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Ukrainian Left: Fight Russian Invasion & Say No to NATO - Denys Gorbach pt 2/2

In part two, Denys Gorbach discusses the events of 2014, the role of the Ukrainian far-right, and the need for solidarity with Ukraine against the Russian invasion. 

TRANSCRIPT

Paul Jay

Hi, welcome back to theAnalysis.news. I’m Paul Jay. This is a continuation of my discussion with Denys Gorbach about the situation, current situation and historical context of the conflict in Ukraine, the Russian invasion. Be back in just a few seconds.

So once again, Denys Gorbach is a doctorial candidate at the Institute of Political Studies, Sciences Po in Paris. His research focuses on the politics of the Ukrainian working class. He’s a member of the Editorial Collective Commons, a Ukrainian Socialist website. Previously, he worked as an economic journalist in the Ukrainian press. Thanks for joining me again, Denys.

Denys Gorbach

Thank you for having me.

Paul Jay

First of all, if you haven’t watched part one, you really should. This is a continuation of that conversation. Before we get into the events of 2014, which is one of the arguments that much of the world Left give and Russia, too, that a right-wing coup essentially overthrew a constitutionally elected government in an unconstitutional way, and the events that are happening now are one of the consequences of that. 

Before we get into that, let me go back to something you said in part one. If you see this to a large extent as ideologically driven by [Vladimir] Putin and the people that support him, in other words, I guess you’re saying the ideology of great-power chauvinism empire, am I understanding correctly, what is the ideology?

Denys Gorbach

Yes, this is what you might call imperial nationalism. So, yes, one thing is the ideology of great power, that Russia is a country that is predestined to command vast waters of land and sea, and it has a very special destiny. Second of all, it is nationalism that is primordial. There is this distinction between two kinds of nationalism: the civic and ethnic one. What we see in Russia, as well as, sadly, often in Ukraine, is the understanding of the nation as an eternal entity that is almost timeless, that will exist a thousand years from now.

So for Putin, there is this idea of empire, plus the idea of historical continuity. So, for example, Ukraine is important to him. He has said it many times because Kyiv is known as the mother of the Russian cities. I don’t think it would be interesting to discuss this whole story of medieval spaces in the place of contemporary Russia and Ukraine. The short story is that Kyiv was the capital of this medieval formation principality of Rus, from which both Russia and Ukraine and, incidentally, Belarus; all three consider that principality as the source of its statehood.

In Soviet times, the dominating conception was that the shared cradle of these three nations: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian— after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the renewed version of history dominating in Russia resuscitated the previous one, which was dominating under the empire. The monopoly of the Russian people is much larger than Russians per se because it also includes the Belarusians and Ukrainians. So this is why this insistence on the fact that we are one people, there is no difference between us, which, can be read by an external viewer as a message of peace, like we’re all brothers, because we are all brothers, as humanity. There are no nations.

In this context, this means, in fact, with the establishment of imperial domination, as Ukrainians, you don’t exist. You are, in fact, Russians who have been duped by Austrian-Hungarian General Staff or today by the, I don’t know the U.S., the U.K., also by the Foreign Office in the U.K., for example. You have been duped into believing that you are something which you call Ukrainian, something separate from Russians. So this is also an important element of this type of nationalism, of this ideology.

Paul Jay

And is it different than the American nationalism and view of the need of the world to have essentially American hegemony?

Denys Gorbach

In terms of the ultimate aim of establishing hegemony, no. In this sense, this is more or less, I guess, the same ambition to dominate. Maybe the U.S. is a bit different because it is a hegemon. It has been, until recently, in fact, a hegemonic power in international politics. That’s why they claim the continuation of their monopoly worldwide. Russia is not that ambitious in this sense. Russian imperialism aims at dividing the world into zones of influence, zones of exclusive interests. So their ideology is rather pre-First World War world which was divided between the great powers. They are only mad because they are not allowed the place they think they ought to be allowed: this great concert of nations.

Paul Jay

Well, you can’t be a global hegemon if you allow regional hegemons unless they’re sub-hegemons to you. Otherwise, you’re not the global hegemon anymore, which I think is certainly one of the underlying causes of all this.

So let’s go back to understand more than Russia’s motivation. So you have this sort of great power ambition. It can also be called treating Putin with respect. It’s another way to phrase it. I think there’s some truth to it. As I said in part one, if you’re going to have a capitalist world, a country with the size, population, technological, and resource base, this is a potentially much bigger power than it actually is. I guess if it wasn’t so addicted to being a fossil fuel economy, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be even more powerful than Germany is economically. It should. It isn’t, but it should. All that being said, that’s no justification for invading anybody and certainly not for attacking and killing civilians and soldiers. I want to say soldiers because a lot of people focus on the killing of civilians, and I think it’s just as much a crime to be killing Ukrainian and Russian working-class kids who are told to go off and kill each other.

