Over 2,000 Russian troops killed during Ukraine invasion

A Moscow newspaper reported that Russia had lost “no fewer than 2,000” dead in the fighting in Ukraine and another 3,200 serious casualties by February 1, 2015, a story that stayed up until Kremlin censors removed those lines from the article lest it call into question Vladimir Putin’s constant refrain that there are no Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.

In an article about increased pay for Russian soldiers in 2015, Delovaya zhizn reported these numbers, but they didn’t remain on the site for every long, according to Konstantin Zelfanov of Novy Region-2 yesterday.

But the original uncensored article remained accessible in a cached version, and the key passage of that reads as follows, Zelfanov says. “The government of the Russian Federation has taken an important decision about the monetary compensation of military personnel who have taken part in military actions in the east of Ukraine.”

“For the families of those who have died in the course of military actions in the east of Ukraine, monetary compensation has been set at three million rubles [40,000 US dollars] and for those who have become invalids during the military actions at 1.5 million rubles [20,000 US dollars].”

Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed

“In addition,” the original version said, Moscow plans to pay contract soldiers a supplement of 1,800 rubles [25 US dollars] for each day of combat. As of February 1, 2015, Moscow had already paid monetary compensation “for more than 2,000 families of soldiers who had been killed and for 3,200 soldiers who were seriously wounded and recognized as invalids.”

Given that six months of fighting have passed since that time, Russian losses, both killed and wounded, must now be much higher, although the Moscow authorities are doing everything they can, including censorship of this kind, to hide that fact lest Russians learn the tragic human costs they are paying for Putin’s aggression.

What to do with the Donbas: Phase 3

On July 16, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko steered the draft law to provide more autonomy for separatist-occupied areas of the Donbas through Parliament and to the Constitutional Court for approval. Though the motion passed convincingly (288 votes in favor, 57 against)—it was opposed only by the Radicals and Samopomich faction, and even supported by the Opposition Party—it represents only the first in a complex process focused on article 11 of the Minsk-2 Agreement signed earlier this year, which will change the status of the Donbas.

Providing that the court approves the law, it will be returned to Parliament where it requires the support of over 300 deputies in order to become valid. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who was coincidentally in Ukraine during the deliberations, supports its acceptance as do the leaders of Germany, France, and other countries of the EU. In fact Ukraine is under intense pressure from its Western allies to accept the law in order to put the principles of Minsk-2 into operation.

There are, however, a number of disturbing issues raised by the passage of the draft law.

First of all, it contravenes the existing 1996 Constitution, which does not permit outsiders to dictate changes to the Ukrainian government. Specifically, it is stated in Article 157 that:

The Constitution of Ukraine shall not be amended, if the amendments foresee the abolition or restriction of human and citizens’ rights and freedoms, or if they are oriented toward the liquidation of the independence or violation of the territorial indivisibility of Ukraine.

In December 1991, when a Ukrainian referendum backed the August 24 Declaration of Independence all the countries currently pressuring Ukraine to the constitutional amendment recognized the country within its existing borders. The Constitution further strengthened the notion that these borders were inviolable.

Second, Minsk-2, like its predecessor Minsk-1, gave a voice to the leaders of the breakaway “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” It was signed by the leaders of these two regions, instantly enhancing their credibility when hitherto the Western world had considered them little more than advance posts of a predatory Russia. The rebels now demand that these changes become enshrined officially in an amended Constitution of Ukraine.

Whether the DNR and LNR have any real legitimacy is a moot point. There appears to be as much in-fighting among their leaders as there are barbs directed at the government in Kyiv. Clearly the settlements within are disaffected, having been bombarded by the Ukrainian army over the past year and used as a refuge by the renegade leaders. The reality is that we do not really know how popular they are, and how much support they could attract were a free and fair election possible.

Third, the goals of Russia are uncertain and fluctuating. Speculation about the eleventh point in the Minsk-2 agreement, which is already nebulous, suggests that Vladimir Putin’s personal advisor Vladislav Surkov, a Russian-Chechen businessman who was First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Presidential Administration for twelve years (ending 2011), inserted that particular clause, undoubtedly with the president’s approval. It stipulates that Ukraine should be decentralized “(taking into account peculiarities of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, agreed with representatives of these districts).

