Why Valentina Lisitsa was fired

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has become subject to divided opinions over its recent decision to fire American pianist Valentina Lisitsa, a prominent musical figure born in Soviet Ukraine of Russian descent who has since become known for her vitriolic online campaigns supporting the Russian war effort.

TSO president and CEO Jeff Melanson has responded on the controversy, saying that the decision was based on Lisitsa’s provocative comments overshadowing past performances. Lisitsa, for her part, has defined her rhetoric as “satire and hyperbole” that she uses to “combat lies.”

This issue has since devolved into a matter of freedom of speech, and whether the TSO was right to act.

While the Toronto Symphony Orchestra is free to hire and fire who they choose as a private entity, critics are slamming the move to disassociate from Lisitsa as a violation of “freedom of speech.” More problematic has been the media response, which has entirely missed the provocative nature of her political commentary.

Russian media is framing Lisitsa’s stance as being “anti-Kyiv,” while the National Post has headlined her commentary as simply “denouncing neo-Nazis,” with CTV and The Globe & Mail further muddying the issue to be over mere “political views” “against the current Ukrainian government.” Rabble.ca says the issue was with her “anti-war views” and the Globe also says she ‘opposes the civil war.’

The truth of the matter is radically different and justifies why so many people have been offended by her over the past year.

To understand the postings below, it’s important to note that her references to “Nazis” are meant to be pejorative, and not in political terms. Over 3 million Ukrainians were murdered during the Holocaust, and Nazi occupation spanned the entire country. Referring to them as “Nazis” is meant to be strictly offensive, and not related to actual Nazi leanings, current or historical.

Her public position has also been contradictory or hypocritical, saying she was proud of the “magnificent revolution” in Ukraine on her post-firing Facebook statement, but called it an ‘illegitimate’ “west-sponsored coup” days prior.

We won’t go over every objectionable tweet in this article (they are publicly viewable). Some iconize Russian terrorist leaders accused of summary executions mass graves, one trivializes the Germanwings crash, others threaten NATO & U.S. troops, and one even mocks Down Syndrome awareness.

She is a supporter of war denial, toeing the  Kremlin line that Russia never invaded Ukraine – an indisputable fact at this point. She has spread conspiracies of ‘Ukrainian concentration camps’, saying in one: “In a new European Ukraine, the camps will give the subhumans [ethnic Russians] condemned to the gas chambers an opportunity to offset their carbon footprint.” She insisted on a CBC radio interview that her statement was true, but naturally, it was an internet hoax.

In the past, Ms. Lisitsa has also come out in support of a controversial New York art exhibit sponsored by Russia’s far-right and connected to Alexander Prokhanov, a notorious anti-Semitic conspiracist.

Suffice it to say, her views are varied.

Be the judge

This is one of the more widely cited tweets because of its racist nature. Here she is mocking Ukrainians wearing traditional attire as “tribal” with a sarcastic jab implying that the practice of doing so is primitive.

 

In two other tweets Lisitsa (remember, she says she is ‘anti war’) says Ukrainians are infected and need to be “cured” with a Russian invasion (“folk medicine”). In a separate instance she wishes Ukrainians a “speedy recovery” and suggests ‘strong medication’ while posting a picture of Holocaust victims. It’s up for interpretation if she implied Ukrainians need a dose of Zyklon-B, or if picturing Buchenwald victims was a specific reference as many were subject to human experimentation; or if she was illustrating Russians as victims to Ukrainian aggression, trivializing the Holocaust. All interpretations are offensive.

 

This isn’t her sole invocation of the Holocaust. In June she criticized Jewish-Russian opposition leader Gary Kasparov by blaming “Western democracies” for the Holocaust itself.

 

Aside from the xenophobic jab below where she implies that Ukrainian isn’t a real language (‘pardon’), she attaches a picture calling Jewish Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky a kike. The actual Ukrainian translation of the shirt (which may also be a photoshop) is meant to be an ironic form of “Jewish enemy,” and in Russian is a re-appropriation of two anti-Semitic and anti-Ukrainian terms to play on Russian prejudices, and is explained in depth here and here. Her contempt extends to pro-Ukraine Israelis.

 

In opposition to her professed anti-war stance, Lisitsa took issue with U.S. troops showing solidarity in Estonia recently, and suggested that Russia would defeat them in war. She pairs this with pictures of Soviet soldiers marching Nazi (‘NATO’) POWs and tearing down NATO and Ukrainian flags.

Screen Shot 2015-04-07 at 6.16.35 PM

Lisitsa also calls for Ukrainians to take up arms against ‘Rothschild debt collectors.’

 

In a now-deleted tweet, Lisitsa publishes in Ukrainian: “This is more correct: Dear [ethnic] Ukrainians! I will never get tired of reminding you that you are dog shit. Thank you for your attention.” To clarify my translation, the quote directly says “conscious Ukrainians” (‘svidomi’), commonly used as a slur by Russians who refer to Ukrainians as “svidomites.” The term disparages “self aware” Ukrainians, that is to say, those who identify as ethnic Ukrainian and not as a sub-group of Russians. Thus, she is both referring to Ukrainians as ‘defective‘ and, of course, ‘dog shit.’ To belabor this point, the person she is tweeting to, n_marmaleykina, posted a graphic featuring Gabonese tribesmen with the caption “conscious savages.”

And in one bizarre instance photoshopped a pro-Ukrainian user’s tweet to mislead her followers.

Final thoughts

Did objection to the above violate Lisitsa’s rights? Naturally, it’s difficult to say her right to express herself was violated since she is a pianist, and not a public speaker.

Barring the fact that Lisitsa is not a Canadian citizen, and nobody is prohibiting her from speaking in any capacity on her own time (her social media following has, if anything, grown), Canadian hate speech laws give a good example why sometimes limits are necessary. As Canadian lawyer David Butt points out, “our constitution protects not only free expression, but multiculturalism and equality as well. So to read the constitution holistically, we cannot permit one protected freedom to undermine other rights and freedoms enjoying equal status.” Secondly, “the Supreme Court recognized the insidious impact of propaganda campaigns that gain social traction and incrementally dull our rational faculties and empathy. Perhaps paternalistic, but the court is saying sometimes we need to be protected from our baser and stupider selves.”

And it is these types of hate-laced propaganda campaigns that Ms. Lisitsa participates in that the TSO simply doesn’t want to promote or be associated with – and that is their right.

The pact between Donetsk separatists and Ukraine’s richest man

A former leader of Ukraine’s separatists and terrorist organization, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), has come forward with information that links the group to a pact forged with Ukrainian billionaire Renat Akhmetov that has so far protected the port-city of Mariupol and his business interests in the region.