That being said, I don’t get what the strategy was here. Is this like an Afghan situation? Was Putin goaded into expanding what might have only been an occupation of Donbas? Did the Americans deliberately arm Ukraine and then use all this, “He’s going to invade! He’s going to invade,” so if he doesn’t invade, he looks like he’s backing down. 

In Afghanistan, [Zbigniew] Brzezinski said we sucked the Soviet Union into that war. Did he get sucked into this? Because I don’t get what the end game is here. You install a pro-Russian government. Well, then if you don’t occupy, that government doesn’t last five minutes, I think. If you don’t install a pro-Russian government and you end up— even if you get what should have been done years ago, a declaration by Ukraine not to join NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], that should have been done years ago. It should have been done months ago, weeks ago. It should be done now because it’s never getting into NATO anyway. Even [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy admitted that a few days ago. So what is the point of making it an issue when of course, the Americans should have declared it, too?

Still, if you don’t have a pro-Russian government, you don’t occupy, you pull back, even if you occupy Donbas, then what was the point of all this? Given that you gave the West everything they wanted, a reunification of NATO, an excuse to attack the Russian economy in a way that they could never have done without this. I’m sure they would have loved to have done it at any point, but they couldn’t justify it until now. Here’s where you get another be careful what you wish for West. A remilitarized Germany, which isn’t going to be good for the West or Russia in the long run. So what the hell was Putin thinking? I don’t get it.

Denys Gorbach

Well, yes, there is this pattern of explanation, which you’ve mentioned, which I find a bit amusing because it goes like this. The cunning Americans have planned everything, so they somehow hypnotized Putin and made him spend a year placing the troops along the border of Ukraine and manipulated him into invading Ukraine. I mean, this is extremely complicated. Unnecessarily complicated.

Paul Jay

Yeah. I’m not sure that they’re that smart. Explain it then.

Denys Gorbach

I don’t know what’s your policy on profanities?

Paul Jay

You can say what you want.

Denys Gorbach

In our part of the world, Ukraine and Russia, there is this expression when someone finds himself in the position of Putin explaining all his faults by the evil will of the others, is that has someone again shat into your pants.

Paul Jay

But let’s say it wasn’t some deliberate plan. I’m not saying it was or wasn’t because it does seem more than they’re capable of. I still don’t get how he thinks he wins out of this.

Denys Gorbach

So, from what we can see now, from what is obvious at this point. There has been an extremely severe miscalculation of the situation in Ukraine. It looks like the higher leadership, like Putin personally, has been almost duped by his own propaganda. He did not have access to a realistic evaluation of the situation on the ground. On the one hand, there is a leaked text by someone claiming to be a Russian FSB [Federal Security Service] officer who states as much. I’m not sure whether we can trust it, whether we can take it at face value or not. If we take it at face value, it says that this is what happened. The Secret Service, the FSB, and the intelligence services have been doctoring their reports because nobody told them that they were expected to realistically assess this option of invasion. So this is why they were giving their reports under a more optimistic source to keep the bosses calm because if they had known that this wasn’t a realistic option, they would be more serious about it. But otherwise, they saw no use in making bosses angry.

Paul Jay

There’s some believability in that. When you see this moment that was on television where Putin has these heads of his, I guess his cabinet and heads of agencies and the head of his foreign intelligence service is dressed down like a twelve-year-old embarrassed schoolboy in front of Putin. I mean, if that’s the way he talks to the people that are supposed to be giving him advice, then yeah, I guess they’re saying what they think he wants to hear.

Denys Gorbach

There is also indirect evidence, which is more objective, which is the way in which the invasion has been planned militarily. From the way in which the tanks and other equipment rolled in, they didn’t take any precautions. So they were just rolling along the road and letting themselves be hit by Ukrainian forces because they certainly didn’t expect to be hit. They were doing it like they were still in Russia. Also, when we look at the first hours and the first days, it was obvious that they expected to not waste any forces on fights anywhere except Kyiv. The aim was to capture Kyiv very quickly in one or two, a maximum of three days, to establish the puppet government in the capital, and this should have been the end of the story.

Paul Jay

They must have thought there’d be significant support for it in Ukraine. I mean, Zelenskyy was down what, about 24% in the polls. He was considered a real failure as the President. Of course, now he’s up 80% or whatever in the polls. He’s a hero. But before, his government did look like a disaster. So they thought this was going to be a popular cakewalk.