That Russia supports more autonomy for the Donbas is evident, but what are its long-term goals? The answer would seem that these goals have receded from the once triumphant (though fundamentally and historically flawed) concept of Novorossiya to one of holding on to one’s gains and propping up, more or less, a defunct gangster regime that will ultimately succumb to pressure from the Ukrainian army or collapse from within thanks to feuds and in-fighting.

The limitations of Russian ambitions are illustrated by a reluctance to escalate the conflict further and to engage in any form of physical occupation. Though propaganda against the “neo-Nazi” government in Kyiv has been relentless—and boosted by the rash actions of the Right Sector in Mukachevo, whether or not these were based on a moral crusade against corruption and smuggling—Putin himself has been strangely subdued, even extending some feelers to the West for cooperation over the crisis in Syria, while protesting the notion of an international commission to investigate the shooting of a Malaysian airliner over Donetsk region just over a year ago.

Lamentably, through the blundering of both sides, the Donbas is the real victim of this protracted conflict. Economically it is a wasteland that will take years to rebuild, if indeed it can be reconstructed. It would require enormous investment, an outlay that at present is as remote from the Ukrainian reality as it is possible to be. Its more enterprising souls have fled the scene. Thousands are dead, victims of shelling that does not discriminate between one side or another. Those surviving live amid intermittent warfare, dreading the coming winter. It may well be a frozen conflict, but that conflict is for a land that one one really wants.

Thus what the Europeans and United States are saying to Ukraine is: you must retain these devastated areas, feed them, provide them with resources, but without taking full authority over them or at least, not in the immediate future. In short, the fulfillment of this part of Minsk-2 would weaken fundamentally the Ukrainian state established in 1991. Today no one outside the country is supporting the notion of a centralized Ukraine under the rule of president or parliament. One would have to conclude that the recognition of 1991 has been abruptly violated by both friends and enemies of the country.

There are further implications for Ukraine here. The return of Crimea is not even part of Minsk-2. Further, those placing pressure on Poroshenko are not exerting similar pressure on the separatist governments, which are largely and openly ignoring the agreement, after some token gestures to comply. Most of its stipulations, like Ukraine’s control over its original eastern border by the end of the year, are unenforceable. Ukraine can survive without Donbas and (especially) without Crimea, but only if they are severed permanently. At present it cannot regain Crimea but it cannot discard the occupied Donbas, which it has treated as alien territory for some time.

Other questions will emerge, most notably the determination of where the border of the two oblasts should lie and whether Russia will permit the disarming and defeat of the two separatist regimes by ceasing the constant flow of advanced weaponry over the border and removing its “volunteer” soldiers from the war zone. For Putin it is a drain of resources; one suspects that for most of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, it is an unpopular war. The messianic phase is over but the end goal is unclear. The only certainty is that there are no winners in this conflict.

The anti-Semitic demo in London – a Moscow’s KGB-style psy-op?

As the readers of this blog perfectly know, the Kremlin is actively cooperating – sometimes financially – with European far right parties. However, Moscow may also be engaged in even more sinister activities, namely whipping up racial hatred in the West in order to discredit democratic societies that have taken a strong position on sanctions against Russia for its war on Ukraine.

While it cannot be conclusively proven yet, the “anti-Jewification” demonstration that took place in London on 4 July might be an example of such activities. At least, there are sound reasons to suspect exactly this.

The demonstration was organised by the neo-Nazi Eddy Stampton who is notorious for drunken violence towards women, and was attended, among others, by his neo-Nazi mate Piers Mellor; the head of the far right IONA London Forum JeremyJezBedford-Turner; and Britain-based activists of the Polish fascist National Revival of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski).

Violent neo-Nazi Eddy Stampton leading the demonstration, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Violent neo-Nazi Eddy Stampton leading the demonstration, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Jeremy "Jez" Bedford-Turner with a loud-speaker, followed by the activists from the National Revival of Poland, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Jeremy “Jez” Bedford-Turner with a loud-speaker, followed by the activists from the National Revival of Poland, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Piers Mellor speaking at the demo, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images
Piers Mellor speaking at the demo, 4 July 2015, London. Photo: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images

The anti-Semitic demo in London was not the first time that Stampton, Mellor, Bedford-Turner and the Polish fascists came together. On 29 November 2014, they organised a demo in support of the Greek neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party by the Embassy of Greece in London.