According to Alexander Borodai, a Moscow native who was instrumental in both the Russian invasion of Crimea and insurgency in Donetsk, Akhmetov has struck a deal with the DNR that has put him in a “favorable” position.

Akhmetov currently has many enemies in the Kyiv establishment, Borodai explains, namely rival oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Ukraine also has a limited number of ports, the largest being in Odesa, which is consequently controlled by Kolomoisky – who he says would never allow Akhmetov to operate there. The only means of exporting goods would then be via Mariupol, the port city said to be the next target of Russian-backed forces.

Mariupol has not been taken by the DNR because of an ongoing agreement between its leadership and Akhmetov. Borodai confesses that DNR forces left the city so “so that he can export products from the occupied territory” and that he has become an oligarch financing the separatist region.

“Therefore, the only option to safely operate business for Akhmetov [is for] Mariupol to remain under the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag.”

The agreement between the two parties stipulates that, in exchange for protection, Akhmetov provide ‘humanitarian aid’ to the DNR and continue to pay the salaries of his employees, “who are nationals of the DNR.”

Borodai also dismissed suggestions that products from occupied eastern Ukraine could just as easily be exported internationally via an intermediary in Russia.

“No one of the Russian oligarchs will take it. Firstly, Russia is full of such products (iron and steel), it has nowhere to go,” and said that importers could easily trace the origin of the goods.

“And even if we did, they need Akhmetov’s salaries and aid, which if cut off would result in famine.”

Ultimately, the Donetsk insurgents can’t count on outside investment and needed a man who already held a vested interest in the region, making Akhmetov the perfect choice. For his part, Akhmetov has been forced to play both sides, fearing he could lose his liquid assets to Kyiv and physical assets to Donetsk, and with one food in each, unable to move.

The war has been an imperial revolution in the name of ‘Great Russia’

In addition, responding to the deteriorating situation in the occupied region, Borodai says that nobody promised the Donbas a “social revolution,” and that the ‘revolution’ in the Donbas is not a social-economic one, but “imperial and national, in the name of Great Russia.”

Recap

Last summer Donetsk militants and local supporters marched on Akhmetov’s Donetsk residence, but held back from raiding the compound after armed men from current DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko’s Oplot group intervened. Others have called to nationalize his vast properties as penalty for refusing to ‘register’ his businesses and pay ‘taxes’ to the insurgent group.

DNR militia guards Akhmetov's compound

In August, Akhmetov’s Donetskgormash heavy machine factory was converted into a military repair workshop for the DNR. Other property has since fallen under their control. Representatives under Akhmetov have denied operating under the DNR, but factory workers have continued working the floors of the occupied factories.

Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, is often accused of links to organized crime in the country and notoriously bankrolled deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. In a 2006 U.S. diplomatic cable, then U.S. Ambassador John Herbst referred to Akhmetov’s Party of Regions as “long a haven for Donetsk-based mobsters” and called Akhmetov the “godfather” of the Donetsk clan. Andrew Wilson, a scholar specializing in Ukrainian politics, categorized Akhmetov as a former ‘enforcer’ and ‘leader’ of  crime boss Akhat Bragin’s “Tatar clan”, and responsible for the use of “mafia methods” to rise to power.

Debunking the “$5B regime change” myth, U.S. spent 400% more on Russia

A common myth disseminated by Russia and its supporters is the idea that the U.S. spent $5 billion to facilitate regime change in Ukraine, a falsehood premised on public statements made by Victoria Nuland in early 2014.

For example – RT, via phony intelligence officer Scott Rickard (who is also a self described “technologist & historian”) seized on Nuland’s remarks and said the U.S. rather “invested $5 billion so far in the uprising,” while conspiracy sites like Global Research state the money was used to directly and insidiously “subvert Ukraine.”

Nuland, for her part, said the money  “has been spent on supporting the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to have a strong, democratic government that represents their interests.”

The truth of the matter is more simply debunked by Politifact, who accurately point out “the money in question was spent over more than 20 years. Yanukovych was elected in 2010. So any connection between the protests and the $5 billion is inaccurate. And Obama was elected in 2008, so any connection between $5 billion and Obama also is inaccurate.”

They conclude: “Contrary to claims, the United States did not spend $5 billion to incite the rebellion in Ukraine.”

Will Stevens, the spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Russia took to Twitter to hopefully expand and finally debunk this myth with an eye opening graphic. Not only was the money in question used to help remove nuclear arms and spent on humanitarian assistance, but the U.S. has spent 400% more on those same initiatives in Russia:

Politifact, quoting State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson, breaks down the ominous $5 billion pictured: “$2.4 billion went to programs promoting peace and security, which could include military assistance, border security, human trafficking issues, international narcotics abatement and law enforcement interdiction […] More money went to categories with the objectives of “governing justly and democratically” ($800 million), “investing in people” ($400 million), economic growth ($1.1 billion), and humanitarian assistance ($300 million).”

 


Update: Russian Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov claimed that “we have been, in a way, sponsoring the Ukrainian economy for the last 20 years, spending hundreds of billions of dollars.” Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin estimates Russia has invested approximately $200 billion in Ukraine during this time — 40x what the U.S. has spent on Ukraine. (source)

Stop freaking out about Right Sector

People are freaking out about the Right Sector. People have always freaked out about the Right Sector. It’s going to happen again in the future, and it needs to stop.

On March 25 it was widely reported that the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, a paramilitary wing of Right Sector currently fighting on the front lines in eastern Ukraine had been told to pull out. The reason? Unlike Ukraine’s other volunteer battalions, they are not officially part of the military or national guard, and as armed civilians, need to disarm. An interviewed commander regarded the move by the government as a “betrayal” and insisted his men “fight more effectively than the regular troops.” Indeed, members of the Volunteer Corps have been among some of the bravest on the front lines, fighting in of the bloodiest conflict zones, the most recent being the outskirts of Mariupol.

This dispute was then framed by commentators an attack on all volunteers, but despite this, the press office of the other volunteer battalions serving near Mariupol had one message for them: If you want to fight, join the army like the rest of us.

Despite having a support networking of several thousand, Right Sector’s Volunteer Corps only fields at most 250 soldiers.

Official status would not only bring them in line with Ukraine’s command but also give its troops equipment, intelligence, ammunition, and funding. The counter argument is that Ukraine’s military officers are widely corrupt, and can’t be trusted – especially after disasters in Ilovaisk and Debaltseve.

