, journalists and activists in occupied areas seems more like the US empire in the 20th century.

I recommend the two reports on violations of international human rights law by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (here and here). They spare no detail on alleged war crimes by Ukrainian soldiers, particularly against Ukrainians accused of collaborating with Russia. But they also conclude that the vast majority of war crimes have been committed by the Russian side. The vast majority.

An investigation team set up by the UN last week gave an initial report to the Human Rights Council that reached similar conclusions.

All this makes nonsense of the claims made by some people in the labour movement, that it is a war between two equal sides.

A rally on Friday in Snihurivka, which is occupied by Russian forces. See “About the photos” below

Why in February did Ukrainians, whatever their dissatisfaction with their own government – and I can assure you, there was plenty of that – volunteer in huge numbers? Why the contrast between that, and the situation in Russia, where last week’s mobilisation announcement is ripping at the social fabric?  

Ukrainians are resisting an imperialist assault, and so the labour movement should provide practical, material solidarity to the working class communities bearing the brunt of this invasion.

Trade unionists from the UK, from France and from Austria, have organised convoys of aid to workers in the front line areas. My question to people here is: do you support such initiatives?

Do you agree that Ukrainians have the right to defend themselves with arms? I do, in the same way as I believe that Palestinians faced with the apartheid Israeli occupation have that right. 

Role of NATO

Obviously, NATO has supplied Ukraine with substantial quantities of weapons in the last six months and this will surely continue. In their view, their gendarme has gone rogue and needs to be brought back under control.

But these arms supplies, like the applications by Sweden and Finland to join NATO, are more results of the invasion of Ukraine than causes.

To conclude from this that NATO expansion was the cause of the invasion is one-sided, false logic.

An honest assessment of Russia’s relationship with the NATO powers would show that NATO expansion into eastern Europe belongs to the 1990s. Russia was weak, and was being economically integrated into the world capitalist economy. The last big group of eastern European countries applied to join NATO in 1999 and actually joined in 2004. 

What has happened since then? The Russian state, buoyed by the oil boom of the 2000s, has sought to control its sphere of influence with little interference by the NATO powers.

Just look at their limited reaction to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine in 2014. There were economic sanctions, which were very painful for Russian businesses. But these were linked only to the annexation of Crimea, not to Russian support for the separatists in the Donbas.

Clearly Germany and France, which both had substantial investments in, and trade with, Russia, were anxious to find a compromise. NATO continued after 2014, as it had before, to refuse to start a membership action plan for Ukraine. Germany only changed its Russia policy in February, a day before the invasion, with the cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Analytically, I would define Putin’s Russia as a creature of those powers, a creature of world capitalism, not an opposite to them.

“Proxy war”

The false claim that NATO expansion caused Russia to invade Ukraine is linked to the false political proposition that Ukrainians are fighting a “proxy war” for NATO, and that the labour movement can not therefore support Ukrainian resistance.

The Future of the Left web site says: “Putin is no friend of the working class – but neither are Zelensky or NATO. […] Although the direct fighting in Ukraine is between the Russian and Ukrainian states, [no mention here of Ukrainian people, only the state, SP …] many see this war, in effect, as a proxy war between Putin and the US.”

This false logic could be applied to any number of situations.

Spain in 1936. Here’s how the argument looks: “Franco is no friend of the working class – but neither are the Republican government or the Allied powers. […] Although the direct fighting is between nationalists and Republicans, many see this war as one between the Axis and the Allies.” No room for the International Brigades there.

Vietnam in 1972. Here’s how the argument looks: “The US is no friend of the working class – but neither are the Soviet and Chinese leaders. […] Although the direct fighting is by the Vietnamese people, many see this as a proxy war between Moscow and Washington.” Not much room there for supporting Vietnamese resistance. (Both quotes are invented by me, to make my point.)

In my view, many wars – all these included – have combined elements of resistance to imperialism or fascism, and clashes between imperialist powers. The only difference in Ukraine in 2022 is that we are dealing with Russian imperialism, not German, American or British imperialism.

And in the labour movement we now see a bogus, western-centred form of “anti imperialism”: people who believe, crudely, that the main enemy is US imperialism and my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

This thinking just serves the Kremlin. It is ruinous to international solidarity, just as ruinous as the support given by elements in the labour movement to Tony Blair’s imperialist adventure in Iraq.

The so-called “republics” in the Donbass  

A key claim of Kremlin propaganda is that the invasion in February was motivated by a desire to defend Russian-speaking Ukrainians from Ukrainian nationalism.

Just how sincere the Kremlin is about this can be judged by the number of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who the Russian army have killed, raped and driven from their homes.

Nevertheless, the claim is still made, and we hear echoes of it in the labour movement.

We need to look back at least to 2014. The Maidan uprising, a truly mass movement, was politically confused and complex but was directed above all against the government of Viktor Yanukovich, and the Party of Regions that represented eastern Ukrainian capital – the owners of mines, steelworks and other industries.

That party spared no effort to sow division between Ukrainians on the basis of language.

An anti-mobilisation rally in Yakutia, Russia. See “about the photos”, below

In response to the Maidan uprising, that party encouraged the anti-Maidan movement that sought autonomy for eastern regions, and that had support from substantial numbers of working class people. Note that at that time, when sociologists could still make reasonable guesses about what people in Donbas wanted, it was autonomy, not separation, that was supported by a significant minority.

Right-wing Ukrainian nationalism stoked up these divisions from the other side.

But these tensions were turned into military conflict by the Russian army, fighting alongside extreme Russian nationalist and fascist volunteers. They put in place the two “republics”, under which the economy of those areas was trashed and half the population left. Tinpot dictatorships were established without the most elementary observance of civil, democratic or labour rights.

To select from this complexity the fact that working-class people supported the anti-Maidan movement, and offer this as a reason to deny Ukrainians the right to resist aggression, is beyond absurd.

There is an analogy with Ireland. Working-class Protestants long formed the support base not only for Orange political parties but for armed loyalist paramilitaries. Traditionally, socialists understood that the power underpinning all this was British imperialism. We did not parrot calls for a Unionist six-county state, or pretend that working-class attitudes to that state weakened the case for a united Ireland. We called for the withdrawal of British troops.

Conclusion

As things stand, in the labour movement, bogus “anti imperialism” is undermining the internationalist principles on which the Chartists supported Irish liberation in the 1840s and which many of us here supported Vietnamese liberation in the 1970s. These principles should guide our actions now with regard to Ukraine.

More about Ukraine

□ The Ukraine Information Group, set up by a small group of labour movement activists in the UK (including me), is now distributing a weekly email bulletin, with links to sources of reliable information and informed comment on Ukraine in English. Please subscribe!

