Note: I consider Rostislav Ishchenko by far the best specialist on the current Ukraine.  This is why I requested a full length translation and transcript of his interview with Boris Kostenko, a very good journalist.  A huge “thank you!!” to Eugenia and Seva for their immense work and making this most interesting material available to us.

The Saker


Translated by: Seva

BORIS KOSTENKO, ANCHORMAN: Good day, dear viewers. Here is our traditional series “The Ukrainian issues”. It became traditional after the coup in Ukraine. Now we mark (you can hardly say, celebrate) 25 years of the Ukrainian independence. Not just the breakup of the Soviet Union, but also of independent Ukraine. In August of 2016, geopolitics interfered again, so we call this issue “Geopolitics again – Ukraine”. We are live on the air, so you can call and we will answer your questions with our guest political scientist Rostislav Ischenko.

As I already said, military parade in Kiev, with some guests present, a formal date. Many people are trying to evaluate the results… It is one thing to observe Ukraine, and another when the Ukrainian issue became so important, starting with Maidan, for the last two and a half years we observe the hot, or acute, or critical phase, or the sunset of Ukraine. It is hard to tell what to call it, but it appears to be inevitable.


ROSTISLAV ISCHENKO: I guess, although from my prospective the problem of the acuteness of the Ukrainian crisis is not so much in the sharp souring of Ukrainian-Russian relations, and not even in the fact that essentially a terrorist government came to power in Ukraine. We always had all sorts of neighbors, and Poland, for example, was unfriendly to Russia for most of its history. There were periods of friendship, but those were relatively short. Most of the time, the Polish state was either openly hostile or unfriendly to Russia. Nonetheless, we are not talking about a permanent Polish crisis, nor are we discussing Polish issues. The reason is that, whether good or bad, friendly or not, the Polish state is stable, so that we can build stable predictable relations with it. We can build them on a clear foundation, either based on mutual benefit, or on attempts to find points of agreement.

In contrast, when we discuss Ukraine, particularly now, although this started even before the coup, but became a crisis after the coup, speaking of Ukraine we talk about the territory of constant disintegration. Of course, we can sigh and say that Ukraine is disintegrating for two years and still has not disintegrated, but when the administrative structure in a country has been destroyed, as well as the power structure, the economy has been destroyed, when for two and a half years the government cannot do anything with illegal armed groups and has either to legitimize them, or just follow their desires, when that country has at least a duality of powers, or more like the lack of power, to call this a state would be an overstatement.

I want to say that the key issue of the Ukrainian crisis is not the Russophobic nature of the Ukrainian powers, not in their very unfriendly relations with Russia, and not even in a fact that there is a civil war in Ukraine, although civil war is a bad thing. The problem is that there is no state worthy of the name, and all neighbors of Ukraine think more and more not just about what else would the Ukrainian authorities do, but what’s going to happen when the state finally disappears. Then you wouldn’t be asking what did Poroshenko do or who were the guests at the parade, but rather what’s the name of the person ruling at least a couple of blocks in Kiev, and whether what we saw in the streets was still a parade or already a shootout. As the situation is definitely moving in this direction in Ukraine, and its neighbors understand that this will have consequences for them.

For example, the US was always ready to destroyed Libya, Syria, Ukraine, but never tried to destroy Mexico, for obvious reasons: because Mexico is on their border. They will never try to destroy Canada, because Canada is on their border. Ukraine is on our border. That is why the Ukrainian crisis is such a stumbling block for us. Because it is clear that its going to become only worse, and not at all clear what efforts and resources would be needed to deal with it. We know even from recent history that crises of that kind are easy to initiate, but the crisis in Somalia is still not solved, the crisis in Yemen also continues low key for many years: the latest coup as part of the “Arab spring” was not the first civil war in Yemen in the last 20 years. It was easy to start this kind of crisis in Syria or Ukraine, but it is hard to end them, because in essence afterwards everything has to be rebuilt from scratch. One has to create some administrative and state institutions, revive the economy, rebuild infrastructure just to allow people to live on that territory. Otherwise, they will keep killing each other and run away to neighboring countries, as there is no other way to survive. I think that is what makes the Ukrainian events a crisis, making them a global problem, not just an internal Ukrainian, but a global crisis.


