Russia, Climate Crisis, and the War in Ukraine - Boris Kagarlitsky pt 3

Russia faces the catastrophic consequences of climate change and an economy dependent on fossil fuel exports. Boris Kagarlitsky joins Paul Jay on theAnalysis.news.


Paul Jay

Hi. Welcome to theAnalysis.news. I’m Paul Jay, and we’ll be back in just a few seconds to talk with Boris Kargarlitsky about the coming climate crisis and how that impacts the war in Ukraine and the general political situation with Russia. Please don’t forget there’s a donate button on the website. If you’re watching somewhere else, a podcast, YouTube, Substack or one of the various platforms, come on over to the website and get onto our email list. If you’d like to support what we are doing, click the donate button. Be back in just a few seconds. 

As heat waves savage much of Europe, Russia has not yet been hit by such extreme temperatures this summer. The overall trend in Russia is, perhaps, even more, or at least as threatening. Over the last 100 years, the warming in Russia has been around 1.29 degrees Celsius, while warming on the global scale has been 0.74 degrees, according to the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] fourth assessment report, showing that the warming of the Russian climate is happening at a faster rate than the global average. The UN [United Nations] weather agency said that it has certified a 38-degree Centigrade, that’s 100.4 Fahrenheit reading, in the Russian town of Verkhoyansk, and I’m sure I’m pronouncing that incorrectly.

At any rate, in 2020, as the highest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, the latest in a stream of what they call alarm bells about our changing climate, the World Meteorological Organization said the temperature in Siberia in the summer of 2020 was more befitting the Mediterranean than the Arctic. This temperature was registered on June 20, 2020, during a heat wave that swept across Siberia and stretched north of the Arctic Circle. Permafrost, which covers nearly two-thirds of Russian territory, is rapidly thawing. More dramatic freeze-thaw cycles in the subsoil are eroding urban infrastructure in Russia’s Arctic cities, home to over 2 million people. It poses a mounting risk to Russia’s 200,000 km of oil and gas pipelines, not to mention thousands of roads and rail lines bridging some of Russia’s widest rivers. Oil and gas revenues make up around 40% of Russian government revenues, and by some reckoning, as much as 57% of Russian GDP depends directly or indirectly on oil exports.

So climate change and dependency on oil and gas are two fast-moving trains on their way to a head-on collision for the Russian economy⁠— all this an existential threat to Russia before the invasion of Ukraine. Of course, this threat applies to the entire world economy, including the United States, which may have a more diversified economy than Russia, but is facing every bit as much a climate disaster, with heatwaves, fire, floods, and extreme weather soon reaching catastrophic proportions. If there was ever a time when Russia, China, and the United States needed to cooperate on climate, it’s now.

Since Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, American and European determination to use this as an opportunity to weaken [Vladimir] Putin. No matter how many Ukrainian lives are lost in the process, cooperation on the climate crisis is even more remote. Combine that with an increased threat of nuclear war, more pandemics and famine in much of the world, global capitalism is in deep, deep crisis, even though massive wealth continues to flow into the billionaires’ pockets⁠— the ultra-rich fiddle as the world burns.

Now, joining us for a perspective from Russia is Boris Kagarlitsky. Boris was a Deputy to the Moscow City Soviet between 1990 and ’93. During that time, he was a member and 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. He was imprisoned for two years for anti-Soviet activities. He was also imprisoned by the Putin government for protest activities. His 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. He’s currently a professor at Moscow Higher School for Social and Economic Sciences and an Editor of Rabkor, a daily Russian journal and YouTube channel for left-wing debate. He joins us from Moscow. Thanks for joining us again, Boris.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Thank you, Paul.

Paul Jay

President Putin, the Russian leadership, and the Russian oligarchy, they have to be aware of just how threatening this climate crisis is. I don’t think they’re not outright climate science deniers. They know what this is going to mean for the Russian economy and the lives of people sooner than later. How does this factor into their analysis, both in a general way in terms of the invasion of Ukraine and obviously the need for global cooperation, which we couldn’t be further from?

Boris Kagarlitsky

Interestingly enough, I think, Paul, that Russian leaders are not climate change deniers, but they’re climate change ignorers in the sense that they do not consider that to be a serious problem.

Paul Jay

I have to say that seems to be more or less the truth in the West, too, but go ahead.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Yes, very much so. But of course, there were politicians like Donald Trump who presented some kind of vision based on not just ignoring but denying the threat. So far, no one in Russia publicly denies that there is a threat or that there is a problem. At the same time, no one among top Russian politicians ever considers that to be anything serious.

