Putin’s War Driven by Domestic Politics - Boris Kagarlitsky

NATO expansion and the defense of Donbas are not the primary motivations for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, says Kagarlitsky. Stoking nationalism to shore up support for Putin’s government is. Two corrupt oligarchies fight a war that only fossil fuel firms and Western arms manufacturers can win.


Paul Jay

Hi, welcome to theAnalysis.news. In a few seconds, I’ll be back with Boris Kagarlitsky, who’s coming from Moscow. He’s going to give us his take on what’s happening inside Russia in regards to the war in Ukraine and the general political situation. Please don’t forget we have a donate button. If you don’t donate, we can’t do this. If you’re on YouTube, hit subscribe. Most importantly, come on over to the website. If you’re listening to the podcast, come to the website and sign up for the email list. We’ll be back in just a few seconds.

As much as there is a debate amongst much of the Left and progressive world, especially in North America and Europe, but I expect everywhere, there’s a very big debate in Russia itself about the war in Ukraine.

Now joining us from Moscow to talk about the nature of that debate and his take on things is Boris Kagarlitsky. Boris is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. He was a Deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990 and 1993, during which time he was a member of the Executive of the Socialist Party of Russia, co-founder of the Party of Labor, and Advisor to the Chairperson of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia. Previously, he was a student of art criticism and was imprisoned for two years for anti-Soviet activities. Boris’s books include Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System, Russia Under Yeltsin and Putin: Neoliberal Autocracy, and New Realism, New Barbarism: the Crisis of Capitalism.

In 2021, Kagarlitsky was sentenced to ten days in jail for sharing content on social media, promoting unpermitted protests by the Communist Party against the results of Russia’s recent parliamentary elections. He has the distinction of being put in jail by most governments that have ruled either the Soviet Union or Russia. He’s currently a professor at Moscow Higher School for Social and Economic Sciences in Moscow, and he’s the Editor of the journal Rabkor, which you can find on YouTube as a channel as well. Matt Taibbi also does some English translations in his SubStack. I think it’s called Russian Dissent. Thanks very much for joining me, Boris.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Great seeing you, Paul.

Paul Jay

Well, let’s just jump into the debate. I remember talking to one of your colleagues who was saying that if Russia only went into Donbas, people would probably be okay with it in Russia. If he went to Kyiv, most of the Russian people would not be okay with that. I don’t know if that’s true or not. So where is Russian public opinion, and then where is the Russian Left movement on this?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, I think that position which was expressed previously, which you mentioned, I think it was shared by quite a few people. To some extent, it is reasonable because you see, let us be very clear. There are two things which make this situation very difficult. On the one hand, in the current war, and I make it very clear, most people on the Left, at least people on the Left who are independent from the current regime, share this view that Russia is an aggressor in this war.

The Russian military are fighting a war to destroy the Ukrainian State, and there is no reason why this war should be justified by any decent person. However, there is a problem here. The problem is that, on the other end, the Ukrainian State doesn’t generate any sympathy among progressive people. This State was, in many ways, not only reactionary but also very repressive. It represses the Left. It tries, though, with very little success, it tries to repress the Russian language, which is spoken by about half of the population of the country. The policies of tran-State towards Donbas were also extremely oppressive and unfair. I think if any of the Ukrainian governments since 2014 had tried to do anything to achieve any kind of reconciliation with the Donbas people, this current situation wouldn’t take place.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that the Russian government on its side is innocent in terms of Donbas. You see that there are three sides here. The Ukrainian elites and the Ukrainian government on the one hand, and the Russian government on the other hand, but there are also people in Donbas who are kind of caught between these two sides. Initially, the rebellion in Donbas was started very much as a local thing. It was a local protest against what was happening in Kyiv when there was a coup d’état or whatever. Well, maybe they call it a revolution of dignity and so on. It doesn’t matter what you call it. The problem was that there was no legitimate government in Kyiv. The people of Donbas were rising against a government which had no legitimacy, was not elected by them, and was installed after this revolt in Kyiv, no matter what you call it. They didn’t care about their interests and their rights. In that sense, initially, the rebellion in Donbas was quite justified and was a popular rebellion.

However, after the attempt of the Ukrainian military to suppress it by force, of course, the Donbas movement had to look for support in Russia. On that hand, the Russian side, the Russian government did everything to undermine the popular democratic movement in the Donbas movement.

So it’s a very different story. What is the Donbas republic now, or the Lugansk republic now? What are these republics now? Now, these republics are being run by totally corrupt puppets installed by Moscow. In that sense, the movement was eroded, and it lost its initial meaning. Of course, now we can’t say that there is any progressive in Donbas. Anyhow, we shouldn’t forget that initially, these movements and these republics were produced by a popular rebellion.

Paul Jay

Yeah, I remember at the time you were very excited about what was happening when it was beginning.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Exactly. The people of Donbas lost that battle. We lost that battle together with them. This is part of the story, and we have to be very clear about that. We lost that battle. 

