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Putin’s War Crimes Follow in the Steps of American War Crimes - Denis Pilash pt 2/2

The invasion of Ukraine is a reflection of the crisis of global capitalism. That said, Putin may have believed he would face the same impunity that was the case with the Western imperialist powers after invading Iraq, says Ukrainian activist Denis Pilash on theAnalysis.news.

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Welcome back to theAnalysis.news. I’m Paul Jay, and I’m continuing my discussion with Denis Pilash, who’s in Ukraine, about the situation there and the geopolitics of this issue. In this episode or segment, we’re going to talk more about NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]. We’ll be back in a second.

So now joining me again is Denis Pilash. He’s a political scientist, historian, and translator. He’s an activist of the Ukrainian Democratic Socialist Organization of the Social Movement and a member of The Commons, a journal of social criticism. He’s on the editorial board. He’s co-author of the book The Left: Europe. Thanks again, Denis.

Denis Pilash

Thank you for inviting me.

Paul Jay

So let’s go into this issue of NATO and NATO expansion. Let me just put this as a thesis out there. Some people are arguing that the Americans have created, in Ukraine, a kind of Afghanistan. In other words, suck Russia into an invasion of Ukraine. Now Russia has its own agencies. They don’t have to get sucked into anything. If they didn’t have their own ambitions, they couldn’t get sucked into something. [Vladimir] Putin is, I’m sure, a better chess player than most of the other people on the other side, at least he had been. That being said, did the Americans want this catastrophe? Did they arm Ukraine to the teeth as a provocation? Everyone knew that there wasn’t a serious possibility of Ukraine being in NATO, certainly not any time soon, but they wouldn’t take it off the table. Did Putin step into something that will be a disaster and catastrophe both for Ukraine and for Russia?

As someone sitting here in California right now, it’s a disaster for the world. One, it has taken the climate crisis completely off the table. Everyone’s getting back to fossil fuel, revving up fossil fuel production in order to replace the Russian fossil fuel. I got to say, and I think one of the most dangerous things coming out of all this is the re-militarization of Germany. There is going to be a massive expanse in the German military budget. I mean, this is turning into a pre-World War I style shit show with nuclear weapons. If Putin thought that this had anything to do with defending Russian security, I can’t imagine how he thinks Russia is more secure at the end of all this. It completely destroyed — if this goes on for weeks and weeks, and family after Ukrainian family leaves the country, and many of the men and boys are killed, what is left on Russia’s border? And they’re going to occupy this?

I mean, the whole thing is nuts, which is a reflection of the insanity of where global capitalism is right now. Anyway, it’s a little bit of a rant on my part, but it doesn’t take the attention off that there’s an invasion right now. Civilians are getting killed. Soldiers on both sides are getting killed for no damn reason. What’s your take on sort of the bigger picture of this?

Denis Pilash

I would say that I agree with the frame that this is a result of the crisis of global neo-liberal capitalism. Actually, what Russia has done with this Ukrainian invasion, in some ways, is a continuation of what the U.S. and its allies and satellites did with the Iraqi invasion. So I think that Putin, being a war criminal and doing this war crime of aggression, he is following the steps of war criminals like [George W.] Bush, [Tony] Blair and others. It is possible he thought that he would face the same impunity that was the case with the Western imperialist powers doing pretty much the same thing.

So you have a unilateral invasion of the country, and then you are finding and faking some of the text and justification while you did it. Now they are even trying to do the same with — actually, if you know a bit about the situation in Ukraine, it’s completely absurd claims of some kind of weapons of mass destruction, and it was the same with Iraq. Then you do this humanitarian disaster killing thousands of civilians immediately in the first weeks of the invasion, including many children and women and non-combatant people. And then you create something that will cause a huge disaster for the entire region.

So I’m afraid that yes, we will follow these steps. It’s one of the worst-case scenarios, of course, after the full-scale world war with nuclear weapons or something like that. Again, a similarly terrible scenario is being stuck in a prolonged war with people’s continuous suffering and deaths. So if we get these Russian Armys that will instantly try to siege and shell cities, I think it’s important from what perspective we are looking at the world system. There is too much concentration on [inaudible 00:07:04] players and seeing some of them as some kind of counterbalance while they are really interlocked. One could say that there are probably more German parts in Russian tanks than American rockets in the Ukrainian arms.

So actually, all these sites were cooperating. I would say that in the ’90s, the new capitalist Russia under [Boris] Yeltsin and then under Putin was conducting equally horrible crimes. For instance, in Chechnya, the wars in Chechnya. It was tolerated by the so-called collective West. Again, when Russia was going into this authoritarian scenario, starting with President Yeltsin’s shooting of Parliament and then falsifying the elections and then handpicking Putin, everything was okay for the West.

