21 January 2018, Sunday, 23:08

Yuri Felshtinsky: The biggest mistake is to bargain with the aggressor


Belarus is a buffer, which separate Europe from World War III.

There is an explosion of political talk shows on Ukrainian TV channels in these post-election days, you watch some of them, Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky writes on Inforesist.org. In particular they try to figure out what to do with the south-east of Ukraine on the Savic Shuster‘s program. Some advocate fighting (wipe out terrorists), some are against it, and some say that lumpens live in Donbas, who just sit next to their dugouts and don’t want to know anything about European values, so what is there to talk to them about…. What do you say?

I live in Boston. I have all Russian and Ukrainian channels. On Russian channels in the news and political blocks there is a war 24 hours a day, almost without adverts, if watch channel “Rissua 24″, a war with a country called Ukraine. They call it Ukraine so you understand the territory, which for some reason thinks that it is a state, although it has no right to be such as it always belonged to Russia. In this Ukraine rules junta, which seized power in Kyiv in a coup and suspended the legitimate President Yanukovych, who because of the threat to life, was forced to flee. Junta executes a genocide of its own people, first of all in the regions on the south-east, with the help of the “Right Sector” and radicals. Junta bombs schools, kills women and children. It uses military aircraft against civilians – planes and helicopters (“by the way, we will now publish the names and photographs of the pilots of these aircraft and their addresses, that we have a chance”). Junta kills soldiers who refuse to fight against the militia, shoots wounded, burns people alive in Odessa, as in Khatyn (not to be confused with Katyn). Two creatures help this junta: European Union and the USA. Those who are not fluent in Russian can get the same information in English on Russia Today (RT). Note, that Russian channels do not broadcast in Ukrainian, because they do not appeal to public opinion in Ukraine against “junta”, they appeal to Russians against Ukrainians.

All this is opposed by… It is a joke. One Savic Shuster (I personally have a great respect for him) cannot oppose all this.

Russian broadcasting was completely changed on the day the Crimea was occupied. Ukrainian broadcasting, as I understand, did not change at all. Can one afford such luxury when a war is started against Ukraine? Clearly, not. But to re-focus television in a democratic state, which Ukraine is, one must first of all tell people the truth, that a war had been started against Ukraine, started by Putin.

The main difficulty of Ukraine is the heterogeneity of the population. We have always felt from the outside, that the split on Russians and Ukrainians is an absurd, that it is not possible to tell one from another in a crowd. Of course I know all Russian jokes about Ukrainians and all Ukrainian jokes about Russians. But I also know all jokes about Jews and Armenians and it seemed that the Ukrainian-Russian confrontation will never go beyond jokes. But it did.

Creation of a new Ukrainian television is the most important thing in the information war. This television must also broadcast in Russian, otherwise Russians in Ukraine will watch Russian television. There can be no other way. If it is difficult to quickly create a new Russian channel, you can at least give a Russian text line to Ukrainian ones. It can be organised in a day! Otherwise you will not win the information battle against Russia. In the modern world an information victory is 50% of the total victory.

I have never been in eastern Ukraine, I do not know who lives there and how these people are different from western Ukrainians. It is known that the military aid to the separatists comes from Russia. Looking at the map one can see that it is not possible to get to Donetsk, Luhansk or Kharkiv on foot, these cities are too far from the border. One can only get there on wheels, on trucks. It is difficult to destroy a truck in town, in any case it will not be possible without loses among peaceful civilians. But it is easy to do on the way from the border. A question arises, why these truck get from the border to the cities without any problems, whose fault it is?