Paul Jay

For people who don’t know the context. You mean the progressives, both in Donbas and in Russia, many of whom actually volunteered to go to try to help build this new progressive Donbas, they lost to the Russian bureau.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

That’s exactly what I’m saying. Those Donbas progressives, Donbas people, Russian progressives and leftists who supported them, they lost that battle in 2014 and 2015. Quite a few people who were central to this movement, to this effort, were actually killed. They were not killed by Ukrainian troops. They were killed by security forces within Donbas. These people were killed, and we have some reasons to think they were killed by the mercenary sent from Russia. In that sense, still, there is a lot of support for the cause of Donbas inside Russia. So in that sense, it’s really true that if Russian troops were only moving to protect Donbas from potential or actual attacks from Ukraine, it could have been supported by quite a few people in Russia. In the current circumstances, we have to repeat that it’s not the same Donbas movement nor the same Donbas republic as it used to be eight years ago.

Paul Jay

Now, one of the things I’ve seen as one of the main justifications for the invasion has been that Donbas was under imminent threat of attack. I’ve seen numbers that Ukrainian troops were supposed to be massing. The head of the Russian Communist Party claimed, I believe there was 160,000 Ukrainian troops about to invade Donbas. Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov said there were 120,000 about to invade Donbas. Then I saw the number 60,000 kicking around, but I actually haven’t seen any independent source saying there were actually any massing of Ukrainian troops about to invade Donbas. Then the other thing is, I’ve heard from Lavrov and others that there was a genocide going on against Donbas. The UN [United Nations] and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] observers say that from 2018 to 2021, 310 people were killed by Ukrainian troops. In 2021 itself, I believe the number was 36. More people were probably killed in car accidents. So am I getting a correct take? There really was no imminent threat of a massive Ukrainian assault on Donbas?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Of course, there was not. First of all, let’s be clear, yes. Ukrainian troops did shell the Donetsk region, and the Donetsk militia also shelled Ukrainian troops. So there were troops on both sides. There were government forces, and there were militias. They were shelling each other. Not every day. It was not very active, but that was kind of business as usual. I hate to say it was business as usual for maybe six years since the actual hostility stopped. There were some activities not only in 2014 but later. For the last few years, people have travelled back and forth. Yes, sometimes there were clashes on the front line, but it was not a real war.

It’s more like India and Pakistan. Between India and Pakistan, they have this line or temporary border with troops on both sides, and sometimes they start shelling each other, and it goes on for decades, as you know. When it goes on for decades, sometimes, somebody gets killed on one side or another, and it doesn’t mean that it is a real war. It doesn’t mean one side is going to invade another side. Of course, both sides kept troops along the frontier because both sides accused the other side of planning to start an invasion or some hostilities. Yes, that continues for years. At least kind of normal people within Donbas, they sort of saw that as a very unpleasant but kind of normal condition. So that’s one thing.

The second thing, speaking about Ukrainian troops being massed around Donbas. One of the reasons why firing is going on so heavily around the very same places, which were around the front line of the previous stage of the conflict, is that Ukrainian troops had defensive positions there. Now we see that Russian troops have been storming [inaudible 00:14:05] Donetsk for two months without much success. They stormed [inaudible 00:14:13] there for about a month. Finally, they managed to take it over, but after a month of heavy fighting.

Why? One of the reasons was that there were really very strong defensive positions which were established by Ukrainian troops to fight back a Russian invasion. This means that, yes, Ukraine did have troops there and probably in January or February, they did some massing of the troops in this area for an obvious reason. Russia massed much more of its own troops on its side. Imagine if you’re massing your troops and the other side, which knows that you are bringing more and more reinforcements, more and more troops, cannons, tanks and so on, to the area, then the other side begins bringing in some reinforcements. Then you say, look, they’re massing their troops. They’re going to attack us. You see, that was the case with Russian government propaganda.

Already in spring 2021, there were huge numbers of troops which were sent to the Ukrainian border, and they were kept there for a few months and then sent back. No war happened. By the way, that led many people to the conclusion that this time it would be very much the same thing. The war wouldn’t happen because last time it didn’t work out so badly. I have a lot of contacts in Siberia, in Irkutsk, because I was quite active in helping local communists there to win the elections in September, which they actually did against the fraud, by the way.

In Siberia, Yakutia, and Magadan, there was one single campaign in these three areas. That’s how the Russian electoral system is organized. They have these huge mega constituencies. There the Communist Party won. One of the reasons why it won against the terms of fraud was that it had more ethical people in the Communist Party there who were actually running the campaign, and they won. Unlike many other places.

Paul Jay

For people watching who don’t know, the Communist Party in Russia is a complex thing because the leader of the main Communist Party couldn’t be more pro-war. He’s almost more pro-war than Putin is.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

I will speak about that later. I will tell them about that. Just coming back to the story. So about two months before the actual war, people from Irkutsk started sending me messages, photos and videos of enormous numbers of tanks, cannons, armed personal carriers, and all sorts of military equipment being moved along the Tran Siberian Railway to the West. It’s not something you do when you’re very peaceful. Let’s put it this way.

Paul Jay

This was when? This was in September, you said?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

No, the first time it was in March, April. The second time was in January, February. So they kept massing forces for months. They were massing so much force there that they had to bring forces, troops, and military equipment from the far East from the Chinese border. So it means they were bringing in everything they had. Again, it’s not something you do when you’re just protecting your friends. You are not massing such enormous quantities of troops. It’s very clear that they were preparing for a full-scale war, and that’s exactly what happened.

