A good “Facebook friend” sent me an article written by one of his Orthodox acquaintances, Robin Phillips, on Ukraine and Vladimir Putin. https://us5.campaign-archive.com/?e=3eee235fc3&u=b97d5de18037a0b19b4971c49&id=1ace594f37&fbclid=IwAR0Kg-wm1pfM8wcHtv1JnZj-SdXwzh-WjBBkv9YW3JEWsIZuUjewDF2o_sM It is obvious the author sees things quite differently than I. So my friend asked me to write a response. I had already been working on a blog entry on sketching out some important points on Ukrainian history. So after finishing writing out this response, I decided to post it on my blog. I am doing so with some reluctance because of its length and the fact I repeat points I have already included in previous blogs. Nevertheless, at his request, here is my response for those of you who are interested.
First, the author assumes without any justification that Putin follows Alexander Dugin and defines Russia’s goals based on what Dugin says. I’ve heard this before from a couple of Western writers. I follow Dugin on a couple of social media sites and read some of his stuff. I respect him, and I suppose Putin does as well. But to say Putin can be understood by reading Dugin is either willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty. We are to believe that since Dugan said something about taking over Tbilisi in 2014 we know what Putin is after in Ukraine. Uh, no. Then he says Ukraine has a long history going back centuries fighting for independence. Ukraine as it is known today hasn’t even existed for centuries. Further, close examination shows the conflicts centuries ago were often peasants fighting their own overlords for land rights.
Putin’s speech, to which the article makes reference, is clearly in the context of his (Putin’s) 8 year struggle to get Kyiv to quit shelling the Donbas–which is historically and culturally Russian. To say Putin was parroting views espoused by Dugin about the expansion of Russia is ripping what he said out of context.
Phillips, like many western writers, seems intent on keeping the focus off the main issue, which is the murdering of Russian speakers in the Donbas area. He doesn’t even mention it. Putin had been appealing to the Minsk Accords for 8 years. The accords (or “agreements” as they are sometimes called) called for Kyiv to issue a ceasefire and stop shelling the Russian speaking people in those oblasts. Estimates by those there, e.g., Eva Karene Bartlett, Patrick Lancaster and many others, are that around 14,000 people have been killed and 8,000 of those were civilians. Recently Angela Merkel, then Chancellor of Germany, and Francois Hollande, the President of France at the time, admitted they used the Minsk Accords as nothing more than a ruse to give Ukraine time to prepare for war with Russia. They were not actually seeking a peaceful settlement. Rather than face the fact that Western leaders wanted the killing to continue, many writers like Phillips try to “pull a fast one” and start accusing Dugin and Putin of being the warmongers.
When Putin refers to “our historic lands,” he is talking about the Russian speaking population in eastern and southern Ukraine. How anyone could listen to that speech and conclude he is really talking about Dugin’s goals for Russia is, well, when I taught Biblical studies we called it “eisogesis.” You read into the text what you want it to mean. I have heard a statement by Putin so many times that I can actually quote it in Russian: “He who does not regret the fall of the USSR has no heart. He who wants it rebuilt has no head.” The fall of the USSR was horrible for families like my late wife’s family. Her dad was military. They went months without pay. Putin has absolutely no desire to rebuild the USSR.
The residents and leaders of Luhansk and Donetsk pleaded with Putin to step in and stop the shelling for 8 years. Unfortunately, Putin did make a big mistake. He trusted that Western leaders were telling him the truth. He told the people in the Donbas to wait and the Minsk agreements would mean all nations would support stopping the shelling. If he wanted to take over Ukraine, why did he wait so long?
Let me interject a couple of other points made by Scott Ritter to those who think Putin has intended all along to take over Ukraine. Unlike Phillips, Ritter is a career military officer. Like me, he was in the U.S. Marine Corps. Honesty compels me to admit he was a high ranking commissioned officer, and I was a low ranking non-commissioned officer.
First, as I said, Putin refused to go in for 8 years after the Nuland phone call (see below). It was only after the U.S. refused to stop sending missiles close to the Russian border that he finally sent in troops. Second, when he sent in troops, he went in with a very small force–he said the military operation would be surgical. It would not be an American style “shock and awe” which always left a lot of dead civilians. He has since been criticized because he sent in such a small force. The Russians only entered and surrounded the Donbas area. Originally, they obviously had no intention of going on further into Ukraine.
