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25 Years of Ukraine’s Independence

Ukraine’s biggest achievement since independence in 1991 is to have confounded its critics, ill-wishers, and the Kremlin by surviving as a democratic state. Many expected Ukraine to be short-lived. And many others expected it to follow in the footsteps of its post-Soviet neighbors and abandon democracy. Instead, 25 years after independence, Ukraine survives as a democratic state, albeit an imperfect one.

Karaganov Shows Pathology of Putin’s Realism

Sometimes, Vladimir Putin snarls and reveals his true self to the world. More often than not, one of his minions shows his teeth. This time, it was Sergey Karaganov’s turn to terrify the world with a short interview in the German weekly, Der Spiegel.

Karaganov is no bit player. Here’s how Der Spiegel identifies him: “Sergey Karaganov, 63, is honorary head of the influential Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, which develops geopolitical strategy concepts for Russia. ... Karaganov is an advisor to Vladimir Putin's presidential administration and deacon of the elite Moscow college National Research University Higher School of Economics.”

In a word, Karaganov is speaking for Putin. And what he has to say reveals the full and frightening extent of the Putin regime’s chauvinism, imperialism, and paranoia.

Ukraine is Winning on the Linguistic Battle Front

Many Ukrainians are persuaded that their language is dying out. Many Russians and Russian speakers believe Ukrainian is incapable of serving as a means of sophisticated communication among educated urban dwellers.

Both are wrong. In fact, the Ukrainian language may be doing far better than its supporters and detractors suspect.

Forget the statistics, which are useful but cannot capture what is really taking place on the ground. Instead, take a look at the remarkable growth of the YE chain of bookstores in Ukraine.

YE—written Є in Ukrainian—means “it is” or “there is,” a boldly self-assertive claim that the Ukrainian language, despite the insistence of Russian chauvinists since tsarist times that “it never was, is not, or will be,” in fact IS.

YE is unique in that it specializes in Ukrainian-language books. A few shelves might offer some Russian- and English-language products, but easily 95 percent of all the books YE sells are in Ukrainian. In most of Ukraine’s bookstores, the proportion is likely to be tilted in favor of Russian-language books, sometimes overwhelmingly so.

Culture and Corruption in Ukraine

Peter Zalmayev is director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, member of the board of the NY Chapter of the American Jewish Committee, and international outreach coordinator for the Babyn Yar Project for the Ukrainian-Jewish Encounter.

Motyl: You just returned from the Bruno Schulz festival in Drohobych. How did a Russian-speaking Jewish Ukrainian from Donetsk become interested in a Polish-Jewish writer from Galicia?

War and Energy in Ukraine

The following is an interview with Margarita Balmaceda, Professor of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. She is the author of The Politics of Energy Dependency: Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania Between Domestic Oligarchs and Russian Pressure.

MOTYL: In your books you maintain that independent Ukraine inherited a highly inefficient energy system centered on the Donbas that became increasingly controlled by regional elites and oligarchs who used subsidies to line their pockets while producing less energy for domestic consumption and neglecting the needs of Donbas residents and Ukrainians. How has the ongoing war with Russia affected this system?

BALMACEDA: The war has affected this system in three key ways. First, Kyiv has stopped financing the coal mines located in the secessionist territories. 

Though Progress is Genuine, Reform Must Accelerate in Ukraine

The following is an interview with Myroslav Senyk, former head of the Lviv Province Council and current Vice Rector for Administration and Development of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv.

MOTYL: Most people in the West, as well as most Ukrainians in Ukraine, are persuaded that corruption in Ukraine has either remained unchanged or gotten worse in the last two years. Do you agree with either of these views?

When Downsizing is a Good Thing for a State

The following is and interview with Ian Lustick, a Professor of Political Science at the
University of Pennsylvania.

MOTYL: Professor Lustick, let’s begin the conversation with your provocative theory of “right-sizing” states. What’s the gist?

Ukraine's United Future Depends on Leaving Donbas in Its Divided Past

Before Ukraine can disengage from the occupied Donbas, it has to know just what disengagement means. Consider disengagement's opposite—engagement. If we are engaged, we are psychologically concerned about, ideologically committed to, and politically involved in some issue. Disengagement entails psychological indifference, ideological withdrawal, and political non-involvement with respect to that issue. 

Disengagement is especially useful with respect to issues that lie beyond the powers of the actor concerned. The war in the Donbas will continue as long as Vladimir Putin wants it to continue, and Ukraine—and the West—must accept that fact. Nothing, short of Ukraine's capitulation or collapse, will assuage Putin. Ukrainians will continue to die as long as he wants them to die.