KOSTENKO: When we called this issue “Geopolitics again”, one could accuse us of elevating this problem to the level it does not deserve, that we are trying to solve it on a macro-level, over-interpret it. Unfortunately, what we say is an objective truth. Our neighbors, relations, people with the last name similar to ours, became hostages of the situation, which is directed by the people from afar. This does not make it any easier. We know that world conflicts with extremely murderous consequences start easily, and then become unmanageable. The events in Ukraine are scary not only because there live our compatriots but also because this maelstrom can suck in half of Eastern Europe, not to mention our country.

ISCHENKO: You know, even if the people living their had Norwegian or Portuguese last names and no one had relatives in Russia, the fact that this territory is right on the Russian border, the fact that several tens of millions of people live in a situation where the economy is totally destroyed…

KOSTENKO: Is there exact statistics regarding the population?

ISCHENKO: 30 to 40 million.

KOSTENKO: Nobody counted how many moved.


ISCHENKO: Even before these events, there were no exact numbers how many people actually live in Ukraine, because 3-6 millions worked in Russia – nobody knew exact numbers – and 3-6 millions worked in Western Europe. The numbers of Gastarbeiters are roughly equal. Exact numbers do not exist, because many worked illegally. The fact of crossing the border does not mean that the person works, but the fact that he is not officially registered does not mean that he is not working. Some Ukrainians, particularly those in oil and gas industry, worked long shifts, i.e., they came to the Russian North fields and left on the regular basis, whereas others worked in summer home construction near Moscow. These could have left for a week every year and then returned back to work.

The same situation in Italy: when I flew from Rome, I met a Ukrainian women who said she works there taking care of children in a family, and that’s her first vacation in two or three years. She will go back for a short time and must be back in a week. So, out of 730 days a person got 5 days to visit her country. Officially, she is counted as a person living in Ukraine. In reality, she does not live there for that long, and she is dreaming of the happy moment when she makes enough money to get her whole family out of Ukraine. We are not talking about individuals here. Millions of people are in this situation – gradually getting their families out. Now this process has accelerated, simply because living standards in Ukraine dropped catastrophically, began the civil war, and, in addition, remaining in Ukraine became simply dangerous. Naturally, every sane person tries to get out of place where he can be killed for no reason tomorrow. While at the beginning mostly ideological opponents of the regime fled Ukraine, now even relatively well-off people are fleeing, because they know that robbers might come for them tomorrow, or maybe in a month, or in two months.

KOSTENKO: They feel they are just not needed in Ukraine.

ISCHENKO: It seems like a long time, but it isn’t. First, you lose your income, your job, and so on. Naturally, some businesses function even in Somalia, but they are few and far between. The rest of the population first lives using their savings. However, if you have substantial savings or live much better than your neighbors, someone might come to rob you.

KOSTENKO: We have a phone call. Go ahead, we are listening. Please introduce yourself and tell us where from you are calling.

CALLER: I am calling from Rostov-on-Don, my name is Vladimir Viktorovich.

KOSTENKO: Good day.


CALLER: I am glad to see Rostislav Ischenko, who is one of our talented political scientists, like Korotchenko, or Kurginian. I wish our President listened to these political scientists more often. My question: what is the role of Western Ukrainian Uniates in the events in Ukraine?

KOSTENKO: One can write a PhD thesis on this subject. Thanks for the question!


ISCHENKO: To put it in short, their role is destructive. On the other hand, Uniates are different. There are people who actually believe that way and are not active politically. On the other hand, there are people who see this not as a religion, a way to communicate with God, but as a political platform. Indeed, many Uniates, who constitute arguably the largest fraction, were active supporters of Maidan, took part in it, and were its armed force. However, we have to understand that it is not Uniates as such, nor even Western Ukrainians, who are not all Uniates, as there are Catholics and Orthodox Christians among them. There are also people opposing the regime there, who are fairly numerous, although there are fewer of those in Western Ukraine than in other regions. Anyway, none of them could have driven Ukraine to its current state by themselves without two factors.