Coming back to the Donbas issue, yes, if they were just saying and doing something around Donbas, saying, okay, we’re going to move some troops into Donbas republics properly and keep these troops there just to protect these republics against being attacked. Okay, I wouldn’t be very happy about it. I’m not going to say it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to do because, as I told you before, I am not very happy with the Ukrainian government either. It was not about Donbas.

Actually, the interesting thing is that the real fighting in Donbas, the massive fighting, started only about late March when it became clear that Russian troops had failed to take over Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The major forces were not sent to Donbas. There was no Ukrainian offensive on Donbas. The troops were sent to take over Kyiv, and it seems that the plan originally was to somehow overthrow the current Ukrainian government and install a puppet government in Kyiv instead of the elected one. Then we don’t know what would have happened later because it seems there was very little planning.

Another thing which is very rarely discussed in the West, even in Ukraine itself, is that there was a tremendous political crisis in Russia for months. The election in September for the government party, United Russia, was a total failure. People didn’t show up to vote for them. If they showed up, they voted for the opposition. So that led them to the need to have massive electoral fraud. For example, if we look at Moscow, in Moscow, opposition deputies won 14 constituencies out of, I think, 20. Fourteen out of 20, that was the result. Fourteen out of 20. Then they had rewritten the results. By 10:00, the position was winning. The next morning, they declared that, no, every single constituency was won by the government party. The same thing happened almost everywhere.

In the far East and in Siberia, things were a little different, a little better. It was partly because of a lot of popular mobilization, which made the local bureaucracy think that it would be better not to do the worst, not to rewrite the results. They tried to correct the results a little bit, but they didn’t go as far as in Moscow or elsewhere. In fact, the government actually lost their elections, and they knew that perfectly well, and that led them to the conclusion that something had to be done about it.

Also, we know that Putin’s health is not very good, and the economic crisis, the social crisis, is really serious. It’s very deep in this country. As a result, there was a feeling around the Kremlin, I should say, in the administration, that something has to be done to reverse the trend. The best way, it’s very traditional, the best way to reverse the trend is to have a little victorious war. They remember that in 2014, as you probably know, Russia annexed Crimea. That was popular with the people. That was popular with the people that created the so-called Crimean Consensus, which actually increased Putin’s popularity and political stability within the country, even though the economic situation continued to deteriorate.

Now what they were trying to do is they were trying to remake this story. To remake the Crimean success. This time they needed a small war with Ukraine, which should have been a success, a very rapid success and very easy success. Then you do what? You organize a parade. You organize rallies, concerts, and celebrations about victory. They wanted to finish it within 96 hours. It was actually reported. If worst comes to worst, they wanted to do May Day celebrations. May 9th is when we celebrate the end of the victory of the Second World War. They wanted to have this May Day celebration as a celebration of victory in yet another war and bring back this image of Putin as a victor, as a savior, as somebody who is always bringing in success and achievement. That failed because they underestimated the Ukrainian troops. They overestimated their own potential force. They thought that the Ukrainian people would have been greeting Russian troops with flowers. It didn’t happen. By the way, it could have happened in 2014 again, as I told you, when Ukraine didn’t have any legitimate government. Now, like it or not, Ukraine has a legitimate government. Ukrainians had no reason to accept somebody, some puppet imposed on them from the Kremlin to have this new regime, to accept it as something better compared to what they had.

Paul Jay

So Boris, the other big argument other than Donbas, obviously, was this expansion of NATO. In the West, there are sections of the Left, and in the global South, it’s almost, perhaps, a predominant opinion that this was done because of the provocation and expansion of NATO. Even though I think it was rather obvious that Ukraine wasn’t going to get into NATO anyway, the militarization of Ukraine, they call that de facto NATO-ization. Was that a real factor? Because you’re talking mostly about domestic political considerations here.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

I am talking about these domestic considerations because they were the only ones which really mattered. That’s the problem. Everything you’re saying is stupid excuses used by propaganda, by the Russian propaganda, and by the government propaganda. That’s the problem. You know, when they often say, what have you done for eight years? Then we repeat that. Okay, great guys. Tell us, what have you done for eight years? Nothing. They did nothing. When they majorly expanded. It did expand. It did expand. When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO, that was okay.

By the way, Estonia is much closer to major Russian cities than any place in Ukraine. Estonia, I think Estonia’s frontier is maybe a two-hour ride, maybe less than a two-hour ride in a car from St. Petersburg. Wait a minute. Nobody cared? If they were really taking that seriously, they would have done, diplomatically, at least something to stop it from happening, or at least something to influence Estonian politicians and make them more eager to negotiate with Russians. Again, it was very interesting that there are lots of problems in Estonia, by the way. Amongst other things, they have absolutely shameful practices of discriminating against local Russian populations. The Russian government sometimes, when they need make noises. They never tried any serious diplomatic effort to support the local Russian community.