Russian channels show from morning till night rallies of the residents of eastern Ukraine. Almost all rallies start at a monument to Lenin (if there is one in town) and pass mainly under red Soviet flags. Local independent governments (DPR, LPR) sit in few regional building seized by separatists. The leaders of these governments give interviews from time to time with a portrait of Putin or Chavez on the background wall. I can tell you with certainty that a man standing underneath a portrait with Chavez is a member of the Russian GRU who served in the GRU Forces in Venezuela. I don’t even need to look at his military card. I have not heard even once that the USA drew attention to the monuments of Lenin and Soviet flags or even the portraits on the walls. Everyone shyly does not notice this pro-Soviet roll. We are not talking about DPR and LPR wanting to join Russia. They want to join the Soviet Union, which has long gone and which will be resurrected for them by Putin in Russia itself! Because sized by Putin territories of the ex-Soviet Union cannot be joined with Russia. They can only be joined with the USSR, which needs to be resurrected and not only in the anthem.

There was a great debate on the Russian channel “Russia 24″ on the 27th of May. A presenter was discussing with the “expert-historian” guest whether introduction by the DPR of the Stalin’s law of 1941 about the execution of deserters is lawful – because few “deserters” in the Donetsk Republic were just shot. The two sides came to a conclusion that because the current military situation is comparable to 1941, the application of the Stalin’s law and the shooting of “deserters” is justified.

Does one need to fight? How not to fight? Why after two months of the occupation of the Crimea this question is even being discussed – should we or should we not? If the Donetsk Republic is a square outlined by separatists themselves, why not to execute an air strike on this square? Trust me, there are no peaceful civilians inside this square. This must be understood, admitted, and openly declared. If the DPR and LPR have formed governments, these government meet somewhere? Why do buildings where these meetings take place still exist? We are discussing “European values”. Let’s talk about European values after the war.

Should Petro Poroshenko build relationship with Russia? What are Kremlin’s and Putin’s plans in relation to Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space? Does the Russian leadership have a strategy, which they execute?

Yes, he should. Let me simplify the question. Otherwise it will be difficult to dot all the “i” and cross all the “t”. Should have Churchill built relationship with Germany? How? Yes! He should have. But if Germany is ruled by Hitler! It is pointless to try to build relationship with him, because Hitler just wants destruction of Britain and it is possible to negotiate only his suicide. Nothing else could be discussed with him. The hope dies last. One can build up ones hopes that the crisis will just dissolve, that Putin will retreat or give in. That Ukraine will be left alone. I know that it will not be the case, that Putin will nether retreat nor give in, that it is a real threat to peace in Europe (not only to Ukraine – to all Europe) and this is the main problem which the new Ukrainian President will have to deal with.

I can only wish him firmness. Relationship with Russia needs to be rebuilt. But it has to be built as it was done with Hitler in 1938. No one should have illusions about this, especially the President. There is a technical problem. Putin’s words cannot be trusted. He has personally promised that he will not annex the Crimea and he lied. Neither can be trusted the signature of the Russian government. It has signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. Today Medvedev says that this signature was misinterpreted and that Russia is not ready to recognise the soverenity of the Ukrainian state.

Yes, Ukraine must rebuild relationship with Russia. Only there is no one to build it with.

It is pointless to rebuild it with Putin’s government and there are no other forces in Russia to negotiate with. So our answer will be yes, President Poroshenko must build relationship with Russia, but at the moment, unfortunately, there is no partner for Ukraine to talk to. If Russia will provide such partner then it will be possible to begin negotiations and start rebuilding the relationship.

Russian leadership has a strategy. It was formulated in words by Putin when he said that he considers the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 to be the biggest tragedy. He has also clearly formulated the ideology saying that he is a Russian nationalist. The tactics were explained in 1999: kill on the loo. All that we see now is a realisation of the strategy of these three components.

Is this strategy formulated in terms of timescale and direction? Not, of course. And there is nothing unusual in this. I will bring out an example from history. Stalin, who ruled for 30 years, had always had a strategy. Global (program-maximum) – world domination. What can be simpler – invade the whole world and the end of the story. There was also an intermediate strategy: conquer Eurasia. There was also a program-minimum: remain in power. Did he mean to invade the whole continent under conquer Eurasia? Not necessarily. There were many different attempts in different time: in Hungary (1919), in Germany (few attempts beginning from the 1919), in China (1926-1927), in Spain (1936). From the 1939 everything seemed to have gone Stalin’s way: Poland, the Baltic countries, Romania, Finland. In 1940 Stalin demanded Hitler to give him Bulgaria and Molotov, who arrived for negotiation in Berlin in November 1940, suggested to start a war against Turkey in case it will refuse a long term lease of territories of Bosphorus and Dardanelles for creation of Soviet Navy bases. The strategic direction of Soviet foreign expansion was clear – towards the Gulf. The plans for the next few decades were extensive.

