At the UN, Poroshenko 1, Putin 0

Not that speeches delivered at the United Nations General Assembly matter, but, if they did, Vladimir Putin’s would have garnered him a failing grade, while Petro Poroshenko’s would have been in the A range.

Putin said his usual bromides about the importance of the UN and international institutions, conveniently forgetting his violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum and the 1978 Helsinki Accords. He praised state sovereignty, while ignoring his invasions of Georgia and Ukraine and occupation of eastern Moldova. He condemned terrorism, while promoting it in Ukraine. It takes real chutzpah to make the following claims:

Russia stands ready to work together with its partners on the basis of full consensus, but we consider the attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations as extremely dangerous. They could lead to a collapse of the entire architecture of international organizations, and then indeed there would be no other rules left but the rule of force.

Putin’s Misguided Move in Syria

Russia’s incompetent bully of a leader, Vladimir Putin, has just committed his latest blunder. He’s decided to prop up the dying Assad regime with weapons and soldiers. Good luck! The USSR’s fiasco in Afghanistan and America’s in Iraq have clearly failed to deter the Kremlin’s serial bumbler from committing his latest strategic mistake.

The mortar shell that struck Russia’s embassy compound in Damascus on September 20th is a foretaste of things to come. As Russian troops intervene in greater numbers—as they surely will in order to prop up a doomed regime—Russian casualties will mount. Eventually, ISIS will engage in its usual barbarism and beheaded Russian soldiers will appear on television. At that point, Western commentators, who’ve mostly interpreted Putin’s intervention as a devilishly clever move, will start saying that Russia stumbled into a conflict it cannot win.

Putin watchers shouldn’t be surprised by the Russian dictator’s latest blunder.

The Fool, Russia, and Ukraine

With The Fool (Durak), 34-year-old Russian film director Yuri Bykov has officially become his country’s Cassandra.

The New York Times says the film is about corruption in a squalid Russia. Bykov’s 2014 film is about much more than that. The Fool is an obvious allegory of the rottenness—and coming collapse—of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Ukrainians Impatient With Pace of Reforms

Ukrainians are angry. The standard refrains are that there are no reforms and that Ukraine is worse off than it used to be.

Such deep-seated anger was at the root of the violent demonstration at the Parliament a few weeks ago. Most commentators focused on the violence and its implications for Ukraine’s democracy. In fact, despite the Western media’s bizarre infatuation with Ukraine’s radical right, it is tiny and poses no threat to the system.

Far more worrisome is the widespread popular anger and growing popular radicalism.

Angry people who make radical demands—of the we-want-everything-immediately variety—and mistrust their leaders make for illegitimate and unstable rule. At some point, illegitimate and unstable rule can crumble. If Ukraine ever comes unglued, it’ll be because popular anger produced a third Maidan that destroyed Ukraine’s fledgling institutions and either created chaos or brought radicals to power. All Ukrainians would lose. Vladimir Putin would win.

Ukraine’s Complicated History

The following is an interview with George Liber, a professor of history at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


MOTYL: Your forthcoming book, Total Wars and the Making of Modern Ukraine, 1914–1954, promises to revise much of the conventional wisdom about Ukraine. What are your main arguments?

LIBER: Between 1914 and 1954, the Ukrainian-speaking territories in East Central Europe suffered almost 15 million “excess deaths” as well as numerous large-scale evacuations and forced population transfers. These losses were the consequences of two world wars, the Holodomor, the Holocaust, violent upheavals, and revolutions.

Back in the USSR

By now you know that a Russian military kangaroo court sentenced Ukrainian film director Oleh Sentsov and Ukrainian civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko to, respectively, 20 and 10 years imprisonment on trumped-up charges of terrorism. Amnesty International and other human rights groups immediately responded with protests, while Amnesty’s press secretary in Ukraine compared the trial to Stalinist show trials.

Anti-Donbas Sentiment Growing in Ukraine

Is Ukrainian public opinion turning toward getting rid of the Russian-occupied Donbas enclave?

The evidence is beginning to look persuasive. A year ago, the suggestion that Ukraine would be better off without the Russian-occupied bits of Luhansk and Donetsk provinces provoked cries of treason. No more. The view has become legitimate, and it may even be winning the day.

A May 2015 public opinion survey by the Sofia Center for Social Research showed that 61.8 percent of Ukrainians would be willing to give up the occupied territories in exchange for peace. Only 22.9 percent supported continuing military operations until the region’s full liberation. (The survey was not conducted in Crimea or the occupied territories.)

Putin Destroys Tons of Food Imports. What's Next?

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s wanton destruction of hundreds of tons of Western food products has provoked a storm of criticism.

The outrage is justified, but, no less important, his bizarre behavior gives us an opportunity to test some of the theories that have been applied to Russia’s behavior in the last two years.

Start with realism, the theory of geopolitics, national interests, and hard facts, as preached by John Mearsheimer, Henry Kissinger, and Stephen Cohen.