Paul Jay

I have to add to that. They did, as far as I know, nothing on the UN or international stage to complain about this horrible genocide against Donbas. They never said much of a word about it until they were ready to invade.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

That’s exactly the point. They didn’t care. They didn’t care at all. Just to give you one example about Estonia. I know Estonia pretty well. For years and years as a child, I spent my vacations there. I know every place there. I know people there. There is a problem with Russian books and libraries. I went to one of these Russian foundations, which was established to promote the so-called Russkiy mir, Russian world or Russian culture. I said, why don’t we organize a project to send Russian books, especially books translated into Russian from English, French, German, and so on, to Estonian libraries, which would have been a great thing both for Russians and Estonians. You don’t have these books in Estonian either. So if you get these books in Russian, both Russians and Estonians would read them in Russian, as it happened in the Soviet times. I spent a few months trying to convince them to do something like that, to do this project. There were other people who were trying to get other similar projects to support Russian culture and Russian communities in these republics. It was totally rejected. They were totally uninterested. They were totally uninterested. They were totally uninterested in Russians there. They were only interested when there was a big project where you could steal a lot of money, you see? Doing anything practical is not good. The more practical and the more reasonable your project is, the less it’s fit for big theft. Unless there is a prospective for a huge theft, nobody cares about anything in this country. At least you have to understand.

Paul Jay

Okay, let me ask you a question. Putin does this primarily for domestic and political considerations. In another interview, I was mentioning how President Bush, before the 9/11 attacks, was the subject of ridicule. Then there was even a TV show called That’s My Bush ridiculing the Bush family on the comedy channel. Of course, right after 9/11, he’s a hero. Then the invasion of Iraq, he’s a wartime president. His popularity goes up again. So this is not just a Russian phenomenon, this use of war. With that being said, how could they be so wrong? This is the opposite of what they’ve achieved in terms of shoring up his domestic strength. He has to look incompetent and weak in terms of NATO. He’s strengthened NATO, and he’s given the Western arms manufacturers a present they couldn’t even dream of. What is this going to mean in terms of domestic politics?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, it was a failure. But again, this is not the problem of Russian politics. Actually, in reality, the Russian government and Putin’s team fail every time they do anything. There is one problem. No matter what they do, they have this propaganda machine which can turn any failure into a tremendous victory. There is one problem. You can’t do that with a war. This was a big mistake because when there were economic failures— they have this whole new language. When the economy is declining or collapsing, do you know what they call it? Negative growth.

Paul Jay

I think they use that here, too.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Our economy is always growing, just sometimes negative, but the growth continues.

Paul Jay

They have more than 100 years of learning how to say that bullshit.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Yes, it’s very Orwellian. We have this whole new language, and I cannot even remember all the funny terms they invented. For example, when there is an explosion, for example, they say something is clapping. That’s the kind of language.

Paul Jay

People must know by now how badly the war is going. There was that one Russian, I think he was a Colonel, a fairly senior officer, he was actually on Russia Channel One, and he said that the war is a mess. He said it wasn’t planned properly. It’s a disaster. So the word is getting out now.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, let me finish with the leadership, and then we’ll come to the war. So the thing with the leadership is that we have this oligarchy which is totally corrupt and totally uninterested in anything except money. This makes them incompetent in everything that is not about getting money into their pockets. They’re extremely competent in achieving that particular thing, extremely competent. Everything else they suddenly don’t care, or they think that it’s achieved through propaganda. Again, yes, they miscalculated, but they partly miscalculated because so far, they were able to present any failure as a success. They were very much spoiled by their previous experience. Yes, things went completely wrong. They were kind of forced to go into a war which they could not win. To make things worse, nobody knows what it means to win this war. Where’s the goal? Where’s the end game? What’s going to be considered to be a victory or success? No goals were formulated. No goals were made clear to anyone, except maybe for Putin, who has the initial goal of presenting himself as a strong leader.

Paul Jay

Well, if the oligarchy is only interested in making money, then this total miscalculation by Putin has to be bad for business. Maybe for the military-industrial complex, it’s not so bad, but for everybody else, it can’t be very good.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, it’s also bad for the military-industrial complex because they don’t get the spare parts from the West because they’re very much dependent on their Western partners, who are not so much competitors, but partners. They all know it’s very bad for business. They just don’t have a way out. There is no plan B, and there is no strategy to get out of this mess. This is why the way the operators are, okay, we don’t know how to get out of this mess. So we have to continue till the moment when we find the way or create some opportunities to get out of this mess.

Paul Jay

What way out is there other than to somehow get rid of Putin? He’s so identified with this. If the West, I think, because of the danger of nuclear war by accident more than by design, but still it gets more and more dangerous in these circumstances. If the West, to me, had any brains, they would give Putin a way out, but they seem not to want to. What choice does that leave the oligarchs? The question is, do the oligarchs outside of Putin and those people around him have any power?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

There are two problems here. One problem is that, yes, they would like to get rid of him, but again, it’s not so easy. Technically, it’s not so easy. Second, they are afraid that if they get rid of Putin, they could be next. As I told you, the country is not boiling, of course, but it’s very hot already. People hate them. People hate the oligarchs. People hate the top bureaucrats. People hate them all. In a certain sense, even though Putin is becoming very unpopular with the oligarchs now, he’s still the one who is the best choice for them; that’s irony. With Putin, it’s very bad. Without Putin, it’s very dangerous. That creates paralysis. Then you have to understand that Putin is a person who definitely is very ill, and nobody knows how long he’s going to survive. By the way, he can survive for quite a long time, or maybe he could die tomorrow. Nobody knows.