Few months later in June 1941 these plans were messed up by the attack of Hitler on the Soviet Union and in 1945 the result turned out to be completely different to the one, which was envisaged in 1940. In some respect it was worse for Stalin and in some it was better. So even in the first half of the 20th century the distance between the strategic plan and its achievement was huge.

Now let’s come back to you question: Putin’s plans in relation of Ukraine are simple - conquer Ukraine. Putin’s plans in relation to the post-Soviet space are to conquer the post-Soviet space. Hitler considered the Versailles agreement to be a “historical injustice”. Putin considers the Belovej agreement of the 1991 to be a “historical injustice”. And although the Versailles peace was imposed on Germany, no one imposed the Belovej agreement on Russia. It was Russia’s, the main Soviet republic’s, initiative.

The main question about conquest of all post-Soviet space, which used to belong to the USSR until 1991, is rather in tactics than in the strategy. Stalin’s tactics have always remained the same: military attack and invasion. The Russian Army used this tactic twice in Chechnya during the first and the second Chechen wars. But this tactic has, in its essence, led to the genocide of Chechen people rather than to a military and political victory. The tactic of military invasion was more successful in 2008, when Russia attacked Georgia. Georgia won its independence as did Finland in 1939-1940, but lost its territory and the war. It could not have been different – Russia is a super state.

The Crimean occupation in March 2014 was executed following the scenario of the occupation of the Baltic countries in 1939-1940. I would call this tactic a “Trojan horse”. At first the Soviet Union singed an agreement with the Baltic countries about mutual help (October 1939) and then stationed army there, which was more numerous than the armies of the Baltic countries themselves. After that it occupied the countries and executed a formal annexation (1949).

Of course one could argue that the occupation of the Crimea is more similar to invasion of Austria and the Sudetenland in 1938 when German troops entered their territories than the Baltic scenario of 1939-1940. In both cases, in Austria and in the Sudetenland, Hitler (just as Putin in the Crimea) held a referendum on the occupied territories and received standard for such type of invasion 97-99% of votes in favour and “legally” annexed the invaded territories.

Worth noting that in 1918, after the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the WWI, certain conditions were imposed on it, the main being recognition by Austria of independence of a whole range of new independent European states. The region, populated by Sudetenland German went to Czechoslovakia. Attempts of Sudetenland Germans to proclaim an independence were supressed by the Czechoslovakia Army and in 1919 by a separate agreement the Sudetenland was finally recognised as belonging to Czechoslovakia.

Ukraine got the Crimea three times, and all these times Russia has confirmed a free will transfer of this territory to Ukraine: in 1954 the Crimea was assigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, in 1991, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in 1994 when Russia, Ukraine, USA and Great Britain signed the Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed territorial integrity of Ukraine (later France and China joined this Memorandum). So when today Russia speaks about “liberation of the Crimea” it substitutes definitions and commits a linguistical mistake: only a territory, which was previously invaded can be liberated. Ukraine has never invaded the Crimea. The Crimea was invaded in 2014 by Russia, when it infiltrated its “Trojan horse”.

Do the Ukrainian authorities, Army and people adequately react on action of Russia in the eastern Ukraine?

You ask a very difficult and painful question. It is easy to advise form abroad (this accusation is just and I am ready for it). But it is better to hear the truth from abroad than lies and hypocrisy from within.