Well, it’s very interesting and tragic in a way because, well, as you already said, much of Russia’s territory is in the permafrost zone, and much of the Russian economy depends on it. For example, I have been to Yakutia a few times. I know this region, not necessarily that well, but I love it. I really love it. It’s a really exciting place, and it is a really, very interesting place with a lot of culture and a lot of social and even political activities. Interestingly, it’s considered one of the most democratic regions in the Russian Federation. So far, they don’t have political prisoners, for example. Almost every Russian region has its own political prisoners. Yakutia, so far, doesn’t have any, and that tells you much about this place.

Anyhow, much of the territory of Yakutia is in a permafrost zone, and they really feel global warning. Sorry, warming. It’s a Freudian slip. They really feel global warming because you see the buildings are becoming unstable in the city. The buildings are not collapsing yet, but they’re discussing what they are going to do if the temperature increases just a little bit more and a little bit further. Then there would be a very serious problem for the city of Yakutia, for example, and there are plenty of other problems like that.

So the answer to the Russian elite is very simple. As long as we can continue to sell oil, the rest doesn’t matter. That’s very simple and, in a certain sense, a very effective answer because they consider that this can continue. This will continue for another decade or so, and they do not care about anything that is going to happen in two or three decades from now. It’s not very humane to think like that, but that’s the way they think.

Well, theoretically, Putin is planning to stay in power until 2036. The basic idea is that till 2036, global warming is not going to become catastrophic for Russia and after, it doesn’t matter. That’s their policy.

Paul Jay

They’re probably quite wrong about that because the latest IPCC prediction is that global warming could hit 1.5 by 2033, if not sooner. If the overall trend of warming in Russia is, in fact, maybe 1.5 times faster or at least significantly faster than the global warming, that means Russia could be hitting 1.5 sooner than anywhere else. Both the permafrost frost effects and such, and heat waves and all the rest of the extreme weather could be hitting Russia actually worse and more quickly.

As you say, more or less like the elites everywhere, they figure, well, we’ll keep at it while the going is good, and maybe there’ll be some wonderful technology solution. Is Putin and the Russian government doing anything to use all the oil revenues to diversify the economy? I saw a quote somewhere. Putin says they’re going to wean Russia off oil and gas, but that doesn’t seem to really be happening.

Boris Kagarlitsky

They keep speaking about that kind of saving the country from oil addiction for the last 20 years of Putin’s power, for the whole period of Putin staying in power. I remember them speaking about that in 2000. Now it’s 2022. So this is a very popular kind of melody, but it never goes anywhere close to any practice. On the contrary, throughout these 20 years, when they kept speaking about oil addiction, which has to be overcome, it increased the dependency of the Russian economy on oil, gas, fossil fuels and raw materials. In general, it increased massively throughout the period of Putin’s power.

Actually, now it’s getting even worse because the oil economy is less hit by sanctions at this point. Though, in the long run, it’s going to be hit. In the long run, I think it’s going to be hit very heavily. To some extent, it’s good news for Russia because it will speed up the process of change, which will not come from the top, of course. It’s going to be very dramatic and maybe even catastrophic, but to some extent, it’s kind of normal. History is not necessarily a nice road to go. It’s very dramatic itself. You should not expect it to go so smoothly. So in that sense, there is a tremendous contradiction between the objective necessity to do certain things and the objective capacity of the ruling elites to do necessary things.

Well, one problem is that to do the things which we have to do, to do what is actually needed, we first have to get rid of these elites because they are the main obstacle. Their interests are vested and rooted in the current state of things, in the current system, and in the current way things are done. In that sense, any serious attempt to change things is not possible because it means for them that they have to abolish themselves. They’re not going to abolish themselves. They want to stay in power. They want to keep living off oil revenues.

On the other hand, the irony of this current crisis and this current war is that in a very specific and very traumatic way, I think it’s going to contribute to a global restructuring and technological change. In a certain sense, I think the general trend was already more or less formulated and more or less discovered by Western elites, in the sense that they do understand that certain changes are necessary. But there is a problem. The problem is who is going to pay the bills? Who’s going to pay for the process?

One thing which is absolutely clear for the elites in the West is that they do not want to pay. They’re going to make someone else pay for the transition. Unlike Russia, where they do not think the transition is possible or necessary, western elites, which are somewhat more advanced, are one step further in the sense that they do understand that something has to be done, but somebody else, not them, has to pay the cost of the transition.

Paul Jay

Well, that somebody else is workers should pay; that’s the somebody else or poor countries that they could try to squeeze something out of.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Exactly. Here I’m coming exactly to that point. The others are either toiling masses of western countries or some foreign countries which do not belong to the West, to the western core. So these are two potential sponsors of the transition, within their vision of the transition. The war, in a certain sense, is facilitating that kind of strategy. On the one hand, if you are speaking in terms of the social division of costs, social distribution of costs, then you can say, look, we’re at war. We have to defend freedom and democracy and the sovereignty of Ukraine, not just Ukraine, but Europe as a whole. 