□ The Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, which coordinated trade union efforts for a motion at the Labour party conference

□ What’s the future of Russia’s Ukraine war – Volodya Artiukh on OpenDemocracy

□ Positions of the global left over the abyss of imperialist escalation – Vitold Vasiletskyi on Commons.com.ua

□ Taras Bilous, Ukrainian socialist, commented on twitter last week about the causes of the Russian invasion in February

□ On the fantastic tale that the Ukrainian army killed 14,000 Russians in Donbas – Michael Karadjis on Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis

□ Putin’s little helpers undermine solidarity – People & Nature, 29 December 2021

About the photos

The first photo is of a rally at the weekend in Snihurivka, Mykolaiv region, that was occupied by Russian forces in March. A declaration was read out condemning the occupation. It stated that those present would not take part in the fake “referendum”, did not want to accede to the Russian Federation, and considered themselves Ukrainians. This is a still from a short film broadcast on the Telegram channel of Denis Kazansky, a journalist based in the area. He commented: “That’s the real position of residents of the occupied areas of Ukraine. Just compare that video with the disgraceful methods used by the occupiers to try to get people to vote.”

The second photo is of a demonstration in Yakutia, in Siberia, against the Kremlin’s mobilisation order. Women performed a traditional round dance, the Osuohai, surrounding a group of policemen and shouting “no to genocide!” and “no to war”. The police were repeatedly obstructed but in the end left and made several arrests. The Public Chamber of Yakutia, in a 1984-style revision of reality, stated that there had been no anti-war protest, only a “blessing by mothers for the return of their husbands and sons alive”. This is a still from a film shared by Feminist Antiwar Resistance.

Source: “Ukraine: bogus ‘anti-imperialism’ serves the Kremlin,” People and Nature, 28 September 2022. Thanks to Simon Pirani for his kind permission to republish his essay here.

People and Nature: Ukrainians Face Deportation and Conscription by Russian Forces

Ukrainian activists in the Eastern Human Rights Group are using social media to build up a register of people forcibly deported from Russian-occupied areas.

A bot has been launched on Telegram (@come_back_to_ukraine_bot) to contact citizens removed to Russia.

Deporting people against their will is a war crime. International and local human rights organisations, and the Ukrainian government, say there is mounting evidence that Russia is doing so on a large scale.

The Russian defence ministry said on 18 June that more than 1.9 million people, including 307,000 children, had been evacuated from Ukraine to Russia since the full-scale invasion on 24 February. Ukrainian activists deny Russian claims that all evacuees have left Ukraine voluntarily.

“If we don’t find how to help them, Russia will erase the Ukrainian identity of these children,” Oleksandra Matviichuk of the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties responded.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in April protested against a scheme to resettle residents of Mariupol in the most inhospitable and distant areas of Russia.

Halya Coynash reported that the Mariupol council had drawn attention to a leaflet distributed to Mariupol residents “inviting” them to the Russian Far East. She commented:

First, they destroy a successful and warm city on the Sea of Azov, and then they drive its residents to Siberia or Sakhalin to work as cheap labour.

Mariupol’s mayor, Vadim Boichenko, said that he has a list of 33,500 residents forcibly deported either to Russia or to the Donbass “republics,” and is coordinating rescue efforts.

Coynash also published details of the “filtration” of residents in the occupied areas by Russian forces, with those considered “unreliable” being sent to detention camps in the Donbass “republics.”

Ukraine’s human rights ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova said last month that 210,000 children, and more than 1 million other Ukrainians, had been deported against their will. Reuters reported these numbers, saying they could not independently verify them, and that the Kremlin had not responded to a request for comment.

Iryna Venediktova, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, said earlier this month that a war crimes case was being built up relating to the deportation of children to Russia.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in its report on human rights violations in Ukraine between 24 February and 12 April, said that its Mission had received “numerous consistent reports” on forced deportations from the occupied territories to Russia. It said that Russia had denied these accusations, but added:

If (some of) these deportations were forcible (including because Russia created a coercive environment in which those civilians had no other choice than to leave for Russia) and as they necessarily concerned civilians who had fallen into the power of Russia as an occupying power, this violates in each case International Humanitarian Law and constitutes a war crime.

Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister of Poland, said on a visit to Kyiv this month that deportations – which recalled Poles’ experience under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union – are “an exceptional crime, about which there is almost complete silence in western Europe.”

The Eastern Human Rights Group, set up in 2014 by labour activists in Donbass and now operating from Kyiv, decided to work on a register of deported citizens after appealing unsuccessfully for the Ukrainian government to take action.

“Our team lobbied repeatedly for setting up a state structure to deal with repatriation, but, as happens quite often, the government did not listen,” the group stated on 13 June. “We decided to take action on the issue ourselves, and at a non-government level we are working on the issue of repatriating Ukrainians.”

□ Two all-European public zoom calls about the Russian-occupied areas are being held on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, on which Ukrainian activists will report on what can be done to support civil society there. The initiative is supported by the European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine. You need to register in advance to participate.

□ The Eastern Human Rights Group has also reported on forcible military mobilisation in the Donbass “republics,” and use of the death penalty there. Here are three recent Facebook posts. With thanks to Anna Yegorova for the translations.


Forced mobilisation on the rise again (15 June)

For the last three weeks, forced mobilisation in the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk regions has slowed down, due to active protests by mothers, sisters, and spouses of the forcibly mobilized.

However, the Ministry of National Security in the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” swiftly suppressed women’s protests, as we recorded the detention of several women in Yenakievo and Rovenky.

Since last Saturday, military patrols searching for men of conscription age in the cities of occupied Donbas have become more active with men being detained in the streets again. (The detentions are not as massive as in March, but that is understandable: there are simply not as many men as there were in March.)

This new stage of forced mobilisation is associated with the need to send new manpower to fight in Donbass.

Forced mobilisation has again affected workers at enterprises, and enterprise managers have spoken out against it. The administrations of the “Luhansk people’s republic” and “Donetsk people’s republic” said that “construction brigades” [a term dating back to the Soviet times, usually designating student groups as “volunteers” to work on farms and plants] from the Russian Federation would soon arrive to replace the workers [so that the latter could be send to the battlefield].


“People’s republic” soldiers defecting to Ukraine (23 June)

Over the past three weeks, the so-called “people’s militia” of the Luhansk and Donetsk “people’s republics” has increased military patrols in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, due to the increasing number of defections from AK-1 and AK-2 units. Forcibly mobilised people, even after they have been dressed in uniform, seek opportunities to escape from the Russian convoy escorting them to the front line.

Frequent defections became public thanks to women in [the occupied territories of] Donetsk and Luhansk reporting to Vera Yastrebova, the head of the Eastern Human Rights group.

One woman said that her brother escaped with a group of mobilised men on the way to the front line, and now they are wanted by the local “authorities.” There are also cases when mobilised residents of the two “people’s republics” jump off trains that take them to the front line, following a brief training in the Russian Federation.