Let’s begin from the Army. I cannot believe that officers of the Ukrainian Army in the Crimea did not know that Russian troops are preparing for a military operation to invade the Crimea. It is absolutely not possible. Russian troops were transferred, Ukrainian military with connection in the Crimea were replaced with ethnic Russians, ships arrived, aviation concentrated. Ukrainian intelligence must have known about this, if not everything, and then at least something. Perhaps this information was reported but put in a draw. Today the easiest thing to do is to accuse one person – the ex-president Yanukovich in criminal inaction and treason.

But the fact that the Crimea was surrendered without a single shot cannot be blamed on Yanukovich. It must be blamed on the Ukrainian Army stationed in the Crimea. All the following steps of the Russian authorities in relation to Ukraine and the Ukrainian authorities in relation to Russia are a consequence on the traitorous surrender of the Crimea, as if it is OK to surrender the Crimea, why not the Eastern Ukraine? And if it is possible to surrender the Eastern Ukraine, why not the Central and Western? If the task of the Army is to prevent a bloodshed, then why it has to use weapons in the Eastern Ukraine? If it is not obliged to use weapons in the East, then what will make it use the arms against the occupying forces to the west of the Dnipro?

It is time to switch to the government, because it is government that gives the orders to the Army and appoints the command. Of course, it is a temporary government. It is always the most difficult time in the history of any state (remember February of 1917 in Russia) when a crisis or a war is happening on the background of absence of the government and the government does not understand what it is authorised to do and what it is not. In such situation the Army is also confused as to who can give it orders and who cannot, whose orders to obey and whose to ignore. Everyone is afraid of responsibility, everyone is afraid to become a “scapegoat”, and perhaps this fear is not ungrounded if take into account the future career and personal interests. Whichever way you look at it, the situation is difficult and even hopeless for both the Army and the government.

Hold on a minute, it is difficult if one has to give orders to shoot and kill. But there is a vast space for action between “shoot” and “do nothing”. (Here we move to your question about adequacy of the people). Why has the Ukrainian government not announced that the occupation of the Crimea is the beginning of the military action of Russia against Ukraine? Why the diplomatic relationship was not broken? Why was the embassy not recalled? Why the Russian embassy was not sent off? Why the railway and air links with Russia have not been terminated? Why was the visa-free regime not annulled? Why were all Russian journalists who refused to publicly denounce the occupation of the Crimea not sent out of the country? Why a moratorium not only on paying out but even on the discussion of the question of paying out any of the Ukrainian debts to Russia, including for the consumed Russian gas, was not imposed until the damages from the Russian occupation of the Crimea are calculated? In any case it is Russia who owes Ukraine today, not the other way round. Why are the payments even discussed at all instead of filing a complaint in an international tribunal against initiators of the aggression in the Crimea?

Trust me, I can continue list of these questions. It is endless. None of these decisions required giving orders, which would endanger lives of Ukrainian and Russian citizens. Representatives of the temporary government would not be condemned by the public opinion of their country for any of those orders because the purpose of these orders would be one thing: to explain to the people of Ukraine that a war has been started against them, so they could start acting adequately.

One must trust one’s people. A government of a country, even more so a temporary government, cannot allow itself the luxury of not trusting its people. We see in the behaviour of the Ukrainian Army mistrust to the government. We see in the behaviour of the government mistrust to its people. So what adequacy can one demand from the people, if they are not trusted?

Is the reaction of the West to the Putin’s actions in relation to Ukraine effective?

If Ukraine surrenders to Russia region after region, if the Army refuses to fight and the government is not ready to unambiguously declare that Russia (well, not Russia – “Putin’s bloody regime”) started a war against Ukraine, then what do you expect from the West? Serious sanctions can be very effective. Are the sanctions, which are imposed at the moment effective? Of course, not. Do they understand in in the West? Do they understand in Russia that the West is imposing symbolic sanctions and is not ready at the moment to declare real sanctions against Putin and Russian? Of course, they understand. Can the West help Ukraine? Yes, it can. But first Ukraine must show that it is ready to resists the occupation. And to do so one must explain what is going on - an aggression of one state against another. Because it is not Putin who fights. It is the Russian Army. And it should know that on the territory where it is sent it is considered to be an aggressor and not “polite little green men” of unknown origin.

