Why the Guardian is wrong, and Soviet monuments should not be protected

In light of recent events in Kharkiv, Agata Pyzik of the Guardian took the task of explaining why Soviet monuments should not be toppled, but protected.

So, what’s the problem with this argument?

The first point addressed by Puzik is acknowledging that Soviet statues and memorials do act as “a powerful reminder of Soviet rule” and that “memories of Soviet aggression are just as raw today as they were when the USSR fell.”

Having said this, this fact is merely paying lip service (which reminds of a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm) as she proceeds to pile on the topic of ‘sacrifice’ to justify the statues’ salvation:

“Red Army monuments are a reminder of the astounding Soviet sacrifice during the war […] The Soviet army played a major role in saving this part of Europe from the realisation of Hitler’s master plan in the east, which proposed the colonisation, enslavement and eventual extermination of the Slavic population.”

Certainly, many Ukrainians appreciate the sacrifices Soviet soldiers made in their efforts during the Second World War, especially in eastern cities like Kharkiv. Remember, Soviet soldiers were, in the words of Yale historian Timothy Snyder, “disproportionately Ukrainian.” The unit which liberated Aushwitz? The 1st Ukrainian Front. “The vast majority of Ukrainians who fought in the war did so in the uniform of the Red Army. More Ukrainians were killed fighting the Wehrmacht than American, British, and French soldiers — combined.” It’s for these reasons that actions are taken against Soviet symbols, but not necessarily symbols of native soldiers.

In a wider context, Soviet military memorials can be seen as either monuments to liberation or occupation, life and death. While Soviet soldiers did play a major role in stopping Hitler, their historical actions before, during, and after this moment in time are not without criticism, nor should they be.

While Hitler’s role in the 40’s was absolutely devastating (approximately 3 million non-Jewish Ukrainians were killed in the Holocaust under Hitler’s extermination plans, and over 2.3 million were deported for slave labor), Ukrainians will neither forget Stalin’s plans also realized colonization (see: Russification), enslavement (see: collectivization and dekulakization), and the extermination of the Ukrainian population. It also included the extermination of half of the Crimean Tatar population.

And not to let the man of the moment, Vladimir Lenin, off the hook. It was he who said of the Crimean Tatars: “We will take them, divide them, subjugate them, digest them.” Should Tatars need to be reminded of this in their society?

But certainly the author is focusing on the military effort, and not excusing leaders like Stalin, right?

“…two cities even feature quotations from Stalin, which remain in place without harassment. The degree of the Soviet sacrifice seems to be appreciated there.”

Moving on..

“Russia’s role in the second world war is seen largely through the initial collaboration with Hitler. But it is the Soviet Union’s later actions and subsequent role in the defeat of the Nazis in Europe that should be dominant.”

The issue here is telling victims how they should remember their oppression and experience. For Ukrainians, Poles, or any other nation subjugated as a result of Moscow’s collaboration with Hitler, they and they alone get to decide how to remember their experience, and decide whether the narrative of ‘liberation’ agrees with their national discourse. As with monuments to this period, it is the people who live in these places that should decide whether they reflect the appreciation of the culture, and not those who made and imported them.

“Desecrating a statue of a Red Army soldier is different to toppling a Lenin memorial or painting the Ukrainian flag on the spire of one of Moscow’s Stalin towers. The latter can and should be separated from the events of 70 years ago. The people who died in Stalingrad shouldn’t get mixed up with people sending arms to Donetsk separatists. To see it otherwise is to fall into the irresponsible, habitual comparisons of Putin with Stalin and Hitler, conflating things from very different historical orders.”

This statement by Pyzik is particularly confusing as the latter (toppling a Lenin or painting a tower) are separated from WW2 events, and the ‘people of Stalingrad’ are hardly evoked when a Lenin statue hits the pavement.

Why? Well, this should be obvious: Lenin died 15 years prior to the Soviet invasion of Poland and the start of the war. He is not and cannot be related to the events of 70 years ago.

So why does the author think Ukrainians topple statues to Lenin?

“Somehow hatred for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych became confused with hatred of Lenin, which is strange because Yanukovych’s ally Vladimir Putin has criticised the Soviet leader for including Odessa, Donbass and Kharkiv (so-called Novorossiya) in the Ukrainian borders drawn in early 1920s.”

Putin argued, if anything, that Lenin was too generous on Ukraine when the Red Army annexed it and reasserted it under Moscow’s rule. This criticism started and stopped with a revisionist version of history and the demarcation of Soviet borders. Putin did not criticize anything tangible about Lenin, his rule, or the consequences of it.