We also have this transcript of Yeltsin’s and [Bill] Clinton’s talks when Yeltsin says, “Just give me Eurasia, and you can do everything you want in the rest of the world.” So again, it was this way of how do we shape these imperial spheres of influence? I think that it was ultimately a goal of genius leadership just to become this part of the club, part of the white colonizers club, and to do the same as what Americans, British and all the others can do in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Again, you see how all these imperialists and sub-imperialist smaller players tried to do in Syria. When Russia was bombing and Turkey was invading the Kurdish population, the Saudis and Qataris had their own agendas and some kind of jihadist groups linked to them. So they were all using this nation of Syria and the Syrian people as some kind of battleground for their imperial ambitions and aspirations.

So again, there is a lot of talks, for instance, that Russia had legitimate security concerns. But when I see here something like legitimate security concerns on the Left, I just compare it to some official [Ronald] Reagan administration saying that we have legitimate security concerns about Grenada and we can invade it. So we have legitimate security concerns about Central America. We have to call the Sandinista government and finance some far-right governments here or squeeze Cuba—

Paul Jay

Hold on. As much as I don’t agree with the NATO argument, just to be fair, what Russia is saying in terms of legitimate security concerns is not they’re afraid of Ukraine in and of itself. They’re afraid of Ukraine becoming a NATO country if there were nuclear missiles on Ukrainian territory. That’s what they’re talking about.

Denis Pilash

It’s what the U.S. was talking about, Cuba, was it Russian — Soviet missiles and so on, and Grenada has some Cuban, I don’t know, counterintelligence officers. So again, it explains the logic of each of these imperial powers, but it isn’t the perspective, I think, that we need to look from. We need to look from the perspective of the people of all these countries and how these smaller countries and their people have their own agency, of course, and they cannot be denied and seen as just some kind of pawns in this game.

But of course, the big players in both Moscow and Washington or Beijing or New Delhi, you can say more, Ankara and so on. They try to use every situation in their own interests, their political interests and their economic interests. So obviously, the Western government, the Western bourgeois governments, had no genuine interest in being real friends to Ukraine. Of course, they saw the situation as some kind of tool for their own dealings and foundations with Russia, while ultimately, Ukraine was sent on its own to deal with this invasion. So actually, I would say that there is some kind of proxy war between NATO and Russia because there are no NATO soldiers dying in Ukraine. There are Ukrainians dying in Ukraine.

Again, there is no Ukrainian offensive against Russia and all the prior military build-up, contrary to what Russia painted. The independent international observers were pointing out that there is build-up on the Russian side, but there is no Ukrainian build-up for some kind of invasion or some kind of provocation and so on. So it was some kind of result of the political dynamic or maybe something linked to some economic calculations because the economic situation in both Russia and Ukraine was going pretty bad, and the prospects were again rather bad for the continuation. So it could push the Russian leadership to these adventurous decisions.

Paul Jay

If you look at who benefits, it’s all, as far as I can tell sitting here, the U.S. and the West are the ones who benefit from all of this. They have a unified NATO, arms sales going through the roof, Germany practically doubling its military budget, but of course, the U.S. will greatly increase their military budget. The military-industrial complexes of many countries are just smiling ear to ear, and so are the fossil fuel companies who love what’s happened with the price of oil. This last year of a build-up of arms; if this is what’s been going on, Americans helping the Ukrainian government build its arms. You don’t think there was a deliberate provocation here? I’ll say it again. Nothing made Putin fall for the provocation. That being said, given how much it seems to me the West benefits from this, you don’t think there was some deliberateness on their part? If they wanted to avoid this, they could have just declared Ukraine’s not coming into NATO, period. They could have declared that a long time ago.

Denis Pilash

Actually, again, you can turn the game and pinpoint Russia saying that it was Russia that consolidated NATO. Why this decision? They could predict the result. So why were they going into this trap? Because it was so obvious.

Paul Jay

Yeah, it was so obvious. Every commentator was saying that as long as the 150,000 troops don’t invade, he’s dividing NATO. If they actually invade, he’s uniting NATO. Everybody was saying that.

Denis Pilash

Sometimes some kinds of decisions aren’t so rational in the perfect sense. They can also stem from the nature of unchecked authoritarian powers that have no real feedback from below. That also really relies on the information which is delivered in a way that this leadership wants to hear. So analyzing why the Russian Army performed so poorly was because they had lots of problems with logistics and, in general, readiness. So, many have this assumption that the picture of the situation and the readiness in the West, in Ukraine and in Russia that was presented to Putin wasn’t adequate for the situation.