By the way, it’s all true. There is a threat opposed by Putin and Russia’s oligarchs, but it is a real threat. It’s also a great pretext to make the masses pay. So the best pretext is the ones which have some truth behind them. You see, if it is a total lie, if it is total propaganda, it’s very hard to convince people. When there is something to it, when there is a serious element of truth within the discourse, it’s much easier to sell that discourse to the public. You can point to the real facts, to the hard facts that prove that this discourse is not just taken out of there.

Paul Jay

So you’re talking about NATO expansion and things like this.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Not only this. I think the very idea of redistribution of costs is part of the transition. Ordinary people are going to accept lower living standards, less consumption of energy, probably less consumption in general, lower wages, and, well, some kind of new austerity. Let’s put it; it will be not financial austerity but it will be energy austerity. This kind of new austerity is not that much about having less money but is more about having less access to fuel, energy and heating. Well, people have to stay a bit less warm. It’s not just about the companies, the big corporations failing on not being interested in paying their share of the costs of a transition, but it will be about evil Russia. It will be about evil Putin, which doesn’t change the fact that Putin’s policies are really evil. In that sense, it’s a very good use of the war to promote a particular agenda. The agenda of, let’s put it, fewer austerity with a kind of new austerity and trying to retain as much as possible from the neoliberal order. I don’t think that they will be able to sustain neoliberal order, anyhow. It’s collapsing. It’s falling apart. It’s not sustainable within the new model of development. It’s not compatible with the new emerging model, but they’re going to sustain to keep as much as possible from that model within the new one. For that very reason, the war is a very good solution.

Speaking about countries, again, there are different countries. Poor countries are so poor there is not much you can get out of them. Western countries, yes, they are going to pay, but the toiling masses are going to pay. Then who else are the ones who are going to pay? Russia will pay because, for example, they will cut the oil trade. If it were within a peaceful situation, there would be a big quarrel or a big debate on who is going to cut that much? Who is going to cut less? Who’s going to cut their oil interests more? How to divide, how to distribute these cuts, and these decreases in production or income between different groups within the oil economy? At this stage, the solution is discovered. Russia will pay the cost. They will cut Russian oil. They will cut Russian oil revenues to the minimal level possible.

At the same time, Saudis and some others will probably retain their income, at least much of their income, and definitely increase their share of the market. So it’s also a way to redistribute the markets while at the same time, in the long run diminishing their importance, diminishing their dependency of the global economy on oil and fossil fuels in general. So the long-term trend is to diminish their role of fossil fuels, but the short-term aspect of it is to redistribute the market for fossil fuels simultaneously. So it’s not just about cutting the market down, but it’s also about redistributing shares within the market which potentially is going to diminish.

So in that sense, it’s a situation which generates a lot of conflicts, anyhow. So in that sense, the Russian-Ukrainian war is just a specific aspect of a global transition process. In a certain sense, it’s used by western elites in a very competent and very strategic way. This shows the difference between Russian oligarchs and western oligarchs. Western oligarchs are capable of thinking strategically, and they are capable of developing strategies, while Russian oligarchs behave kind of like animals. They react only to the immediate threats, only to the immediate factors, only to the immediate news, and to the recent news. That’s why they’re totally incapable of developing strategies, or they develop wrong strategies, like trying to get back into the world as it existed 200 years ago or something like that. That’s like turning their nostalgia for the old Russian empire into a kind of quasi-strategy which is totally disconnected from reality. That’s why the Russian oligarchs are exactly the ones who are going to suffer.

Honestly, I don’t have any pity for them. I’m not sorry for them. I don’t think there is any reason for us to be unhappy about Russian oligarchs paying for part of the price. Unfortunately, the Russian toiling masses are also going to pay the price. This is a much more serious question. The question is whether Russians are going to accept that kind of transition and whether the Russians are going to accept the role of passive victims of what’s going on. We’ll see because Russian society, as I told you before, is very apathetic, automized and apolitical, but maybe things will change.

Paul Jay

I think you might be overestimating the western oligarchs’ ability to have any kind of strategy here other than a strategy of what you were saying earlier, ignoring but not being outright climate deniers. The strategy right now seems to be a confrontation with China. We’re looking not just is that strategy coming from the section of the elites that are behind the [Joe] Biden administration, but the far-right, which may well take control of Congress in the next election, 2024, and take the presidency. You may have the far-right in control of Congress, the Supreme Court and the White House. The far-right around Trump, much of which is Christian Nationalist, their enemy number one actually isn’t Putin and Russia, it’s China. In fact, if they had their way, there would be an alliance with Putin and Russia. Current American policy has actually pushed Russia closer to China. For these Christian nationalists, Putin’s kind of a hero to them. So it’s kind of unpredictable how this might go if, in fact, they do get control of the White House and thus the armed forces.

