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:

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.


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