Then immediately after going in Putin agreed to a negotiated settlement worked out between Ukrainian and Russian leaders in Istanbul in March 2022. It essentially protected the Donbas region from further shelling and allowed the Russian language to be spoken along with other protections. Putin agreed that Russian troops would be withdrawn, and Kyivan representatives agreed to stop the shelling. Both sides were set to sign around April 1. That is, until Boris Johnson showed up and insisted that Zelensky NOT sign that agreement! All money from NATO and the U.S. would be cut off. Zelensky withdrew according to his orders from his Western masters. Ritter says it flies in the face of all LOGIC (to use a term Phillips supposedly likes) to say this is how someone wanting to take over a country acts. First you delay going in; then you go in with a very small number of troops; then you immediately agree to sit down and negotiate a mutually agreed upon settlement. That is not how a “takeover” is done.
Obviously Phillips has neither read nor listened to Putin address the issue for the last 8 years. The Minsk Accords stated that Russian would be a legal language. After the U.S. funded coup, it became illegal to speak or teach Russian in schools. (Hmm…what if they did that with Spanish in America?) That it was a U.S. led coup d’etat is made clear by the intercepted phone call of Victoria (“F..k the EU”) Nuland to the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt. (The call is still on YouTube.) She later also proudly admitted that the U.S. had spent $5 billion in Ukraine since 1991. Can you imagine what Americans would say if Putin and Russia poured $5 billion into the pockets of Mexican politicians?
Phillips calls Dugin a warmonger, yet it was Dugin’s daughter who was murdered in a car bomb last year–as he watched in horror. Who was trying to start a war then? Since then, I rarely see Dugin posting much of anything other than memorials to his beautiful daughter. I have a daughter. I can understand.
After the U.S. admittedly starved 500,000 Iraqi children with sanctions, which Madeleine Albright said was, “unfortunate but necessary,” and then murdered over one million Iraqis (military and civilian) in the “Shock and Awe” mission of G.W. Bush, we learned it was all based on a lie–Scott Ritter’s team found no WMDs. Ritter stated his life was threatened by someone in the U.S. government if he actually published that report. (Don’t threaten a Marine. It won’t work.)
Furthermore, the U.S. invaded Syria and STILL to this day occupies a significant portion of it and continues to steal it’s oil and wheat. I was terribly disappointed when Donald Trump admitted that fact in an almost light hearted manner. Children are dying in Syria under U.S. occupation, but yet Americans like Phillips still call Russians the warmongers. I again agree with Ritter who said in a recent post that the hypocrisy of the U.S. has reached unbelievable levels.
I make absolutely no claims to being an expert on Ukrainian history. That is way above my paygrade. I do know enough to believe that Phillips, however, has an understanding of Ukrainian history which is contorted by his anachronisms. He uses the term “Ukraine” and “Ukrainians” to talk about times when there was no Ukraine. Phillips may want to consider reading what actual Ukrainian historians say about their history. I recommend “Ukraine: Birth of a Modern Nation,” by Ukrainian historian Serhy Yekelchuk. He is a bona fide scholar. Check his CV. He wrote that book before all the controversy really got heated, but it had started. One reason I admire him is that he presents both “sides,” but I still have no idea which side he would be on. He is very objective.
For most of the history of what is now Ukraine, the western part (west of the Dnipro) was under the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg dynasty. The east was under the Romanovs. The two groups in no way considered themselves a country or a united people. They did not speak the same language; they did not have the same religion; they did not share a common heritage or culture. As Yekelchyk and others have pointed out, there was no sense of a Ukrainian nation. Philips makes it sound like they had standing armies. The word “natsiia,” in Ukrainian, according to Yekelchyk, does not even have the same meaning as the English word “nation,” although it is usually translated that way. The Ukrainian word refers to “an ethnic community of people who have a common origin, language, and culture.”
The word “Ukraine” simply meant “borderland.” For thousands of years it was a border between open plains and forests. It was a border between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Eventually it was a border between the USSR and the EU. “Ukraine” (the word and the nation) did not even appear on maps produced at the beginning of the twentieth century. It wasn’t until the 1890s they dropped the name Rusiyans (Ruthenians) and opted for “Ukrainians.”
At the turn of the century Yekelchyk says, “The peasants in Dnipro were loyal to their family, village, region, church and perhaps the tsar in faraway St. Petersburg. They knew they were not Muscovites nor Poles, nor Jews, but did not yet have a clear notion of allegiance to a broader Ukrainian nation.” The residents were concerned about land, about farming, about providing food for their families. Their enemies were the nobles and others with great wealth who exploited them. As far as the language, which, like Russian, developed from Church Slavonic, 95% of Ukrainian speakers lived in rural areas. Even after Bolshevism had (forcibly) developed the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic (they later switched it to “Soviet Socialist”) of the 1,898 Bolshevik bureaucrats in Ukraine, only 345 spoke Ukrainian. It was during the Soviet period that learning the language was eventually taught in the schools starting at the second grade.