Over the past three weeks, there have been more than 100 cases of defections from the “LPR” and “DPR,” a source from the DPR told us.


Luhansk “people’s republic” is about to introduce death penalty (24 June)

By Vera Yastrebova. A working group is preparing to change the criminal “law” of the Luhansk “people’s republic” to introduce a new type of punishment – the death penalty, I have been told by sources there.

A decision was first made back in 2021, when the Kremlin decided to create unitary “legislation” for the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics,” and essentially rewrite the laws in Luhansk to match those of Donetsk. But they haven’t had time to do that.

Now the principle has been agreed, and changes are being developed very quickly. The haste is due to the fact that the Luhansk “people’s republic” will be able to apply the death penalty to Ukrainian prisoners of war.

The issue of the “death penalty” will be further pushed by the Kremlin, in order to force Western countries to engage in direct negotiations with the leaders of the “LPR” and “DPR,” my sources say.

□ Why is Ukrainian resistance invisible to you? An appeal to supporters of the Stop the War Coalition

□ ‘We are surviving, but not living’ under Russian occupation – People & Nature, 13 June

There will be all-European public zoom calls, on Monday 4 July and Thursday 14 July, with Ukrainian activists supporting people in the occupied areas. Details and link to registration here.


Source: Simon Pirani, “Ukrainians face forcible deportation and conscription by Russian forces,” People and Nature, 27 June 2022. Reprinted here with the author’s kind permission

Selling Eclairs at the Gates of Auschwitz

I am subscribed to a number of email newsletters from theaters, publishers, and clubs, including Russian ones.

And until recently, I myself came up with advertising for the books that we released.

But certain things have changed, haven’t they? Many, of course, have stopped sending newsletters, but some continue. Here is a letter from the International Baltic House Theater Festival [in Petersburg], summoning people to its performances as if nothing has happened. And the venerable publishers Ad Marginem fervently invite people to their tent at the Red Square Book Festival. It’s right on Red Square, where the earth is the roundest!

Hello, friends, have you lost your fucking minds by any chance? I don’t know how it looks in Moscow or Petersburg, but from where I’m sitting, it looks as appropriate as selling eclairs at the gates of Auschwitz.

Source: Dmitry Volchek, Facebook, 2 June 2022. Screenshot and translation by the Russian Reader


Approaching the 100-day mark in a war that he refuses to call by its name, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a man intent on conveying the impression of business as usual.

As his army fought its way into the Ukrainian city of Severodonetsk this week, Putin was making awkward small talk in a televised ceremony to honor parents of exceptionally large families.

Since the start of May, he has met – mostly online – with educators, oil and transport bosses, officials responsible for tackling forest fires, and the heads of at least a dozen Russian regions, many of them thousands of miles from Ukraine.

Along with several sessions of his Security Council and a series of calls with foreign leaders, he found time for a video address to players, trainers and spectators of the All-Russian Night Hockey League.

The appearance of solid, even boring routine is consistent with the Kremlin’s narrative that it is not fighting a war – merely waging a “special military operation” to bring a troublesome neighbor to heel.

For a man whose army has heavily underperformed in Ukraine and been beaten back from its two biggest cities, suffering untold thousands of casualties, Putin shows no visible sign of stress.

In contrast with the run-up to the Feb. 24 invasion, when he denounced Ukraine and the West in bitter, angry speeches, his rhetoric is restrained. The 69-year-old appears calm, focused and fully in command of data and details.

While acknowledging the impact of Western sanctions, he tells Russians their economy will emerge stronger and more self-sufficient, while the West will suffer a boomerang effect from spiraling food and fuel prices.

[…]

But as the war grinds on with no end in sight, Putin faces an increasing challenge to maintain the semblance of normality.

Economically, the situation will worsen as sanctions bite harder and Russia heads towards recession.

[…]

The words “war” and “Ukraine” were never spoken during Putin’s 40-minute video encounter on Wednesday with the prolific families, including Vadim and Larisa Kadzayev with their 15 children from Beslan in the North Caucasus region.

Wearing their best dresses and suits, the families sat stiffly at tables laden with flowers and food as Putin called on them in turn to introduce themselves. On the same day, eight empty school buses pulled into the main square of Lviv in western Ukraine to serve as a reminder of 243 Ukrainian children killed since the start of Putin’s invasion.

The closest he came to acknowledging the war was in a pair of references to the plight of children in Donbas and the “extraordinary situation” there.

Russia had many problems but that was always the case, he said as he wrapped up the online meeting. “Nothing unusual is actually happening here.”

Source: Mark Trevelyan, “Putin clings to semblance of normality as his war grinds on,” Reuters, 2 June 2022


Simon Pirani:

‘At least as bad as Russia itself are the areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian armed forces in 2014 – Crimea and the so called “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk – and the small amount of territory Russia has taken this year. In Crimea, all civic activism, especially by the Tatar community, has been savagely punished. People are being sent to jail for many years for something they posted on line. The “republics” are ruled by lawless, quasi-state administrations. The list of human rights abuses – torture, illegal imprisonment, forced labour, terrorism against political opponents – is long. Most of the population of the “republics” left, years ago. Industry has collapsed. As for Kherson and other areas occupied this year, local government and civil society has been assaulted, opponents of Russian rule assassinated and kidnapped, and demonstrations broken up. Putin forecast that Ukrainians would welcome his army with open arms; I literally do not know of one single example of that happening. If people are looking for explanations about Ukrainians’ heightened sense of nationalism, part of it may be in the horrendous conditions in the parts of their country occupied by Russia. Who would welcome being ruled by a bunch of cynical, lawless thugs?’

Source: “In Quillversation: A Russian Imperial Project (Simon Pirani and Anthony McIntyre Discuss the Russian War on Ukraine),” The Pensive Quill, 1 June 2022

Smart Voting

Ivan Astashin
Facebook
February 15, 2022

Just an hour ago, the State Duma voted in favor of a bill recognizing the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic — the Kremlin-controlled southeastern regions of Ukraine. Now, if the bill is approved, troops can be sent to the region under the pretext of an appeal to Putin by the leaders of the “independent republics.” However, I am not a military or political analyst, so I will not fantasize overmuch.

But I will note this. The bill was introduced by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation — for which supporters of “Smart Voting” and even some libertarians were so hot to trot [in the autumn 2021 parliamentary elections]. I had written earlier that we are definitely not traveling the same road as the Communist Party, that it is just as much a part of the system as United Russia. Now, it seems, no one should have any doubts that сooperating with the Communist Party in any way is tantamount to cooperating with the regime.