In terms of the Russian positioning in this, cannot China make up for whatever they lose from the West in terms of oil revenues? Maybe they don’t have to pay. Maybe they just have to become a satellite state of China.

Boris Kagarlitsky

No. Well, of course, the Russian elite probably can accept the role of a satellite state for China. The Chinese are not very interested. Chinese are really not interested in taking care of Russia’s problems. For example, now Russia is trying to sell oil, which it fails to sell to the West, to China. Chinese say, okay, that’s a very good idea, but we need you to accept a discount of up to 40%.

It’s very interesting that China behaves towards Russia these days very much the same way as Russia used to behave towards China in the 19th century. It’s a kind of irony of history. So the Chinese are approaching a very brutal neocolonial line towards Russia. They’re practicing this kind of neocolonial, brutal exploitation of Russian resources. It is so brutal and so aggressive that even Russian oligarchs are really scared because if it continues like that, they’re going to become broke. They’ll be broke. They’ll be out of business. China has insisted for years that they’re not going to negotiate. They’re just going to take whatever can be taken. That’s it. That’s about it.

By the way, the interesting thing is that when China⁠— I’ve been to Siberia quite a few times, I love Siberia. I go there very often. When there is Chinese business coming, it’s a disaster. They just take away everything, and they don’t build any infrastructure. They don’t fix anything. They just take away anything they can and go away. You see, that’s the way they use the resources in Russia. In that sense also, Russian society is becoming very anti-Chinese. Not in a Xenophobic sense, not that Russian people are against Chinese people, but they’re very much against Chinese business and Chinese politicians. They are considered to be a very serious threat, including some crazy things.

For example, in Irkutsk, where they have this lake Baikal, which is the deepest lake in the world, as you know, which has the largest quantity of water in the world in one place. So in Irkutsk, everybody is afraid of the Chinese stealing the water from Baikal, which probably is not exactly true, but then they say, okay, they will just bottle all this water and take it away and then drink it. There is 1.4 billion Chinese, so it’s just enough to drink out the whole lake. Of course, this is not serious. Of course, you have to understand it’s more like a kind of phobia. This gives you an idea of how Russians feel about Chinese business coming.

Paul Jay

So what do we do? Yeah, go ahead.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Technologically interestingly enough, China is not really interested, capable or ready to share anything with Russia at this point. In that sense, again, these Chinese officials, Chinese brokers and capitalists, they are looking at Russia’s trouble with some kind of satisfaction, I should say. They probably want these troubles to become deeper. Then at some point, maybe they will move in on the position of strength, so to speak, and maybe not just help out, but kind of intervene to get as much as possible out of this trouble.

Paul Jay

So the neocons, the more classical neocons, the Republicans that were around the [George W.] Bush administration, many of them have more or less⁠— either actual people or in terms of the way they look at the world have taken over much of Biden foreign policy. What’s on the horizon is a Trumpian, with or without Trump, which will not be led by the classical neocons, but much with the same perspective of the need for American global dominance, but with more passion or hatred for China and wanting to take the Taiwan situation, perhaps even up to the acknowledgement of independence for Taiwan, which would spark, in all likelihood, war. The Russians, as you say, you’ve described the Putin government and the Russian oligarchy⁠— I mean, there’s not a lot of hope in this situation. It is, perhaps, more globally dangerous than ever in the history of the world, of course, because of climate and also because of the nuclear threat. So what are we people to do?

Boris Kagarlitsky

I am not pessimistic. Honestly, I think that the night is darkest, as you know, before dawn. I think we are going to face a period of turmoil. The problem for the elites is that their policies are inconsistent with reality. They are inconsistent with the objective needs of development and the objective process which is taking place in the nature of the planet. So in that sense, I still do believe that there are objective forces of nature, history and social development. They are getting their kind of business done in one way or another.

I think once we get deeper into these troubles, for example, in the case of Russia, it’s very clear that the existing structures of the State, if and when we are going to face serious military failures and defeats in this Ukrainian war, are going to start decomposing somehow. People will become re-politicized. They will have to become re-politicized. The troubles we are facing ahead will make people act even though they’re very empathetic and apolitical. People will have to act. More importantly, they will have to organize. They will have to self-organize because there is no other way to solve the problems.