A Donbas Strategy Going Forward

The following is an interview with George Woloshyn. George Woloshyn is a frequent commentator on Ukrainian affairs. He was the head of the National Preparedness Directorate at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and previously the Associate Director at the Office of Personnel Management during the Reagan Administration. He also served in the Navy Reserves as an Intelligence Officer. 

MOTYL: How would you assess Vladimir Putin’s goals and strategies vis-à-vis Ukraine?

Answering the Critics: Donbas Disengagement

What should Ukraine do about the occupied Donbas enclave?

As readers of this blog know, I have long been arguing for disengagement. Critics of my view generally emphasize some or all of the following three points:

First, won’t disengagement help promote Vladimir Putin’s strategic goal of destroying Ukraine?

Second, doesn’t Ukraine have a moral obligation to reannex this territory and its citizens?

Third, what exactly does disengagement entail and how would it be brought about??

All three are serious questions that deserve serious answers. I’ll address the first two questions in this blog and the third in the next one.

Dying for the Donbas?

Just about every day, soldiers die. Sometimes, it’s as many as three or four. Sometimes, it’s two or three. Usually, it’s only one.

Only one young life snuffed out—for what?

For the Russian-occupied Donbas enclave. That is to say, for nothing.

I can understand, intellectually, at least, dying for your family or friends, for your country or city or community, for democracy or peace or your nation.

But dying for a piece of crummy land populated by 3 million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom hate Ukraine and everything it stands for? That makes no sense.

Most Ukrainian policymakers and most Ukrainian people appear determined to win back the Donbas territory occupied by Vladimir Putin’s troops and proxies. At the same time, they appear to be equally determined to lead normal lives, as if the war—and make no mistake, it is a war—were taking place in some distant land.

Kyiv’s New Leadership and Ukraine's Economic Prospects

MOTYL: Mr. Monyak, as Executive Vice President for Eurasia at WorldBusiness Capital, how would you assess existing investment opportunities in Ukraine?

Putin Celebrates Unrepentant Fascist Zhirinovsky

This time, Vladimir Putin has out-Putined himself.

On April 18, Russia’s erratic, though consistently anti-democratic, leader awarded the Russian Federation’s prestigious “For Service to the Fatherland Order, Class II,” to none other than Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Zhirinovsky, who is the head of the bizarrely named Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, has been an unabashed promoter of Russian illiberalism, fascism, and imperialism since he first made a splash in the Duma elections of 1993, when his party garnered 23 percent of the vote.

Zhirinovsky has never minced his words. To his credit, he’s never pretended to be anything but an imperialist and a fascist. Indeed, he’s been so brazen, so outrageous, and so unapologetic that not even Putin Russia’s most ardent Western apologists apologize for him.  

Here’s a classic Zhirinovsky statement threatening Eastern Europe with war, from August 2014:

Ukraine’s New Cabinet

How should we evaluate Ukraine’s just-completed process of forming a new coalition and cabinet?

For starters, coalitions and cabinets are routinely changed in democracies. Devious presidents, devious prime ministers, and devious parliamentarians are also business as usual. So, too, are horse trading, smoke-filled rooms, shady deals, opportunistic bargains, and outrageous demands. Although these things usually dismay and demoralize non-politicians like most of us, their presence actually signifies that a democratic process is taking place.

That said Ukraine isn’t a run-of-the-mill democracy. It’s a transitional democracy mired in economic crisis and war. While other elites can squabble to their hearts’ content, those in Ukraine have a political and moral obligation to set aside personal ambitions and animosities and, in the national interest, find effective solutions quickly. When time is of the essence, one can’t waste two months, as the Ukrainians just did, trying to come up with a new coalition and cabinet. That’s criminal.

Ukraine: A Bridge Linking the West and Russia?

MOTYL: Dr. Jiri Valenta, you’ve had extensive experience dealing with the Russians during and after the Prague Spring and wrote a seminal work on its tragic denouement, Soviet Intervention in Czechoslovakia, 1968 (Johns Hopkins, 1991). Is there a solution to the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war that would be acceptable to Ukraine, Russia, and the West?

VALENTA: Russian leaders abhor large, endless military campaigns and prolonged, costly wars. Many in Russia believe the war in Afghanistan led to revolutionary change and, in turn, to the 1991 fall of the empire. The Kremlin prefers low-cost interventions as in 1968 Czechoslovakia or bloodless ones as in 2014 Crimea. 

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