First, the readiness of the people in power to follow the Nazi dictate. Yanukovich promoted the Nazis and then tried to come to an agreement with them, but then he failed in that and ran away. Poroshenko also tries to reach an agreement with the Nazis, as he hasn’t been able for the last two and a half years to force them to obey the law. Second, the readiness of a large fraction of politically inactive Ukrainian citizens to follow criminal orders of criminal powers. In the end, the army that fought in Donbass did not consist of Uniates or people from Galicia. It had 50-60%, if not more, of regular draftees from the Central and Eastern regions. Complete battalions were formed in Donetsk region, such as battalion “Shahter” (Coal Miner). Yes, it was staffed by criminals, but these criminals were from a particular area, from the Donetsk region. In essence, the split went through the entire country, and adherents of various religions, people of different ethnic background, including people like Saakashvili, who could be described as a Ukrainian of sorts or even a Ukrainian by chance (even though at some point he shouted at Avakov “I am a Ukrainian”, nevertheless a couple of years ago he didn’t even know that he was a Ukrainian). So, even people like that participate in this process. The key thing is that large proportion of the populace was ready to follow orders: if there had been even passive resistance, the government wouldn’t have been able to start this kind of war. Say, if tens or hundreds of thousands didn’t show up in draft offices and go to the front, the government wouldn’t be able to jail them all, because then they’d have to jail virtually the entire male population. If the army refused to shoot, the war would be impossible: when the artillery and tanks are at the front but do not shoot, there is no war.

But all were ready to follow criminal orders for a variety of reasons. Some because they did not care, any power is a power; some because they decided they couldn’t do anything about it, as they needed to eat but had no money, so they had to earn some in the army; some because they did not think about anything; some thought that it was Russia’s fault that it failed to save Ukraine; some because they thought that the US was stronger, anyway, so why resist them. So, the reasons were different, but the most important thing is that they agreed to follow the orders. The coup was accomplished by a small group of people. If we count storm troopers who participated in the coup, there were 10-15 thousand of them in all of Ukraine. Whereas the official population of the country at the time was ~45 million, in reality more like 40 million. At the time, Crimea and Donbass were parts of Ukraine. So, there was a chance to avoid even a shootout. The shootout was started by unofficial battalions, various volunteers, who took arms voluntarily and went to fight in Donbass. The army joined them later. BTW, at the beginning “volunteers” headed for Crimea to bring “order”.

According to the law and their oath, the army, police, and special forces had to stop these illegal armed groups, disarm them, regardless of their political views, simply because only the state has the right to use force, and only according to the law. If one political force has 10 thousand armed men, the opposite will also get 10 thousand armed men. Therefore, the fact is that neither the army, nor the police or the special forces fulfilled their duty, but passively observed the situation. Then they said: what could we do if that’s what the political power wanted, and we received orders. This played a critical role in the Ukrainian situation, and in everything that is now happening with Ukraine, with its population, as well as with the law enforcement and the special forces. Since Nuremberg, it is a part of the international law that not only giving criminal orders, but also following criminal orders is a crime. Many low-level Nazis, at the rank of Sturmfuhrer of Haupt-sturmfuhrer SS, were hanged only for following somebody else’s orders. They did not decide anything by themselves; they only received written orders and followed them. Nonetheless, after the war they were considered responsible for their actions.

The same is currently happening with the Ukrainian forces: they are following criminal orders and they did not fulfill their duties, i.e., they did not prevent the beginning of the civil war.

KOSTENKO: As far as Uniates are concerned, as there was a question about the Uniates, they took a very uncompromising stand during the Christian procession by the Ukrainian Orthodox church. They behaved in an un-Christian, very aggressive and offensive manner, as they understood that the events in Kiev destroyed all their propaganda, particularly in Eastern Ukraine.