I’m not going to go into every detail of this article, because, forgive my harshness, it is just not worth it. Ukrainian history is complicated! To respond to all points in simplistic analyses like this one takes more time than it’s worth. Phillips, like so many Westerners, starts with the presupposition that Putin is an evil dictator who wants to build the USSR all over again. I live here. I am a Russian citizen. I follow the news here. From my experience his analysis is completely false.
For expert military and other advice, however, I follow Ritter, as I said, a career Marine, who fought in Desert Storm. I also follow Col. Douglas MacGregor, a career U.S. Army officer who also is a combat veteran from the Gulf War. Then I like to hear from Col. Richard Black, a career Marine officer (and former state senator), who was wounded several times in Vietnam. My point is those who keep saying I get my views from watching the Russian news are again using diversionary tactics. Where do they get their information? From reliable U.S. newscasts?
Obviously, I don’t know Phillips but his article appears to me to be written by someone who has not lived or spent much time in this part of the world. He writes the way most Western writers do: Anachronistically imposing the study of the complicated history of Ukraine onto a Western historiographical procrustean mold or bed. I highly recommend a recent article by David Stockman who says, “Ukraine is sui generis. It’s a hodgepodge of variant histories, ethnicities and religious traditions that never belonged under the roof of a single state and which marinated during recent centuries as vassals under the tutelage of Czarist Russia. Its historically meandering boundaries, in fact, were only finally frozen in current form during the 20th century by the brutal dictates of Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev.” (I love that line, “Its historically meandering boundaries.”)
As I have mentioned, I have had Ukrainians visit in my home. Two ladies who visited and spent a weekend with us before Oksana passed away did NOT like Putin. Yet they hated the involvement of the West even more! I asked why. They said, “Everything out of the West is pure propaganda. We don’t like Putin, but lying about Ukraine is not the way to change things.”
I live with the reminder of a connection with old Rus. Luga, the city in which I live, was founded by Katherine the Great. A large statue of her stands about a 10 minute walk from my home. The street I live on is Kievskaya Street. We moved here from our apartment on Kirova Street. It’s obvious where “Kievskaya” comes from, but I didn’t know the origin of “Kirova.” Interestingly, I was watching the news one day and saw the Russian troops had entered the city of Kirova in Donetsk.
In my first English class teaching in Luga, Nikita was one of my better students. He spent his summers back in his Ukrainian hometown. When he came back one fall, I got him to fill me in on how things were going in Ukraine. At the end of our conversation I asked him, “Nikita, do you consider yourself Ukrainian or Russian?” He looked surprised and a bit confused. He then said, “I don’t know. Both I guess.”
I’ve also mentioned my late wife’s mother was born in Ukraine. Oksana’s father was born in Belarus. They both consider themselves Russian, but, kind of like Nikita, it’s hard to explain or even to acknowledge the need to explain. Technically I am both American and Russian since I have citizenship in both countries. Yet I am an American. No confusion. It is not like that with many people here when it comes to Ukrainian and Russian.
Back in the summer of 2019, Oksana’s parents went back to Belarus where her dad still has family. They asked our son Gabriel if he wanted to go with them, and he said sure. He loves studying about countries. He was only 11 years old but he could identify 100 national flags! Anyway, after he returned to Russia, he was telling me various things about the trip. The funniest story he told was about Oksana’s paternal grandmother. They lived not far from Ukraine. She was in her late 80s at the time. (She has since passed away.) He said one night she was cooking and got all excited telling Ded (grandpa) a story. Gabriel was fluent in Russian by then, but he said she started sounding weird. She threw in Belarus words. (People in Belarus I have been around essentially speak Russian, but they pronounce some sounds differently, e.g., the “G” sound is pronounced like the “H” sound so it can get a bit confusing.) But then she threw in some words Gabriel did not understand at all. He asked Ivan, his grandfather, what she had just said. He said, “I don’t know Gabe. Back in the old days Mom would go shopping in the nearby Ukrainian city. It had a lot of things she liked. So she picked up the Ukrainian language. So now she speaks Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian–and she is not really aware she is mixing them. That’s the way it was for her generation.”