Ivan Astashin is a former Russian political prisoner whose story you can read here. Translated by the Russian Reader

It’s strange how horrified most of my Russian friends and acquaintances are by everything happening in and around Russia even as these same events elicit the opposite reaction from go-to western Putin understanders well out of harm’s way. Source: Responsible Statecraft. Screenshot by the Russian Reader

Russian Parliament Backs Plan to Recognize Breakaway Ukrainian Regions
Felix Light
Moscow Times
February 15, 2022

Russia’s State Duma on Tuesday backed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donbas People’s Republics, raising tensions between Russia and Ukraine another notch, even as Russian troops began a partial withdrawal from the Ukrainian border.

The Russian parliament’s motion calls for President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. No other country currently recognizes the republics as sovereign states.

The motion, initially proposed by the Communist parliamentary opposition, attracted support from across the Duma’s five parties, including from speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

“Firefights are continuing, people are dying,” Volodin said on the Telegram messenger app in the run-up to the vote.

“We must find a solution.”

The resolution is not binding, and will now be sent to Putin for feedback.

Continue reading “Smart Voting”

Russian Diplomation

Dmitry Gudkov
Facebook
April 14, 2021

You, of course, have already seen this photo, which can even now be inserted into a history textbook to illustrate Russia’s foreign policy at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The military attache of the Russian Federation in Latvia, Ruslan Ushakov, flipped off neighbors who complained about him for having a feast during the plague, that is, a party during the covid pandemic. Everything about the photo is lovely, including the fact that the attache hid from the police, but then ran back out into the yard. And the fact that he was rude from behind a fence, confident that no one could get at him here, and even that he favored the spiritless western fuck-you over the traditional Russian kukish (“fig”).

No director could have produced a better metaphor for the Russian authorities. When it comes to their thoughts, their families, and their wallets, they live in the West. They are terribly afraid of retribution, so the Magnitsky Law cuts them like a knife. They are rude to everyone around them when they know that they will not be able to get to them. Because in front of them, instead of a fence, we stand, unwitting or voluntary hostages.

And one more thing. Would you make indecent gestures to your neighbors, and so enthusiastically? I wouldn’t. Would you steal bicycles in a city? Deal drugs? What other exploits have Russian diplomats been up to recently?

Russian diplomats are the face of our country,  and so this is how our country looks to the world. And in this case you cannot even say that there is no need to blame the mirror. I see myself in the mirror, not Ushakov and his fuck-yous. And you, too, are unlikely to recognize yourself in it. This is scum from the bottom of the pond that has floated to the surface. And while some people catch their fish in this muddy water, we are suffocating.

No, this is not what I was taught at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Foreign Ministry in the early noughties.

_______________

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been growing for weeks following the breakdown of a ceasefire in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which Russia invaded in 2014, and a massing of Russian forces nearby. Yesterday Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, admitted that Russia had built up two armies and three airborne units on its western borders for “combat-training exercises”. Russian amphibious vessels have also moved from the Caspian to the Black Sea. Ukraine claims that there are 40,000 Russian troops on its eastern border and 40,000 more in Crimea. Tod Wolters, the commander of America’s European Command, said the build-up “mirrors the size and scope and scale” of that which preceded Russia’s previous invasion. But war might not be Russia’s ultimate goal. It may just be to intimidate Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, into offering concessions over Donbas—such as greater autonomy for pro-Russian separatists—and to test just how far America and Europe will go in supporting Ukraine.
-The Economist Espresso, 14 April 2021

Geolocations of Russian military equipment movements on the borders of Ukraine: an interactive map

Russia has deployed a field hospital on the border with Ukraine – German media (photos, videos)
Fokus
April 14, 2021

Russian military camp south of Voronezh Photo: Tagesschau

To the south of Voronezh, the Russian military has built an entire tent city, equipped with a field kitchen and guarded by military police

The Russian army has deployed a huge field military camp near the Ukrainian border, south of Voronezh, which includes a field hospital, as reported by the German news program Tagesschau.

“The entire field is filled with military equipment. You can’t walk there, let alone drive. With their chains and wheels, they plowed up the whole field,” a local resident told the program.

Israel Defense Forces officer and military analyst Yigal Levin noted in a column for Fokus that the deployment of field hospitals is a grave sign of preparations for full-scale military operations.

According to Tagesschau, eyewitnesses told them that the military has built a whole town out of tents. Flags are flying everywhere, smoke is coming from smoke vents, military trucks with water tanks are constantly passing by, and a field kitchen is up and running.

The field camp is patrolled by military police.

All evidence suggests, Tagesschau notes, that the Russian servicemen have settled in this area for the long haul and are not going to leave quickly.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday, April 13, that all “verification activities” currently taking place near the borders of Ukraine and involving the participation of Russian servicemen, were scheduled to be completed “within two weeks.”

Also, an interactive map tracing the movements of Russian troops toward the borders of Ukraine has appeared on the internet. It records all instances of the transfer of Russian army equipment, weapons and personnel to the borders of Ukraine and to occupied Crimea.

Iskander operational-tactical missile system units from the Western Military District have been delivered to Voronezh, ostensibly to participate in a parade.

In turn, at a meeting with the French Ambassador to Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran said that Russia is capable of preparing the “Georgia 2008” scenario.

Thanks to Yigal Levin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Sergei Vilkov: Everything You Thought You Knew About the Russian Working Class Was Wrong

kalashnikov workersWorkers of the Kalashnikov plant in Izhevsk, Russia, on September, 20, 2016. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov (Getty Images). Courtesy of Fortune

The Heroes of the Day: What We Know about the Russian Working Class
How the Proletariat Stopped Fearing TV and Came to Dislike It
Sergei Vilkov
News.ru
April 30, 2019

It has been a tradition on the eve of May Day to recall the working class, which in Russia has seemingly been usurped by televised images of the “patriots” and regular blokes who work at the Uralvagonzavod plant in Nizhny Tagil.

Actually, Russia’s workers are a genuine black hole to sociologists. No one had seriously researched their circumstances, sentiments, and views for thirty years.

The first tentative attempts to research today’s Russian industrial laborers have produced a portrait that many had not expected. It transpires that today’s proletarians, at least, the most politically and civically dynamic among them, almost never watch television. They have a sober take on politics. They are immune to state propaganda. They have a relatively relaxed attitude toward migrant workers.

They regard themselves as outside observers in the debates between the regime and the opposition, not finding their own interests reflected in them. They are more likely to feel trampled upon by plant management than by a new law passed in the State Duma.

It is the factory where they fight their battles, which are usually invisible to official statisticians. Most important, according to researchers, they have more in common with early twentieth century social democrats than with current parties who try and speak on behalf of workers. However, the new research leaves a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. News.ru took a look at it.

They Got What They Fought For
According to official data, 26 million people in Russia or over 36% of the able-boded population are employed in industry, transport, agriculture, fishing, and several similar sectors. These figures do not include, for example, the large numbers of people employed in commerce and services. Overall, however, sociologists estimate that workers make up 40% of Russia’s population. They identify them as the largest group in society.