Jeremy "Jez" Bedford-Turner (a man with a loud-speaker on the left), Eddy Stampton (a man in a cap), and Piers Mellor at a demonstration in support of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, 29 November 2015, London
Jeremy “Jez” Bedford-Turner (a man with a loud-speaker on the left), Eddy Stampton (a man in a cap), and Piers Mellor at a demonstration in support of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, 29 November 2015, London

Most prominent participants of the London anti-Semitic demo last Saturday are not simply fascists: all of them are in one way or another connected to the Russians.

Bedford-Turner leads the self-styled “New Right” IONA London Forum that hosted, on 12 October 2013, a conference titled “The end of the present world: the post-American century and beyond”. The main speaker at this conference was infamous Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, who is building links between Western far right/far left organisations and Moscow, and who was also involved, in 2006, in training of the activists from the pro-Russian extremist organisation Donetsk Republic. Bedford-Turner also invited Russian neo-Nazi activist Denis Nikitin to speak at one of the Forum’s meetings in August 2014.

This was not the only connection between Nikitin and the British extreme right: Nikitin, who also directs the Russian White Rex company engaged in organising mixed martial arts tournaments in Russia and Europe, was a key person who provided fitness ­sessions to British neo-Nazis at a training camp in Wales. Are the Russians involved in training of would-be right-wing British terrorists?

Denis Nikitin, founder and head of White Rex
Denis Nikitin, founder and head of White Rex

Another participant of the anti-Semitic demo, Australian London-based neo-Nazi Piers Mellor, also participated in the Moscow-inspired anti-Ukrainian protest in March 2015.

Together with Mellor, protesting against non-existing UK arms supplies to Ukraine, was Graham Phillips, a British RT propagandist and strong supporter of pro-Russian extremists in Eastern Ukraine, including the Donetsk Republic, where he spent most of 2014.

Neo-Nazi Piers Mellor (left) and RT propagandist Graham Phillips (a bald man on the right) at an anti-Ukrainian protest, March 2015, London
Neo-Nazi Piers Mellor (left) and RT propagandist Graham Phillips (a bald man on the right) at an anti-Ukrainian protest, March 2015, London

Upon his return to London, Phillips immediately joined the UK Independence Party (UKIP) whose leaders, including Nigel Farage and Diane James, have openly expressed admiration of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. UKIP MEPs are also active opponents of the sanctions against Russia.

RT, Russia’s major tool of its information warfare against the West, has immediately reported on the neo-Nazi gathering in London, but of course without mentioning any connections between the participants of the demo and the Russians.

Why would the Kremlin be interested in whipping up racial hatred in Britain? The fact is that when the Russians find it difficult to buy political influence in a particular Western country, they try to discredit it as a hotbed of fascism. The classic example is the KGB’s psy-op in Western countries at the end of the 1950s.

The KGB and its counterparts in the countries of the Warsaw Pact infiltrated neo-Nazi organisations in West Germany and some other Western countries, in order to goad them into extremist activities and then accuse Western societies of the alleged resurgence of Nazism. The most prominent case is the “swastika operation” devised by Soviet KGB General Ivan Agayants and carried out in 1959-1960 in Western cities and towns. In that period, KGB agents painted swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on synagogues, tombstones and Jewish-owned shops in West Germany. Jewish families received anonymous hate mail and threatening phone calls. The initial KGB operation would stir up residual anti-Semitic sentiments in Western societies and, consequently, produce a snowball effect where troublemakers would carry out anti-Semitic activities on their own. The “swastika operation” in West Germany caused considerable damage to the reputation of the country in the West: its diplomats were ostracised, West German products boycotted, Bonn assailed for the alleged inability to deal with Nazism, and questions were raised about the credibility of the country as a member of NATO.

The established connections between the organisers/participants of the anti-Semitic demonstration in London and the Russian actors (as well as other evidence) provide a good reason to suspect that Moscow is now involved in similar psy-ops in Britain.


 

Originally published by Anton Shekhovtsov

Russophobia doesn’t exist

Russophobia doesn’t exist, but fear and hatred of Putin’s regime does.

Vladimir Putin and his supporters have made the struggle against what they see as Russophobia a cornerstone of their ideology, Yevgeny Ikhlov says; but if one examines the characteristics they offer for this phenomenon, it is clear that Russophobia as such does not exist. At the same time, fear and hatred of Putin’s regime very much do.