ISCHENKO: I would like to repeat that this applies not only to Uniates, it applies to the whole pro-Maidan forces in Ukrainian politics: Orthodox Christians, atheists, and all other supporters of Maidan, and they are more numerous than Uniates. They used to say even after the first Maidan, in 2006-2007, that it’s impossible to act nicely, as the population is “wrong” and votes for pro-Russian politicians. Right after the first Maidan, in 2006, the Party of Regions got the majority in the Parliament, formed the government, and in 2010 Yanukovich was elected President. Well, in 2007 President Yuschenko organized another coup by dissolving the parliament, but in 2010 Yanukovich was elected president. So, since the population is “wrong” and votes “wrong”, alternative measures must be taken, like hanging the opponents, putting them into concentration camps, and generally solving problems by force. That’s exactly what they did right after the second Maidan. Thus, they came their conclusions back then, they understood that they cannot win elections, ever. This is not a confessional position; it is a purely political decision to solve the problem by the force of arms.


KOSTENKO: When we recently mentioned (I will try to switch gears now) Anatoliy Klyan, who I worked with on Channel 1 (it was not called that then, it was called TV Ostankino). He was murdered in Donetsk when this armed force, lawlessness and impunity, and the desire to scare the populace, turned to killing journalists. We called Vladimir Soloviev (Volodya is with us now), and I would like to remind that he is a journalist for international affairs, and he was the head of the Channel 1 international bureau in the Balkans, and Anatoliy worked for him. There is another anniversary: 25 years ago two of our colleagues I knew personally through my work in the news program Vremya, were murdered. Their names are Nogin and Kurennoy, two our journalists.

Volodya, do you hear me?

SOLOVIEV: I hear you, Boris.

KOSTENKO: I would like to say that the memorial plaque to Anatoliy Klyan was opened on September 1st, 2015, that is why we put you on air to draw attention 25 years later to the death of journalists doing their job in various countries, trying to tell what was going on at that time. That includes our colleagues who died on the front lines 25 years ago.

SOLOVIEV: When the memorial plaque honoring our friend Anatoliy Klyan was opened last year I said that we should put a plaque here on the TV center building to commemorate those who died on duty first, who Anatoliy Klyan and I replaced in our Yugoslavian press branch in 1991, Viktor Nogin and Gennady Kurennoy. Today, I learned that the plaque commemorating them will be opened on August 31st. It is ready, it is already attached to the wall of TV center Ostankino on the side of Ostankino pond. For now, it is covered with a sheet and will be opened on August 31. In parallel, our Serbian colleagues and friends, talented people who like Russia, will open a commemorative plaque on the building where was our press office, where Viktor Nogin lived with his family, where later I lived with my family, in New Belgrade, Gandieva street, on the same day will be opened a plaque honoring Viktor Nogin and Gennady Kurennoy.

KOSTENKO: Thank you for talking to us today and reminding us of our colleagues and friends. 30 years ago I graduated from the school of journalism started working in Vremya (Time). I worked there a few years, and it is likely that I was the last person who talked to Nogin over the phone when we recorded his reports. He was a romanticist of a journalist, probably like those who worked in Donetsk and Lugansk in the first months of this war. Volodya, since you are with us on the air – forgive me that I am addressing you by the first name. You are a serious person now.

SOLOVIEV: Well, we have been so much together, how else should we address each other?

KOSTENKO: Let me mention that back then in Belgrade we were filming, Volodya, Anatoliy, and I, under fire, could have been to being killed. Survived by pure luck – got ourselves under artillery fire. Let me mention that back then in Belgrade we were close to being killed, got under bombing. After that experience, the events in Ukraine do not feel like a geopolitical chess game, but rather like the experience of living people in particular events. Volodya, I wanted to ask when did we learn that Anatoliy was killed in Ukraine? I never asked you before, but what did his acquaintances, friends, relatives say about the cause of his death, and that he died in the area we feel connected to, in the beautiful city of Donetsk? From a bullet shot by someone who was just recently our compatriot. It’s the same thing that happened in the Balkans, the death like that of Nogin and Kurennoy.