These people dwell on the dark side of Russia’s moon, as it were. It would be hard to say when someone last tried to examine them through an academic lens. However, understanding the nature of Russian society and its largest segments is, perhaps, the most ambitious humanities research project in the country today.

In government reports, Russia’s workers are imagined as a passive, homogeneous milieu that positively exudes tranquility. In 2017, Rosstat, the state statistics service, recorded only one strike, while in the preceding years their official number oscillated between two and five strikes annually.

By comparison, in 2005, according to official data, there were 2,600 strikes in Russia. And yet the following year, Rosstat claimed the number of strikes had decreased by a factor of 325. Since then, according to official statistics, it has remained consistently scanty, despite the economic crises of 2008 and 2014.

However, the Center for Social and Labor Rights, which has monitored the situation on its own, claims there were an average of 240 labor protests between 2008 and 2014. In 2016, when the political opposition was quiet, there were twice as many labor protests, while in the first six months of 2018, the last period for which it has data, the center recorded 122 strikes and acts of civil disobedience. Nearly half of these incidents led to workers downing tools.

Since 2014, a year dominated by an apparent “patriotic” consensus in politics, the number of strikes has increased abruptly due to an upsurge of resistance in provincial cities, including district seats. The largest number of walkouts and protests occurred in industry, especially the machine building and metalworking sectors, which have accounted for 28% of the overall number of strikes. The transport sector has accounted for the same percentage of strikes and protests, despite the fact they have mainly been carried out by employees of private transport companies based in the cities. The construction industry has accounted for 19% of strikes and protests during the period.

The main cause of protests and strikes remains unpaid back wages, which accounted for 60% of incidents. Demands to raise pay were factors in 19–20% of incidents.

The Center for Social and Labor Rights noticed a curious thing. In 2018, the number of spontaneous, unorganized protests by workers rose abruptly by 22%. Trade unions were involved in a mere 17% of all strikes and protests. The experts claim this was partly due to the fact that the Russian hinterlands, where there have been no real trade unions for the last one hundred years, have taken the lead in labor activism, along with sectors dominated by precarious employment.

Shop Floor Intellectuals
Someone has been organizing these strikes and protests, however. It is evident there is a core of energetic progressive activists among Russia’s workers.

On April 22, Alexander Zhelenin gave a lecture at a round table held in the offices of Novaya Gazeta newspaper.

Zhelenin is a well-known expert on workplace conflicts, and part of his talk dealt with a research study on the Russian proletariat. In July and September 2018, he and his fellow researchers did a small-scale qualitative sociological research study in Kaluga and Omsk that focused on the self-identification and sociopolitical views of workers.

A total of twenty-three people were interviewed. The small sample was offset by a thorough probing, through in-depth interviews, of the respondents’ attitudes and views, which are never revealed by run-of-the-mill public opinion polls. The workers interviewed by the sociologists were somehow connected to independent trade unions, which had, apparently, supported the research study. However, in the main, the interviewees were not politically engaged: only one of them was a member of a political organization.

We should also not forget it is usually the most energetic people who agree to be interviewed for ordinary official public opinion polls, which affects their outcomes.

In Kaluga, the respondents worked in the food industry and the new auto assembly plants, while in Omsk, they were employed at old Soviet military-industrial complex plants. They ranged in age from twenty to fifty, and included women and men. They were quite well-paid technicians who were proud of their contributions to society. On the other hand, they had a constant sense of their status as subordinates. They tended to strongly associate themselves with their workplaces. Family “labor dynasties” were a possible factor in their outlooks.

Most of the workers interviewed at the auto plants had been abroad one or more times, and this partly had to do with Volkswagen’s work exchange programs. One of the things they had learned on these trips was independent trade unions were ordinary, valuable organizations.

On the contrary, a foreign-travel passport was a rarity among the workers of the old defense plants, and yet both groups of workers tended to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast. Some respondents in Omsk said they had never seen the sea or had seen it in early childhood.

Mortgages were the main financial obstacles to holidays away from home. Financially, the skilled workers felt they were members of the so-called middle class. In terms of standards of living in their regions, however, they noticed the gap between the more affluent segment of the populace and themselves. Thus, they had a keen sense of the difference in life chances for their children and the children of rich families, talking about it with great indignation.

Pavel Kudyukin, ex-minister of labor and employment and a lecturer in public administration at the Higher School of Economics, commented on the growing social segregation in Russia.

“It comes to the fore when talk turns to children’s futures. It is an aspect that will become more acute, because we are moving from segregation to social apartheid. I think it will facilitate [grassroots] civic activism,” he said.

The authors of the report did not hide their amazement at the fact that the respondents were quite well-educated, intelligent people. Nearly a third of them had a higher education or an uncompleted university degree. Many of them pointed out it was ordinary to find university-educated workers on the shop floor.

Tellingly, a man from Kaluga, identified as Anatoly, who did not finish his university degree, and whose outward appearance (a bespectacled intellectual), cultivated manner of speaking, and hobbies (music and organizing non-profit music festivals) gave the researchers the impression he was a local intellectual, although he said he had been employed as a skilled laborer for over eleven years. Like some other respondents, Anatoly noted he had become a laborer because life had worked out that way and he had to earn money. Industry was the only place where it was possible to earn a more or less decent wage, the study noted.

They Have Their Own Values
And yet 74% of of the respondents unambiguously identified themselves as workers, stressing their difference from other groups in society and their direct involvement in production. The remaining 26% preferred to call themselves “employees” and supported the notion of so-called social partnerships with management. However, despite their decent standard of life, it followed from the interviews that the workers believed they occupied one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. This had to do with their palpably subordinate positions at work and the lack of prestige in their occupations. This circumstance was painfully apparent in the tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers at one plant, a tension exacerbated by the arrogance of the latter towards the former.

The workers were very annoyed by the fact that, as Sergei, a grinder who was involved in the Omsk focus group, said, “In terms of wages and education, the blue-collar workers often outperform the office workers, but the latter still treat them as inferiors.”

In Omsk, for example, the wages of workers fluctuated between 20,000 and 30,000 rubles a month, but workers at some defense plants could earn up to 70,000 or 80,000 rubles a month. However, according to the same interviewee, the well-paid jobs were “inherited.”

Besides, he said, to earn such a wage, one virtually had to live at the factory, working twelve hours a day and enjoying only one day off a week, something not all workers would do. Meanwhile, office workers at the same plant could earn only 20,000 rubles a month, but they treated the workers “as if they were above [them],” said Sergei.