Well, I think the agenda for the Left is very clear. It’s ecosocialist and democratic planning, which is absolutely unnecessary. It’s very easy to explain this agenda to people. For example, coming back to Siberia and Yakutia. Enormous forest fires took place a year ago. Enormous, terrible forest fires. The worst since 2012, sorry, the worst since 1912. So in 1912, there were terrible forest fires in Siberia, and they continued during the first years of the First World War, by the way, which is also a very telling association with the past.

Well then, what the Soviet Union did was they reforested Russia massively. There was a huge project, a huge program of reforestation of Russia, which was realized in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and up to the late 1930s, for example. Actually, it did work quite considerably. Why did it work? Because there was planning. There was a serious effort to do things in a complex way to combine social, economic, and financial elements within one particular effort to achieve particular goals. For example, now we need the same thing to be done again. It’s not possible to do through the market. It’s not that I’m saying that we need to go back to the Stalinist kind of centralized bureaucratic planning and autocratic political regime. What I’m saying is that some kind of coordinated planning is necessary. Environmental activities should be combined with economic development and social development⁠— these things have to be done together. The important thing is you have to expropriate the oligarchs. There are resources. There are plenty of resources available. These resources are just in the wrong hands. These resources are in the hands of the people who do not want things to move. They want things to stay exactly as they are now. So there must be some kind of global effort to expropriate the global oligarchy and to establish global environmental planning combined with social development.

Paul Jay

Well, there’s no doubt we need it, but we’re far from it in terms of movements organized and capable of doing that. So something’s going to have to happen at the elite level to at least mitigate what’s coming. I’m not all that optimistic, but there needs to be something because there’s no way the global oligarchs are getting expropriated before 2050. By 2050, we’re into and past 2 degrees, and we’re on our way to 3 and 4.

Boris Kagarlitsky

I disagree. We have to fight to make it happen much faster.

Paul Jay

I’m all for fighting it, but I⁠—

Boris Kagarlitsky

I assure you that the political crisis in Russia will fuel a lot of political fire around the world, and it’s going to come.

Paul Jay

Well, there needs to be a breakthrough somewhere. If it’s Russia, that would be great. That said, let me just say that one thing that will at least facilitate the situation will be an end to the war in Ukraine. As long as that continues, it fires the worst instincts and nature of the West and of Russia. So is there any prospect for that actually happening?

I think I said in the last interview in western TV coverage that there’s a lot of talk about how the sanctions against Russia are actually hurting Europe and the United States. There are a lot of talks that inflation is going to help elect the Republicans, and a lot of that inflation is coming because of the war. Maybe there’s an appetite on at least sections of the western elites who don’t want to use this just to crush Russia but actually might see the necessity for some kind of agreement. Is there a growing appetite for a deal in Russia? I’m not sure there is in Ukraine itself.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Well, first of all, why should Ukraine make a deal with the Russian aggressors? Let me be very clear. The Russian Army invaded Ukraine. It’s taken over its territory. It’s shelling Ukrainian citizens. It’s killing Ukrainian citizens at mass. It’s killing thousands of civilians. Thousands of civilians. It is robbing Ukrainian production because what we see now is that the Russian military is forced⁠— it’s not the idea, it’s not the function of the military, but they are forced to help move grain resources out of Ukraine into the occupied territories, or moving out steel which is stocked in Mariupol’, which the military actually hate doing because they’re not robbers; they are fighters. So there is a lot of discontent among the military about that kind of use of their forks. I think the military is not very happy with the war anymore, at least not anymore. I don’t see Putin compromising with Ukraine or with the West unless he is allowed to continue robbing Ukraine and destroying Ukraine.

The very purpose of Putin’s policy, at this point, is not to conquer Ukraine. There is no way they’re going to do it. The policy is about wrecking Ukraine. By the way, they learned that from Americans. This is very much like Americans who kind of address the problem of Iraq, for example. It was not so much about taking it over. It was not about rebuilding Iraq or Afghanistan. It was about wrecking Iraq and Afghanistan. This is exactly what Russia is doing these days toward Ukraine. The Russian government, not the Russian people, of course. The Russian government is doing that in the most brutal way. There is no way it can be stopped unless Russian troops are evacuated from Ukrainian soil.

Paul Jay

But that’s not going to happen. You asked the question, why should the Ukrainians make a deal? They should make a deal to save lives.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Paul, there is no other way except for the Ukrainian Army kicking the Russian aggressors out of Ukraine, which is happening right now. These days, in real-time, it is happening. The Ukrainian Army is winning the war in real-time right now. Day after day after day. This is exactly what the Russian military know. This is why the Russian military is against the war, and the Russian military is very eager to stop the war and evacuate as soon as possible. They’re not allowed to do that by the political leaders because evacuating Ukraine and accepting the fact that Russia is defeated militarily means the end of Putin. It means that Putin is finished within maybe not days or months, but within maybe half a year or so. He’s going to be ended.