Denys Gorbach

Exactly, yes. Also again, the third thing to consider in favour of this theory is Putin’s appeal to the Ukrainian military. I don’t remember which day of the invasion it was. Still, at some early stage, when it was already clear that it was not going the way it was supposed to go, he said, yes, now I’m talking to the Ukrainian military men to get rid of this band of drug users and nazis and stage a coup because you are certainly serious men. With you, we will reach an understanding more easily. Again, this shows an utter lack of understanding of Ukraine, what it is politically, and the military situation. There was simply a complete lack of data. Plus, there was a memory of the 2014 hostilities. It should be said that Ukraine in 2014 is very different from Ukraine in 2022.

Paul Jay

Meaning that in 2014, Ukraine had no ability to resist what happened in Crimea?

Denys Gorbach

This and the lack of military capacity and the lack of unity. In 2014 there was no problem with establishing occupational administration, for example. Currently, this is a big problem for the Russian forces who are currently holding Mariupol’, Kherson and some other cities that they control.

Paul Jay

When it’s so obvious that Ukraine was not going to be allowed into NATO formally, at least, meaning no article five, which is significant, even Zelensky, as I said in part one, has admitted that a few days ago. There were lots of people in Ukraine in the weeks leading up to the invasion, and before saying Ukraine should declare neutrality right now. Get it off the table, and Zelensky wouldn’t do it. Was it simply because he was afraid if he did it, he’d be overthrown?

Denys Gorbach

Yes, this is the case because he is much more constrained in his options than it might seem from the outside. He looks like an extremely determined young man, but it’s just that he does not have a second option. The situation in this dominating mood in society was such that before the invasion, he would suddenly do this U-turn and face a very real possibility of a nationalist coup.

Paul Jay

Talk about the strength of the right-wing nationalists, and I guess this will get us back to 2014 to some extent. Amongst right-wing nationalists, there are a lot of out-and-out fascists. There’s a video out there of this guy on one of the Ukrainian television channels that are still on; a few have been taken off because they were considered pro-Russian. This guy’s talking about killing Russian Muscovite children. He overtly quotes [Adolf] Eichmann saying the way to kill a nation is to kill its children and says he personally wants to go kill Russian children. Now I know this in no way represents the vast majority of Ukrainian people, but there are probably more overt nazis in an organized fashion and even in the military, and now looking like they even have a T.V. channel, it’s more significant than a lot of other countries. I have to say again, my Leftist Russian friends point to this, that this is something. The strength of fascists and Nazis in Ukraine is a more significant thing than people in other countries might think.

Denys Gorbach

So I would like to divide this question into two because there are two different things here. I will first speak a little bit about that guy because he is visibly not a part of the Ukrainian nazi scene. I mean, to me, this is evident. This here is a dreadful, horrible manifestation of the general growth of this xenophobic attitude in the wider society as the war progresses. So the guy, I don’t know who he is. It’s just some random journalist. He says these extremely stupid and barbaric things, quoting Eichmann, even putting up his portrait to make sure that we make no mistake.

So I’m afraid to say that this is probably natural, as sad as it is, in a war like this. The enemy is dehumanized, and we have the precedence for this in Soviet history because, at the beginning of the Second World War, the Soviet leadership was extremely careful, extremely politically correct. Even after [Adoph] Hitler invaded, the official propaganda line was that the Germans— we are brothers with the German working class, and it was Hitler who divided us. By the end of the war, there was this famous poem by Sergei Eisenstein, with the Refrain, “Kill the German, kill the German as many times as you see him. This is the plea of your mother, this is the plea of the burnt village” and so on and so forth; so very bloodthirsty. The Communist Party reprimanded him publicly. They said that Comrade Eisenstein exaggerated, but this was the general mood, as sad as it gets.

Paul Jay

Let me just add to that. Americans cheered the firebombing and nuclear bombing of Japanese civilians in World War II. So this is not unique. It’s often.

Denys Gorbach

Yes. The longer the war lasts, the greater the mood will be. So basically, the only way to prevent this whole thing is not to say that all Ukrainians are bad but rather to make sure this ends as soon as possible. Now the second thing is actual nazis. So the structured political movements of an extreme Right of a nazi fascist character. This is certainly a great problem in Ukraine, and your Russian friends are at least partially right in attributing it to the Euromaidan events. It was not a nazi coup, that one I can say for sure.