Paul Jay

It almost sounds like they really weren’t planning to invade, and all of a sudden, they were told to go invade.

Denis Pilash

But they were concentrating these forces for months. It seems that they really thought that they would have a smooth blitzkrieg like in Georgia that went on for several days, and they capture some major cities, and then they could force Ukraine to capitulate, and everything is okay, and they don’t have like a viable plan B for this.

Returning to the question, who benefits. In the same way, you could say that, well, at least in the part of its economic control over Russia, China is benefiting as well because now Russia has nowhere to sell its fossil fuels. So it will have to rely heavily on the Chinese side, and the Chinese can lower the price and also do some more economic concessions. Given that China has a powerful and dynamic economy and Russia under the capitalist development, Russia was going more and more into this kind of retro-state without— actually, it started under [Leonid] Brezhnev, but not on the scale that it is now. When they try to— any kind of war is for military complex, not just the Western ones, but the Russian one. Like they did in Syria, that is some kind of manifestation of our weaponry; that you can [inaudible 00:19:06] and so on.

But it seems like even this Russian high-tech military stuff isn’t so high tech. So there are guys, employees of the State Service in Ukraine who uses an old Soviet Igla grenade launcher from the ’70s, and he’s hitting this newest Russian [inaudible 00:19:38]. It seems that Russia’s economy was really legging on, and now it will be even more dependent on China as its primary partner.

Paul Jay

Yeah, it’s kind of ironic because there are forces around Trump, whether it’s Trump the individual or not, but that are far-right American Christian nationalist forces. Many who saw Putin as a defender of Christianity and an ally, which is why many of the people around Trump wanted to diminish the tension with Putin and Russia because they really want to target China. There’s a very interesting speech that Steve Bannon gave to a group, a right-wing group that had a meeting in the Vatican a few years ago. He talked about how there’s a coming bloody war with Islam and atheist China. Even that’s fallen apart in the sense that all they’ve done now is push Russia more towards China instead of being the ally of the American Right, which is against China. Now, he virtually could turn Russia into a satellite of China because where else are they going to go?

Denis Pilash

There was a speech by a German Admiral who was ultimately sacked when it leaked. He said, “I’m a Christian, and as a Christian, I think that we must rely on Russia to fight the non-Christian Chinese.” So yes, there are also these kinds of thoughts.

Paul Jay

Let me just end for now, but I’d like to talk again in the future, soon. This is so insane on every side. There are so many forces acting, what seems, irrationally. I guess that’s not unusual in wars because the only real rationality here is how much money all the oligarchs make out of war. That being said, what does it make you feel? There are serious conversations now about the use of tactical nuclear weapons. It’s beyond insane that they’re talking about nuclear weapons as if they’re just another weapon. They’re not even using it on— people who watch theAnalysis.news know I’m working with Daniel Ellsberg on this thing based on his book Doomsday Machine, but you don’t hear the phrase Doomsday Machine. They’re talking about it as if you could have tactical nuclear weapons. One, it wouldn’t cause devastation in the entire region and two, somehow, it gets contained and doesn’t become an all-out nuclear war; it’s beyond insanity. But you’re there where they’re talking about the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

Denis Pilash

One of the most tragic issues is the [inaudible 00:22:47] some Western experts are speaking about it, as long as it concerns just Ukraine. So they may use nuclear weapons against Ukraine as if we’re second-class people. As long as it’s not us, it’s not a problem. After the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there was a consensus that these weapons shouldn’t be used in any case. Yes, there was some justification for the storage and amplifying the number of nuclear weapons as if they were some kind of containment. Now we see that the beast is unleashed—the beast of this nuclear war symbol. Nuclear non-proliferation is now also going to the dust bin.

If we speak about the context of the war in Ukraine, Ukraine and then Kazakhstan and Belarus, they gave up the remnants of the Soviet nuclear Arsenal that were here, and we were like the third nuclear power accidentally. In exchange for this Budapest memorandum, in exchange for the guarantees of security, editorial integrity and non-interference into the affairs of the country. Well, the President said that this memorandum went to the dust bin, and Russia did what it did, and it’s unilateral aggression and Russia being a nuclear power, and this only shows all the countries throughout the world that you need the nuclear weapons to prevent some kind of intervention.

So I’m afraid that again, and we have lots of other conflicts. We have India and Pakistan over Kashmir. We have the case of Iran and Israel and so on. It may be like the start of a really terrible and disastrous way to help the world end.