In the spirit of this debate, the Kyiv Post then ran the headline “Right Sector defies government’s calls to pull out of frontline.” Citing Right Sector’s spokesperson, the article says the group will only pull out on the orders of its leader, Dmytro Yarosh. However, a full quote from Ukraine Today, the spokesperson merely says they are “unlikely” to withdraw “for long.” If you ask the troops themselves, commander Andriy Cherven of the Volunteer Corps had already informed the media that the unit will not be disobeying the order to withdraw. Its chief of staff also confirmed this, saying the unit would be pulling out and heading to their base.

So much ado about nothing.

What happens here is two things: The first is strictly political, playing into the political language of Right Sector’s press office; and the second is the media, who exaggerate that message. The end result is even greater sensationalism in the less informed western media.

Nothing new

The pushback against Right Sector and vigilantism traces to the early days of the post-revolutionary provisional government, where following a shooting, on April 1, 2014, MPs voted in support of Bill #4614 which mandated disarming of “illegal armed formations” and their subordination to official security structures. “If they do not belong to the army, the National Guard or the police, they are saboteurs who are working against Ukraine,” interim-President Turchynov said at the time.

Indeed, the crackdown on ‘illegal armed formations’ further dates back to the agreement signed by Euromaidan opposition leaders during endgame negotiations with Viktor Yanukovych prior to his fight – a stipulation routinely shouted in the Kremlin’s rhetoric preceding Russia’s invasion.

Since both the Yanukovych administration and Kremlin pushed to disarm Right Sector, as well as the toothless post-revolution government, and so it’s easy to see, then, why many are perceiving the disarming of frontline volunteers in an overtly devastating light.

Right Sector has taken on the form of a lightning rod in Ukrainian politics. For Russia, they are presented as a continental fascist, neo-Nazi threat (despite not being fascist nor anti-Semitic). Among western pundits, they are presented in fumblingly inaccurate and sensationalistic fashion. Case in point: Vox recently described the group as ‘anti-democratic hardliners’ despite participating in both presidential and parliamentary elections, and having an official platform that calls for a “comprehensive system of democracy.”

Fear-mongering has led to the group being erroneously labelled by various media sources as ‘far right’, a title more applicable in its formative days than at present, the reality is that Right Sector has become more of a banner for Ukraine’s resistance movement than a coherent, centralized ‘rightist’ organization. Just as the red and black battle flag of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army has taken on a larger than life, and decidedly less historical or ideological significance among Ukrainians (“a sign of the stubborn endurance of the Ukrainian national idea” as described in Foreign Policy), fittingly the near identical symbolism adopted by Right Sector is representative of its decentralized and interpretative nature.

Organizationally, Right Sector is splintered. This is why its political spokesmen and military commanders are speaking out of sync. It’s this do-it-yourself ethic and deregulation among its various chapters and branches that makes it less of a singular corporation and more a group of privately owned franchises.

This decentralized, unpredictable nature, however, that is a problem militarily – where centralized command, cooperation, and security are key. Regulating all Right Sector fighters may be a fools errand, like catching smoke in a bottle, but it’s also necessary.

Moving forward

With the group’s leader Dmytro Yarosh now a parliamentarian, making inroads with the government should in theory be less of an obstacle. Naturally, days after hysteria set in about the great betrayal that had been inflicted on one the nation’s last remaining independent militias, President Poroshenko tabled an offer to Yarosh that would give him a position in the Ministry of Defense.

Interior Ministry advisor Anton Herashchenko is in favor of such a move, suggesting that if Yarosh accepts his promotion he could potentially create and run an entire Volunteer Union in the model of the Estonian Defense League or Finland’s Local Defense Troops. This would be a huge move for Yarosh, because despite having several thousand members in his organization network, Right Sector’s military wing is incredibly small.

This system of controlled chaos is nothing new for the Poroshenko government who last fall incorporated and upgraded the controversial Azov Regiment within the army. For Azov, their historically radical and neo-Nazi founders have softened their stance since taking on newer, respectable jobs.

It remains to be seen if Yarosh, who is currently wounded, will accept the offer and build something successful as part of the armed forces rather than parallel to it. If the Kolomoisky affair (which had far greater potential to escalate and fizzled in record time) is any indication, amicable resolution is likely.

At the end of the day, political posturing echoed by the media has given the Volunteer Corps an edge in negotiations with the government. It has also fed into the fear of chaos among Ukraine’s volunteer ranks – a fabricated threat mostly disseminated in Russian media that ripples westwardly. Russian media needs to stop making Right Sector look larger, cohesive (and ironically, chaotic), and dangerous than they really are – but they won’t – because that’s their objective. Ukrainian media and their supporters need to stop feeding into the political game of leverage Right Sector is playing – but they won’t – because sensationalist news is much more exciting than no news.

Just as their role during the Euromaidan revolution was greatly exaggerated, their role (while brave, and commendable like all Ukrainian soldiers) is also fairly exaggerated in the scope of all of Ukraine’s forces. The sensationalist position benefits all media and especially the group itself, but it is also a disservice to those following the conflict trying to cut to the truth.

So relax.

The Myth of Mazepa

In Russian historiography the Battle of Poltava is seen as a defining moment in Russian state building; a path towards establishing its Empire, and becoming a major player in European political culture. Victory over Charles XII and the Swedish Empire allowed Moscow to expand externally, while internally centralizing and synthesizing the socio-political identity of the Russian people. The Ukrainian historical narrative, however, also views this event as part of its growth towards statehood – but for opposite reasons. The emergence of the Ukrainian nation-state in the 20th century has led to scholarly debate concerning the historical significance of the war, which has become just as much a beacon for the unification of the Ukrainian people as it has persisted in the past for the Russians. The debate’s impasse fixates itself on the events leading up to the Battle of Poltava, and more to the point, the historiographical interpretations of Ivan Mazepa: the 17th century leader of the Cossack polity who achieved notoriety for abruptly rebelling against the Tsar after years of faithful service.

In the shadow of the Russo-Ukrainian war of 2014, the tale of Ivan Mazepa and both Moscow and Ukraine’s perspectives then and now should act as a reminder of the constant cycle of Russian demonization of those who rebel, and Ukraine’s near-religion to rebellious counter culture that continues to this day.