The importance of this ideological theme to the Kremlin has been underscored, the Moscow commentator says, by the fact that immediately after Putin made his remarks about it, the World Russian Popular Assembly insisted that Russophobia included any attacks on the Russian Orthodox Church.

In defining the term, Ikhlov continues, the Russian Popular Assembly advanced five assertions regarding Russophobia, all of which he says are at the very least problematic. It asserts that the Russian people are being “subjected to Russophobia, they are the victims of genocide in Ukraine, they are a victim people, they are a divided people, and they have an identity which is being blurred.

Before considering each of these in turn, the commentator notes that the claim that an attack on the Orthodox Church is an attack on the Russian people is simply wrong. “Orthodoxy is not a church of the Russian people … moreover, it is not an exclusive attribute of ‘the Russian world.’” Asserting otherwise undermines “the very idea of the universality of Orthodoxy.”

The assertion that there is ethnic hatred toward Russians as such in the contemporary world is without foundation, Ikhlov says. The only place where one could speak about this would be in the Baltic countries, “but this is a manifestation of the most ordinary migrantophobia and diasporaphobia, which Russians also display.

Around the world, people recognize Russian culture as “a great world culture,” and Russians “have not encountered even that hostility which for long years surrounded Germans after the first and especially after the second world war.” Those who assert otherwise do not know what they are talking about.

The fact that there exists “fear and hostility to the Putin government” and that this is spreading and intensifying is quite another matter, Ikhlov says. A century ago, “every literate individual could clearly distinguish between the regime of Nicholas I and the Russian people and Russian intelligentsia.”

Thirty years ago, people found no difficulties in distinguishing bvetween the Russia of Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn and Russian communism. “And now,” Ikhlov says, they have no problem recognizing that the Russia of Boris Nemtsov is something entirely different than the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

Confusing or conflating “fear before the imperial policy of the Kremlin and the authoritarian mentality of the people with hostility toward Russians as an ethnos” is simply foolish nonsense, Ikhlov suggests.

The second plank in the attack on supposed Russophobia is that ethnic Russians are, it is said, being subjected to genocide in Ukraine.” There is no truth to that, and the word genocide should be used with care rather than tossed about whenever one wants to blacken opponents and play the victim.

Russians can claim to be victims, Ikhlov says; but most often and most seriously they have been victims of other Russians rather than of foreigners of one kind or another. But they are not a victim people in the sense that the Jews and Palestinians, Armenians and Tutsis are, and they should not claim otherwise.

Nor is it correct to label the Russians “a divided people,” as many of those now talking about Russophobia do. It is true that the collapse of the USSR in 1991 left many ethnic Russians beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, but “over the last quarter century much has changed” and the Russians in these countries are now “classical examples of a diaspora.”

Finally, Ikhlov argues, there is no evidence that Russian national identity is being blurred. “On the contrary, Russians very clearly set themselves apart from other ethnoses of the empire, having unwritten but in no way less obligatory criteria of what is required from a non-Russian to be recognized as a Russian,” even if various groups of Russians often fight about that.

Ukraine’s anti-Communist law should be rewritten, but not scrapped

The recently published open letter on Ukraine’s ‘anti-communist law’ has weighed into a heavily emotive debate. We could consider the law from the point of view of the ammunition it will give Ukraine’s critics, but I do not think this should be a key consideration. If their use of the repeal of Ukraine’s regional languages law (which never happened) is anything to go by, the trolls at 55 Savushkina street will have this woven into their technical tasks for the next few months, irrespective of whether it is ever signed into law. Russia has dictated Ukraine’s affairs quite enough, one would think

There are some points on which this letter hits the nail on the head. Where was the rigorous political debate in the Rada on such potentially divisive issues? Also, that the law creates a vaguely defined offence of denying the legitimacy of Ukraine’s struggle for independence in the twentieth century. Vaguely defined laws on which individuals could be arbitrarily lynched are a post-Soviet model of justice which surely has no place in today’s Ukraine. The offence of denying the criminal character of the entire Soviet regime from start to finish is also fraught with risks, although I think the examples given of potential offenders amount to mere thought experiments. This poor quality of legislative practice shows that Ukraine still lacks a culture of constitutionalism, and President Poroshenko should indeed send lawmakers back to the drawing board to pass a better law which better addresses these concerns. But the essence of what Ukraine is attempting to do here must not be discounted.