SOLOVIEV: Yes, it is similar. The fate of our “Uncle Anatoliy” is paradoxical, for in the Balkans, as you well know, since you have been there with us, we often had higher chances to be killed than to remain alive. Snipers were shooting in Saraevo, in Eastern Slavonia, Kosovo, in many other places, but God let us live. We lived these few decades, and then “Uncle Anatoliy” decided to go to Ukraine. It feels absurd that someone who has been through so much – and he was in many wars; we were with him in Chechnya, were once in an extreme situation in Argun, where the troops were arresting a whole gang, with shootouts and troop carriers – and then he was killed by a single bullet in Ukraine by people we considered our relatives. That was anomalous, surprising, strange, symbolical, you can call it in many ways. I hope our colleagues will remembered this.


KOSTENKO: Thank you for participating. There is a reason why we remembered our colleagues today. We discuss Ukrainian nationalism, destroyed economy, the fact the Mr. Biden tells the Ukrainian government who and when to appoint. On the other side of this balance are the lists of people missing in action, jailed – there still has been no comprehensive exchange of war prisoners, even though this was agreed upon. Every day there is shelling, and the numbers of shelling incidents go up every day. We keep talking about new escalation and worsening of the situation in South-Eastern Ukraine. Previously, we talked about dozens of shelling incidents per day, now we are talking about hundreds: a month ago it was 700 or 800 per day, using heavy artillery. People are dying. Members of the militia serving at block-posts know that they can be killed every day. This bloody business continues – this is not geopolitics, but real people. I look at you and see that your eyes are sad when you talk about what is happening in Ukraine. I understand that, after all, despite these political discussions we know how many people were murdered, how much blood was spilled. Unfortunately, we see that this does not stop. We met last time before the incident in Crimea.

Today we know that two of our military lost their lives, were murdered by those whose state ordered them to kill. This dramatically changed the situation, and I think we need to discuss that. Few people look at this from the ethical angle, although the ethical angle is hardly appropriate when we discuss today’s Ukraine, everything there is built not on ethics. Nonetheless, our military personnel on active duty was killed. Is this casus belli? Unfortunately, it is.

ISCHENKO: First, my eyes are always sad, I was born like that. Second, we don’t know how many lost their lives and how many will lose their lives yet. We can only guess that more people died than is officially acknowledged.

KOSTENKO: Ten thousand is the official number.


ISCHENKO: Well, this ten thousand number did not change in two years. It is safe to assume that a lot more were killed, and even more will be killed. Unfortunately, all of this is a geopolitical game. Geopolitical games always affect real people’s fates, sometimes the fates of states or even civilizations. People are not always killed in military conflicts and don’t always die from armed hands. A few millions of Bengalis or a few millions of Irish who dies of hunger, which was, if not organized, then at least sanctioned by the British government, did not feel easier. They also were an element in a big geopolitical game. As you understand, neither British government at the time, nor the British parliament personally hated any of these people or even knew them. They were for those in power only statistics. It just so happened, that it turned out to be useful, not even necessary, simply useful, not to help these people survive. They were not killed on purpose; nobody would’ve minded if they survived. In case of Bengal, British government was short of resources to help them during the ongoing WWI to maintain reasonable supply of food in their own colony.

The current situation is similar. People who wanted to play Ukraine against Russia – they did not calculate that it was absolutely necessary to kill a certain number of people, hundreds, thousands, or millions of citizens of Ukraine or Russian Federation, or name all of them by name. They wanted the result, and they did not care whether it would be achieved with or without spilled blood. There was no blood spilled by the first Maidan. If the result could be achieved with little blood, it’s OK, but lots of blood is OK, too. They are fighting for the result. We are also fighting for the result, a geopolitical result. In our case, this result matches the interests of the Ukrainian population, even if a large proportion of the populace in Ukraine does not understand that. Objectively, it is in their interests, as geopolitical goals of Russia would allow Ukrainians to live in a more orderly society with better standards of living. In contrast, the geopolitical results the US is fighting for is like that with the Bengalis: if they survived, it’s OK, if not, whatever. Nonetheless, we are also fighting for a geopolitical result. BTW, as far as the Crimean events are concerned, the reaction of the Russian leadership was not spontaneous: there was a provocation, which was taken as casus belli, a reason to start a war. Unquestionable reason.



