Editor’s Note: Author Taras Kuzio will present his latest book “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” at 12 p.m. on Feb. 24 at Glavkom Press Center on 8/20 Shovkovycha St. The 500-page book is a product of threes years’ research and many field visits to eastern Ukraine. It is promoted as the first English-language book to give a pro-Ukrainian view of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. The book focuses on national identity as the central fact underpinning the Russian-Ukrainian war. The book explains why the conflict is just not an anti-terrorist operation in defense of Ukrainian territorial integrity but a war of national liberation against Russian unwillingness to recognize Ukrainians as a people. Divided into 11 chapters, “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” includes extensive analyses of Russian nationalism, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, the history of the Donbas, Party of Regions and organized crime, national identity and Russian counter-revolutionary policies against Ukraine.
“There is no doubt as to the Austro-German origin of the legend of the existence of a separate Ukrainian nation.”
–Prince Alexandre Wolkonsky, The Ukraine Question (1920)
“Modern Ukraine’s borders also do not correspond to historic ethnographic limits. Seven million Russians and, probably, no less Russianised Ukrainians live in Ukraine, and it would be more appropriate to transfer several Ukrainian oblasts to Russia. We are not even talking about the flagrant injustice of giving Crimea to Ukraine…If a question about the independence of Ukraine really arose, its boundaries should be revised. In such a case, Ukraine should cede the following territories to Russia: (a) Crimea, (b) Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya oblasts (where the Russian population dominates), and (c) Odesa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Dnipro and Sumy oblasts (where the population is Russified enough and which were historically developed by the Russian state).”
–Russian Patriots, A Nation Speaks (1970)
“Maybe it will be necessary to have a referendum in each region and then ensure preferential and delicate treatment of those who would want to leave. Not the whole of Ukraine in its current formal Soviet borders is indeed Ukraine. Some regions on the left bank (of the Dnipro River) clearly lean more towards Russia. As for the Crimea, (Nikita) Khrushchev’s decision to hand it over to Ukraine was totally arbitrary.
–Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Rebuilding Russia (1990)
“The outcome of the referendum should be calculated separately in each region and each region must decide for itself where it stands.”
— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Appeal on the Ukrainian Referendum on Independence (1991)
“Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.”
–President Vladimir Putin (2014)
This month will be the climax of a four-year research project that begun in the Donbas in September 2013, was funded by the U.S.-Ukrainian Studies Fund and hosted at the University of Alberta. The research subject – Donbas – was unbeknown to us going to become a major topic of discussion in Ukraine and abroad. Only three months after the project began, the EuroMaidan Revolution took place followed by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.
The “Ukraine-Russia crisis” has generated over 300 Western academic and think publications on Ukraine since 2014 – the largest since 1991. Everybody became a “Ukraine expert.” The majority of these do not give a “pro-Ukrainian” viewpoint on the Donbas conflict and instead either blame the West for expanding into Russia’s sphere of influence or focus on U.S.-European Union-Russian geopolitical competition in which Ukraine is a pawn in their hands.
My “Putin’s War Against Ukraine” – which will be presented on Feb. 24 at 12 p.m. – is the first English-language book to give a “pro-Ukrainian” viewpoint on the conflict in the Donbas and focuses on the crucial area of national identity, which has been largely ignored in the West.
In analyzing Russian émigré, Soviet official, dissident and contemporary nationalism, my book reaches the conclusion that Putin’s war against Ukraine is a product of deep chauvinistic and racist views of Ukrainians that have long dominated Russian political thought. Russian democratic thought, which was more liberal towards the “Ukrainian question,” barely existed in the Russian diaspora, was very weak in the U.S.S.R. and under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s.
The Russian diaspora was dominated by neo-Nazi Eurasianists, monarchists and the neo-fascist National Alliance of Russian Solidarists (with links to the Andrey Vlasov army) and that is why Ukrainian émigré groups could never cooperate with them in their anti-Soviet struggles.
In the U.S.S.R., official Russian nationalism was encouraged alongside the creation of the myth of the Great Patriotic War and cult of Josef Stalin. Only three Russian dissidents supported an independent Russia from the U.S.S.R. – Andrei Amalrik, Vladimir Bukovsky and Andrei Sakharov. Alexander Solzhenitsyn always held chauvinistic views of Ukrainians, and believed eastern and southern Ukraine should be part of Russia and at the end of his life became a strong supporter of Putin.
De-Stalinization has been central to Ukrainian national identity beginning in 1983 in the Ukrainian diaspora followed by Ukrainian intellectuals during Gorbachev’s glasnost and then backed by governments in independent Ukraine. Ukraine has experienced over three decades of de-Stalinisation and de-Sovietization.
In Russia, the opposite has taken place and the Stalin cult is central to Putin’s great power chauvinistic identity. The background to this lies in the U.S.S.R. where Stalin and the Stalin cult dominated five out of seven decades of its existence – Stalin ruled from the 1920s to the 1950s and the Stalin cult was promoted by Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s (when Putin became a KGB officer). By 1991, Russian identity had become integrated with Soviet and Stalinist identity. The majority of independent Russia has been ruled by Putin who has promoted a Stalin cult.
What does this mean for Putin’s war against Ukraine?
Well, it shows that the majority of Russians hold chauvinistic views of Ukrainians and do not believe they are a separate people. Ukrainians do not have the right to decide their geopolitical future, which is predestined to be in the Russian World. Russian speakers are “Russians” and therefore eastern and southern Ukraine should belong to Russia.
When you come to understand Putin’s motives for pursuing his aggression against Ukraine you also then have to reach the conclusion that Ukraine is fighting a war of national liberation that could last for a very long time. If Ukraine loses the war it not only loses its independence it also loses its national identity, language, culture and view of history.
Russian victory over Ukraine means the installation of a satrap (such as Putin intended Viktor Yanukovych to be in late 2013), the Belarusianization of Ukraine, the Donbas becoming like Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the return of Russification and denigration of the Ukrainian language, a widespread Stalin cult and promotion of the Soviet myth of the Great Patriotic War.
Understanding the true nature of the Donbas conflict as a war of national liberation shines a light on the extent to which President Poroshenko and his allies have been seeking to delude Ukrainians into believing this is a short-term anti-terrorist operation. The conflict never was – and never will be – an ATO.
Poroshenko cannot be honest with Ukrainian citizens about the true origins of Putin’s aggression. Using the term ATO sends the wrong signal to Ukrainians, our neighbors and to the West that this is an internal conflict where the Ukrainian army is fighting “terrorists”. Some pro-Russian Western experts repeat Russian propaganda defining the ATO as a “civil war” between Russian and Ukrainian speakers.
It is the duty of the president to explain why the conflict has lasted three years and why it will last for a long time when Putin is president for life. He should find the courage to redefine the Donbas conflict as a war of national liberation to defend not only Ukraine’s territorial integrity but also its national identity, language, culture and history.
Only when Poroshenko redefines the ATO as a war of national liberation will Ukrainian citizens come to understand what is at stake in the conflict and only then will soldiers, National Guard and volunteers possess the ideological tools to understand they are fighting for Ukraine and not just the Donbas.
The EuroMaidan Revolution has empowered Ukrainians and Russia’s aggression has destroyed the Stalinist myths of “friendship of peoples.”
Continued use of the term ATO shows that Poroshenko does not “Live in a New Way!” as he promised Ukrainians he would three years ago.