Paul Jay

Now, why do you think that’s the case on the ground? Because, I mean, I have no idea what’s going on on the ground. I am hearing from Western and other sources that the Russians are actually doing increasingly better as time goes on. That’s the way it’s being talked about here.

Boris Kagarlitsky

It’s absolutely wrong. Well, of course, if you speak to Russian independent military experts, including those like [Igor Ivanovich] Strelkov, who is very nationalist but very close to the actual military on the ground, what they report is a disaster. They report the Army falling apart. Very much like the situation of 1916, before the Russian revolution. Command and control structures are disintegrating. The artillery doesn’t have enough shells, enough firepower, or enough ammunition to fight. HIMARS [High Mobility Artillery Rocket System], the American multi-rocket launching system⁠— don’t remember at this time the nam⁠e— HIMARS are inflicting enormous damage.

One thing that is happening, and why I’m saying it’s happening in real-time right now, for two days, the Antonivskyi bridge has been shelled by Ukrainian troops. The Antonivskyi bridge is the only, or maybe not the only but the major connection between the troops on the left bank. The Antonivskyi bridge is the major connection between Russian troops on the left bank of Dnieper and Russian troops on the right bank of Dnieper, of the river. This means that if the Antonivskyi bridge fails to function, the whole Russian Army, which is around Kherson, is going to stay without ammunition, fuel, and food. It’s a whole Army. It’s one of the major Russian forces on the ground. If they fail to reestablish connection through the Antonivskyi bridge⁠—

The choice they have now is either to leave Kherson, which is the major acquisition the Russian Army ever made during this war. This also means that it is recognizing the war is lost because that’s a major conquest which they’re going to evacuate. Or they’re going to stay, which will probably be the order of Putin. This means there’s going to be another stalemate there. You’ll have the full Army without ammunition, fuel and food. This is exactly why the Russian military is very unhappy with the military leadership. I mean, the top military leadership, like [Sergej Kužugetovič] Šojgu and others, they’re not even a professional military. They’re career politicians and appellants in uniform.

Paul Jay

Well, let me ask, does this lead toward a negotiated settlement, or does it lead toward a more desperate form of attack? Meaning, perhaps, do they even get serious about tactical nuclear weapons?

Boris Kagarlitsky

Putin may be interested in tactical nuclear weapons, but the military will probably not allow him to get even close to that. I think the big question is whether we are going to have some kind of coup d’etat or there will be some other solution. We don’t know. But definitely, they have to solve the problem. They have to solve the problem. The problem is they have to get rid of Putin. They have to get somebody to blame for everything. Leave Ukraine. Try to make a deal with the West, and try to somehow continue Putinism without Putin, neoliberalism without the most compromised personnel.

As I spoke about western neoliberals, as far as I understand, they’re trying to move into a new model of development but trying to retain as much as possible from the previous model with the new one. I think this is exactly what the Russian elites want to do. They want to get rid of Putin, that’s for sure because they know that Putin is extremely toxic. Putin is irrelevant and inadequate. They have to get rid of him. But getting rid of him is difficult, not only because there is a system which is based on securing his power through political policy, which is not the major problem. The major problem is that they are afraid of destabilizing the system too much.

So if you get rid of Putin, okay, but what are you going to do with the rest of the system that says the power of dictators, contrary to what many people think, is not with the political police and with the security agencies. The power of the people is very much with the bourgeoisie, which is not happy with him. In that sense, they know that getting rid of the top person is really dangerous because it’s like opening the pandora box. You do that, and you solve a minor problem, and, well, they know the history of the Russian revolution. They know the history of the Russian revolution. But somehow, they have to solve the problem. I think they will find a way to solve the problem. Most probably right now, when we are talking, there are some other people talking about these problems within Rublovka, which is kind of Russian most wealthy, most rich neighborhood. I don’t know what’s the equivalent in the United States, but we know it’s the neighborhood for the billion years and multi-billion years. So I think while we are talking now, most of these people are just thinking, sitting there, drinking vodka and discussing how to solve the problem. Whether they will solve the problem or not, I don’t know, but they are going to solve it somehow.

I’m sure that this is basically what military commanders of the medium and also some of the high-ranking guys in the military are talking about, also right now in Kherson and maybe even in Moscow. They have to do something, and they don’t know what to do. This is exactly the debt and for the retreatment of the system. This is good and bad. It’s bad in the sense that, as we told, this is like the climate crisis. Something has to be done, but it’s not going to be done unless somebody is abolished. Somebody at the very top has to be abolished, and abolishing some people at the very top is only the beginning of a much more serious and much more dramatic and dangerous process.