ISCHENKO: But Russia did not start a war, right? If it wanted to do so, it could have started a war a week or two ago. If it wanted to, Russia could have started a war even in 2014, because Ukrainian shells landed on Russian territory and killed Russian civilians. So, if Russia wanted a war, it could have started it then, as it does not matter whether killed citizens are on active duty or not. It is an act of aggression, and the state decides how to react. This shows that Russia is trying to act not just on principle “you are an idiot yourself”, or just react symmetrically to aggression, but rather to achieve a clear result, which would stabilize the situation on territories still called Ukraine. That would allow Russia to achieve this stabilization either without blood, or with minimal blood, preferably someone else’s.

In fact, today Russia does not have a right to make a mistake. In WWI, we could figure that a hundred thousand dead more or fewer did not matter, in the Civil War we could afford to lose six or eight million, or even more – nobody counted. We could count for decades how many people Russia lost in the Great Patriotic War (WWII), 12, or 25, or 26 million – these numbers are disparate and uncertain. The victims were counted many times, but the final number is still unknown. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, after the demographic catastrophe that affected all Slavic, in fact, all European republics of the former USSR, now we don’t have a right to make a mistake. Because if we next time have to correct a political mistake by spending additional resources, first of all human resources, we will have neither people nor the state left. 140 million for Russian territory is nothing. If one extrapolates from the beginning of the twentieth century, we should have had more than half a billion, i.e., more than half a billion people, 500-700 million should have lived within the borders of former Russian empire by the end of the twentieth century. These people do not exist. We only have 140 million. Our natural resources are vast, but our human, economic, financial resources are rather limited. If you compare them with the resources of the whole world, they constitute a smaller fraction than the resources of the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century. So, the situation is more critical. Thus, however hard that might be, we must play this game very skillfully and precisely, as any error can become fatal. I mean fatal not for an individual or a group of people, it could become fatal for Russia as a country. That’s why we are still in crisis, because we cannot afford to overwhelm the adversary with dead bodies.

KOSTENKO: Many people wished for the hot phase of the conflict to begin, they were counting on that…

ISCHENKO: By the way, recently I said somewhere, on some talk show, don’t remember where exactly, that if we listened to our own alarmists, since 2014 Russia would have started three wars: they advocated starting a big war in Ukraine, they demanded that we send a large troop contingent to Syria and win there within two weeks, and they demanded that we start a war with Turkey. These are the three wars that Russia could, and some believe should, have started since 2014. And now let’s add up the potentials of all those we should have fought and ask ourselves, where could we have gotten the resources for these three wars.

KOSTENKO: In each case, including Syria, there was a reason to start a war, there was casus belli.


ISCHENKO: If we had gotten ourselves embroiled even in a single war, there would’ve been reasons to start more, including in the Caucuses, in Central Asia, and even in the Baltics a casus belli there would’ve been provided, as this is elementary strategy: stretch the forces of your adversary to less important directions, so that it won’t have a chance to concentrate its forces on the key direction. That is precisely what is happening now. That is why I think we should cool down the emotions, however unpleasant that might be. It would be good for the maximal fraction of the population to understand simple things. I won’t teach the plumber I invite how to fix my toilet, and I won’t teach the chef in a restaurant how to cook my food; I won’t teach train crew how to run a train, or the pilot how to fly a plane. So, however wise a person thinks himself, and however simple solutions he thinks he sees, he should not assume that an amateur, a person far removed not only from politics, but even from the essential information, because he get his info from 2-3 fixed sources he chose for himself, that he can by chance see a clear correct solution that the others don’t.