Paul Jay

Okay, for people that aren’t that familiar, we’re talking about a coup that took place in 2014. A lot of people start their history of what’s happening now from there. There are these competing documentaries that people are probably seeing. There’s one documentary that describes everything that went wrong to these right-wing fascist groups that took over this democratically; I shouldn’t say this elected government that changed its mind about Europe. Anyway, you explain it.

Denys Gorbach

Yes, I will try. At that point, as we have seen in the first part of our talk, there was this growing polarization inside the country between the two identitarian projects, between the two identities. The President, [Viktor] Yanukovych, was not exactly pro-Russian in his foreign policy. He wanted to join the E.U., but then he faced pressure from outside, from Russia. Finally, he was forced to reconsider, to make this U-turn, which was met with outrage by the society. Previously, during the year and a half, this very same Yanukovych was telling them on every T.V. channel how great the European Union is and how we’re moving towards that goal. 

So this U-turn made people go to the streets. What kind of people were in the streets? Here we should again remember the specificity of the post-Soviet working class, which is extremely depoliticized. People can be politicized in the sense of their interest in politics as a show, but precisely as a show. So for them, politics is something external. It is a world outside of their concern. It is a game of ideologies and of manipulations. So when people take to the streets like they do in Ukraine, once in a while, they do so with a very simplistic, very vague political picture in their heads. They protest against everything which is bad. Which is what? Corruption in the first place. So something very indescribable. You cannot pin it down. What is corruption? What is not? I mean, it’s difficult at least. They protest in favour of whatever they think is vaguely good. So what was vaguely good in their situation was Europe. The idea of Europe, which for them was the embodiment of a simple good life, of economic prosperity, of the rule of law and of general high level of culture.

Paul Jay

There’s background to this too, which is years and years and years in the Soviet Union, these countries all had these dreams about the West being paradise. I did a documentary film in Albania in ’89-’90. I remember this quote from a high school student who said to me, “we know the West isn’t paradise, but we don’t know what it lacks from paradise.” They knew it was probably an illusion, but the illusion was better than the alternative. So you hope for the best of the illusion.

Denys Gorbach

Exactly, yes. So there is this extremely idealized vision of the West and, more specifically, the European Union as something as much more than it is, in fact, as an organization. It gets civilizational undertones. The undertones of the civilizational struggle between the economic and political paradise of the West being the manifestation of the superior European civilization and Russia being somehow antonymic to all this. Russia left the Soviet Union because this is where it gets very mixed up. 

So this is kind of externalized as the other, the civilization other. From this, it is still very far to call these people racist. These are just very disoriented people with no political agenda at all. With a very rudimentary understanding of ideologies, of whatever ideology they declare to adhere to. Within this crowd are many millions of people standing in this square who have nothing more than the national flags in their hands and maybe the flags of the E.U. and no specific ideas. There, you see one extremely small numerically marginal group of people who have very specific ideas politically. So they say that, yeah, we have some clear agenda. We present you with this agenda, and in fact, it doesn’t look very frightful. It doesn’t look scary. It’s about the domination of the nation, the national interests. Okay, that probably sounds legitimate via nation. Sure, why not? So they offered some kind of clarity, but even more importantly, they offered organizational structure which lacked elsewhere.

Paul Jay

These are right-wing nationalists?

Denys Gorbach

Yes. Mostly football hooligans. The far-right football hooligans.

Paul Jay

Well, they may be on the street, but there’s got to be some oligarchs. Clearly, from some of the leaked phone calls, the Americans have a finger here and maybe more than that. So somebody’s sort of helping organize this and plan it.

Denys Gorbach

So by the beginning of this whole story, most of the far-right scene was concentrated under the roof of one party called ‘Svoboda’, meaning freedom in Ukrainian. This party indeed had very tight connections to the oligarchs. One could say with a certain degree of certainty that they were promoted deliberately by this East Slavic government of Yanukovych as their [inaudible 00:33:50]. So there had certainly been back-end deals because they were very present on the T.V. screens, on the oligarchic T.V. screens as the carriers of this agenda. The thing is, these far-right, the larger part of the far-right at the beginning of the Maidan events, were actually quite passive because they were following the line of the institutional opposition, which was like, yeah, sure, we are against the bad government. Yeah, let’s stand and just demand our rights and whatnot.

Paul Jay

It seemed like the most radical demand at that point from those people seemed to be early elections. It wasn’t even resigned, right?

Denys Gorbach

Yeah, and the far-right, which organized itself, which was later known as the Right sector, in fact, it was an ad hoc coalition of everyone, of all the nazis who hated Svoboda, who had previously refused to merge into this vertical party structure controlled by the institutional forces. So these were remnants of the old organization, from old structures from the ’90s that had been pretty marginal. Currently, they saw an opening for themselves. As for phone calls and other stuff, frankly, I can’t comment because I don’t know about that.