How would you describe the Russian power vertical, its vision of Russia and Russians, economic and political model of the country?

During the last 14 years Putin was building a system, in which the power can exist being absolutely removed from the people and people do not have leverages to influence the authority. In fact it is the old Soviet system in which the Soviet Union lived for decades and in which lived and worked KGB Putin. He knows this system very well, he loves it and it suits him in general. Putin has always acted in the interest of authorities and against people. This person had not had any break in his phycology after 1991. For Putin and coterie of his supporters who govern Russia, Russia is an instrument to realise political program to resurrect the Russian Empire. Russians are cannon fodder in this game. Some die, some get ruined, some leaves, some gets rich. As always, whenever there is a change of scenery or regimes new opportunities arise. The old “elite” will leave, a new one will come. The new elite will differ from the old one as the elite of the Weimar Republic was different from Hitler’s elite of the Third Reich. There will be nothing enlightened in this elite. Cattle will came to power, and it will be visiting neighbours flying on bombers as warned the Russian Deputy Prime Minister and the future Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Rogozin. The culture minister of this elite will be Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Education minister – Alexander Prokhanov.

Putin has built such country as he wanted. After the defeat of Hitler Stalin drunk for humbled Russian people at the banquet. Putin can to raise a toast to uncomplaining Russians today, who allowed to revive a dictatorship in Russia. Journalists write what they are told to write, television will broadcast what it is allowed to broadcast, officials serve as they can. None of the journalists have slammed the door, none of the ministers resigned from the government, not a single member of Parliament opposed, not a single loud resignation because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And how everyone was brave, proud and with strong principles during the wild Yeltsin’s decade!

So today’s Russian is Putin’s ideal. Kremlin does the politics, subordinates execute the orders, people work, the country is functioning, the economy is developing. There are different opinions whether it develops well or not. Unlike many I do not think that the splash of the external aggression is linked to future or incipient economic crisis in Russia. I think that, on the contrary, economic, market stage in the history of Russia has ended. What is happening now is not about money. It is more about the Empire and power.Money and economic pressure have simply became a tactical weapon to conquer territories, which supplements the Army and increasing military potential of Russia. Today Russia is trying to suffocate everyone by gas as well.

What can stop Putin and the Russian leadership in aggression against neighbours? Can Putin be stopped by economic measures or a war is more probable?

An aggressor can only be stopped by force. There are no other examples, not other means. The force can be different: military, diplomatic, economic. Spiritual force is also a force, of course. But as a rule it does not stop an aggressor. Putin is objectively in a very weak position today. He is in complete isolation. He does not have allies beyond Russia. Not a single one. All that he can offer to the international business are bribes.

We are returning back to the question about Ukraine’s position. If Ukraine does not reckon that a war has been started against it, then why should the West stop cooperating with Russia? If Ukraine itself cooperates with Russia, why everyone else should stop cooperating with Putin? If Ukraine receives Russian gas and plans to pay for it why Germany and other European counties should impose sanctions against this gas? They don’t have to and they won’t unless Ukraine will change its position.

Today Putin’s aggression can still be stopped by sanctions. Today this regime can be throttled without a big war, but by money. Unfortunately it happened so that it all depends on Ukraine because it was the first on the way of the approaching avalanche. Putin began a war. The biggest mistake is to bargain with the aggressor about the price at which to buy his gas for not yet occupied territories and thus pay for own occupation.

So, you are predicting that the Russian government can invade Ukraine, Belarus, Baltic countries and there will be a new big war in Europe, WWIII?

History rarely gives us lessons, which would teach us something. Today we have a classis repetition of the prewar European situation of the 1938-1939. Is simply amazing how everything looks alike. I am not talking about “analogies”. It is very often misused by historians and publicists. I am talking about the historical example, which must teach us something.

