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Ukraine to Wall Out Putin, Literally

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on September 10th that he intends to build an extensive set of fortifications along Ukraine’s frontier with Russia and the Russian-occupied enclave of the Donbas. Called “The Wall,” the defensive line would consist of a ditch, a “no-man’s land,” an actual wall, and watch towers.

Although the name brings to mind the Berlin Wall, Poroshenko actually compared Ukraine’s planned fortifications to the Mannerheim Line, the Finnish defense against the Soviet Union, clearly suggesting that he sees today’s Ukraine as interwar Finland and Putin’s Russia as Stalin’s USSR. That reference alone underscores just how profoundly Putin’s aggression against Ukraine has changed Ukrainian attitudes to Russia. The formerly big and intrusive strategic partner has become a mortal enemy akin to the Soviet empire under its genocidal dictator, Stalin.

West's Refusal to Arm Ukraine Invites Guerrilla War

If Russia launches a full-scale invasion and Ukraine is unable to defend itself with its armed forces, the result will be a “people’s war” entailing enormous casualties and millions of refugees. Ukrainians, like the citizens of other countries on Russia’s borders, know that Vladimir Putin is an existential threat to their survival as a people. They also know they have no choice but to respond to continued Russian aggression with mass popular resistance.

Such a war—involving a partisan movement with widespread civilian participation—will be extremely costly. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will die; streams of refugees will head west. In addition, Putin will have learned that he can have his way with the United States and Europe. Aggressors everywhere will have been emboldened.

If, however, Ukraine’s military has the military equipment needed to deter a Russian invasion, people’s war will not take place, a humanitarian catastrophe will be prevented, Europe will not be inundated with refugees, and the international order might not be toppled.

There are six arguments against the West’s arming Ukraine, and none of them is persuasive.

Loose Cannons and Ukrainian Casualties

So now the number of dead Ukrainian soldiers is 722. The number of wounded is 2,625. The Ukrainian army keeps on making slow but steady advances; the pro-Russian terrorists appear to have suffered heavy losses; Russian regular forces are openly engaged in the fighting; Russia’s “humanitarian convoy” apparently looted some Ukrainian armaments factories on its way back home; and, on August 25th, Russian tanks crossed into Ukraine just north of the Sea of Azov.

All is definitely not quiet on the eastern front.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Kyiv on August 23rd, where she expressed support of Ukraine. Some Ukrainians were unhappy that her support wasn’t stronger, but they should remember that her very presence in Ukraine on the eve of its Independence Day celebrations was a powerful message to Russia’s unconstitutionally elected president, Vladimir Putin.

Hitler and Putin: A Tale of Two Authoritarians

Will Russia’s unconstitutionally elected president, Vladimir Putin, unleash a full-scale land war against Ukraine?

I can give you ten reasons for every possible answer to this question. Which is to say that, like everyone else trying to divine Putin’s “mind,” I don’t know.

But there is one thing that I definitely do know. Suddenly, we are all talking about war in Europe. The one thing that was supposed to have become “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” after the end of the Cold War and the rise of the European Union has become perfectly thinkable and quite imaginable.

And all thanks to Putin. If tomorrow’s headlines scream “RUSSIA INVADES ESTONIA,” we’d be shocked, but would we be surprised?

Don’t blame the thinkability and imaginability of war on the Ukrainians. All they did was remove a corrupt dictator and embark on building a democracy. The Ukrainians didn’t invade Crimea. Nor did they arm separatist republics with Russian soldiers and weapons. That was Putin’s doing and only Putin’s doing.

‘Criminal in the Kremlin’: An Interview with Professor Walter Clemens

Below is an interview I conducted recently with Walter Clemens, a professor emeritus of political science at Boston University and an associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University.

* * *

MOTYL: Walter, you’re well known for tackling complex moral and legal issues of international relations in your work. One of your books was Can Russia Change?

CLEMENS: I’m still doubtful.

MOTYL: Your current project is titled “Can—Should—Must We Negotiate with Evil? The World and North Korea.”

CLEMENS: The subtitle could also read “The World and Vladimir Putin.”

MOTYL: What should the international community do about Mr. Putin?