I first moved to Kiev in 2006, living first near Arsenalna, then Nyvky out in the suburbs, both on the metro system. Using the metro regularly there brings you face to face with the Soviet legacy, from small hammer & sickles in metal grills to the garish representation of Lenin and his sayings at Teatralna. I always hated it, and I also hated the seeming indifference of most locals to it. Even amongst the more active, nobody really raised this issue. The moderator of one pro Ukrainian language Facebook page was more concerned with a small Russian language sign at Palats Sportu station (only retained as it was part of the station’s original design) than de-Sovietization. For me the latter was far more important.

The Lenin menagerie at Teatralna was finally removed last year, and I was overjoyed on a visit back to Kiev to see it gone. Perversely, it is this exact display which is pictured atop the open letter itself on the Krytyka webpage. It’s common for western visitors to Eastern Europe to wonder why countries in the region saw the need to rip up their communist monuments. After all, it’s part of their history, they say. But as we all know, history is written by the victors, and in 1922, after a civil war which ravaged Ukraine, that’s what the Bolsheviks were. This regime not only built its own monuments but destroyed royalist monuments, churches etc. and, ultimately, their monuments were designed as symbols of central power, prescribed history, control and obedience. How can a country build a democratic mindset with monuments glorifying totalitarianism everywhere?

So in many ways the gist of the law is actually correct. Retaining Soviet detritus has been too costly to Ukraine’s societal development, and people’s indifference unhealthy. The law also bans Nazi symbols. Again, the law should bear in mind Ukraine’s needs, not Russia’s, and I think there’s a much more searching debate to be had about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. To me, the black and red flag should be permissible, Wolfsangels and other SS symbols etc. should not be. It’s difficult to apply a consistent standard across both the Nazi and Soviet periods as they are so vastly different in scope.

The most important desired outcome is freedom for independent historians, academics and journalists. Remember, by the way, that it was Yanukovych who closed the KGB archives in 2010, aiding the mythologization process in Western Ukraine, boosting the Svoboda party and creating a foil for the pro-Russian ‘anti-fascist’ constructs that the Party of Regions was using. When you have Ukraine sympathizers writing things like “so it is established fact that the UPA slaughtered tens of thousands of Poles? I don’t think so” (some here in Warsaw can tell you they lost family members at the hands of the Ukrainian insurgents), you realize the importance of the work of these historians.

Holodomor remembrance is a good example of the power of education. Not so many years ago the average Ukrainian knew little in concrete terms about what had happened to their country in the 1930s. The bringing to light of historical evidence has brought about the right kind of response, one of reverence and remembrance in which all public figures participate (leaving aside the more specific question of genocide). The fear of the mythologizing of history in Ukraine, as in Russia, is a legitimate one. Ukraine shouldn’t follow Russia down the path of pseudo-history.

Is there an alternative to smashing or bulldozing Lenin statues and other monuments? Perhaps. Hungary’s’ Statue Park is an example Ukraine could follow. What they do in former East Germany with Karl Marx in Chemnitz (complete with giant winter scarf!) is a perfectly sensible thing to do in the context of the free world safely inside the EU and NATO. But in Ukraine the monuments underline a medieval understanding of power which makes them much more problematic to retain. Another risk is that Soviet monuments can be reactivated as symbols by subversives or invaders. The reconstruction of a Lenin monument in occupied East Ukraine reminds us of their value to the opponents of a free Ukraine.

Perhaps the most damning criticism that could be made of the law is that it is in a way a cop out. If Communism was so bad, when will Ukraine act on lustration for the crimes of the Soviet period (not to mention for the Kuchma and Yanukovych eras)? The open letter is a thoughtful contribution to this difficult discussion. Although signed by one or two dubious figures it is also signed by many more respected and knowledgeable academics with Ukraine’s best interests at heart.

Monuments and street names to those who weren’t Ukrainian & killed Ukrainians is inclusivity Ukraine can do without.

