Stalin’s Partisans in Ukraine

Alexander Gogun’s excellent study, Stalin’s Commandos: Ukrainian Partisan Forces on the Eastern Front, sometimes reads like an analysis of Putin’s commandos in the eastern Donbas. In both cases, the official Moscow line was and is that they’re a popular movement generated by discontent from below. In fact, Stalin’s commandos, like Putin’s, were largely creatures of the Kremlin—a point Gogun, a Russian scholar currently based at the Free University in Berlin, makes forcefully, repeatedly, and convincingly.

At Last, Military Reform Makes Headway in Ukraine

When a close observer and frequent critic of Ukraine’s military establishment has something good to say about it, we may want to listen.

Yuri Butusov, military analyst and editor of the censor.net website, describes a January 21 roundtable on defense reform he attended at the Ministry of Defense. He lists a number of firsts:

Ukraine Expands Trade Routes, Bypasses Russia

Ukraine is taking two important steps toward expanding its ties with the global economy.

The Beskyd-Skotarske train tunnel in the Carpathians is being widened from one track to two, thanks to funding provided by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank. The project will more than double the speeds at which trains can travel through the tunnel as well as double the number of trains undertaking the journey. Since 60 percent of Ukraine’s current trade with countries to its west goes through the tunnel (originally built in 1886), the result will be a vastly enlarged capacity for imports and exports with the European Union, which already is Ukraine’s largest trading partner and with which Ukraine now shares a free trade zone. The work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017; trains will start using it by mid-2018.

The Negativists are Wrong on Ukraine

It was at the California Republican state convention in San Diego on September 11, 1970 that Vice President Spiro Agnew immortalized his speech writer, William Safire, by saying the following memorable words: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

Too bad the witty and erudite Safire, who eventually went on to become a New York Times columnist, isn’t alive today. If he were, he might be tempted to direct his rhetoric at the nattering nabobs and hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs who comment on Ukraine.

The 2016 Santa-Putin Letters

These top-secret letters were brought to my attention by my deep-throat contact in the Kremlin. They appeared just after the Orthodox Christmas on January 7.

To: V. Putin

From: S. Claus

You’ve been decidedly naughty this year, and I’m not at all sure you deserve any presents. Unless some persuasive justification is forthcoming, the reindeer and I won’t be visiting you in the Kremlin.


To: So-called “Santa” Klaus

From: The President of Russia

Your lies disgust me. I’m not surprised, though, given your Turkish birthplace, German name, and American sexual orientation. If you were a real man, you’d get rid of that ridiculous costume and show the world your bare chest. What real man hides behind an army of midgets?


To: V. Putin

From: Santa Claus

Putin is Steering Russia to Collapse

As the new year begins, both Ukraine and Russia are making steady progress. The difference is that, while Ukraine is slowly, and more or less surely, adopting a raft of systemic reforms that will make it a normal Western market democracy, Russia is becoming a failed state. If current trends continue, as they probably will, Russia may even disappear.

That’s not just my conclusion. It’s Dmitri Trenin’s, and Trenin is the director of the prestigious Carnegie Moscow Center and a distinguished Russian analyst who, unlike his former colleague, the anti-Putin firebrand Lilia Shevtsova, has often expressed a soft-line interpretation of the Putin regime and its intentions.

The Winners and Losers of ‘Nation-Branding’

The following is an interview with Robert Saunders, a professor in the Department of History, Politics, and Geography at Farmingdale State College–SUNY and an expert on “nation-branding.”

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MOTYL: Harper’s once called you the world’s premier Boratologist. How and why did you come to study the Borat phenomenon?

Russian Expansionism, Compatriots, and Energy Transformation

The following is an interview with Agnia Grigas, an expert on energy and political risk in Russia, Eastern Europe, and the post-Soviet region.

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MOTYL: Your forthcoming book, Beyond Crimea: The New Russian Empire, argues that Moscow’s expansionist policies are driven by a desire to in-gather Russian and Russian-speaking “compatriots” in the non-Russian states. How does this process work?

Putin vs. ISIS: Which Threatens the West More?

President Vladimir Putin’s December 3rd address to the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s national legislature, was an exercise in chutzpah, trying to present Russia as a victim of barbarism and a defender of peace:

Russia has long since been on the front lines of the struggle against terrorism. It’s a struggle for freedom, truth, and justice. For the lives of people and the future of our civilization.

Disregard the fact that Putin’s Russia has been on the front lines of promoting terrorism, at home and in Ukraine. Disregard the fact that Putin’s regime is the antithesis of freedom, truth, and justice. And disregard the fact that Putin has declared war on civilized norms of international behavior. 

Interpreting Gorbachev's Very Mixed Signals

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s response to Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter plane on November 24th nicely reveals the contradictions on which so much of contemporary Russian political thinking is based.

Gorbachev starts by endorsing Vladimir Putin’s hard-line response—recall that the Russian president called Turkey’s action a “stab in the back”—as “understandable” and “justified.” That’s not surprising, as Gorbachev also believes that America’s desire for “dominance” produced Russia’s war with Ukraine. Back on January 31, 2015, Gorbachev said

A Frenchman Comes to Ukraine

Meet one of Ukraine’s most determined pro-Western politicians and Ukrainian patriots. He’s the mayor of Hlukhiv, a small city located northeast of Kyiv, in Sumy Province, just a few miles from the border with Russia.

His name is Michel Terestchenko.

Promising Structural Change Begins to Show in Ukraine

The seemingly unchanging nature of Ukraine’s dysfunctional politics can easily mask the reality: Ukraine itself is changing. Three sets of data illustrate the point.

The Ukrainian Week recently published numbers on the changes in Ukraine’s ethnic composition brought about by general demographic trends and, above all, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and occupation of one third of the Donbas. According to the magazine’s demographic extrapolations from the 2001 census, the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine has fallen from 8.34 million to 4.58 million—a 45 percent decrease. Ethnic Russians used to constitute 21.1 percent of Ukraine’s total population; now, they constitute 11.8 percent. In contrast, the ethnic Ukrainian share of the total population has grown from 72.7 percent in 1989 to 83.8 percent today. 

Morality, Pragmatism, and Orwell in Rhetoric and Policy

We’ve all gotten very familiar with Vladimir Putin’s Orwellian logic, according to which peace is war, intervention is non-intervention, democracy is fascism, and fascism is democracy. His latest comments at the Valdai discussion club just reinforced, if any reinforcing were still necessary, the point that the man is a master of mendacity.

We generally don’t expect equally bizarre ethical or logical standards from Western commentators. And yet they do occur, especially with regard to Putin, Russia, and their war in Ukraine.

On October 20th, Professor Mark Galeotti of New York University argued that the “West has lost the right to lecture Putin.” According to Galeotti:

A Cautionary Note: Reintegrating the Donbas

The fighting in the Donbas may be winding down, but Ukraine’s war with Russia will continue as long as Vladimir Putin believes that Ukraine must become his subject.

Now more than ever Ukraine’s survival as a democratic Western state depends on the continued strengthening of Ukraine’s military capability and the acceleration of reform.

An ostensibly peaceful Russia wedded to imperial expansion is no less of a military threat to Ukraine than an openly hostile Russia wedded to imperial expansion. The West is too preoccupied with its own problems and too indifferent to Putin’s destruction of the post-war international order to save Ukraine.

Only Ukraine can protect itself from further Russian predations by acquiring a first-class military able to deter all but the craziest of Russian leaders. Meanwhile, a first-class military is impossible without a strong economy, which in turn is impossible without serious, sustained reform.

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.


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