Recriminations and Denials After Putin

One of these days Russians will wake up from what they now think is a dream and realize that it was a terrible nightmare. They’ll realize that Vladimir Putin—their current hero and demigod—is really a loser and a thug who’s brought ruin to their country, ruin to their people, ruin to their ethnic brethren in Ukraine and other non-Russian states, and ruin to the world. They’ll realize that Putin is a criminal, that the regime he created is fascist, and that his policies are paranoid, delusional, destructive, and self-destructive to the point of being suicidal.

And that’s when the recriminations and denials will begin. There’ll be lots of finger pointing. “Blame it all on my neighbor,” many Russians will say, “He’s the collaborator. He’s the flag-waver. He’s the one who voted for Putin and attended all those mass rallies. And he did it voluntarily too.” 

An Interview with Jiri Valenta

Below is an interview I conducted recently with Jiri Valenta, a distinguished scholar of Soviet and post-Soviet studies.

* * *

MOTYL: Jiri, you’re one of the world’s most experienced and knowledgeable observers of Russia. How would you characterize the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 and the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine?

VALENTA: The ongoing war in Ukraine has involved a covert military intervention by Russia that is slowly becoming overt. The downing of the Malaysian plane is a game-changer. Thus, as bodies arrive in the Netherlands, two more Ukrainian planes have been downed and a new deployment of Russian hardware is pouring into Ukraine. The Russian Duma has held an unexpected session. There is again the possibility of a large Russian invasion.

How Much Are Ukrainian and Malaysian Lives Worth?

When Vladimir Putin’s proxies shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet with close to 300 passengers over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, I was shocked.

But I wasn’t shocked on July 15th, when the former head of the Ukrainian General Staff stated that 330 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the course of Kyiv’s anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine, while the press liaison of the National Security and Defense Council said the correct number was 258. Both numbers were immediately wrong, as some 10 soldiers were killed that day.

The sad fact is that I’m getting used to Putin’s killing spree.

I still remember when the first demonstrator was killed on the Maidan back in January. What a shock that was. And then the mass sniper shootings in late February. What an outrage. The victims came to be known as the Heavenly Hundred and memorials to them still dot the area around Kyiv’s Independence Square.

What’s Rong with Wrussia?

Everything, according to some. Many things, according to others. Nothing, according to many Russians.

Back in 2004, two US academics, Andrei Shleifer and Daniel Treisman, wrote a controversial piece for Foreign Affairs in which they argued that statistics proved that Russia was a “normal country.” Since they focused on mostly economic parameters, such as GDP, income distribution, and the like, they had a point.

What Shleifer and Treisman overlooked was the politics. Do “normal” countries normally invade their neighbors, lop off bits and pieces of foreign territory, support unconstitutionally elected, power-obsessed strongman leaders, distrust the world and continually whine about their lost glory, take the crudest Goebbelsian government propaganda at face value, export terrorism, call democrats fascists and fascists democrats, and approve of profoundly corrupt, deeply inefficient, hyper-chauvinist, and blatantly imperialist fascist states?

Contradictions Define Kremlin Apologists

According to the conventional wisdom, Vladimir Putin and his Western supporters propagate a uniform message throughout the world. At its most extreme, this view sees Russia as having a formidable propaganda machine that is running roughshod over the Western media and public.  

In fact, Putin and his supporters and apologists often disagree. One reason may be that the machine just isn’t as formidable as it’s made out to be. Another may be that the Kremlin’s supporters make mistakes when interpreting or anticipating the frequently contradictory or incomprehensible statements of the Delphic oracle that is Putin. A third may be that they have difficulties bridging the growing gap between reality and Putin’s oftentimes shifting views. The Putinite interpretation—one that I won’t even bother refuting—is that disagreement is the foundation of vigorous democracies such as Putin’s Russia.

Ukrainians Die, as Europe Coos

Excuse the lurid title, but it’s only a variant of a headline that appeared many years ago in a New York tabloid: “Mother Dies, as Baby Coos.” I can’t speak for the accuracy of that headline, but today’s variant is, alas, all too valid. Because the fact is that Ukrainian soldiers are dying at the hands of Vladimir Putin’s terrorist hirelings as European states—and the European Union—are engaging the Kremlin with baby talk and diplo-babble.