“A really interesting thing is the split in self-identification as workers and members of the middle class,” said Kudyukin. “It clearly manifests the pressure exerted in society by hegemonic views. It is like what Marx wrote: ‘The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.’ Since the notion of the middle class is constantly in the air, people give no thought to the fact that it’s a sociological fiction. People realize they are workers. They work on an assembly line or operate a machine. Yet in terms of income they identify themselves as middle class in the sense that they are neither rich nor poor. Maybe this has to do with the notion that the middle class is formally defined by income.”

“Russia is a quite highly stratified country, and it is constantly becoming more stratified,” explained Gregory Yudin, a professor at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. “It’s not a matter of income gaps, but of what these people say: the sense of symbolic superiority in cases where there is no income gap. When this sense takes root at a particular factory, what happens is quite predictable. In this sense, Marx was more or less right.”

Speaking about their place in production, the workers voiced the opinion their plants could run without managers, but without them the shop floors would grind to a halt. However, they sensed the arrogant attitude towards manual labor that had emerged in other parts of society. They realized that, from this perspective, their status was not considered prestigious at all. The factory laborers responded by opposing the values of their milieu to “other” values, saying that nowadays the chic thing to do was to steal and mooch, to make lots of money for doing nothing.

“I think this is an ordinary means of compensation, a psychological defense mechanism. We are considered impoverished in some way, whereas in fact we are the salt of the earth, and everything would grind to a halt without us. Their sentiments are quite justified. Despite the importance of managerial work, if you got rid of the management staff, the shop floor would function all the same. But if the workers suddenly disappeared, the plant would shut down,” said Kudyukin.

The research study showed the respondents perceived Russian politics as an established system that ignored their interests. This applied not only to the government but also to the opposition. Nearly half of the respondents consciously refrained from voting. By comparison, during the last presidential election, in March 2018, the Central Electoral Commission reported that 32.5% of registered voters did not vote.

Some of the respondents voted for the CPRF (Communist Party of the Russian Federation), A Just Russia, and LDPR [Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party], although they noted these parties were entangled in establishment and supported workers’ interests more in words than in actual deeds. They were not a serious opposition.

What they had to say on the matter was telling.

“I have little trust in politicos and parties. I have more faith in the people here, the people with whom I work, the people I know. Here, at the local level, there are decent people among the members of different [political] movements. But the leadership is usually a bloody shambles,” said Sergei, 35, a grinder at the Aggregate Plant in Omsk.

“There are currently no parties that would defend workers’ interests. We need to create such a party,” said Sergei, who works at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga.

Volodya, who also works at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was likewise certain such parties did not exist.

“All of them are against us [workers]. They represent business and big money, even the CPRF and A Just Russia. Those parties just use the ‘movements’ to score political points. They have great jobs. United Russia try and pass bad laws. They have the majority in the Duma, so [the three other parties represented there] can pretend to oppose them, since the bad laws will be passed all the same,” he said.

He quoted Mark Twain.

“If voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

The federal government was a source of considerable irritation to the workers, especially in connection with the pension reform.

Roman, a 45-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, was the only respondent in either city who said he had always voted for Putin and United Russia, but since the pension reform had passed, he was severely disenchanted and was more inclined to vote for the CPRF.

Vladislav, a 28-year-old worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga, had a confession to make despite the fact he had never voted.

“I was never opposed to Putin. But I did not believe to the last that he would say yes to this cannibalistic reform,” he said.

“Their statements jibe with what we see in other studies,” said Yudin. “People are depoliticized, yes. They distrust the system profoundly. This distrust grew even deeper last year. It’s a typical Russian scenario, and I am not entirely certain it has something specifically to do with workers. It typifies many segments of the populace. People who espouse this worldview serve as the base for different populist projects.”

Researchers describe their views as a contradictory mix of spontaneous anarchism and paternalistic expectations from the state. They would like to see the state solving society’s problems and intervening in the economy to raise wages, create jobs, and distribute incomes more fairly.

Igor, a worker from Omsk, had a typical view of the matter.

“The government should definitely solve these issues if workers have hired them to serve the people. When are they going to handle all of this if they work six and seven days a week? They just don’t have the time to deal with their own improvement [sic],” he said.

However, their political beliefs were more leftist and democratic than conservative and reactionary, even when it came to ethnic, religious and gender issues.

“The workers with whom we spoke, irrespective of whether they believed in God, wanted to lived in a secular state, while hoping the Russian Orthodox Church would be behave more modestly when it came to secular issues and would be less politicized. The views of workers on gender roles, the place of women in families, society, and the state were generally quite democratic. In terms of their worldviews, the workers had more in common with classic leftists than with a good number of current leftist parties and movements in Russia,” write the study’s authors.

Cool Heads
The researchers claim the workers they surveyed were clearly not victims of government propaganda. Their attitude towards Russia’s involvement in the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria was generally very restrained, if not sharply negative. Many of them argued that Russia’s foreign policy, as defined by the country’s leadership, had nothing to with their interests and was even capable of harming them. They also had a skeptical attitude to the promotion of great-power patriotism, seeing it as a means of distracting working people from real problems. But while they openly voiced their attitudes to foreign policy, the workers were cautious about discussing it, emphasizing a lack of information on the subject.

Many of them said society was not told everything.

To the surprise of the sociologists, most of the interviewees (78%) identified the internet as their main source of information, despite the fact they were asked about this part of their lives in a way that mentioned television and newspapers first, while the internet was among the information sources listed last.

By comparison, in March 2018, Levada Center published a poll claiming 85% of Russians got most of their information by watching television; moreover, 72% of respondents preferred watching state-controlled Channel One. On the contrary, only five of the workers (22% of the focus group) watched news and political programs on television. They regarded what they saw on television quite skeptically, trying to detect the influence of certain third-party interests.

They had a rather low opinion of the state of the nation.

“Lately, I’ve been ashamed of my people,” said Roman, a worker at Volkswagen in Kaluga.

Another worker, Vladimir, countered Roman.

“To stop feeling ashamed of your nation, just don’t identify yourself with it. Russia, the people, and the nation are illusions that have been pounded into our heads. There is just the earth and the people who live on it. The people who lived before us dreamed up border: here is Russia, there is Ukraine, here is America. In fact, we are all people. If you look at things from this standpoint, everything falls into place. For example, I don’t acknowledge the existence of national Olympic squads. My world is the people I know. When they say, “Our guys are playing football,” I think of “our guys” as my neighbors, workmates, family members, and the clerks at the shop. I could not care less what is going on in Syria and Donbas,” said Vladimir.

The researchers got rather unexpected and ambivalent results when they asked the workers about their attitudes towards migrant workers. In July 2018, Levada Center reported that 67% of Russians regarded them negatively. It is such sentiments that currently fuel nationalism and xenophobia. Among the workers in the survey, however, the intensity of these sentiments was considerably lower.

The different focus groups were split in their opinions of migrant laborers.

“Why hide it? I have a positive attitude toward them, because they are former brothers [within the Soviet Union]. We have the same troubles as they do. They get paid under the table, and so do we. And sometimes they are not paid at all,” said Mikhail, a 55-year-old freight handler.