When placing the Russian and Ukrainian narratives side by side, there is a significant overlap in the amount of events discussed. However, by nature of their viewpoints, each interprets the significance and meaning of these events in entirely different ways. At the core of this divide is the Russian belief in an autocratic state that subordinates all of its social groups, while in direct opposition is that of the Ukrainian narrative which is deeply associated with notions of elemental revolt and a vision towards national independence.[1] In regards to Mazepa, the former cemented his legacy with that of treachery, while the latter sees him as a symbol of an eternal national struggle against foreign occupation. This divergence in the way Mazepa is characterized has resulted in two diametrically opposed viewpoints, both of which overemphasize, and omit, relevant historical information. The consequences of this have resulted in the politicizing and flawed biopic historicization of a man who is neither deserving of contemptuous vilification nor overt heroization. By engaging in non-partisan analysis of the events leading up to and including the Battle of Poltava, we can better understand not only the justification for each historical perspective, but also why each does not entirely correspond to the reality of the situation.

Mazepa

Statehood

 

To properly give context to the events used to justify (or repeal) the definition of Mazepa as a traitor, it is important to first understand the relationship of the Hetmanate (Cossack state) to Moscow, and the political climate shift that occurred over the course of their association with one another. Firstly, the Treaty of Pereyaslav (1654) which saw the Cossacks unite with the Russian state can be seen as an exchange of loyalty for legal and religious protection. Though the Hetmanate viewed their rights recognized by Moscow as a de jure recognition of sovereignty, the Tsar interpreted this as de facto annexation rather than cooperation. In reality, the autocratic influence of Moscow did not initially penetrate the Ukrainian lands all too much. The agency of foreign affairs (Malorossiiskii Prikaz) drew distinct legal boundaries between the two regions.[2] Further to the point, the Hetmanate had its own diplomat in Moscow to voice complaints directly to the Tsar, and the taxes collected were minimal and not collected with any regularity (they did not even cover the cost needed to station Russian troops in cities).[3] Although the relationship between the two states was one of alliance and co-existence, scholars agree it was a foregone conclusion that Ukraine would be completely absorbed into the Russian state with time, and that it was the Russian Tsar Peter himself who sought to undermine what autonomy remained.[4]

In Dolbilov and Miller’s book, Zapadnye okrainy Rossiiskoi imperii, they hold that the Cossack political community was “too immature to be considered a genuine state.”[5] Subtelny describes the two requirements of statehood to be the possession of both a standing army and a specialized bureaucracy.[6] While on the periphery they met these requirements, they lacked specialization in either of these distinct areas.[7] So, while the Hetmanate sought out a mutually beneficial alliance or confederation, the reality of the transaction was that Muscovy would further fulfill these functions as well as its own as an absolutist state, while the Hetmanate would recede its autonomy to that of a protectorate or vassal state, bound in obedience. The terms of obedience between vassal and overlord define both the expected conduct between the Hetmanate and Russia, as well as the personal relationship Mazepa would have with Peter.

Moscow’s view

 

Like many other topics that have been vigorously silenced or cast as taboo within the Russian or later Soviet historiography, these narratives maintained a stranglehold over how events were to be interpreted. Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian historical narrative existed in unison, and not parallel, with that of Russia’s history. For Russians, textbook definition of Mazepa was that of a “disgraceful traitor who abandoned his allegiance to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great.”[8] During the Soviet era, the name of Mazepa was associated with Ukrainian political leaders such as Mykhailo Hrushevsky and Symon Petliura.[9] This sentiment did not belong to Russians alone. It has been documented that the consensus among Ukrainian authors was that Mazepa’s revolt was “the most vivid example of Cossack antagonism toward Russia.”[10] The Russian state, in order to perpetuate the ‘Petrine myth’, enshrined Mazepa as more than just a military traitor, but rather one who betrayed Orthodox Christianity and the unity of Slavic peoples itself.[11] This condemnation of Mazepa’s “unpardonable sin” has held legacy for more two hundred years since the Battle of Poltava with the Russian Orthodox Church continuing his anathematization on an annual basis.[12] The legend of his actions grew exponentially. As Peter instituted reforms which abolished Ukrainian autonomy, pretext was needed and Mazepa’s regime was cast as a scapegoat. In 1722, he declared the purpose of his new committee (the Kollegiia) to be “for no other purpose than to protect the [Ukrainian] people from the unfairness of their courts and oppression of the [Cossack officers].”[13]

In addition to the political reasons to vilify Mazepa, it need also be noted that the first historiography of Russia, The Sinopsis, appeared in 1670-74. In it, Ukraine is presented as an inseparable part of the Russian nation.[14] A rejection of meta-Russian nationality,[15] and abridging the historical narrative of the two nations, it disinherited the Ukrainian claim to ‘historic statehood.’[16] As a figure who attempted to cede lands from the Russian autocracy and divide the unity acquired by the Orthodox Church, it is easy to understand why such a large number people, Russian and Ukrainian alike, took reproach with Mazepa’s actions.

Mazepa

A game of thrones

 

A matter of contention among historians of either narrative is whether Mazepa desired Ukrainian independence apart from the influence of Muscovy, or if he instead sought political and territorial reunion with the Polish state. These two concepts are at odds as the former cites a need to reacquire the freedoms, which the Treaty of Pereyaslav originally brought, as a cause for divorce with Russia, while the latter implies Mazepa’s intention to undo the treaty entirely. Textbooks of the Soviet period state “Mazepa sought to return Left-bank Ukraine to Polish control” while striking “secret deals with Poland and Sweden against Russia.”[17] While dismissed documentation of the events, such as the Istoria Rusov (1770), state that collusion with Poland was driven by a desire for personal vengeance,[18] Nicholas Kostomarov, an historian and biographer of Mazepa, agrees with this assessment in principle. He describes Mazepa as an “egoist in the trust sense of the word,” who was not only a traitor to Russia, but to Ukrainian society and its democratic structure.[19]

The portrayal of Mazepa as man against all may seem excessive, but there is overt evidence to support it. In September of 1707 Tsar Peter sent instructions to Mazepa in confidence, outlining his intent to not return the city of Bila Tserkva and its environs to Poland in contradiction to a previous agreement between the two.[20] Mazepa proceeded to reveal these plans to the Polish Wojewoda in hopes of playing the sides off one another, revealing to them Peter’s intent on seizing territory beyond Lviv (for more on these discussion’s see Orest Subtelny’s On the eve of Poltava : The letters of Ivan Mazepa to Adam Sieniawski).[21] In another instance of diplomatic backroom dealings, Mazepa refused the Tsar’s request to send 10,000 Cossacks to the aid of Polish noble and military leader Adam Sieniawski, exclaiming that Cossacks would not work under Polish rule.[22] Interestingly enough, secret correspondences inked by Mazepa show that by the summer of 1708 he had actually been plotting alongside Sieniawski in a game of thrones, pressing him to obtain the Polish Crown.[23] In direct contradiction to his previous statements, Mazepa assured Sieniawski that the Cossacks would unquestionably serve him. As Subtelny explains, Mazepa’s correspondence with Sieniawski shows that he wanted to give the impression to Poland that “the Commonwealth had no greater opportunity to regain Ukraine than at [that] moment.”[24] Between the rhetoric that Mazepa intended to “preserve [he and his starshyna] from Muscovite slavery,”[25] and Peter’s residual claims that Mazepa would rather “return the Ukrainians into Polish slavery,”[26] it remains to be seen the ultimate truth behind the intent of these dealings. However, notwithstanding the pretext or goals in mind, it is doubtless that in these instances Mazepa betrayed both his peers and rivals.