Paul Jay

So shouldn’t Ukraine — I know this is not a very popular position given Ukrainians are fighting and shedding blood right now, but shouldn’t the Ukrainian government declare now, no, NATO, there will never be nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil. Why not take those two things off the table? Not as part of negotiations, just unilaterally declare it. Otherwise, how does this war ever end? I mean, it could go on for months.

Denis Pilash

It was said in the words of the President and the Minister of foreign affairs these things can be taken off the table, but at the same time, they are afraid of doing this in a way that leaves Ukraine without any negotiating power. Actually, I’m afraid that people are not sure what the real intentions of the Russian side are, and all this stuff about demilitarization that can be given a range of meanings that completely differ from each other. In such cases, the optimal solution would be to demilitarize the aggressor as it was with the U.S. and Iraq, as it is in Saudi Arabia against Yemen or, in this case, with Russia against Ukraine. So, of course, it’s the victim who pays the price for this, not the aggressor, unfortunately.

So I’m really not sure. As if now [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy will say that we guarantee that we are outside NATO, and there were actually no real talks. It was more about some kind of rhetorical blackmail after the Budapest memorandum was turned off, and we can feel free, but no one was seriously considering that there could be any kind of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, especially given our history with Chernobyl. So I would say that it was never on the table.

Paul Jay

The Americans want to fight for the principle to the very last Ukrainian life.

Denis Pilash

Again, it says a lot about the mood of imperial power. The issue is that it’s not the Americans who are fighting. Unfortunately, we are pressured into this situation when it seems that some reasonable negotiations from the side of the Putinist autocracy will only be allowed in a case where they force a bigger invasion, and then they’ll grab a bigger chunk of Ukraine. There is a case where invasions are already stalled, and they have no other option to finally speak with the Ukrainians, whom they [inaudible 00:29:39] brothers, but actually then unleash the bombs and airstrikes on the heads of their brothers

Paul Jay

Finally, what do you want from the international Left? What position should they take?

Denis Pilash

So I wanted to address the issue that you mentioned several times. I think it’s part of the solution that we need on the international Left. The issue of fossil fuels. Generally, if we look into the anatomy of these aggressions: Saudi Arabia and its criminal war in Yemen, or the fossil fuel companies’ role in the Iraq invasion, or Russia being a fossil fuel empire, how it was intervening not just in Ukraine, but it also was using its fossil fuel as leverage against the other Soviet States like Belarus, and their willingness to suppress protests in Kazakhstan, Belarus, and so on. The outcome of this is more fossil fuels. 

At the same time, we need to push for the complete opposite. If we had a Democratic green transition more radical than the Green New Deal, some eco-socialist alternative to the existing fossil fuel capitalism, it would dismantle this current architecture of fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel empires and their aggressive wars. This is part of the solution in the long term that can be proposed. Here and now, again, I can speak on behalf of my comrades and the people here, but people in other countries can choose what suits them and isn’t compatible with some of their convictions. At this moment, it seems like Russia isn’t going to stop even if Ukraine does some significant concessions. They are really pressuring and doing more and more excesses against the civilian population. There were reports of some random shootings of people and so on. We need the demand for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and to actually have a process and not a gun to our heads. We need to pressure the leadership of Russia into this process. 

First, we need maximum support for the people of Ukraine. I mean the humanitarian aid for the people who were affected by the war. Help for the refugees from Ukraine, meaning all people who had to flee, notwithstanding their origin and citizenship. So again, this situation has already shown that there was more capacity in the West and in Europe to greet refugees, and it highlighted that refugees need to be treated humanely. This is what should have been done with the refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, from all other conflicts, especially those conflicts where European powers had their hand in it.

I think that it should be now that we see this, for some obvious reasons. Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe, but we are still in Europe, so we are treated more humanely by the Europeans. So this has to be a template for all other refugees and asylum seekers. We really need to receive this system and guarantee open borders for people who try to flee war, misery, and death. We have governments like Boris Johnson in the U.K., who is a big friend of the Ukrainian people. Due to their anti-migrant policies regarding refugees, it’s quite hard for Ukrainian seekers of asylum and refugees to get into this country. So we can see this hypocrisy. People on the ground have to help all the people from Ukraine and give their maximum assistance, and it also means helping all other refugees as well. So this is this issue.

I would also argue that I understand that many people with pacifist convictions and people who think that any kind of continued Ukrainian resistance is somehow bringing some bigger conflict closer, but I’m afraid that in the case where Ukraine ceases to resist, these people are under the threat of ceasing to exist as an entity. The Russian side is committing atrocities that cannot be justified. So this is why all of Ukraine need assistance for their resistance, both militarily and non-violent. If you feel that you cannot support any kind of weapons for Ukraine, you can concentrate on humanitarian issues. Still, you have to see Ukrainians as living people. So you need to understand their fight and their suffering.