The debate about de-Sovietization must by necessity move into controversial territory. Should it be only street names such as Lenina or Kominterna which should be changed? Should street names such as Heroiv Stalingrada (Heroes of Stalingrad) be changed purely because they contain, and indirectly venerate, the name of one responsible for the deaths of millions of Ukrainians (I’d like to see it renamed Heroes of Donetsk Airport instead)? The argument the open letter makes is for inclusivity of those across Ukraine, but surely, as someone has suggested, that inclusivity could be found in countless numbers of local figures worth celebrating. Monuments and street names to those who weren’t Ukrainian & killed Ukrainians is inclusivity Ukraine can do without.


By , originally published on Chicken in Kiev

 

Russia ‘de-Ukrainizing’ population of Crimea, occupation census shows

The number of people in Crimea identifying as ethnic Ukrainians has fallen by 232,000 between the 2001 census conducted by the Ukrainian government and the 2014 census conducted by the Russian occupation authorities, a decline that has reduced the percentage of ethnic Ukrainians on the peninsula from 24.0 to 15.1 percent.

That contributed both to a decline in the total population of Crimea from 2.4 million to 2.285 million over the same period and to an increase in the ethnic Russian share of the population from 60.4 to 65.3 percent as well, according to data presented by Andrey Illarionov.

In order to understand that these are not natural shifts but the result of what Illarionov calls “the catastrophic factor” of the Russian Anschluss, he presents data on the total numerical and annual percentage changes of these two ethnic groups for the preceding (1989-2001) inter-censal period and those of the most recent one (2001-2014).

In the earlier period, the number of ethnic Russians declined from 1.64 to 1.45 million with annual percentage declines of 1.0 percent while the number of ethnic Ukrainians fell from 626,000 to 457,000 with annual percentage declines of 0.7 percent. But in the latter one, Russians increased by 0.2 percent while Ukrainians fell by even more, 3.9 percent a year.

In the course of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, “the ethnic composition of the population of Crimea was subjected to significant changes, the Russian analyst continues, the most important of which during that period was “the demographic catastrophe which affected the Crimean Tatars.”

But “the main event of the beginning of the21st century has become the demographic catastrophe which has affected ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea,” when over the last 15 years they have lost 40 percent of their total and seen their share of the total population of the peninsula fall from 24 to 15 percent.

According to Illarionov, “one can with a high degree of certainty assert that the qualitative changes in the ethnic composition of the population of Crimea took place in the course of the seven or eight months preceded the last census,” that is, “between February 27 and October 14, 2014.”

“The reduction of the population of any ethnic group of such a size over such a short period of time typically is caused by political events of an extraordinary character,” he points out, “by wars, famine, deportation, mass emigration or genocide. With the exception of periods of the civil war and World War II, such rates of reduction in the numbers of the population of this or that demographic as were seen in Crimea in 2014 were not seen in the last century.”

“In this case,” Illarionov says, “the sharp decline in the number of Ukrainians in Crimea was called forth evidently both by the mass departure of Ukrainians from Crimea and the conscious change by some of them of their official ethnic self-identification.”

And to appreciate just how large those two factors are, he suggests, one could compare the number of ethnic Ukrainians in fact with the number of ethnic Ukrainians who would have been in Crimea at the end of 2014 if the same rates of change from the previous inter-censal period had continued.

If that had been the case, there would have been 524,000 ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea, not the 180,000 fewer that the Russian census takers recorded in October 2014. That difference, he concludes, is a useful and appalling measure of “the cost of the Putin adventure for the Ukrainians of Crimea.”

Ukrainians ‘called us occupiers,’ returning Russian insurgents tell media

Many commentators have speculated that Moscow faces a potentially serious problem when those who have gone to fight in Ukraine return to Russia with their anger and their military skills, the Kremlin may face a more immediate danger: those returning are undercutting Russian propaganda about what is happening in Ukraine.

Today, Yekaterinburg’s independent online news agency reported that “about 180” volunteers from the Urals returned from Ukraine today and are telling their families, friends and the media that “local people [in Ukraine] called us occupiers,” an epithet that calls into question Moscow’s messages.

The returnees were led by Vladimir Yefimov, the spetsnaz veteran who recruited them to go to Ukraine in the first place. When they left for Ukraine in March, they formed “the largest official local group of volunteers since the declaration of the armistice. Only half returned today; the rest continue to fight in the guard of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“We worked in guard posts and went on patrol,” Yefimov said. “There were no serious battles,” only occasional shooting and provocations. But the weather in the Donbas was terrible and everyone suffered with the flu, heart problems and lung infections.