Russian aggression

 

Although many have condemned Mazepa’s conduct, a large number of eyewitnesses and historians have since justified Mazepa’s goal of seceding from the Russian state.[27]Following the war, Mazepa may have become the scapegoat for what caused Moscow to tighten its grip on Ukrainian society, but the reality was that this was inevitable. Given the circumstances he was faced with at the time, it is difficult to comprehend how an almost seventy year old, childless (and thus heirless) Hetman could be motivated for selfish reasons. After all, he did maintain good standing with the Tsar who even requested he be granted the title of Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.[28] As English historian L.R. Lewitter observed, the treatment of the civilian population by the Russian army before the war “was more reminiscent of a punitive expedition than of allied troops.”[29] At the time, there were constant protests against the Russian pillaging of homes, stealing provisions, and the rape and battery of women.[30] The conduct of Russian troops reached such critical levels that Peter himself had to threaten death upon any soldier found committing these acts.[31]

While the terror in the countryside may have helped justify the need to revolt against the existing order, what necessitated Mazepa to make a move was much more direct. Rumors in military circles spread that the Tsar intended to annex the Hetmanate outright. This plan would have Mazepa relieved of his position and Count Alexander Menshikov act as reigning Hetman, [32] effectively turning the polity into a puppet regime. In discovering this treachery against him, Mazepa gives evidence that his interests lay with that of his people (threatened with ethnic cleansing) when he explained that “they [the Tsardom] want the officer corps annihilated, our cities turned over to their administration, and their governors appointed. If our people should oppose them, they would send them beyond the Volga, and [Ukraine] will be settled by their own people.”[33] In a report to Peter dated October 17, 1708, Menshikov himself admitted that Mazepa’s actions were “not for the sake of his person, but for the whole of Ukraine.”[34] With Mazepa’s career focused on creating a politically and economically stable state,[35] it is safe to assume his priorities did not change when faced with opposition. Rather than an act of self-motivated treachery, his switch to the side of Sweden has been seen as an act of desperation, as well as a ‘challenge to fate’.[36] In remarking on his newly forged alliance, Mazepa stated, “necessity has forced us to this since we, a free and unconquered nation, seek the means to preserve ourselves.”[37] Given the circumstances surrounding him, and the fate his people awaited should he have relinquished his authority, there is enough evidence to support the heroization of Mazepa as a man seeking the wellbeing of his people. Ultimately, the conduct of the Russian presence in the country along with his impending usurpation by the Tsar left Mazepa and his people without an independent future in the Russian Empire.

Don Cossacks

Vox Populi

 

Considering the praise Mazepa receives from contemporary Ukrainian historiographers and people alike, it is surprising that despite his apparent devotion to the wellbeing of the populace, he received very little popular support in return. It has come to light that when Mazepa presented his intent to withdraw from Russian suzerainty, his colonels were surprised when he “stressed the tyranny and barbarity of the Russians” who had “encroached upon the liberties of the Cossacks” as his reasoning.[38] In truth, many of his men deserted him in favor of the Tsar when faced with the decision, leaving him with no more than a thousand men and three willful officers.[39] It is even said that the Cossack colonels would have taken him prisoner had they enough forces at their disposal.[40] The question in this context is whether they disagreed on ideological grounds, or if they would rather not foolishly test their fate against the Tsar as he would. One theory states that the majority of Cossacks had long been dissatisfied with their leader and that this act against Russia, who they had long been giving their lives in defense of (by his own orders), was the last straw. Lacking internal support, ideological motives would have shifted as his only means of survival (both politically and literally) at this point would be joining with the Swedish forces.[41] It is not surprising that the Cossacks under his command would remain loyal to Peter, for a few years prior in 1706, Mezepa and his men protected him from an uprising of Don Cossacks led by Kindrat Bulavin.[42]

Prior to the Great Northern War, the relationship between Hetman and Tsar were as good as they had ever been.[43] It should not have come as a surprise to Mazepa that Russia would seek to integrate the two lands, as he knew full well the Kolomak Articles obliged him as Hetman to “unite by every method and means the [Ukrainian] people with the [Russian] people.”[44] While Hetmans that preceded him distanced themselves from Moscow, Mazepa sought to bring the two polities closer together. For years he had obeyed the Tsar’s orders, put down anti-Russian movements, and allowed many of his people to die on a massive scale serving the Russian cause.[45] Numerous documents have even caused others to note of his pro-Russian attitude.[46]

The fact that his only act of opposition to the Tsar, in light of all that had blighted his people, had occurred only when his position of power was immediately threatened does little to support the concept of Mazepa as a true hero. In addition to all of the above, it should also be noted that upon allying with the Swedes, their troops proceeded to ravish the countryside as badly as the Russians had.[47] The peasantry held a negative attitude towards these unwelcomed foreigners,[48]and considering the brutality his defection caused to his people, his lost gamble can be considered far from heroic. From this perspective it is hard to fathom how in Ukrainian society would find a place in memory for Mezepa other than as a figure who acted as catalyst for destruction continued destruction and future oppression.

Ivan Mazepa and Charles XII

Verdict

 

By analyzing the depth of events surrounding what would culminate at Poltava, understanding the Myth of Mazepa is far from straightforward. In Russian historiography, Mazepa has encapsulated all of the evils of Ukrainian nationalism, a mantle later inherited by Stepan Bandera and today’s Dmytro Yarosh. While he certainly is no Brutus, he neither is Bohdan Khmelnytsky. In betraying the confidence of Peter in hopes of leveraging the country’s future, Mazepa did act traitorously and is deserving of his title. While his attempt to pit all sides against one another to better position himself, at the very least, is an indication of his cunning as a statesman while at most a political opportunist. The question of whether Mazepa would have ‘made out of Little Russia a little Poland’[49] will have to remain in the annals of history a topic of debate and theorization. True treachery lies in its intent, and in Mazepa’s case, there is convincing evidence for both the argument of him being self-interested, as well as the view that he placed the wellbeing of his people at the forefront.