“The destruction of Yanukovych’s Disneyland-like villa outside Kiev at least aimed at the right target, the unequal economy. The Lenin statues have been a poor substitute for understandable anger.”

Yanukovych’s mansion, Mezhyhirya, was not destroyed – in fact, it was turned into a museum. That being said, if ‘destruction’ of the president’s monument of corruption would be justifiable, would not the same call be made for the destruction of monuments to authoritarianism? After all, Pyzik did admit to start that these statues continue to evoke memorialize Soviet aggression and rule.

Pyzik concludes by stating Ukrainians are “conflating the past and present” and “run the risk of re-enacting old battles.” But this is made all the more confusing, given that in a previous article she argued for “a new look at the east, which acknowledges the existence and importance of the Soviet past,” a notion which she called “absolutely necessary.”

So maybe the overall theme here is that Soviet history is worth remembering, so long as it’s not critical, and isolated to victory in a vacuum. The reality is that only the people can decide what monuments are erected and stand in their cities, as they are the ones who have to live with them and be reminded of what they represent. Opinions are varied and often divergent, and it is for this reason that monuments should be unifying and representative of figures or concepts that all of society can rally behind. In the case of Soviet monument to tyrants in Ukraine, that simply isn’t the case, and for many, history is still being written.

[box]Editor’s note: A user submitted a collection of Tweets entitled “Agata’s Crush on Russia.” The content displays the author’s pro-Putin sentiment and familiar connections to the Polish Communist Party. Since publishing this article, Agata Pyzik has made her Twitter account private, and changed her handle.

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Motyl: Could Russia Occupy Ukraine?

Citing a 2008 study by US Army Major Glenn E. Kozelka and a 1995 RAND Corporation study by James Quinlivan, Motyl comes to the following conclusions when assessing troop requirements to occupy Ukraine in a military invasion scenario:

  • • In order to occupy Donetsk and Luhansk provinces alone, Russian would have to deploy somewhere between 26,702 and 133,514 troops.
  • • A “land bridge” from Crimea to Transnistria would mean occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa provinces—which would entail somewhere between 46,497 and 92,994 soldiers.
  • • Occupying all seven southeastern provinces would require between 118,536 (26,702 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 91,834 for the others) and 317,182 (133,514 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 183,668 for the others).
  • • If Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, it would need an additional 548,587 troops—for a grand total of 667,123 to 865,769 troops.
  • • Kyiv city and Kyiv Province alone would require 90,676 occupying soldiers.

In light of Russia’s estimated current force levels on Ukraine’s borders (50,000–80,000), the best Russia could do under low- and medium-violence assumptions would be to invade a few southeastern provinces. If those assumptions are changed to medium or high, only one or two provinces would be within its grasp. These conclusions assume that an invasion would entail no force deterioration as a result of the Ukrainian army’s resistance. Change that assumption, and Russia’s capacity to occupy southeastern Ukraine declines even more.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

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Motyl: What Russia Can Expect in Ukraine’s Rust Belt

In their search to maintain control, Russians would quickly discover that they are in possession of economically unviable provinces that cannot survive without massive infusions of rubles. According to a detailed Ukrainian study of how much Ukraine’s provinces paid into and received from the central budget in the first half of 2013, Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhya represented an enormous drain on Kyiv’s resources: 22.82 billion hryvnia (around $2.5 billion, or 90 billion rubles). And that is only for the first six months of the year. Multiplied by two, the deficit amounts to 45.64 billion hryvnia (about $5 billion, or 180 billion rubles).

In 2014, Russia expects its budget revenues to be around 13.6 trillion rubles (around $375 billion); its expenditures are supposed to total 14 trillion rubles ($380 billion). That amounts to a deficit of 400 billion rubles ($11 billion). Even without extra development funds or the costs of an occupation, annexing Ukraine’s southeast will raise Russia’s deficit by 45 percent.

The bad news gets worse for Russia. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces are home to Ukraine’s loss-making coal industry. Kyiv spends between 12 and 14 billion hryvnia(around $1 billion–$1.5 billion, or 47 billion–55 billion rubles) annually to support these mines. Will Russia back these enterprises even as they compete with more economically produced coal from Russia’s Kuzbass? It will have to: As Kyiv knows from experience, firing thousands of coal miners could spark massive civil unrest. Moscow will also have to pay them their wages on time. In 2013, wage arrears reached a total of 135 million hryvnia (about $15 million, or 530 million rubles) in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

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Russian Nationalists Protest in Ukraine

Pro-Russian rallies spread

Russian nationalist groups signed a broad declaration on March 1st, stating their their intention to ‘defend the rights of Russians in Ukraine’ at a meeting held by the Russian deputy prime minister. Historian and Ukrainian politician Hryhoriy Nemyria separately claimed that Moscow has “Russian citizens in Ukraine’s provinces orchestrating illegal seizure of administration buildings,” and that Russian citizens were working in Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Mykolayiv.