Everyone makes mistakes. Putin also makes and will make many mistakes. Events on Maidan and Yanukovych’s flight made him begin his expansion from Ukraine. It is clear that it should have began from Belarus. Not having invaded Belarus Putin has lost the ability to attack Ukraine from the north.

Putin, of course, planned to disrupt the presidential elections in Ukraine. It seems that he could not do it, and the reason is not Western sanctions (which are actually absent) and not military opposition to Russian aggression in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine (because Ukraine did not oppose with military). The Russian Army did not invade eastern Ukraine because to trample “friendly” East with tank is a sure way to make it hostile. They needed to invade Kyiv or Lviv. But to do that it was necessary to enter ex Soviet Belarus first. Belarus is a buffer, which separate Europe from a big war. Time will show how long this buffer will exist. But the minute this buffer disappears the world will be on the verge of World War III.

Can Russia itself break up as a result of a war or economic problems? If yes, then how?

The main problem of Yeltsin’s Russia was the fact that it did not break up completely. In 1917 the Russian Empire broke down to little parts. The same happened with the Austro-Hungarian Empire and with the Osman Empire. One must understand that collapse of Empires is a natural historical process. Empires are mortal, as people. We do not see anything unnatural in the fact that people eventually die. The same with Empires. Sometimes they live for centuries. Sometimes for decades, like USSR, for example. When it collapsed, because of entirely objective natural causes, it seemed to many that its downfall is a historical misunderstanding, which has been arranged by unknown forces. Unfortunately, these “many” are almost all of the Soviet nomenklatura, almost the entire army, almost all of the KGB, almost all members of the Communist Party, almost all Russian province. In other words almost all Russia. It never understood why the Soviet Union collapsed. The next nine years, before Putin’s’ arrival to power, no one found time to explain to this population that the collapse of the USSR is not a misunderstanding but a natural historical process; that during decades criminals ruled in the USSR; that Stalin’s tyranny is the most terrible of all modern tyrannies; that our grandfathers were all a part of a crime against humanity, apart from those who died from the hands of Stalin’s executors or was in prison, although among victims there were many who first were accomplices and even executors. That is why sine 1991 when it was possible at last to walk forward and look into the future, more and more people began to look back in the old Soviet past, when there were many loud words, red flags, shiny awards but the main thing when “we were great, because everyone was afraid of us”.

Quarter of a century later the long awaited has arrived (bearing in mind the system of expectations created by the arrival of Putin to power): Russia became feared once more. New Russia is a country under the red Soviet banners of the Luhansk and Donetsk republics. It is not fully engulfed Moscow yet. But this red Russia has already arrived in the east of Ukraine and the Crimea. We know that it does not have a future. We know that this red Russia has a short life. The only question is, what this last desperate attempt to rise from the dead will cost Russia itself and its neighbours.

It is a risky business to speculate about the new state borders of the decaying Empire. No predictions will stand the test of time. I will give you one obvious example – the main Putin’s achievement is keeping Chechnya as a part of Russia. After two bloody wars and almost total distraction of Chechen people, Putin gave freedom to the Chechen Republic. He had to give it, because he did not have a choice. The only candidate for power, ready to swear allegiance to the Kremlin, was Ramzan Kadyrov. For this Putin gave in on everything. Today’s Chechnya is lost for Russia forever (although according to the last social research 97% of residents of Chechnya support Putin, in the same way as the Crimean referendum voted “yes”). Neither Dudayev, not Mashadov could dream about the level of independency, which now has the Chechen Republic. It formally remained in the rouble zone because it is in roubles that Putin pays Kadyrov tribute for two wars lost by Russia and death of dozens of thousands of Chechens. He will pay this tribute until his death because it is also payment for safety of Putin himself. The minute Chechnya will stop receiving Kremlin’s money it will declare its independence. This is the state of affairs that exists today, in peacetime. One will only guess what will be going on in Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Tatarstan if the European peace will be disturbed.

Putin’s task is to realise himself plunging the world into World War III. Our task is to neutralize Putin, not allowing a big war. And here everything, as I have already said, depends on Ukraine.