The German Schwahenspiegel, a source of customary law in East Central Europe, justifies Mazepa’s actions providing that we only owe our sovereigns service as long as they defend us.[50] Every Hetman prior to Mazepa had considered or attempted to break off relations with Russia,[51] so it becomes questionable as to why he has received such damning and praiseworthy depictions over the years. ‘National history belongs to the politics of history,’ and this takes place through the use of the past to mobilize the population for political purposes.[52] As an objective view of the man would see him at neither extreme between villain or saint, the personification of Ivan Mazepa can be summarized as one of applied history at its finest, interpreting his motives beyond what occurred; turning a man into a symbol – a myth.

 


 

[1] Rudnytsky, Ivan L. “A Study of Cossack History.” Slavic Review (The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, 1972), 875.

[2] Subtelny, Orest. “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made.” Russian Review (Blackwell Publishing) 39, no. 1 (Jan 1980) 8.

[3] Subtelny, “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made”, 17.

[4] Subtelny, “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made”,

[5] Dolbilov, Mikhail Dmitrievich, and Aleksei Ilich Miller. Zapadnye okrainy Rossiiskoi imperii. (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2006), 35.

[6] Subtelny, “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made”, 7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Boyko, Nataliya. “Ukraine: Villain Today, Hero Tomorrow.” Chalkboard. Apr 22, 2009. http://chalkboard.tol.org/ukraine-villain-today-hero-tomorrow

[9] Manning, Clarence A. Hetman of Ukraine: Ivan Mazeppa. (New York: Bookman Associates, 1957), 223

[10] Plokhy, Serhii. “The Ghosts of Pereyaslav: Russo-Ukrainian Historical Debates in the Post-Soviet Era.” Europe-Asia Studies (Taylor & Francis, Ltd., 2001), 491.

[11] Karatnycky, Adrian, and Alexander J. Motyl. “Historical Battle Lines.” Wall Street Journal. July 9, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124708161090713405.html

[12] Subtelny, Orest. The Mazepists : Ukrainian separatism in the early eighteenth century (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 23,

[13] Subtelny, “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made”, 12.

[14] Kohut, Zenon E. Russian centralism and Ukrainian autonomy : imperial absorption in the Hetmanate 1760s-1830s. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), 5.

[15] Kohut, Russian centralism and Ukrainian autonomy : imperial absorption in the Hetmanate 1760s-1830s. 16.

[16] Szporluk, Roman. “From an Imperial Periphery to a Sovereign State.” Daedalus (The MIT Press) 126, no. 3 (Summer 1997), 98.

[17] Boyko, “Ukraine: Villain Today, Hero Tomorrow.”

[18] Grob, Thomas. “‘Mazepa’ as a symbolic figure of Ukrainian autonomy.” In Democracy and myth in Russia and Eastern Europe, edited by Alexander Wöl and Harald Wydra, 87-93. (New York: Routledge, 2007), 87

[19] Grob, “‘Mazepa’ as a symbolic figure of Ukrainian autonomy,” 87.

[20] Subtelny, Orest, ed. On the eve of Poltava : the letters of Ivan Mazepa to Adam Sieniawski, 1704-1708. (Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the United States, 1975).

[21] Subtelny, On the eve of Poltava : the letters of Ivan Mazepa to Adam Sieniawski, 1704-1708.

[22] Manning, Hetman of Ukraine: Ivan Mazeppa, 223.

[23] Subtelny, On the eve of Poltava : the letters of Ivan Mazepa to Adam Sieniawski, 1704-1708.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Subtelny, Ukrainian separatism in the early eighteenth century, 28.

[27] Ibid., 13.

[28] Mackiw, Theodore. “Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary Western European Sources, 1687—1709.” ІЗБОРНИК: Історія України IX-XVIII ст. Першоджерела та інтерпретації. n.d. http://www.litopys.org.ua/coss4/mazk16.htm.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Mackiw, Theodore. English reports on Mazepa, Hetman of Ukraine and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, 1687-1709. New York: Ukrainian Historical Association, 1983), 119.

[32] Mackiw, Theodore. Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary Western European Sources, 1687—1709.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Kappeler, Andreas. “Mazepa.” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas (Research Library) 56, no. 3 (2008): 425.

[36] Siundiukov, Ihor, and Nadia Tysiachna. Tatiana Tairova-Yakovleva: “Hetman Mazepa is a remarkable figure that will pique interest for centuries to come” (2008).

[37] Mackiw, Theodore. “Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary Western European Sources, 1687—1709.”

[38] Mackiw, English reports on Mazepa, Hetman of Ukraine and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, 1687-1709, 72.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Subtelny, (1975) 20

[43] Mackiw, Theodore. “Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary Western European Sources, 1687—1709.”

[44] Kraliuk, Petro. “Mazepa’s many faces: constructive, tragic, tragicomic.” The Day. Jul 7, 2009. http://www.day.kiev.ua/290619?idsource=276443&mainlang=eng

[45] Kraliuk, “Mazepa’s many faces: constructive, tragic, tragicomic.”

[46] Kraliuk, “Mazepa’s many faces: constructive, tragic, tragicomic.”

[47] Mackiw, English reports on Mazepa, Hetman of Ukraine and Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, 1687-1709.

[48] Kraliuk, “Mazepa’s many faces: constructive, tragic, tragicomic.”

[49] Szporluk, “From an Imperial Periphery to a Sovereign State,” 98.

[50] Mackiw, Theodore. “Hetman Mazepa in Contemporary Western European Sources, 1687—1709.”

[51] Subtelny, “Russia and the Ukraine: The Difference That Peter I Made”, 17.

[52] Jilge, Wilfried. “Politics of History and the Second World War,” 104.

 

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Girkin: Putin will be murdered like the Tsar, or die in prison like Milosevic

In the wake of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s widely speculated disappearance from the public eye, retired FSB colonel and terrorist “Defense Minister” Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has reemerged offering his own personal insight, but this time criticism of the Russian leader.

Girkin had recently arrived in Yekaterinberg, Russia’s fourth largest city, to announce the founding of a new cell of his “New Russia” (Novorossiya) movement in the Urals. A day prior, a large rally was held in public view to send off 50 Russian recruits to fight in Ukraine. Local organizers have acknowledged that these “volunteer” mercenaries can earn between $1,500-2,500 to participate in the war against Ukraine.