Pro-democratic activists, including children, were beaten by Russian activists in Kharkiv
Pro-democratic activists, including children, were beaten by Russian activists in Kharkiv

In eastern regions of Ukraine pro-Russian protesters have stormed the Donetsk and Mariupol government administrations, and in the former, pulling down the flag of Ukraine. Donetsk city council declared itself the soul authority of the region, distancing itself from the government in Kyiv and declaring Russian the official language. Russian rallies in Odessa were also reported, with up to 5,000 attending, promoting Soviet symbols.

In Kharkiv, Russian demonstrators violently stormed the RSA, evicting Euromaidan protesters; 97 were reported injured in the attack, including minors, and 2 from gunshots (note that Euromaidan protesters previously occupying the building did so peacefully once security stood down). Journalist Serhiy Zhadan was also attacked in the clashes. BBC reports that the pro-Russian protesters also clashed with local police.

During the clashes in Kharkiv, it was discovered that the man who planted the Russian flag atop the State Administration was a Russian citizen from Moscow. The man was determined to be popular Russian activist Mika Ronkainen .On his blog, he stated “I am proud that I was able to participate in the confrontation with militants who came “to peacefully protest” in Kharkiv, and hoist the Russian flag on the liberated administration!” The flag was later removed, said regional officials.

Russian citizen mounts Russian flag in Kharkiv
Russian citizen mounts Russian flag in Kharkiv

The rally in Donetsk, which discussed the possibility of secession, chose Pavel Gubarev to be the commander of the “People’s Militia of Donbass,” who called for the annexation of the entire Donbass (Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk) region to Russia. The protesters were in direct defiance to the incumbent governor, an appointee of the largely pro-Russian Yanukovych regime. Police stated they would side with the people, presumably the secessionist crowds (as opposed to the contingent of the population loyal to the Party of Regions). The demonstrations in Donetsk ended abruptly, implying that participants may have been paid as was often seen with pro-regime protests during Euromaidan. While they continued on the second day, crowds reached a maximum of only 1,000 attendees.

The Kyiv Post reported that a petition by ethnic Russians has already garnered over 50,000 signatures, asking Russia to not intervene and that there is no persecution of Russians in Ukraine.

Previously, pro-Russian or rallies of any kind in the east and south have been limited even during the peak of the Euromaidan protest movement. The presence of Russian citizens engaging in the protests is a concerning development.

Russian nationalist rally in Simferopol
Russian nationalist rally in Simferopol

Pushing back

In the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk thousands took to the streets on Saturday evening in an anti-Putin march. Near the Regional State Administration, they chanted “Putin = Hitler” and “East & West Together.” The regional leader of Right Sector announced a general mobilization of the male population, and calling all with hunting weapons to arm themselves to protect the peace. The RSA was staffed with self-defense squads in case of an attack as in Kharkiv, and remained barricaded with barbed wire, a remnant of the former Yanukovych-installed governor.

An eastern solution?

One solution to the regional fissures in Ukraine may be to employ the nation’s oligarchs, and include them in the decision making process of their home regions, tying them and the wellbeing of their businesses to local stability. Former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said that negotiations were ongoing with large businesses in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine and that the goal is to use not only public but also private resources to maintain regional unity. Donetsk-base oligarch Serhiy Taruta was appointed to govern the region, and Israeli-Ukrainian businessman Igor Kolomoisky was made head of his local Dnipropetrovsk. Rinat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk are also considering taking governing posts.

The Ukrainian government also proposed today to include more eastern Ukrainian politicians within in the new Ukrainian government in Kyiv, hoping to provide greater legitimacy in eastern regions that may feel dejected over the loss of the revolution against the Yanukovych regime.

 

This article will update as the situation unfolds.

 

The Hunt for Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych is a wanted man. Today Ukraine’s acting Interior Ministry announced the deposed president, along with roughly 50 other top officials of the collapsed regime, were being placed under criminal investigation with Yanukovych placed on the nation’s Most Wanted list. While he still seems to have symbolic, if not fading backing from Russia, Yanukovych’s support base has fallen through the floor among all but his closest associates. Even his own Party of Regions has denounced him as a criminal and murderer. But where did he go? Where is the sultan turned vagabond?