In order to rebuild, recover, and reconstruct the country after the war, we need a complete rethinking of these neoliberal capitalist dogmas, and we need the cancellation of Ukrainian external debt to succeed. Again, this can be a template used for other countries, especially in the global South, who have been victims of these traps by the international financial institutions. They can pressure for getting the same conditions they were forced to, in terms of war and in times of complicated situations, to get all these loans and to pay off previous loans and then all this fiscal austerity. This has to be stopped, and this has to be stopped in the case of Ukraine as well. Our organizations with our comrades and European Left parties are now struggling to write off the Ukrainian debt and setting a precedent for all other people fighting against this. Again, to rebuild the country, you need funds from the same people; we need to take them from the people who robbed Ukraine, who robbed Russia, who robbed all our people, the capitalist class in our state.

Paul Jay

To expropriate the oligarchs.

Denis Pilash

I would say yes, that we need, contrary to these neoliberal measures, that is seen as something without an alternative by all of our governments and the Ukrainian government specifically. We need to expropriate the oligarchs. Expropriate their property and use it to recover and rebuild the country. This incudes their property that is stored in tax havens and their assets. Even with these personal sanctions against Russian oligarchs and members of the Russian ruling class, they have many loopholes they use to get off with what they deprive their own people of.

I would say that we need to challenge the system of imperialist powers. There is not one imperialism in the world, there are [inaudible 00:40:15] imperialists. One shouldn’t expect some of these imperialist powers to bring on a more just world. They will just tare it apart into more spheres of influence, but it wouldn’t mean Democratic and egalitarian world order. We need to stop this aggression as we need to stop all other aggressions, and we need not differentiate and say this aggressor and this imperialist are better than that one. So notwithstanding it beat the Western and American, beat Russian, beat Turkish beat Saudi Arabia, they are the same to the people with whom they invade and whom they have driven off their lands and their lives. 

In terms of people, of ordinary people throughout the world, of common people, of the people now in Ukraine, we have these striking pictures of ordinary common working-class people who try to stop Russian armed vehicles with their bare hands and who try to somehow resonate with those soldiers who were sent to kill them and say they don’t have to be here and they have to go home and deal with their problems. So we have to deal with our biggest problem, which is this neoliberal capitalism in all countries. In our country, obviously some kind of peripheral oligarchic capitalism, but I would say that Western capitalists are much nicer than ours.

Paul Jay

It’s not even the same in the sense that no oligarchy or country has committed war crimes on the scale of the Americans—everyone else pails.

Denis Pilash

It’s because they have the tools to do it.

Paul Jay

It’s not because they have evil DNA. It’s a process of history, the United States became the power, but they certainly have committed more crimes.

Denis Pilash

They weren’t in the position. You have this —

Paul Jay

I’m a dual citizen. I have Canadian, and U.S. citizenship and I’ve said a few times if Canada could be the imperial hegemon, they would jump at it, the Canadian elites. Just not the cards they have.

Anyway, Denis, thanks very much and we’ll do this again. I hope soon.

Denis Pilash

Thank you.

Paul Jay

Please stay safe.

Denis Pilash

Thank you.

Paul Jay

While you’re out there doing your work.

Denis Pilash

I’ll try.

Paul Jay

Okay, and thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news.

END

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4 Comments

  1. Surely Mr Pilash does not believe that Pres Putin is so naive that he believes he would be immune from criticism, as has been the USA for its arbitrary invasions, for his military operation in support of the Donbass and for responding to US and NATO’s threats on Russia’s western border with Europe. Pres Putin sent the Russian army into Ukraine because he had no other choice.
    We can see now, from the USA’s establishment of the 82nd Airborne Division in Poland and the shipments by the USA of arms to Poland and others in western Europe, that the threat posed by my country, the USA, to Russia was real. The intentions of my government are belligerent and its methods are martial. President Biden is setting the stage for war.

    1. Agree. The “left” is so full of faux equivocation these days, moralizing after ignoring the 14,000 dead in the breakaway republics, they who rightfully refused to be governed by a hostile and racist, let alone illegal by accepted standards of international law, government. It’s really quite enough of this bullshit. The U.S/UK fomented this in their long-grab efforts to break up Russia for their private exploitation and thence on to corral China. These are some cold-hearted evil money-grubbing motherfuckers. Period.

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