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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:

Should Kyiv Blockade the Donbas Enclave?

Ever since the Poroshenko Bloc’s leader, Yuri Lutsenko, stated that the “President of Ukraine believes the cancerous tumor should be subjected to a blockade,” Ukrainians have been heatedly debating whether Kyiv should sever all ties with the Russian-occupied Donbas enclave.

The argument for a blockade, which would entail a total cutoff of economic relations as well as deliveries of electricity, gas, and water, is straightforwardly strategic. Ukraine is at war with Russia and its puppets. The Kremlin started the war and seems to have no intention to end it. Putin’s puppets engage in continual aggressions, systematically violating cease-fires, and openly stating that they intend to conquer at least all of the Donbas. Kyiv knows it can’t win on the battlefield, but is hoping to be able to stop further Russian expansion. If Ukraine is to prevail, Kyiv needs to do everything possible to weaken the Kremlin’s proxy war machine. A blockade would hasten the Donbas enclave’s economic decline and make the region ungovernable. The blockade would do the trick.

On Donbas Autonomy—Again

Foreign policymakers and analysts intone “autonomy” for the Russian-occupied Donbas enclave with tedious regularity, almost as if they were in possession of some magic formula. One of the latest to join the chorus was NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

In fact, invocation of autonomy is at best an evasion, at worst meaningless.

Expanding Putin’s Black List

European Union officials are outraged by the Kremlin’s “black list” of European officials denied entry into Russia. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called it “unacceptable.” Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative for foreign affairs, issued the following statement:

In the past few months several EU politicians have been denied entry when arriving at the Russian border. The Russian authorities justified these refusals by referring to the inclusion of these individuals on a confidential “stop list.”

After each of these refusals, the EU and the Member States whose nationals were affected had repeatedly requested transparency about the content of this list.

Fighting Corruption in Ukraine

The following is an interview with Bohdan Vitvitsky, a Ukrainian-born corruption expert and former US federal prosecutor and assistant attorney.

***

MOTYL: You were in the running for the position of director of Ukraine’s newly established Anti-Corruption Bureau. Although your candidacy was deemed invalid due to Ukraine’s age limits on public office, will you be helping out in some formal or informal way?

VITVITSKY: I am willing to be helpful in whatever way is feasible and I have recently been approached about one such advisory possibility.

MOTYL: Given your experience implementing anticorruption projects in Ukraine, your writing and lecturing on corruption in Ukraine, as well as your long experience as a federal prosecutor in the District of New Jersey, what advice might you give the head of the bureau, the 35-year-old Artem Sytnyk?

Germany Must Lead in Europe

Nothing could be more unlike the Russo-Ukrainian war in the Donbas than Munich’s remarkably well-ordered condition. The desperate desire of Germans to look away from the death and destruction beyond their eastern border makes sense: War is too disruptive of their near-perfect orderliness to be thinkable, least of all real. Unfortunately for them, Germany has no choice but to play the role of Europe’s “well-meaning hegemon.” The European Union needs leadership, and, as distasteful as seizing the initiative may be to most Germans, who associate hegemony with the disaster of Nazism and World War II, only Germany has the geopolitical resources to be a consistent leader.

Was Vladimir Putin Born in Georgia?

The answer, according to a recent article in Germany’s highly respected Die Zeit, is maybe. “It seems,” writes correspondent Steffen Dobbert, that “there is an unspoken, and unproven, secret that is part of [Vladimir Putin’s] biography”:

There are those who are convinced that the Russian president spent the first nine years of his life with a family whose existence he continues to dispute to this day. They also believe he spent the first half of his childhood in Georgia, and not in Russia. They believe that later, as the head of the domestic intelligence agency, Putin changed his life story and denied the existence of his biological mother in order to speed his path to power—and to avoid being seen, during his first Russian election campaign, as an illegitimate child who had grown up in Georgia.

Putin’s possible biological mother is the 89-year-old Vera Putina, “a small, delicate woman, who always wears a headscarf when she leaves the house” in the Georgian village of Metekhi.

The State of Ukraine

The following is an interview with Taras Kuzio, a leading expert on Ukraine and post-communist politics.

***

MOTYL: You’ve just completed a tour of the Ukrainian territories adjoining the Donbas enclave controlled by Russia and its proxies. What are some of your key conclusions?

KUZIO: Since the Euromaidan Revolution I’ve made six visits to southeastern Ukraine for research on a book on the Donbas (supported by the US-based Ukrainian Studies Fund). My just-completed visit was to Mariupol and Volnovakha, which is on the road to Donetsk and 20 kilometers from the front line. I have also visited Donetsk (during the Euromaidan) as well as Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, both of which have been controlled by Ukrainian forces since summer 2014. The visit to Mariupol was with four journalists (two from Kharkiv, one from Kyiv, and one from Lutsk). It was funded by the EU through the Association of Polish Journalists and the TeleKrytyka Ukrainian media monitor and coordinated by Yuri Lukanov, president of the Trade Union of Independent Journalists of Ukraine.

Soviet-Nazi Collaboration and World War II

As May 9th, Victory Day in many post-Soviet states, approaches, decency demands that we celebrate the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Germany and honor the millions of soldiers and civilians who gave their lives to rid the world of the scourge of Nazism.

At the same time, if we truly want to honor the dead, we must take heed of the historical lies that the Kremlin, both in its Soviet and post-Soviet hypostases, promotes about the USSR’s relationship with Nazi Germany.

For starters, the Moscow-controlled Communist International, and its sidekick, the Communist Party of Germany, made Hitler’s rise to power possible, if not indeed inevitable, by tarring the German Social Democrats as “social fascists” who threatened to split the proletariat and were, thus, a greater evil than the Nazis. Had the German left remained united against the real threat—Nazism—Hitler might not have come to power. (Many leftists make a similar mistake today, preferring Vladimir Putin’s fascism to American capitalism and thereby promoting war in Europe.)

Funding Ukraine's Recovery

Ukraine needs 60–100 billion euros in investment in the next 10 years in order to rebuild its economy and reach the GDP level it had in 2013, according to Gunter Deuber, an analyst at Vienna’s Raiffeisen Bank International. One half will have to come from the European Union and the United States; the other half from private investors.

Ukraine’s Chess Champion—and Putin

You may not be aware of the fact that the women’s world chess champion is now a 22-year-old Ukrainian, Mariya Muzychuk. A native of Stryi, in the western province of Lviv, Muzychuk won the title on April 5th, after defeating Russia’s Natalia Pogonina in a four-game match. The victory garnered Muzychuk the title of Grandmaster, the highest designation in the world of chess. 

Meet Motorola, Self-Confessed War Criminal of the Donbas

The latest entry into the Donbas enclave’s Pantheon of heroes is one Arsenii Sergeevich Pavlov, a slight 32 year-old Russian from Russia who sports the nom de guerre, Motorola. 

Why Pavlov chose this ridiculous moniker is unclear. Was his first cell phone a Motorola? Is he even aware that Motorola was a telecommunications firm founded in a country he detests almost as much as Ukraine—America? 

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