Known locations
Known locations

Shortly after it was announced that impeachment proceedings would be taken against him, Yanukovych fled the capital along with cohort Andriy Klyuyev. Rumors swirled over whether he had gone to Kharkiv, to attend the separatist Ukrainian Front conference, or Dubai. The latter, we now know, was a decoy; those following on the Twittersphere were quick to track his alleged flight information in an attempt to pin down. Yanukovych instead flew by helicopter to Kharkiv to avoid detection.

Tenant Prime Minister Turchynov claimed Yanukovych had agreed to resign as president, but after consulting with advisers, he disavowed the decision and submitted a pre-recorded tape claiming his right to rule. Yanukovych said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal” and that “The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’etat,” comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s – a common line of rhetoric among Russian officials to shore up post-war sensitivities in the post-Soviet republic. 

Following the parliamentary procedures to transfer power to the new provisional government, Attorney General Pshonka and Taxation Minister Klymenko were stopped at the Russian border while trying to flee the country. Yanukovych then flew from Kharkiv to Donetsk aboard his helicopter, where he then, according to the State Border Service, tried to flee via a charter flight on one of two Dassault Falcon jets in Donetsk, but was stopped by border guards. The border agents were “met by a group of armed men who offered money for flying without the proper clearance”. Yanukovych then left by armored car, and spent a few hours at a state residence in the city – sources indicate he was abetted by Rinat Akhmetov. Former Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko (who we now know gave the official order to fire on protesters) also attempted to fly out of Donetsk and was denied access for similar reasons.

Yanukovych and Klyuyev
Yanukovych and Klyuyev

Yanukovych’s motorcade then left for Crimea, leaving state traffic police who protected him behind. The next day, February 23rd, he visited a private resort while intentionally avoiding state or known residences to avoid detection. Rada reputy  Oleh Lyashko claimed Yanukovych was seen at the Russian Naval base in Sevastopol where he was preparing to flee via Russian military vessel (this was reciprocated in media reports on the 24th). Ukrainian MiG fighter jets were scrambled during the search and it’s said at this time he was abetted by deposed defense minister Pavlo Lebedev.

Authorities attempted to intercept Yanukovych’s motorcade at the international airport in Sevastopol, but one step ahead, he never arrived. Authorities then lost his trail finally on February 24th near his family’s Crimean residence in the the former city of Balaklava, where he released those in his presidential secret service from duty who wished to stand down. The released guards then collected the weapons that officially belong to the government so they could be handed over to the authorities.

Oleksandr Yanukovych restored a series of historical waterfront homes and leased land for a private yacht club in this very area, which remains a possible site of hiding. Journalist Tetyana Chornovol meanwhile speculated that instead he was likely to flee by sea aboard his son’s private yacht, suitably christened “Bandit,” but local reports indicated the yacht hasn’t been seen in some time and GPS data confirms it’s last known location to be far away.

Following parting ways with a portion of his security staff, he, along with  his most loyal guards, narrowed the motorcade down to 3 vehicles and left, turning off all communication devices. Reports conflicted as to the whereabouts of Klyuyev: according to acting Interior Minister Avakov, he remained with the president; according to Klyuev’s spokesman Artyom Petrenko, he tendered his resignation to the president in Crimea on the 23rd, saying he “couldn’t stop Yanukovych.” He was then allegedly shot and wounded, with media stating the shootout occurred on his trip back to Kyiv. Petrenko claims Klyuyev is currently in an unspecified Kyiv hospital. 

On Wednesday, Klyuyev issued a statement through his press office, distancing himself from Yanukovych, denying his involvement in the Kyiv killings, and stating his intent to cooperate with authorities.

The trail in Crimea had appeared to run officially cold on the 26th, with Interior Minister Avakov admitting that the search was pulled back in Sevastopol to avoid possible armed conflicts in the troubled city. “I think we must not allow any military standoff or conflict to happen. I shall be extremely candid with you: it was one of the reasons why on the night when Valentyn Nalyvaichenko (the head of the Ukrainian Security Council) and I were in Sevastopol, in Crimea, we chose not to continue tough actions with respect of Viktor Yanukovych… Because at that moment we knew it was essentially an affront for armed conflict with grounds for [Russian] forces to interfere in this conflict… We made the decision that the future of Crimea is more important for us than the situation with Yanukovych,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

radisson

Map of the Moscow area and his last known location
Map of the Moscow area and his last known location

The manhunt was escalated to an international search as reports surfaced that Yanu had successfully made he was through the Kerch Strait along with his son Viktor Jr. and into Russian protectionMultiple sources, stated to be confirmed by high-placed Russian officials and law enforcement, alleged that the night prior he had arrived in Moscow, and was seen at the Radisson Royal (confirmed by hotel management). There, he apparently spent all night until Wednesday morning on the 11th floor at a private club restaurant under heightened private security; fugitive former General Prosecutor Pshonka is believed to be with him and his other son, Oleksandr, is reported to have reunited the family.