I tell those anecdotes to show you how these clear lines of demarcation between the countries that the West imposes on Eastern Ukraine and Russia are simply not consistent with the experiences of the people who live here.
I can’t believe how people talk about Putin as violent and commend Zelensky as the champion of democracy. NBC recently sent a reporter, Keir Simmons, to Crimea. Surprisingly to some of us, he was an honest reporter. He interviewed people in Crimea and without exception they said they thought of themselves as Russians. They want to remain Russians. So what did Zelensky do? He put the reporter on the “Kill List,” the same list Zelensky had put Darya Dugina on. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvYSNNVGl4g) Yet Phillips stays close to the narrative that it is Dugin and Putin who are the real killers.
I first came to Russia in 2002. That is when I met and later married my beautiful Russian wife. There was a WHOLE lot of pain in losing her to cancer, but I don’t regret marrying her one bit! It was worth the pain. I’ve lived here going on 10 years now–a little over 2.5 years in St. Petersburg and 7 years in Luga. When I came here this was one devastated rundown country. Crime was everywhere. You could not carry your wallet in an outer pocket. I saw few cars and no women drivers. The cars were mostly old Soviet Ladas. Russia now is a totally different country. I walk around town several times a week. There are well over 3 times as many restaurants, grocery stores, and clothing shops as when I first came. All kinds of cars are out on the street–and my taxi driver last week was an old Russian grandmother!
As I’ve said in previous blogs, I don’t know what kind of person Putin is deep inside. Maybe he goes home and kicks his dog and cusses at the hired help. Furthermore, there are some issues here that are beyond my ability to understand. And I can’t judge the heart and motives of anyone, including Vladimir Putin.
When it comes to politicians I can only judge actions and results. I look to see if the actions are consistent with the political promises they made before the elections. With Putin, they are. Scott Ritter made a point that Ray McGovern and other (genuine) Russian experts have made repeatedly: He said, “Everyone wants to know what Putin is up to, what are his motives, what is he planning. The best way is just to listen to him.” If someone thinks they know more about Russia than Ritter (or McGovern), then they probably will not be convinced by anyone. Ritter was the first U.S. military man (Marine!) who set foot on a USSR military base. He was there to inspect their INF weaponry. He majored in Russian studies in college because he wanted “to kill a Commie for mommy” (his words). After coming here, living here, meeting Russians and going into their homes, he changed his perspective.
I’ve read 13 biographical books on Putin. Some present him in a good light, but obviously some authors don’t like him. I’ve learned something from every one of them–even “The New Tsar,” by NY Times reporter Steven Lee Myers. He doesn’t like Putin at all, but he has some great biographical information that was very helpful. He did great research.
I admire Putin, and I don’t admire many politicians. President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” He really was talking about the fact the president ultimately has to take blame when things go wrong. But then the president ought to get some credit if things go the other way. I don’t think Putin turned this country around on his own, but it would not have happened without him. The main thing about Vladimir Putin is he loves his country and is dedicated to making it better. And in my opinion he has. I don’t need to read books to see what has happened to this country since Putin was made president.
The U.S. hates Putin, and they loved Yeltsin. The country was destroyed by that poor drunk, who got wealthy kissing the buttocks of American politicians, just like Zelensky does now. The U.S. loves leaders of other countries they can boss around. In a source rarely seen or published in the West, Yeltsin later stated why he picked Putin as his successor. He said all the others in his administration would come in and report to him, and then they would flatter him or invite him to go have drinks. Only Putin never did that. He presented his reports, explained his findings, and left. At least Yeltsin knew what kind of man Russia really needed.
Sharon Tennison picked up my blog and corresponded with me for a while. She is in her 80s now, and I have not heard from her in a long time. She worked for an NGO going in and out of the USSR when Putin worked for the mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. She said EVERY Russian administrator she talked to would eventually get around to asking for a bribe or for help getting U.S. citizenship. Only one never did. It was Vladimir Putin. So if Phillips feels comfortable judging others about whom he knows so little, he is certainly free to do so. That is what freedom of the press means. It’s extremely comfortable to be a Putin-hater these days. It’s risky for a journalist or commentator to go the other way. Fortunately, I don’t have to care how well my writings are accepted. Furthermore, I don’t need to read books or “go to learn logic” to understand Putin’s work and the results of said work. I live here. I’m raising my two kids here.
FOR FURTHER ANALYSIS SEE THE LINKS BELOW
Scott Ritter on Vladimir Putin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3hZzT8NYfo
Here is a link to the text (in English) of Putin’s speech: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/70565