He added that he and his men “had become disappointed in the Donetsk People’s Republic to which they had gone initially because of its ‘duplicitous leadership’ and the attitudes of the local population.”

“According to Kyiv law, we are terrorists. According to a Madrid court, we are also terrorists. According to the law of the Luhansk Republic, persons who are not included on the lists of its armed forces are also members of illegal armed formations. And if one takes money for service there, then we become mercenaries” under Russian law, Yefimov said.

But it was the attitude of the local people in Luhansk, he said, that really repelled him. “They are clearly drawn to Ukraine. They pay taxes to it. And the local population in some places calls us occupiers. We simply lost the desire to work in this republic and transferred to the Donetsk People’s Republic” where the situation is “much better.”

Yefimov told the Yekaterinburg journalists that he had had to pay for the train tickets of his men back home because of a quarrel he had with his original sponsor: That individual objected to the fact that he had named him during a media interview despite the fact that he wanted to remain anonymous.

Despite all this, Yefimov said, he “plans to prepare a new group of volunteers” and has already found 40 who are ready to go. But his words about how the people of the Donbas really view “Russian volunteers” like himself are likely to have a bigger impact on future events than anything he or they might do in Donetsk.

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.

Offensive Language: Putin began his verbal attack on Ukrainian statehood in 2004

Vladimir Putin stopped using the preposition “v” or “in” Ukraine in 2004, reverting to the older form “na” or “on,” in official government documents, an indication that the Kremlin leader did not view Ukraine as a country but rather as a Russian borderland, according to Andrey Illarionov.

Editor’s note: This is similar to the distinction in English between ‘Ukraine’ and ‘the Ukraine’ with the Russian “on Ukraine” being an archaism equivalent to ‘in the Ukraine’. See articles in TIME and Business Insider for more on the subject.

From the time he became president in 2000 through March 2004, Putin used the preposition “v” exclusively in official documents he signed, but beginning on April 5, 2004, he shifted to “na” and since Putin returned for his third term, such documents have used “na” exclusively.

In his own speeches, commentaries and responses to questions, Illarionov points out, Putin has gone from using “in” in 87.5 percent of the cases in 2002 to 70 percent in 2007 to 15.4 percent in 2012 to 8.2 percent last year, thus ever more often replacing it with the “on” and thus showing his lack of respect for Ukraine’s status as a state.

Since April 5, 2004, 99.4 percent of the official documents Putin has signed which refer to Ukraine have used “on” rather than “in.” Most of these 11 exceptions reflect either statements about the past or about the work of specific Russian officials of various kinds in Ukraine, he says.

“The last time the grammatical form ‘in Ukraine’ was used in official documents of the Kremlin was about five years ago on July 1, 2010,” concerning the presentation of an award to the head of ITAR-TASS in Ukraine. And that order was signed by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.

Since that time, “in” has not been used in the official documents of the Russian president and his administration even once. “In 2011-2015, 100 percent of the cases have used the form “na Ukraine,” Illarionov reports.

233176_600Graph 1: Use of “on Ukraine” (red) versus “in Ukraine” (green) in official Russian use, 1910-2008
Graph 2: Use of “in Ukraine” (blue) versus “in the Ukraine” (red) in English books, 1910-2008

This allows one to conclude, the Russian analyst says, that the decision to shift from “in” to “on” was taken “in the period between March 1 and April 5, 2004” – quite possibly immediately after Putin’s winning a second term as president and thus an indication of his intentions toward Kyiv at that time.

Certainly by April 16, 2004, Putin had made a decision to shift gears with regard to Ukraine. On that date, Illarionov recalls, Putin told the Ukrainian President Viktor Medvedchuk, “You know our position.” Working with Ukraine is “the top priority and the most important for us.”

“But however that was, the beginning of linguistic aggression by denying the statehood of Ukraine by the Russian authorities begins in March-April 2004,” Illarionov says. That was before the beginning of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in that year and long before July 2013 when Putin began his hybrid war against Ukraine.