Paul Jay

And what’s the mood of the Russian people?

Boris Kagarlitsky

There is no mood. There’s no mood. The Russian people are just⁠— I published a few texts about that. We have this English language subscription service, Russian Descent, done by Matt Taibbi. Matt Taibbi’s Substack. He sends to his subscribers some of the Russian texts in which also Russian left-wing sociologists and activists discuss these problems. The Russian society, as I told you, it’s very depressed. It’s very depressed. People are just watching what’s happening and are sometimes surprised and shocked by what’s happening. They don’t know what to do, and they’re waiting for something to happen to change the situation. So the military may move in with some initiative politically. Well, ironically, some of the security people who are very unhappy can also move in. I can hardly imagine at this stage some kind of mass protest. Maybe later this autumn, maybe later when the situation gets worse, but not right now.

Paul Jay

If I were Ukrainian, I wouldn’t fight for one day to liberate Donbass or Crimea. It’s not worth thousands of Ukrainian lives so that the Ukrainian oligarchs can control these territories. If somehow, out of the situation, you could have a real people’s uprising and actually overthrow the Ukrainian oligarchs in the process of this, that’s another matter. But that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening.

Boris Kagarlitsky

The tragedy of the situation is, of course, that Ukrainian oligarchs are no better than Russian oligarchs. There is no doubt about it. We should not forget who is now on the aggressive side. It’s not about Donbass and Crimea, by the way. Even the Crimean government, at this stage, is not demanding Crimea and Donbass to be taken back into Ukraine. What they’re demanding is that the Russian Army should return back to its position, which it had taken on February 23 before the actual outburst of the big war, which is probably what most Ukraine people would agree with as well.

You should not forget the impact of the mass destruction which was inflicted by the Russian military on the Ukrainian people. There were thousands of people who died in Mariupol’. There were thousands of people who died elsewhere. The civilian casualties are quite impressive and terrible. Of course, that fuels not only anti-Russian sentiment but also the ability of the Ukrainian troops to fight back. The most interesting thing here is that most people who fight on the Ukrainian side are Russian speakers, and they’re actually Russians. So it is very interesting that now most of the Ukrainian military who are fighting the war, Russian speakers and Russians, including top generals, are increasingly capable of speaking out against Ukrainian nationalists. I do not exclude that the outcome on the Ukrainian side would also be that the power would be taken over by the military or by some of the proxies like the politicians who have proxies for the military, political proxies of the military. People like Oleksiy Arestovych, for example, whom I love to quote because he’s the one who’s becoming truly popular both in Ukraine and in Russia.

Paul Jay

Yeah, you talked about him in our last segment.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Speaking up very clearly and very radically against Ukrainian nationalists and a few others for trying to promote the same agenda. Interestingly, I think that possibly in Ukraine, if the military takes over, it’s not necessarily going to be a bad thing. It can be a good thing for Ukraine. In Russia, we cannot envisage the military taking over politically. They may play a role in political change, but they’re not going to take over politically because the structure of Russia and Ukraine’s military is very different, and the culture is very different these days. Though historically, they come from the same root, they developed in very different ways.

Again I think that contrary to what many people think, those who want the war are not the military. Those who want the war to continue are politicians who are forcing the military to keep fighting. Something you have to understand is that unless Russia is changing politically, there is no way we can get out of it.

Paul Jay

Well, do you see the possibility of Russia agreeing to more or less go back to February 23?

Boris Kagarlitsky

Oh, it’s very easy. There is just one person, at this point, who will not agree, which is Vladimir Putin. I think everybody else, even the oligarchy, is ready to compromise. They have to get rid of Putin, and it’s not so easy. As I told you before, it’s not only about the security apparatus of Putin, which is protecting him physically, but it’s very much their own fear of getting things out of control.

Paul Jay

Alright, well, let’s continue this again soon. Thanks very much.

Boris Kagarlitsky

Okay, thank you.

Paul Jay

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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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written by Slim Williams for Paul Jay’s documentary film “Never-Endum-Referendum“.  

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve always been distrustful of Kargolitsky, and this interview with him reinforces my prior opinions. He is basically what people can an Atlantist amongst Russians élites(?). He does not see the U.S. as a threat against Russia; he sees China as a threat! China has been building infrastructure along the new silk road, and part of that road will be in Russia Another detail: it may be true that climate change will be a problem due to the permafrost melting away, but why not mention that Russian agriculture may well improve due to warming in Russia/Siberia. Also,, there’s a lot of glibness in talking about the Russian oligarchs compared to the much more clever American oligarchs. Yes, there is much to be skeptical about in listening to this guy. Paul Jay could have done better to get the view fro Russia.