Twenty-seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed by the terrorists during the cease-fire declared by President Petro Poroshenko more than a week ago (and which he ended on June 30th). Putin and his foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, liked the cease-fire and wanted it to continue. What’s not to like from the Kremlin’s twisted point of view? As the terrorists continued to shoot at Ukrainians, Ukrainian soldiers continued to be sacrificed at the altar of diplo-babble.

Bawdy Lyrics Mock Putin in Ukraine

Ukrainians have taken to fighting back against Russia’s fascistoid dictator, Vladimir Putin, with obscenities and humor. A Ukrainian psychiatrist I recently saw on Ukrainian TV calls such behavior psychologically healthy during periods of “extreme stress”—an understatement for the savage war Putin and his terrorists have unleashed against Ukraine. The American social scientist James C. Scott might call both obscenity and humor “weapons of the weak.” Whatever you call them, they’re spreading like wildfire across Ukraine.

The case in point is a song or, more exactly, a chant that goes like this:

Putin khuylo
La-la la-la la-la la-la

“Khuylo” is the extremely vulgar Ukrainian term for penis. Its equivalents in English are well known (and, for the sake of my more sensitive readers, will go unmentioned). The words have been translated as “Putin is a d—khead” or as “Putin is a d—k,” but I prefer “Putin is a pr—k.” “D—khead” and “d—k” connote stupidity; “pr—k” connotes nastiness. And, I suspect, most Ukrainians view Putin as a nasty piece of work.

How Putin Lost Ukraine

Half a year ago, in the fall of 2013, Ukraine was well on the way to becoming an authoritarian vassal state of Russia. Now, thanks to Russia’s neo-fascist dictator, Vladimir Putin, Ukraine is well on the way to becoming a democracy and a full-fledged member of the international community.

How did Putin snatch a humiliating defeat from the jaws of surefire victory? How could he have walked into a strategic trap of his own making? In a word, how did he lose Ukraine?

And make no mistake about it: it was Putin, and no one else, who lost Ukraine. He had it. He could easily have kept it. But now he’ll never have it again. And he has no one to blame but himself.

Putin has never understood Ukraine. For him, as for all too many Russians, it’s a historical mistake: a part of Russia that’s been swayed from the path of righteousness by a few dastardly fascist imperialist cigar-chomping bourgeois nationalists in cahoots with the CIA. If you treat a bona fide country with a bona fide people with a bona fide identity as your dirty backyard, don’t be surprised if you slip in the mud and fall on your face.

The End of the Donbas?

As Ukrainian army units battle it out with Putin’s terrorist commandos in eastern Ukraine, we should remember that, regardless of the outcome, the Donbas is probably dead. That may be good news for some and bad news for others, but the bottom line is that this uniquely regressive Ukrainian-Russian rustbelt region will never be the same.

Putin’s terrorists—both homegrown and imported from Russia—will almost certainly be defeated by forces loyal to Kyiv. Terrorists and separatists usually lose, especially under steppe-like conditions in which guerrillas do not thrive, and there’s no reason to think that Putin’s commandos will have any different fate from that of their counterparts in other countries. The only question is: how long will it take for their defeat to be final? For the longer it takes, the more unalterably different—and ruined—will the Donbas become.

As one resident of Donetsk recently wrote in a blog post:

Enough False Rhetoric From Putin

I have one request to Russia’s fascistoid leader: stop lecturing Ukraine and the world.

I’ve been listening to you for close to 15 years now and, frankly, I’m tired of your half-baked views and cockamamie opinions. I know you think you know a lot about the ways of the world, Volodya, but permit me to let you in on a secret that everyone besides you knows: You don’t.

Just what makes you think that a career in the KGB qualifies you to speak authoritatively about anything—and, especially, about constitutions, democracy, and legitimacy? Indeed, former members of criminal organizations might be better advised to keep mum about the very things they spent their entire careers trying to destroy.

But it gets worse. After all, we know you plagiarized your dissertation:

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