He is now presumed to be in the Moscow suburb of Barvikha. An RBC report indicated that a house in Barvikha was purchased by a group of Ukrainian citizens for $52 million, and that the house is now under guard. “Yesterday Ukrainian citizens came with passports and without bargaining, bought it, said Russian politician Oleg Mitvol. Previous sources to RBC had indicated Yanukovych was stationed at a local resort.

Head of the Russian Foreign Affairs Committee Mikhail Margelov denied the rumors, saying that Russia wouldn’t risk giving him asylum. Later, the official newspaper of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, [humorously] alleged that the CIA had whisked Yanukovych Stateside after offering him and his family personal guarantees of safety should he step away from the political arena. The paper followed by refuting Yanukovych’s asylum by the Russian Navy in Cossack Bay, Sevastopol, ‘Yanukovych is not in the facilities or ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet,’ citing an ‘informed military source’. Ultimately, the Russian Border Service neither confirmed nor denied the earlier reports on Yanukovych’s entering the country.

Interfax, citing Russian government sources, confirms that Yanukovych is indeed being provided asylum in Russia.

On February 27 Yanukovych resurfaced, sending a message to Ukraine declaring himself still the legitimate president of the country. In his address, he stated he was “forced to ask the authorities of the Russian Federation to ensure [his] personal safety from the actions of extremists.” A government source confirmed that Yanukovych’s request has been granted “on the territory of the Russian Federation.” Later, newly elected head of Crimea’s parliament, Sergei Aksenov of the fringe Russian Unity party said that he recognized Yanukovych as the true president of Ukraine and that he would obey his orders – and presumably provide him save haven should he return to Ukraine. Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky told reporters he was glad the Russian government has provided Yanukovych with security personnel.

In the evening, Yanukovych arrived in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don via airplane at 10pm local time to hold a news conference in Rostov-on-Don at 5pm on Friday February 28. In it he claimed he would return to Ukraine only if given security guarantees, and credited ‘patriotic officers’ with enabling him to escape Ukraine into Russia. “It was thanks to patriotic officers that I was able to get to Russia. Let me put it this way: officers who did their duty and helped me stay alive,” Yanukovych told reporters at the conference.

This story will update as new information becomes available. Last updated 2/28 at 10:45 am EST

The Ukrainian Front: Neo Soviets & Neo Nazis

At recent demonstrations and meetings with the media recently held in Kharkiv, it would have seemed frightening enough that a Ukrainian Front had been created. It may have also been frightening to think that the Russian version of the Hell’s Angels (known to hit the road with Putin himself) had declared itself active in Ukraine for the purpose of “defending” the country. While orthodoxy and hardline pro-Russian sentiment runs through both of these groups, what one did not expect to be at the vanguard of defeating the ‘western fascists in Kiev’ was, well, actual neo-Nazis. Maybe this is a form of fighting fire with fire, or two negatives canceling themselves out (although the propagandized disinformation about their being any sort of fascist movement in the west or kiev should be, again, denounced as false), but the sight of Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy Kernes, himself Jewish, standing beside these men while making a peace gesture is enough to make any observer do a double-take.

Circulated on social media sites in the aftermath of the UF conference was the following:

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nazarneo-Nazis

Nazar Dolitsky is described by Channel 5 as a biker from Sevastopol. (He also received some brief airtime on Russia24 while at demonstrations in the city) Innocuous enough, with his St. George Ribbons and telnyashka, he certainly fits the profile of a neo-Soviet joining rank with the Ukrainian Front, but there remained enough reasonable doubt that the man making the Hitler salute was undeniably the same man. Of course, until the internet did what it’s good at, and found his social media profile to verify the photo in question. This is what one can gleam from his online presence:

If this were a man in the crowd the association could be easily dismissed – but it’s not. This is a leader of a motorcycle club in Russia, an active neo-Nazi and a man taking the stage with political leaders and giving interviews. In a leadership position, whatever the capacity, this is a troubling sign of what the Ukrainian Front is all about, and who will be enforcing their version of justice.