KOSTENKO: That would be naïve. We have a question. Please, go ahead, you are on the air, introduce yourself.

CALLER: I am Natalia, from Moscow region. I would like to ask about the prospect of disintegration of Ukraine. I would like to know what are going to be likely pieces, and when it is likely to happen.


ISCHENKO: Let’s start with parts. Go to the grocery store, buy a watermelon (not too big, so that it won’t be a big loss), and drop it to the ground. It can break into a random number of random pieces. If you drop watermelons one after another, they won’t repeat the pattern. The same situation is with Ukraine. One can speak of historical borders of historical Ukrainian territories and say: it will disintegrate along these borders. However, I remember about 7-8 years ago some decent people organized a conference on the subject of Ukrainian federalization. At the time the word “federalization” was not yet considered criminal in Ukraine. There were about 20 speakers that discussed what they thought should be the borders of Ukrainian regions. They could not agree not only regarding the borders, but even regarding the number of the regions. The suggestions ranged from 4-5 up to more than 30 regions. In reality, each of these regions, each of the official regions in Ukraine, as Crimea, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) showed, can become independent. Crimea, before joining Russia, declared independence and for a few days or hours was an independent state. DPR and LPR declared independence within the borders of their regions, even though they do not control their whole regions but only about half. Note that both DNP and LNP have been declared specifically within the borders declared independence and, despite all the efforts to unite them into one state, they don’t want to unite. Lugansk does not want to get orders from Donetsk; Donetsk does not want to follow orders from Lugansk. They coordinate their efforts, they fight a common enemy, but they consider themselves two independent states. Although, if Russia invites them to join, they will do that without even asking whether they will be merged with something within Russia, accepted as a single unit, or as two separate units.

The same applies to other Ukrainian regions. Among other things, the problem is which force would be able to stabilize the situation in each particular region after the collapse of the Ukrainian state. In some, this force would be Nazi storm troopers, because there will be many of them, and they are armed. That would be one situation. In a neighboring region, there could be people with the opposite political views, and the situation would be different. These two regions could even start fighting each other. I won’t exclude the possibility that each of these groups will speak on behalf of all Ukraine, even though each would control only a part of the territory of one region. In some places, the current administration might retain power, and they will claim legitimacy on the ground that they were appointed by Poroshenko, who was recognized by the world. In some places, moderates, like former Party of Regions, might come to power, and even communists, now excluded even from the Parliament, who might try to restore Ukraine as it was under Yanukovich. In the end, the outcome will be determined by the resources of each of these statelets, and their armed forces capable of supporting these states and spreading its control to neighboring territories.

I think right now DPR and LPR are in the best position, because they are, although unrecognized, real independent states; they have their armies; they want to expand to the borders of their regions, as they claim those territories. If the Ukrainian power collapses and the army starts to disintegrate, the borders of regions are easy to traverse, as there are no ditches or border signs, and the distance from Slavyansk to Kharkov is ~ one-hour car ride. Thus, they can expend to the neighboring regions. If the people there support you, and I think they will support DPR and LPR, you can expand your power further.

I think that for some short and very unpleasant period in Ukraine will be a very bloody war of everybody against everybody, in which the South-East will have an advantage. So, in Donetsk and Lugansk the war will end or, at least, subside, whereas the war will start on the rest of Ukrainian territory. Then within borders where the local authorities will have enough power to introduce administration and police force, stabilization will begin, largely of the same type as in DPR and LPR. Therefore, there will be unrecognized entities that will be establishing order on their territory using their armed forces, possibly, with the support of DPR and LPR. Next, if Ukrainian nationalists have enough brains, they will have to come to some kind of agreement with the powers controlling Galichina. We know that while the South-East will be controlled by pro-Russian forces, Galichina will be controlled by forces resembling the current Kiev regime, possibly, even more right-wing. At a minimum, all of them would have to agree that the Ukrainian state does not exist any more, as that’s the only way they can legitimize themselves as a new power. If they cancel the previous state, then they can establish new states with any borders, each on its territory the way they want.