During a press conference (documented by local news site Znak) held in the Ural Mining University, Girkin touched on a number of subjects, not the least of which brazed the current rumors circulating of a potential palace coup in the Kremlin.

In a culmination of public frustration against the Russian president, Girkin predicts, “not only liberals, but the patriots (nationalists – ed.) will turn against Putin. Then he will repeat the fate of Slobodan Milosevic, who was overthrown [by] liberals & patriots, since he conducted a policy that was neither yours nor ours.” Girkin lays out two conclusions for Putin’s fate following such an overthrow: he can either be executed like Russian Emperor Nicholas II, or die in prison as Milosevic did awaiting his trial in The Hague.

Girkin

Feuding & criticism

Previously Girkin has spoken out about an alleged “fifth column,” vowing to protect Putin from any possible power shift. “The West and the ‘fifth column’ are making no secret of their plans to overthrow Putin. Their path is that of dragging out the war [in Ukraine] as long as possible,” Strelkov told reporters in September. “I support Putin and am against the ‘fifth column.’ Russian people need to completely reject any opposition activity,” he said.

The root of new frustration for Girkin was due in part to Putin’s war policy, as he lambasted the “fifth column” derailing the war effort; personally calling out Putin’s own presidential advisor Vladislav Surkov, known otherwise as the ‘grey cardinal’ and for being the architect of not only Russia’s frozen conflicts but its entire current political system. Surkov is of Chechen descent and is considered a counterweight to FSB-KGB security service hawks dominating Putin’s inner circle. The “fifth column” label, as described by Girkin, applies to all state actors and industrialists who view Russia as a resource base, namely those who live in Russia but keep wealth, property, and family abroad (such a label would apply to Putin and many of those he has enriched during his rule). It has been reported that Surkov was instrumental in pulling Girkin and his associates out of Ukraine as part of an ongoing feud between rival political camps.

He also took effort to criticize Putin’s strategy in the Donbas, saying he could have “freed all of New Russia” with virtually no blood spilled if he had acted more decisively in the spring of 2014. Instead, he blames the “fifth column” for convincing Putin to change course and, as a result, “we have not stopped and the war is more bloody,” while lamenting the ever increasing international sanctions and pressure that have come since.

This indecisive course by Putin was elaborated on, with Girkin incensed with the flip-flopping nature of official advocacy for the “Russian World,” and also the self-declared republics it has created, blasting the Kremlin’s use then disuse of the term ‘New Russia’ (Novorossiya) to describe the conflict region, then its alternating use in media to describe the Donetsk and Luhansk republics as legitimate, then self-declared, or ultimately as regions of Ukraine.

3(498)

On the war

Girkin accuses ‘the West’ of setting its sights on repeating the events of World War I, drawing loose parallels between Russia entering the war on the side of Serbia; and later blaming the current war on instigation by the United States. During WW1, the U.S., Serbia, and Russian Empire were all Allied members.

As a ‘tool’ of the U.S., he continues that even if Russia had not occupied Crimea, and even if war did not take place in the Donbas (which he has fully admitted to igniting himself), then “still the Kyiv government would lead to war with Russia.”

In fact many people are waiting for Russia in Kyiv

However, for the former Donetsk Republic’s minister of defense, the war will soon resume against Ukraine: “We conclude that this year the fighting will resume in the Donbas, and will resume soon enough. The war will unfold even more widespread than it was conducted during the fall and winter campaigns.” Just how widespread he predicts the war will escalate may coincide with his imperialist ambitions of creating ‘New Russia’. For him, Ukraine “is part of Russia” and names Odesa, Kharkiv, Kherson, and Mykolaiv as potential targets. “In fact many people are waiting for Russia in Kyiv.”

 

Harper: Putin has to be opposed very strongly

In and interview with CP24’s Stephen Ledrew in Toronto, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reiterated his and Canada’s position towards Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think not just to me but to the world, Mr. Putin has defied a pretty obvious principle and that is we do not redraw boundaries by military force. We have not been doing that since the Second World War — anywhere — so this is a very important principle he’s violated.”

I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world

“I think I would tell you that, quite frankly, having grown up with many Ukrainian friends, understanding that experience probably alerts me even more to it. But also just the fact that I’ve dealt with Mr. Putin for a number of years and I don’t think it was any secret to other G7 leaders, or to this country, that I had reached conclusions about the nature of this man and the kind of place he was leading his country and ultimately leading the world, and I think he has to be opposed very strongly.”

When asked about his widely publicized encounter with Putin during the G20 Summit in Australia, Harper doubled down on his actions:

“I guess I don’t know what else I would have said to him. He and I, I guess we’re not the closest of friends, and he came over, we were in an awkward position where we had to shake hands and I have only one thing to say to him, and that is: get out of Ukraine. And frankly as long as he continues to violate Ukraine’s territorial integrity I don’t have a lot else to say to the man.”

 

Wounded Russian soldier confesses to invasion, criticizes ‘rebels’

A horrifyingly wounded Russian soldier’s interview with Novaya Gazeta is showing an even more in depth look at the role and coordination of Russian soldiers as their units continue the undeclared invasion of eastern Ukraine. The subject, Dhorzhi Batomunkuev (who has already been tracked down on social media), is an ethnic Buryat tank operator from Russia’s far east who recalls his injury, secretive deployment, issues with the so-called rebels his units backed, and why he was fighting in Russia’s ghost army against Ukraine.

The real rebels

In the interview, Batomunkuev describes a Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) special forces company he performed in that is, unsurprisingly, comprised of 90% Russians. Typically these special forces will act as shock troops and after completing their actions, fall back to be replaced by rebel neo-cossacks – units we note to be far less reliable but much more expendable. He also laments that the irregular ‘rebel’ militia Russia’s forces prop up are even far less dependable and less apt to following orders.

“When you have to finish off the enemy, the militia just won’t go. They say “we won’t go there, it’s dangerous.” We’ve got orders to advance further, and even if we wanted, we couldn’t order them […] The militia never tells us where they go.”

When asked if and how Russian units coordinate with the DNR’s militias, he simply describes them as “weird” and erratic:

They shoot and shoot – and then they stop. Like their business hours are over. Completely disorganized. No leaders, no battle commanders, it’s a free for all.

The enemy

I’m not proud of what I did. That I destroyed, killed people. You can’t be proud of that. But then, it comforts me when I think this is all for peace.

Batomunkuev’s understanding of the war, who he is fighting against, and why he is there is both interesting and atypical of the Russian perspective. They believe they are killing for peace, but against whom or why is less coherent. Batomunkuev justifies his actions saying that Ukrainians ‘kill the innocent and children’:

You understand he’s an enemy. He killed the innocent, the civilians…they killed children. This bastard sits there, shaking, praying that we don’t kill him. Starts begging for forgiveness. May god judge you, I think.