“I tend to believe we need to create jobs for our own people first, and only then can we create jobs for migrants. As a worker, I consider them competitors, but as a human being I have no problems with them. On the other hand, how do we employ Russians if no Russians want to work as janitors?” said Svyatoslav, a truck driver at the Volkswagen plant.

Ultimately, 45% of the respondents took anti-migrant worker stances. In Omsk, the breakdown between migrantophobes and internationalists was six to four. In Kaluga, on the other hand, where the focus groups and in-depth interviews were dominated by workers from modern, foreign-owned production facilities, there were seven internationalists, as opposed to three migrantophobes.

The study’s authors argue the discrepancies are due to the different types of industry in the two cities, contrasting the workers from the old Soviet defense plants with the employees of foreign companies. However, we would be remiss not to note the relatively low level of nationalism in all the groups surveyed.

“In our view, this is because the workers have closer and more frequent contacts with migrant workers, and thus have more personal experience with them, something that always shatters stereotypes. It is yet another testimony to the fact that the dominant media coverage in Russia has less impact on the views of workers,” argue the study’s authors.

As for attitudes towards religion, twelve of the twenty-three respondents identified themselves as believers, while eleven identified themselves as atheists or agnostics. Two of the respondents regarded themselves as deeply religious Russian Orthodox believers. However, all the respondents said they wanted to live in a secular country in which the Russian Orthodox Church should have a smaller role in secular issues and politics.

The views of the workers on gender relations and the place of women at home and in society were quite democratic. According to the researchers, nearly all the men agreed women had the right to pursue any career or calling. They would not stop their own wives from getting involving in public life and politics or pursuing a career.

However, they regarded female politicians in the State Duma quite skeptically, since they did not see them as politicians who hailed from the grassroots. The respondents named German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović as positive examples of women involved in politics.

At the same time, both of the experts we interviewed, Pavel Kudyukin and Gregory Yudin, agreed the research study had serious methodological flaws. Besides, it gave its readers no sense of the particular life experiences that had prompted the workers to embrace particular outlooks.

Thanks to Alexander Zamyatin for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader

Щасливого Різдва!

thugocratic council.jpegA recent meeting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights at the Kremlin. Image courtesy of kremlin.ru

I am not sure what to do with the canard, beloved of “anti-imperialists” the world over, that, because Ukraine has been less than perfectly governed, has been lousy with human rights violations, and has featured an inordinate number of neo-Nazis and other unsavory characters, it has deserved what Putinist Russia has been doing to it since 2014.

If “anti-imperialists” were consistent, they would want the same fate visited on every other country that is badly governed and has a dicey human rights record. I imagine that would mean a hundred or more countries would have to be invaded simultaneously to right all the wrongs in our world, at least as these wrongs are seen, allegedly, by “anti-imperialists.”

This begs the question of why a country with an even worse human rights record, a country governed by a tiny clique of unbelievably corrupt, violent secret police officers who have no intention of ever yielding power to any other group, much less to the country’s people, was the best qualified to invade Ukraine and show it the “anti-imperialist” light. {TRR}

Donbas Family Photo Archive

donbass family albumPhoto courtesy of Donbas Family Photo Archive

Plus/Minus Art Residency
Facebook
December 24, 2018

The visual anthropology project Donbas Family Photo Archive was presented on November 29 at the IZOLYATSIA Platform for Cultural Initiatives. Kateryna Siryk, curator of the Plus/Minus Art Residency in Severodonetsk, and Vadim F. Lurie, an independent researcher, anthropologist, and photographer from Petersburg, presented the project.

The expedition kicked off in February 2018 in three neighboring cities in Luhansk Region: Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, and Rubizhne. The aim was to find and digitize the family photo archives of local residents and compile a database.

“Family life (private life) and public life are bound up in photo archives. The boundary between them is not always visible, a consequence of the ideological structure of society and life in the twentieth century. These things helped us record and analyze culture, history, and the socio-political aspects of life in Luhansk Region,” said Lurie.

According to Lurie, the memory and post-memory of Donbas are not simply timely subjects. They are also painful subjects for many people in Ukraine and Russia.

“The issue of this region’s memory has been politicized. It has been overrun by speculations and rebuttals of these speculations. These are not merely different opinions. They are one of the ideological grounds of the conflict of Eastern Ukraine. The family archives of Donbas residents can lead us to an objective understanding of the people who have lived here,” Lurie argued.

The project’s plans for 2019 include a series of exhibitions and discussions in the cities involved in the project and elsewhere in Ukraine, museumification of the photo archive, and creation of an online database.

Prior to Kyiv, the project had been presented at the seminar War, Photo Archives and the Temporalities of Cultural Heritage, at the Max Planck Institute’s Art History Institute in Florence, the seminar Urban Landscapes of Memory: Conflicts and Transformations, at CISR Berlin, and a press conference at the Seversky Donets Crisis Media Center.

Donbas Family Photo Archive: http://donbasphotoarchive.tilda.ws/ru

Contacts: donbasphotoarchive@plusminus.org.ua, (099) 944-6803

Translated by the Russian Reader

Ayder Muzhdabaev: We Are Not Going to Take a Deep Breath

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Ayder Muzhdabaev

15 Minutes
Facebook
October 14, 2017

Crimean Tatar Journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev to Russian Rock Musician Andrei Makarevich: “It Hasn’t Passed, It Hasn’t Stopped Hurting, We’re Not Going to Take a Deep Breath”

Before arriving in Ukraine to clean up at the box office yet again, Russian TV presenter and showman Misha Kozyrev advises Ukrainians not to let the war into their hearts. By the way, he will again be arriving in the country real soon. Someone has to tell the “embittered” younger brothers what to think and how to live. We are clueless on our own.

And when Russian musician Andrei Makarevich was asked why he wanted to drag his band Time Machine’s keyboardist Andrei Derzhavin, who signed an open letter to Putin supporting the annexation of Crimea and the war, along with him to Ukraine, he wrote on Facebook it was time to stop discussing events that had happened four years ago. “Learn to take a deep breath,” he wrote. As if everything had passed and stopped hurting. No, it has not passed, and it has not stopped hurting. If someone thinks we have forgotten everything, he or she probably should not come to Ukraine.

If your keyboard player, Mr. Makarevich, still slips into the country under your skirt, so to speak, we will drag him from his dressing room and send him home packing. If you are incapable of understanding such a simple, normal thought, then so be it: we will explain it to you. We have not taken a deep breath, and we are not going to, because we had our homeland stolen from us—or at least part of it. We remember that and we cannot forgive what happened, not only the war and annexation but also the indifference to us.