Paul Jay

Do we know what he is ill from? Because that isn’t being talked about much that I’ve seen in the West anyway.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, if you—

Paul Jay

There’s a little bit. Somebody saw his hands shaking or something, but there hasn’t been that much focus on it, though.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

There are plenty of discussions online in Russia. If you search Russian social networks, what you get is doctors commenting, and you get people sharing some rumors. Whether these rumors are correct, right or wrong, we don’t know. It’s another problem. When you don’t have adequate information, you have to analyze rumors. I had already written a whole text about political science being forced to use rumors as the only source of reliable information because the rest of the information is even less reliable than rumors. That’s the kind of situation we are in. It doesn’t mean that we know anything. It means that there are reasons to think that this person is ill and that he is not going to survive for too long. Nobody knows for sure, and that adds to the situation of uncertainty.

By the way, for example, I can give you one example. There is one business telegram channel which reports the exchange rates and the current situation with stocks. These days, every single daily report ends with one phrase, with one sentence. Russia is still expecting the main news. You know what? Everybody knows what is the main news because that was the same joke with [Leonid] Brezhnev when Brezhnev was very ill. There were plenty of jokes about Russians picking up newspapers every day expecting to get the news.

Paul Jay

Now that more and more Russian boys and workers are coming home in body bags, and more and more families are being directly affected in Russia by this war, not just in terms of their sons dying but also wounded and also deprivation in terms of goods; is the anti-war sentiment growing?

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Not so much. Again, let’s be more analytical. The way the Army is formed is very specific. They tried not to send draftees there into Ukraine. They really tried to avoid that, and this is very important. I know, as Americans knew, elites learned the lesson of Vietnam, and Russian elites learned the lesson of Afghanistan. When you have an Army based on the draft, the Army is very much connected to society. So, society cares about the war, and society cares about casualties. It was very much the American idea to shift from an Army based on draft to an Army based on contracting people, which is what you call the poverty draft. It’s very much the same thing in Russia. Not only this, it’s even more specific. For example, we said in the news about people who were killed; of course, we have very little news because most of the news is not coming even on the social media. You can study social media— well, if you spend a lot of time, you could find the reports and stuff.

Paul Jay

This is like the war in Iraq. They wouldn’t let the network/television show coffins coming back from the Iraq war on American TV.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Exactly. There are tremendous similarities. It’s very similar. By the way, Russian elites learn from American elites. A lot! They really follow. They really learned. They learn from each other, really. What they do in Russia it’s even more specific. As I told you, we’re trying to follow the reports on social networks like somebody’s son or brother and someone was killed that was somehow reported by people in chats and so on. Of course, you get not a full picture but at least a piece. Then what I discovered was astonishing. They have taken mostly boys from rural areas, depressed rural areas, which are the most remote rural areas. Yes, they get a lot of guys from Siberia, for example. These people are not from Irkutsk, not from Krasnoyarsk, not from Novosibirsk, not from any of these major towns or major cities, not even from district towns. They are from remote villages and from some of the smallest towns, which are 200, 300, 1000 km away from Irkutsk. You see, even if you take a place like Irkutsk, or Krasnoyarsk, or Novosibirsk, or Omsk, which are Siberia cities, then you discover people know nothing about the war because people who got killed are far away. They are not only kilometers away, they’re hundreds of kilometers away. The actual urban society doesn’t feel any pressure and doesn’t feel any concern about what’s happening.

Also, it’s not only these people who got killed in these villages, their families are 1000 km away from any major city. These villages are maybe hundreds of kilometers between themselves. So there is total miscommunication. The actual number of people killed is quite impressive. It seems like it’s about 40,000 people have been killed already. Quite a lot of people. More than in Afghanistan, for example. Much more than in Afghanistan.

However, these numbers are dispersed and around huge spaces. Don’t forget about Russia in terms of space. It’s a huge country in terms of space. It’s not only big, but there is also a lot of space. Just to give an example, a lot of people are killed in Buryatia. First, Buryats are very poor. It’s a very poor minority. It’s a very important minority, I think minority in Siberia. They’re very poor, most of the people, because there are rich people everywhere. Then if you go to Ulan-Ude, which is the capital of Buryatia, you can hardly find any evidence that so many people are killed in this area. Most people are from very remote villages, so they don’t even get into Ulan-Ude unless [inaudible 00:47:21], which some people are doing. Some people are doing it, trying to make [inaudible 00:47:28]. Then you have another problem. Once people are not getting that as part of their— when people don’t get that as part of their real experience, they see that as something very distant. What we get is that the support for the war is very weak.

At the same time, the anti-war movement and anti-war sentiment are also very weak. That’s the problem. Most of the society so far is indifferent, and that is very dangerous, of course, very traumatic for those people. But that’s how things really are. I don’t want to make anybody have any illusions about that. Most people are indifferent, but the general trend is that there are more and more people getting worried and less and less people being happy. Even among those people who are happy with the war in principle, there are lots and lots of reasons to think that something goes wrong with the war. So there is yet another type of position. People who are against the war, and there are people who approve of war but who are not happy with the way the war is conducted. This is another kind of opposition which is also emerging. Sometimes these people are more angry with the government than us.