Realism explains Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine as a defensive measure made in response to NATO enlargement and American instigation and/or support of Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution. The West supposedly tried to wrest Ukraine from Russia’s legitimate sphere of interests, and Russia had no choice but to defend itself by playing hardball in Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine: A Legal Perspective

The following is an interview with Thomas D. Grant, senior research fellow of Wolfson College and senior associate of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, both at the University of Cambridge.


MOTYL: Your recently published book, Aggression against Ukraine, argues that Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine is a challenge to international law and global public order at large. Has Russia effectively destroyed the postwar security architecture in Europe?

Ukraine’s August Blues

August is when most of Europe closes down, as people dash to their country homes or head for resorts. Beaches overflow; fun becomes mandatory. A perfect tan is all that matters.

What a wonderful time to forget that the war in eastern Ukraine will continue to rage, perhaps even intensify.

Vladimir Putin’s terrorists, commandoes, mercenaries, and troops will keep on violating the Minsk 2 accords by shelling Ukrainian territory and killing Ukrainian citizens and soldiers. Yesterday, four soldiers lost their lives. The day before it was, I think, one. The day before that—none. The day before that: was it two? I forget.

Who’s counting anymore? We’ve all become jaded by the steady trickle of single digits. Remember the shock everyone felt during the Maidan Revolution, when the first demonstrators were killed? No more. Putin has achieved nothing with his aggression except one thing: to inure us to death.

And just why are they dying? Ah, yes: for that lovely bit of Ukraine called the Donbas.

De-Communization, Hannah Arendt, and Ukrainian Nationalism

It’s about 100 days since Ukraine passed its de-communization laws and guess what? The sky hasn’t fallen. The fascists haven’t taken over. Repression hasn’t set in. Which is exactly what those of us who were arguing for the laws were saying all along.

Two Mass Graves: Ukrainians and Jews

I discovered two mass graves in the forest near my mother’s home town in western Ukraine, Peremyshlyany, located 47 kilometers east-southeast of Lviv.

The former Przemyślany is also a former shtetl. Its prewar population was about 5,000; its current official population is 7,000–8,000, though, given the large number of residents working abroad, it’s probably closer to the prewar level. The composition of the town has changed dramatically. The Jews and Poles, who comprised about 45 percent apiece of the prewar population, are gone: killed, expelled, or fled. About 90 percent of the prewar Ukrainian population had also been killed or expelled, or had fled. Most of the town’s current Ukrainian inhabitants have no roots in Peremyshlyany, being the progeny of villagers who settled there after World War II.

What New Ukrainian Exceptionalism?

Having just lauded Kennan Institute Director Matthew Rojansky and two colleagues for a fine piece on Ukraine’s relationship with the United States, I hate to change my tune and criticize him for a subsequent article co-written with a Ukrainian academic, but their views on the “new Ukrainian exceptionalism” are so divorced from reality as to be mystifying.

Rojansky and Mykhailo Minakov, associate professor in philosophy and religious studies at Kyiv’s prestigious Mohyla Academy, begin their piece by paying due respect to Ukraine’s “struggle not only for its sovereignty, but for its very survival as a nation-state.” Rightly, they argue that “In this hour of need, every Ukrainian citizen and every self-described friend of Ukraine in the international community should not only speak but act in support of Ukraine.”

Then they slip off the rails:

Ukraine's Bumpy Road to Normalcy

The most striking thing about Lviv, Kyiv, and a number of small towns and villages I’ve recently visited is their normalcy. Walk down the streets or dirt roads and you’d never think Ukraine’s economy is depressed and that the country is at war. A village church I visit is full of people dressed in their Sunday best. Lviv’s cafes are packed. Kyiv’s main drag, the Khreshchatyk, is as fashionable as before Russia’s onslaught.

But that’s just the outward appearance. Talk to people and their current or impending economic travails—inflation, stagnant wages, corruption, and the growing cost of gas and electricity—quickly come to the fore. Talk a little longer and the war in the east soon becomes a topic of conversation.

The appearance of normalcy is both a façade and a coping mechanism. People know full well that times are hard and that soldiers are dying—usually one or two a day, sometimes up to four or five a day. They know that Vladimir Putin and his proxies are threatening to unleash a devastating war against Ukraine and kill thousands more.

US-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Lacks Strategy, Partnership

When three influential American Russia experts call for a substantive US-Ukrainian strategic partnership, it’s time to listen.

Matthew Rojansky, director of Washington’s prestigious Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Thomas E. Graham, former senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff and currently with Kissinger Associates, and Michael Kofman, a public policy scholar at Kennan, recently wrote an important op-ed in which they criticized the “U.S.-Ukraine strategic partnership” for “lack[ing] both strategy and partnership.”

Please take note: the three experts take for granted that such a partnership exists and strongly imply that it should exist. They’re calling, not for establishing such a relationship, but for filling it with appropriate substance.

Here are their recommendations:


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