We are not aquarium fish or serfs who remember nothing and have no right to rage. We do not need any Russians here except those who are wholeheartedly against the Putin Reich, support the return of Crimea and Donbas to Ukraine, and support Ukraine unconditionally, without any provisos. If you are incapable of understanding us, if you lack the humanity to put yourself in our shoes, to feel and share our pain, you had better stay home, in the so-called Russian world.

I hope the so-called Russian world will take it easy on you, Mr. Makarevich. I hope it treats you more gently than it has treated the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Although I do not think it will happen. Life is set up in such a way that right after the Jews were massacred, trouble came for the Germans. But who knows. If you continue to sit still and choose your words carefully, maybe you will be luck personally.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Radio Europe/Radio Free Liberty

Bhaskar Sunkara: “You Say East Ukraine, I Say West Russia”

Has Bhaskar Sunkara ever been to “West Russia”?

west-russia

Source: Facebook

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Bhaskar Sunkara. Photo courtesy of Magculture

Bhaskar Sunkara (born June 20, 1989) is an American political writer, editor and publisher of Jacobin magazine.

The son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago, Sunkara described Jacobin as a radical publication, “largely the product of a younger generation not quite as tied to the Cold War paradigms that sustained the old leftist intellectual milieus like Dissent or New Politics.”

The New York Times interviewed Sunkara in January 2013, commenting on Jacobin’s unexpected success and engagement with mainstream liberalism. In late 2014, he was interviewed by New Left Review on the political orientation and future trajectory of the publication and in March 2016 was featured in a lengthy Vox profile.

Sunkara writes for Vice magazine, Washington Post and The Nation, among other outlets. He has appeared on the PBS Tavis Smiley program, MSNBC’s Up w/ Chris Hayes and the FX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.

Source: Wikipedia

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Residents in eastern Ukraine face worst fighting in years in war with Russian-backed separatists
Sabra Ayres
Los Angeles Times
February 15, 2017

The news reached Mariupol Mayor Vadim Boychenko via a morning phone call from an assistant: A rocket attack damaged 11 houses on the outskirts of the Ukrainian city.

There were no casualties, but a major concern had become a reality: The escalation of fighting elsewhere in the nation in recent weeks had reached the industrial city, a key component in southeast Ukraine’s struggling economy.

“We’ve gotten used to a peaceful life,” Boychenko said during a recent interview at his office. “I really don’t want to return to the problems we had started to forget.”

Ukraine’s nearly three-year battle against Kremlin-backed separatists in the east erupted into the worst fighting in two years in late January. Exactly why the fighting intensified recently remains unclear, though such encounters have occurred with some frequency during unrest that included Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

The small city of Avdiivka, 90 miles north of Mariupol, became the epicenter of the recent violence. The fighting quickly spread along a 300-mile line separating the Ukrainian government-controlled lands and those claimed by separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Mariupol had seen only sporadic fighting over the last two years, primarily in the region’s eastern villages. But as news trickled in about the bombardment of Avdiivka, Mariupol began again hearing the deep rumble of explosions and heavy artillery fire less than 10 miles away.

The fighting halted vital shipments from Avdiivka’s coal processing plant to Mariupol’s massive iron and steel works plants, jeopardizing production at one of the region’s biggest employers.

Many local residents said they feared the renewed violence could quash the growing sense of confidence in Mariupol after nearly two years of relative stability.

One concern in the region is that President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could strike a deal that would lift U.S. sanctions on Russia or force Ukraine to make painful compromises with Moscow. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has urged Western leaders to keep sanctions in place.

“Sanctions are the only way to get Putin to the table,” he said last week in an interview with journalists and academics in Kiev, the capital.

Nationally, there is little faith in the Minsk agreements, a road map to peace brokered in 2014 by European leaders between Ukraine, the Kremlin and the separatist rebel leaders. Poroshenko maintains that Ukraine is committed to its obligations to the agreements.

“Minsk is my plan. Putin accepted it. His signature is there,” he said.

Mariupol has gone through a noticeable transformation since war erupted in eastern Ukraine in the spring of 2014. Once the epitome of a run-down, Soviet industrial port city with two massive metallurgy plants puffing out pollution day and night, Mariupol in the last two years has emerged as a center of civic activism in Ukraine’s southeastern battlefront.

The city was the center of several violent outbreaks in spring 2014, when Ukrainian forces and supporters of the pro-Russian separatist groups fought gun battles in the downtown streets. The charred former police headquarters and city council buildings still stand as reminders. On Jan. 24, 2015, a missile attack hit an eastern region of Mariupol dense with Soviet-era concrete housing blocks, killing at least 30 people.

The previously politically passive, mostly Russian-speaking city created community groups that mobilized to gather whatever money they could to buy medical kits, food, and flak jackets and helmets for Ukraine’s ill-prepared military. The fighting displaced 1.75 million eastern Ukrainians, but locals opened their homes and about 56,000 newcomers settled in Mariupol.

“We don’t call them refugees anymore,” Boychenko said. “They are ‘new Mariupolites’ and have already become part of our city.”

Once-thriving Donetsk is now occupied by rebel forces, so Mariupol, the largest city in the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, became the de facto cultural hub of the eastern industrial area along the Don River basin, known as the Donbas.

Displaced activists from Donetsk opened an avant-garde theater and creative space that has hosted some of the country’s big names in modern talent.

Small businesses — grocery stores, small restaurants and mom-and-pop shops — whose owners fled the fighting returned, and new cafes have opened. Ukraine’s most popular music group, Okean Elzy, gave a free concert in May attended by more than 30,000 people.

“We’ve been working all year to create a positive mood in the city,” Boychenko said.

Alex Ryabchyn, a deputy in Ukraine’s parliament who was born in Mariupol, said the city is in the early stages of reinvention.

“The population is starting to think of themselves as being the center of southeastern Ukraine. That’s new, “ said Ryabchyn,  who was an economics professor in Donetsk State University before fleeing to Kiev after the pro-Russia rebel takeover.

Mariupol faces major challenges, particularly in the economic sphere. Ukraine’s economy has been battered since protests ousted a Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. The war ripped apart the country’s coal mining and steel processing industry, destroying many plants and severely curtailing production in those that survived.

The aging steel plants need modernization and the economy needs diversification to revitalize the region. Highways linking Mariupol to other cities are so bad that drivers are forced to reroute to avoid the worst sections. Train rides from Kiev to Mariupol, about 500 miles, take 18 hours, and the airport cannot accept commercial flights because of its location near the front lines of fighting.

Mariupol can feel like an isolated peninsula in Ukraine, an image many hoped was changing.

“You can see why [an increase in fighting] is a problem,” Irina Chirkova, 24, a waitress in Mariupol, said as a series of explosions pierced the cold air. “We have a lot of potential here — a big port, an airport and nice beaches. But our infrastructure needs investment, and who is going to invest in us now with this war?”