The pro-Russian fraction of Ukrainian citizens compactly lives in the South-East, and DPR and LPR get an open support from Russia suggesting that the rest can also count on some support. I mean not so much military, as humanitarian, technical, and administrative support, help in building normal power structures. Hence, the situation can be at least stabilized in those areas. I don’t expect paradise, but relatively quickly, in a year or year and a half, maybe two, on these territories acceptable conditions for people’s lives could be arranged. I think that in all the territories that for some reason cannot be immediately taken over by pro-Russian forces, the lawlessness will continue, and they won’t have resources to recreate basic state institutions. Thus, they will progressively move to bandit-ruled state.

Then, to return to your question of who will join whom and how many parts will there be, this becomes an international law problem. Its solution would depend on the geopolitical situation at that time. It is clear that from the historical standpoint Russia not only can but has an obligation to claim all territories of the former USSR. Simply because if you say: “I don’t need that”, – you can be asked, “maybe you don’t need this, and that, either, and other things?” However, to legitimize these claims, Russia needs a strong geopolitical position including solving all other crises. Moreover, to actually claim all that Russia needs sufficient resources to rebuild these territories. I would say that today Russia does not have sufficient resources. If we imagine that the world is stable and there are no military threats, maybe we could attempt that. But in today’s reality, Russia does not have sufficient resources. There is hope that the EU would also participate, as it does not want the disruption of the Ukrainian transit. Even in its current pathetic state, Ukrainian transit would play an important role for the EU for the next 3-4 years. This means that Russia can try and make the EU pay for stabilization of Ukraine. However, this means saying at the negotiation table that we will do this, you will do that, you will pay this much, but at that point they will also present their claims.

The claims would include Polish claim for Galichina, Romania would claim Bukovina and southern Bessarabia, Hungary would claim trans-Carpathian region. These won’t be empty claims, they will be supported by the presence on those territories of citizens of claiming states, as the issuance of Romanian passports in Bukovina and Bessarabia and Hungarian passports in trans-Carpathian region last if not all 25 years of Ukrainian independence, then at least 20 years. Poland for the last 10-15 years is issuing Polish cards, which allows application for Polish citizenship. I.e., Poland recognizes these people as half-Polish citizens, Poles who can become Polish citizens. Poland has issued millions of these Polish cards, as the whole population of Western Ukraine was happy to get them. This made it easier for them to cross Polish border, where they went as Gastarbeiters. Thus, these claims will be strengthened from the point of view of the international law. So, the question is, how strong will Russia be at that time to push through its will, how skilled would be Russian diplomacy to convince everyone to listen to Russia, that is the question.


KOSTENKO: We called our issue “Geopolitics”, and you said that Russia does not have resources to restore this ~40-million Ukraine. We understand that our viewers mostly live in Russia. What is happening in Ukraine, as well as the fact that we live in a state of war, or at least there are good reasons to start a war, we are pushed to start a war by aggressive moves, even the fact that at G20 in China the leaders of two European countries and our president will meet and discuss the fate of Ukraine without its participation – all suggest that geopolitically we advanced pretty far, and that we need to solve this problem. Europe also understands that. One of the conclusions from our today’s discussions is that we are not in a vacuum; we cannot relax; the international situation is quite tense, although this phrase is too familiar for those who lived in the USSR. We also need to understand that we are alone; we are doomed to be alone geopolitically. Yes, we have allies and friends, maybe, will acquire new ones in the East, but we can achieve our goals only by our own efforts. Thanks for your statement that we do not have a right to make mistakes. We cannot make mistake in the priorities to solve step by step this Ukrainian crisis, which was the subject of our today’s conversation.

Thank you, Rostislav, for your participation, for spending this hour with our viewers and me.

At this point we end our program. See you again at our broadcasts about the Ukrainian issues, which, unfortunately, we will have to address for quite a while. I would like to emphasize this “unfortunately”, it would be better not to have a reason for this program. But it will appear again.

All the best and God bless. Goodbye!

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world