“In other words,” Illarionov concludes, “the decision about the denial of the statehood of Ukraine was not provoked by any real actions of Ukrainians, be they from the Ukrainian authorities or Ukrainian society. This decision was taken by Putin personally, independent of the situation in Ukraine and as a result of his own ideas and in correspondence with his own plans.”

10 reasons why Ukraine’s Donbas is not and will not become a Northern Ireland

At a time when many commentators are seeking to explain what is going on in Ukraine by searching for analogies with other places and events, it is useful to be reminded of the limits of at least some of these comparisons as Bogdan Butkevich does in an article entitled 10 Reasons Why the Donbas will Not Become Ulster.

The Fourth Power analyst points out that “journalists and publicists, especially those who are pro-Russian, love to draw parallels between the war in the Donbas and the conflict in Ulster, thereby attempting to show that the war in Ukraine is a civil war,” but there is no factual basis for such claims.

The civil conflict in Northern Ireland lasted “more than 40 years” while the one in the Donbas was provoked by Moscow and is now directly supported by its troops, turning what the Russian side liked to claim was a “hybrid” conflict into “an ordinary war of conquest,” according to Butkevich.

That is obvious if one makes a serious comparison of the two, and he offers ten ways in which the two are very different:

1. The History of the Question.

The conflict in Northern Ireland has its roots in the English conquest of Ireland in the 12th century and the subsequent colonization of the northern countries by British people, almost all of whom were Protestants. The war in the Donbas is totally dissimilar. Until the mid-19th century, “this territory was practically empty.” It acquired importance because of industrial development, something that attracted people from throughout the Russian Empire and USSR regardless of ethnicity and who were mixed together once they got there. Indeed, the term “Donbas” is “more an economic than a political one,” let alone “a cultural or ethnic” description.

2. The Causes of the Conflict.

The struggle in Northern Ireland was between Catholics who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland and the Protestants who “by manipulating the law and using the support of London” were able to prevent that. The Catholics turned to terrorist actions, and the Protestants both responded directly and forced London to send troops to try to suppress the rising. The Donbas was and is different. A privileged economic zone in Soviet times, it has suffered economically since then. The oligarchs in the region and the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions used it to try to retain power in Kyiv. When that didn’t work, Moscow intervened.

3. The Typology of the Conflict.

“The conflict in Ulster is a civil war with internal causes and a logic of development,” Butkevich says.  “The war in the Donbas is in essence an invasion by Russian under the form of inciting a civil conflict.” But it is not a civil conflict in the sense that the one in Ulster is.

4. The Mentality of the Population.

“Irish Catholic, Protestant Englishmen and Protestant Irishmen are a settled population in Ulster.” Their views have been fixed by centuries of historical experience; they are not subject to radical and rapid change.  The majority of the people of the Donbas have been there no more than two or three generations; they are typical of “new arrivals” in that they have not formed specific “traditions, views and worldviews” and are more subject to the influence of propaganda.

5. The Religious Issue.

The divide between Catholics and Protestants forms the basis for the divisions in Northern Ireland.  There is no such divide in the Donbas, despite efforts by Russian propagandists to spark one.

6. The Nationality Question.

In Ulster, this is the key division, but in the Donbas, it isn’t. Ukrainians and Russians “are fighting on both sides,” and “the chief role in the conflict is played not by nationality but by worldview factors,” with those supporting a liberal democratic order being for Ukraine and those supporting “national conservatism” backing Russia.

7. Foreign Interference.

Although the IRA received some support from abroad, “the conflict was entirely internal. But in the Donbas, “from the very beginning, Russia took the most immediate part in exacerbating it” and finally “introduced regular units of the Russian army,” making the conflict into an ordinary war of conquest.

8. Type of Military Actions.

“The Ulster conflict is a classical example of terrorist guerilla war, that is, of war in the city, primarily by means of the conduct of terrorist actions. “The conflict in the Donbas as a result of Russia’s efforts very quickly grew over into a full-scale war with regular military units involved.

9. Weapons and Tactics.

In Ulster, the basic weapons were personal arms and explosive used to carry out terrorist attacks; in the Donbas, the main weapons are heavy artillery and tanks used to carry out aggression or defense against it.

10. The Number of Victims.

Over almost 40 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 people were killed or less than 250 per year on average at most. In the Donbas, the number of killed is more than 5,000 and may be as much as 10,000 – and that in one year, not 40.


Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images