  2. A very good listen right up to when your guest said Ukraine is winning the war. Sorry, that’s just total nonsense. The wars over and it’s a question of whether US really is stupid enough to “fight to the last Ukrainian” or not? I have to doubt everything else because of this total misread. Crimea is gone. Donbas is gone. They have nukes. Who is kidding who? If they do not cut a deal, Russia will take entire coastline. This is one of the greatest blunders of US foreign policy. It’s right up the with WMD in Iraq.

  3. Thank you.
    How can someone let you go by one time watching this clip. Thank you all.
    Beautiful work. loved it.

  4. It’s clear that Mr. Kagarlitsky is stating an opinion. To some extent the host engaged that, (rather well), there’s no need for a discussion.

    He cited a source, Girkin, (you can do your own source critique on the person). For a public that does not master the Russian language, there’s a group of Milbloggers on the Russian side, like Girkin, which are followed by the Institutute for the Study of War (which is a partisan organisation), and translates some of the arguments/complaints written. (just bear in mind that the selection will be extremely skewed)

    As a sidenote, being able to connect to the military psyche personally, soldiers/officers will always complain and lack equipment. Pick your war.
    Girkin does point out some structural problems, which can also be seen in some of the footage and some of the reporting.
    Part of it is the rigidity of (command) structures and doctrine, preventing to adapt (quickly). This is inherent to any large organisation, but under duress it becomes critical (?).
    But talking about a collapse seems severely overstated, if any organisation is on the brink of collapse/mutiny, the Ukr. Territ forces (not the regular milit.) seem to be the more obvious candidate.

    On both sides (territorial forces ukr – conscripts lpr/dpr) there have been recordings and postings of the troupes (without the officers) complaining about the situation and stating that they are refusing to fight unless something changes. Exhaustion was also a very common complaint. No training, especially for DPR-forces, being underequipped. On the Ukr side: being abandoned by the Off’s.

    It has always been my personal understanding that, at least on the Russian side, the operational pause was very much driven by this discontent. Partly it would allow to reconstitute the BTG’s and maybe to put a permanent rotational system in place. Is there some reorganisation taking place on the level of the artillery? (specialised aie units for precision guided munition with integrated drone detachments? There seem to be a lack of trained personnel to use the more sophisticated systems adequately.)

    As far as we know, and this would actually have been a good question to get some info, every oblast/republic has been mandated to form/deliver at least one (rather small) batallion (not all necessary infantry, some have erected a logistical batallion), +- 500 men. They are trying to tap into the rather high group of unemployed men ( would have been a good question to get more detailed info)

    My interpretation is that shifting to a war economy (? and later on mobilisation) would seriously undermine the viability if the United Russia-regime. Untill now, the spec. ops., doesn’t really severely impacts the live of the average Muscovite or Peterburger. It looks that at all cost, they do not want to change that. Don’t forget that they did not expect to be dragged into this kind of (prolonged) war.
    After all, no regime can survive a demonstration of Russian moms holding up the pictures of their dead conscripted sons on the Red Square.

    This has had serious implications. After the withdrawal from Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and after the regrouping following the fall of Mariupol; the initial operation seemed to be pushing from Izium to Barvinkove and further south and pushing north through Velyka Novosilka. that plan was quickly abandoned after a week or two and replaced by smaller more incremental operations. My interpreation is that it became clear, considering the attrition on the Izium-axis, even if they would be able to fight their way to form this cauldron, they would lack the manpower and equipment to man it’s frontlines. (They later on even withdrew from Hrushuvakha and Velyka Komyshuvakha).

    Today this same shortage of equipment and manpower seem to condemn the RF to grind through three defensive lines to seize (a than completely destroyed Slovyansk and Kramatorsk), in stead of moving behind them along the h-20-Raiske-Serhiivka-Oleksandrivka-Krasnopillia-line.

    Another thing lacking (in the discussion) is the location of the mineral resources and it’s influence on a possible outcome and continuation of the conflict. Considering the rush to Enerhodar for instance on the outset of the war at the detriment of being able to push to and through Mikolaev, I can not imagine they do not play a role. If so, the end point would not be Odessa buy Kryvihi Riih, and it would include large parts of Kharkiv and Sumy and the ENTIRE coast (off-shore concesions).

    By the way, going north to Kryvyi Rih and Kropyvnytskyi, is probably the only way to get to Mykolaev and Odessa (to the West and South-West), if you don’t want to be butchered failed river crossing after failed river crosssing.

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