Paul Jay

Well, I was thinking that if Putin fell, there’s no guarantee that whoever becomes the next leader isn’t actually more aggressive than Putin.

Boris Kagarlitsky 

Well, I think the next leader, no matter who he’s going to be, maybe who she is going to be because there are rumors that Putin wants his daughter to be the next leader. Anyhow, the next leader would face the consequences of a disaster. We’ll see that as a major turmoil because— finishing this interview, I really have to sum up. There is a good Russian tradition that we start reforms and revolutions every time we lose a war. We had this tradition with Crimea when Russia lost the Crimean War. Then they had to abolish serfdom, and they had to do some progressive reforms. Finally, that generates a lot of social movements. Finally, as you know, Alexander II Czar was killed by revolutionaries. Then, Nicolas, the Second, lost the Russia-Japanese war. Russia’s Japanese war was lost by Nicholas II, and after that first Russian revolution happened. Then first World War was also lost then the February and October revolution happened. After Afghanistan, the Soviet Union collapsed. So we have a good tradition. That’s one of the reasons why these people are very much afraid of losing the war or accepting the fact that they lost the war. In one way or another, they have already lost it.

Paul Jay

Alright, well, I know you have to run Boris, thanks very much. We’re going to rebook Boris as soon as we can. I’m hoping even next week. Clearly, there’s about a two or three or four-part interview here, so we’ll arrange that as soon as we can. So thanks, Boris, and thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news. Don’t forget there’s a donate button, subscribe, and get on the email list. Share! Share! Share! The most important thing is to share with your friends and colleagues. Thanks again.


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“Boris Yulyevich Kagarlitsky is a Russian Marxist theoretician and sociologist who has been a political dissident in the Soviet Union and in post-Soviet Russia. He is coordinator of the Transnational Institute Global Crisis project and Director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow.”

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16 Comments

  1. Maybe what is driving this war is the bad choices the US has made in subserviance to its plutocratic class. To wit …

    If Ukraine settles too soon, NATO will just refresh and pick it up later or somewhere else. The war against Russia needs to end. We can see that Russia is not a threat to anyone. Russia wants to join the EU as a secure nation that is not endlessly fighting war with the US. So, now that the US has been “outed” as the fundamental aggressor here, having worked for over a decade to set up the circumstance for Russia to need to resort to military action to protect its security, Russia has to set an end point that will allow it to ensure that the US will not be able to just start it up again and again. Meaning a longer and even more destructive war.

    The US has exported so much industry and disinvested in Americans in terms of education and health care that it has lost what used to be a technological and industrial advantage for cheap corporate profits, and now can no longer compete with Russia, China and even India in the global market. That is the real problem that cannot be solved militarily.

  2. Mr. Kagarlitsky is so obviously a politician with an agenda that everything he says is suspect just like everything from the mouth of campaigner. He casually He blithely states without any evidence that the tit for tat build-ups of troops was STARTED by Russia – even though it is so obvious that it was the Ukrainian forces that were initially sent to Donbass to crush the uprising. He also maintains that the election was simply stolen by Putin through manipulation of vote counting but then says HIS communists in Siberia actually WON, the absurdity of that contradiction is then covered with some malarchy about the politicians “being afraid”. Pul-ease! In this regard, he sounds just like Trump! And finally, to assert that Putin´s move into Ukraine was really just an attempt to “recreate the Crimea success” to regain popularity is so obviously bullshit – we are supposed to believe that Putin was completely unaware that Nato and America had been supplying large amounts of weapons and training in Ukraine for the LAST EIGHT YEARS!! I don´t think so. How about getting someone in Russia without an agenda to describe the goings on there????

    1. Kagarlitsky risks jail for giving these opinions. He not only opposes Putin but the leader of the Communist Party who is a virulent nationalist. You give him no credibility because he is a “politician with an agenda”, yet you repeat talking points from the Russian government. Do you consider the elections in Russia fair on a formal legalistic basis? Of course, democracy in the U.S. is superficial, to say the least, but from your logic, anyone who critiques an election as stolen anywhere in the world is equal to Trump.

      1. it would be a good thing to make an overview of the legal actions in Russia and Ukraine against political opposition. (Abrogation of) laws and cases. Both situation (UKR & RUS) are very bad, there’re no “good” guys here.

  3. Why is Paul so hung up on the OSCE numbers for civilian casualties? All that is is a semantic game about who is or isn’t a civilian vs a combatant. You can easily go on youtube and see dozens of videos recorded between 2014 and now where you will see the dead bodies of way more than a few hundred people lining the morgues of Eastern Ukraine. The vast majority of them are indeed fighting aged males, who likely did take up arms against the Kiev regime. That’s where the 14,000 number comes from. I guess the lives of people have no value to you since they were lawful combatants, so their deaths were justified. That number you cited seems oddly low even with this generous definition of what qualified as a civilian. I’d gladly wager that a more neutral analysis would determine a higher number, probably somewhere in the ballpark of 700+ if I had to speculate.