His perception that Ukrainians kill civilians is then contradicted by his own account of his unit’s occupation of Makiyivka, where he admits he was told up to 70% of the city’s 365,000 population were against Russia and supported Ukraine. He justifies his actions in a twist of logic: “70% of a village isn’t important. You have to respect the people’s choice. If Donetsk wants independence, you gotta give it.”

Throughout the interview he refers to Ukrainians with the pejorative slur Ukrops – a rough equivalent of calling French people “frogs.”

Batomunkuev’s twists become more elaborate when he talks of fighting Polish mercenaries who “can’t live without war” and “must be destroyed,” but culminate with this final quote about the United Nations’ military plot against Russia:

If Ukraine joins the European Union, the United Nations, then the UN may deploy their rockets here, their weapons, they could do it. And then they will be pointed at us. They will be a lot closer to us, not beyond the oceans. Right at our land border. […] But if they take Donbas and deploy the rockets, then they can reach Russia

For analysis and interpretation of the interview, be sure to read Meduza and The Interpreter.

 

Arrested Spanish communists banded with ‘Nazis’ to ‘liberate Russia from Ukraine’

Spanish National Police on Friday arrested eight individuals on suspicion of joining pro-Russian militants while in Ukraine and charged with compromising Spanish national security, possession of arms and explosives, and homicide.

The arrests have been detailed by the New York Times and two reports by El Pais, Spain’s largest newspaper. Previous reports have placed Spanish fighters among the notorious Vostok Battalion, a unit documented for the use of child soldiers.

The group, arrested in what Spanish officials are calling Operation Danko (a reference to the 1988 Schwarzenegger movie Red Heat), included three former Spanish armed forces personnel.

Members of several communist organizations, the men reportedly received support from an ‘unofficial’ pro-Kremlin network in Europe. Two, however, were met by a Russian government worker during a stopover in Moscow. Only one of the un-named men so far has been confirmed by police to have taken part in frontline action against Ukrainians.

“We fought together, communists and Nazis alike [for] the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

In a bizarre statement by the suspects, half of the pro-Russian militants they enlisted with were fellow communists, while the other half were neo-Nazis. The group then collaborated with pro-Russian Nazi militants to ‘liberate’ Russia from Ukraine, from within Ukraine. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike,” they said. “We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”

This sentiment is a microcosm of Russia’s indoctrination and war propaganda that has seen extremist far-left and right groups in Europe often intertwine in its favor. Author and political expert Anne Applebaum attributes this to a divide in Europe between “established, integrationist politics and isolationist, nationalist politics.” In an almost anarchistic effort, members of the radical left and right are thus predisposed to band together against the European Union by aiding what they see the ‘anti-Europe’ – Russia.

2000

The Spanish sting operation was assisted in identifying the suspects through their social network postings, which included photos of themselves showing off military equipment and making statements seeking to recruit fighters for the pro-Russia militias. In the raids that followed, police recovered Russian military clothing, knives, machetes, and military insignias

According to multiple posts by other Spanish volunteers, the men were joined by similar militants from Italy, France, Serbia and the U.S. Police have said that another group of pro-Russian, communist Spaniards were also planning to travel to Ukraine.

Leftist “anti-fascist” slogans (and even organizations) are also typically espoused as a smokescreen by Russia’s far-right to lure members of the far-left under a common cause, a political sphere that ironically contains a plethora of racist, neo-Nazi and indeed fascist figures. Acclaimed historian Timothy Snyder best explains the politics of the fascist-anti-fascist phenomenon:

Thus began the politics of fascism and anti-fascism, where Moscow was the defender of all that was good, and its critics were fascists. This very effective pose, of course, did not preclude an actual Soviet alliance with the actual Nazis in 1939. Given today’s return of Russian propaganda to anti-fascism, this is an important point to remember: The whole grand moral Manichaeism was meant to serve the state, and as such did not limit it in any way. The embrace of anti-fascism as a rhetorical strategy is quite different from opposing actual fascists.

United Kingdom & Emirates strike deals with Ukraine to arm and instruct military

The United Kingdom and United Arab Emirates have struck substantial deals to better equip Ukraine’s armed forces as the country seeks to rapidly equip, train, and modernize its military in the face of war with Russia. In separate deals, the UAE will supply Ukraine with armaments and military hardware, while the Britain will provide necessary medical, intelligence, logistics and infantry training.

The deployment of up to 75 British Armed Forces personnel to Ukraine will begin as soon as next week as part of what the Ministry of Defense called a “training mission.” While a seemingly small contingent, the deployment of British troops to Ukraine would mark a significant boost in assistance relative to the benign non-lethal aid received to date.

“Over the course of the next month we’re going to be deploying British service personnel to provide advice and a range of training, to tactical intelligence to logistics, to medical care,” British Prime Minister Cameron told lawmakers during a session of parliament. “We’ll also be developing an infantry training program with Ukraine to improve the durability of their forces.”

In parallel to Cameron’s statements, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced the signing of a deal on military and technical cooperation with the United Arab Emirates during a tour of the IDEX 2015 arms expo in Abu Dhabi. Details on the much needed arms deal were scarce, with Ukrainian interior minister Anton Herashchenko vaguely noting it would involve the “delivery of certain types of armaments and military hardware to Ukraine.”

Ukrainian and UAE companies have previously worked together in the development and production of BTR-3 personnel carriers. Notably, the UAE Army maintains the second largest detachment of Russian-made BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles in the world outside of Russia.

Poroshenko had also reportedly planned to meet with chief Pentagon weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, at the show with the intent of finally securing U.S. weaponry to defend Ukraine from the ongoing Russian invasion.

In addition, Ukrainian companies were involved in several multi-million dollar contracts, including joint development of Superhind Mi-24 attack helicopters with a South African firm, as the country aims to expedite its military modernization process, Poroshenko later said in a news release. Ukraine’s Air Force has been battered in the conflict.

The Ukraine deals coincide with a flurry of activity to bolster military support in the Baltics, with Lithuania announcing a planned reintroduction of military conscription. The Lithuanian government’s motion will see its armed forces increase by 45% in size. Meanwhile, U.S. Soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment took part in a joint parade with Estonian forces in Narva, a city directly on the border with Russia. It was the second time U.S. forces took part in the annual parade, marking the 97th anniversary of Estonian Independence.

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U.S. forces in Narva, Estonia during the military parade

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