    1. OSCE says the vast majority of the 14,000 killed took place between 2014 and 2016. I have no idea if the OSCE numbers are correct, but all sides are quoting the 14,000 number and the OSCE is where the number comes from. If you rely on that number, then you can’t discount the OSCE breakdown. While the numbers I’ve quoted are for civilian deaths, the OSCE numbers also show that the vast majority of those killed including combatants took place between 2014-2016. The point I’ve been making is there is no evidence of an imminent genocide against Donbas which was one of the justifications for the Russian invasion. That said, the Ukrainian government’s attacks on Donbas in 2014 were criminal as people have a right to self-determination. Still, no justification for so many civilians and soldiers from both countries killed in the Russian invasion. I have denounced the war and deaths of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and often made the point that workers who are soldiers should not kill workers who are soldiers for the sake of the oligarchs and governments of either country. Better they turn their fighing against their own oligarchs. That said, the Russian invasion must be denounced as a criminal.

      1. I’m not a journalist, but you are. There is a press office (still) with the OSCE for the monitoring mission. If you could place a request for data sourcing, let’s say the last 3 months in detail, and yearly averages for the years of the conflict, I’m willing to process them and provide you with an article (to my best abilities).

    2. you’re right.
      the distinction between civilians and fighting force is rhetoric and ridiculous.
      especially if you call upon the civilian population to fight (and deliberately wipe out the distinction for the opposing forces)
      just as all western forces, the Ukrainians accept and have accepted females in to the fighting force, which was obvious with the Mariupol surrender, when female infantry soldiers surrendered. Typically used in support or speciality functions, like sniper units.
      Also, if use a military truck driver to transport equipment, that would be a legal combattant (kill … kill), but if I use a civil contractor (war crime … war crime) … .

      Next up is just war (as there is a justified or “right way” for smashing someone’s brain out), war crimes.

      Anyone ever involved with actual fighting knows it’s BS. It’s intended for use afterwards, Vae Victis, and for PsyOp during the fighting.

  4. (I can’t type nor write, any suggestions for spelling, grammar errors, etc. are appreciated).

    It’s very hard to find objective data.

    In that view the OSCE observer-mission, whose mission it was to observe “the peace”, is probably the best available option for objective data. However, we need to take into account that the OSCE was perceived by the separatist forces as partisan, (meaning siding with Ukrainians).

    So when around 10:56 you do show a short brief with some data, I thought, this is the starting point for snippets of useful objective informative, and hopefully we can learn something, maybe with the guest. I also thought it was OSCE-data. Wrong, twice.
    I couldn’t find any link to the cited document below the video.
    Based on the title, it’s a UNHCR document, published Jan 31st. I was only able to find the revised version of Jan 27th, here’s the link, https://ukraine.un.org/sites/default/files/2022-02/Conflict-related%20civilian%20casualties%20as%20of%2031%20December%202021%20%28rev%2027%20January%202022%29%20corr%20EN_0.pdf. Based on casualties it shows a conflict that is dwindling down.
    The host asked himself the question, what can we learn about this (based on the cited information) and the claim of an imminent Ukrainian counter-offensive (somewhere in the early days of March).
    Nothing.
    Why not?
    (i) The time series ends in December 2021. Concentrating troops and equipment, one tends to do that over a short period. Idle concentrated equipment near the front lines is very vulnerable, idle troops tend to get bored and uncontrollable. These activities would have been seen in January/February, AFTER the end of the time series.
    (ii) Casualties are a result of an ongoing operation, not so much of a concentration of forces and equipment. They go up when an operation has started, not when you’re preparing. Counterargument would be: artillery to soften up the targets. Sure, but within the same time frame, let’s say 1-2 weeks before the kinetic operation [i].

    Conclusion: wrong type of date (measuring result not preparation), wrong time frame.

    Is there some data out there that can learn us something?
    There is.
    The OSCE had a monitoring mission in place to monitor violations on the Minsk accords. Here’s their own fact sheet (https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/b/a/116879.pdf). (Note that the monitoring mission only had a press office in Kiev/Kyiv).
    Here the wikipedia page (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OSCE_Special_Monitoring_Mission_to_Ukraine), actually better.

    Now, I don’t blame you didn’t use their data.
    For starters, they clearly have a database, but do not make it available for the public.
    The public get’s inconsistent daily reports. Inconsistent, meaning, the type of data varies from report to report.
    Tiny graphs, and no one has figured out how to display totals on top of a bar in a chart.
    And in the end all the different types of violations are thrown in together, like a troop movement or a shelling are comparable.
    Mapping violations, without making distinctions for incoming, outgoing shelling, troop movements. It’s really painful.
    Anyway, here are the reports in the week just before the ‘special operation’ on February 25th.

    https://www.osce.org/special-monitoring-mission-to-ukraine/512989
    https://www.osce.org/files/2022-02-24%20Daily%20Report.pdf?itok=39275
    https://www.osce.org/files/2022-02-25%20Daily%20Report_ENG.pdf?itok=36745
    https://www.osce.org/files/2022-02-20-21%20Daily%20Report_ENG.pdf?itok=82567
    https://www.osce.org/files/2022-02-23%20Daily%20Report_ENG.pdf?itok=57816
    https://www.osce.org/files/2022-02-22%20Daily%20Report_ENG.pdf?itok=63057

    We actually don’t know what the daily average was over 2021, but based on the bar graph, in the last week, those infractions were around up to 10 times the intensity of 2021, what the OSCE itself calls a”(…) severely deteriorated security situation”.

    The week preceding the special military operation, things were clearly heating up. We can establish that with certainty.
    Does it prove an imminent military operation? No.
    But I do want to refer to an earlier statement, about using artillery to soften up targets. [i]
    Which side was on the firing end, which side was on the receiving end? It’s really hard to tell. There’s no blame on the observers here. However, we also know that the ‘Special Military’ operation, did not entail any movement around the front lines in the Donbass.

    I expect I journalist to prepare a subject.
    The Minsk agreement, the OSCE-missions, that would be part of the course and basic knowledge.
    Diligently trying to find high quality PRIMARY sources (not opinions) to be the highest priority.

    Please understand that, within that context, when I hear (around 11:10 => 11:20):
    “(…)
    (Mr. Jay): So, am I getting a correct take, there really was no imminent threat of a massive Ukrainian assault on Donbass?
    (Mr. Kagarlitsky): Of course there was not. (…)”,
    WITHOUT mentioning ANY RELEVANT source of PRIMARY INFORMATION, I do come to the conclusion, that continuing to listen to the interview will not increase my knowledge (hence I stopped).

    You also should have marked the video as “opinion”, now people might get confused and think it’s reporting.

    As a side note:
    Note that the OSCE gets the most information about the insurgents from aerial photography. From that method, there’s no information of the “government held” side. UAV-info is skewed as well to the insurgent side. For the government side, most comes from patrolling.
    The argument probably being, we were denied access.
    That would explain why you would shift to use those methods, not why one would only use the high-value info gathering methods for one side and rarely for the other. A skewing effect on the gathered data is an understatement.
    The reason for the denied access were claims of the Donbass-side that patrols were allowing Ukraine to their communication means, also for gps-localisation, and hence using the patrols for target acquisition. They claim to have observed a pattern between an OSCE-mission leaving an (insurgent) position and an incoming artillery barrage in the immediate aftermath.
    OSCE-communication-material has been found in possession of (surrendered/deceased) Ukrainian military or in deserted Ukrainian military installations on multiple occasions.

    Please accept the following suggestions:
    If you cite a source, make the source available to the audience by referencing it, e.g. a hyperlink, an isbn-n°, or just basic: author, title, date.

    MOST IMPORTANTLY,
    Since leaving TRNN, I actually see Mr. Jay smiling more (the joy of Canadian air?), so I hope that’s a correct observation. I hope you and your family are well, I hope your endeavors fare well, take care and good luck.

    1. I’m aware of the reports you mention and there is still no evidence of an imminent genocide or massive attack by the Ukrainian government against Donbas in early 2022. Note there was already a massive troop build-up by Russian forces near the border. Kagarlitsky, who has been to Donbas many times and was closely connected to the struggle against the Ukrainian government in 2014 and supported the right of the breakaway regions to self-determination, may not have his own monitoring capacity but his is more than just an opinion.

      I’ll say it again, the oligarchs of both Ukraine and Russia and their governments are criminals, provoked this war, and of course most criminal of all the arms manufacturers, fossil fuel corporations, the U.S., and NATO who are profiting from and extending the war. More so, it’s the global monopoly capitalist system that produces these conflicts and will continue to do so until we democratize the economy and politics of our own countries and put an end to such wars. All that said, the Russian invasion must be denounced and a deal must be made to stop the fighting. People and workers should not kill and die to defend the interests of oligarchs of any country.

      1. > I’m aware of the reports you mention and there is still no evidence of an imminent genocide
        > or massive attack by the Ukrainian government against Donbas in early 2022.

        You know what they say … “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.

        Here is a YouTube video of Oliver Stone talking about Ukraine from June 18th 2022.
        He and the people who did the Ukraine On Fire and Ukraine Revealed documentaries.

        Does there have to be what you qualify as an “imminent genocide or massive attack
        by the Ukrainian government against Donbas”? What about all the shelling and
        violence against the people of Donbas …

        https://youtu.be/YwLdOKdB0Os?t=881

        Stone claims 12,000 people had been killed in the attacks by nationalists on Donbas?
        Is that just made up? That number, and up to 16,000 are routinely floated to set the
        tone for what the government of Ukraine was doing – meanwhile being armed and
        supported by the US State Dept, and the CIA, NATO, etc.

        It sure seems to add up to setting a trap and baiting it for the Russians.

        But, this world can no longer bear the wars and the insults to the environment and
        the failure of human beings to unite and start to deal with the human and environmental
        issues.

        1. I have no idea where Stone gets his numbers. Not from OSCE whose 14,000 number includes thousands of Ukrainian forces. Stone’s documentary is a series of Russian talking points, as one sided as the Ukrainian propaganda films.

          1. as for the numbers

            I already cited the issue with the OSCE.
            What I didn’t do is to cite the other side of the story. When MH17 was brought down, OSCE was actually prevented from doing it’s job to collect evidence. So from the start on the relationship between the OSCE was clearly strained. The OSCE was also called in on request of the UKR government. It led to difficult working conditions.

            It’s fair to say that for casualties on the ‘rebel’ side, the OSCE has not good numbers. It’s hard to count bodies with aerial imagery or drones.

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