Paul Jay

Well, there’s a text of a leaked call between U.S. officials deciding who they wanted next. This is before the coup takes place, and they’re deciding who they think the next leader should be. Victoria Nuland, I guess her name is.

Denys Gorbach

Yeah, the “Fuck the E.U.” speech. The far-right, I doubt very much that they were like pawns, directly controlled, manipulated. It was much more spontaneous. There is nothing strange about a bunch of marginal people who had spent years training in the woods with firearms and are used to wearing fatigues. Now that they see an opening for them finally, yeah, sure, they are the first on the barricades, and they are the first to start throwing Molotov cocktails at the police; that is trying to push the crowd. So the police start advancing at the crowd, but then suddenly the crowd, instead of standing still or moving back, suddenly a number of young men begin throwing Molotov cocktails. This is the beginning of this radicalization of the spiral of violence in Maidan.

Paul Jay

So then there’s a day that takes place where there’s a March to the Parliament buildings where there’s going to be these demands that are going to be presented, and the government responds with even more violence after quite a bit of violence. One of the narratives goes that there were snipers shooting. These snipers, there’s a debate, were the snipers from the far-right? Were the snipers from the government? Anyway, pick it up from there. What’s your take?

Denys Gorbach

So there is this announcement of the so-called peaceful advance towards the Parliament, and then it suddenly becomes much less peaceful. The protesters advanced toward the Parliament, which stands on the Hill, and then the riot police started attacking them, running down from the Hill. So they get the advantage. Then suddenly, one can hear the shots, gunshots. Yes, there is a large space for all kinds of conspiracy theorizing about those snipers. I’m not a specialist on that. I didn’t spend hours analyzing videos. From the general knowledge that I have, it seems obvious that A: there were snipers on the part of the riot police because of these videos, even I saw them. B: there were guns widely accessible to the population and the protesters. So there is nothing that can exclude that there were gun shooters from both sides. It’s certainly extremely difficult to pinpoint who exactly shot whom and at what point in time.

Paul Jay

So within a day or two of that, I guess, Yanukovych flees the country. Why? Did he lose the support of the military?

Denys Gorbach

Well, we can only theorize at this point what the situation would be if he decided to push for the violent scenario? Probably, yes. There was still such a possibility, but we were not there, so we do not know. We know that for one reason or another, he decided not to radicalize the situation even further and to finally flee the country after having received guarantees of security and the corridor from the Russians. Did he plan to return afterwards on the back of the Russian forces? This is very probable. Again, we don’t know that. This would be counterfactual. 

What we do know, again, is that the elite, not the military, but the political and economic elite, the famous oligarchs who had supported Yanukovych previously, already by that time, were in disarray. Large factions of the elite declared that they did not support the President anymore. They stand against Yanukovych. The last straw was probably the Party of Regions. So his own party, the political structure, which was very centralized, basically governed the country, declared that they excluded Yanukovych from their own ranks because he turned out to be a traitor to his own party.

Paul Jay

Well, the Ukrainian oligarchs that were pro-E.U. and thought they’d be richer oligarchs under the roof of the E.U. must have been taken aback by his about-turn on the E.U. and his deal with Putin. Am I correct? A significant section of the oligarchs would want to get rid of him at this point.

Denys Gorbach

So there was no homogeneity among the elites about that. A significant part of the oligarchs? Yes, they were already oriented towards the West economically, and they certainly did not want this economic integration with Russia. The other part saw no future outside of the common market with Russia. So this is especially true for the machinery manufacturers and more complicated production, which was not competitive in the West. So they produced for the Russian markets, and they were the most pro-Russian faction in the oligarchy.

Then there were people who were generally in the middle. For example, this famous son-in-law of [Leonid] Kuchma. The oligarch named Victor Pinchuk, whose main business is metal pipes. He had nothing good to expect from the integration with the Russian economic space because he would probably be bought. He would probably face a hostile acquisition very soon. His main market was, in fact, Russia for the pipes. The famous Russian oil and gas industry bought his metal pipes to lay new pipelines. So there was this ambiguity. If we impute a class interest for the oligarchs as a whole at that point in time, it would probably be to stay within the status quo.

So to remain in this interstitial political and economic space between the two empires, between Russia and the E.U., it looks like, objectively, this has not simply been tenable anymore because both the E.U. on its part and Russia on its part were being more and more assertive. They were letting Ukrainians know that now they had to choose, and any choice would be very painful for the economy and for the oligarchs either way.

Paul Jay

Let me park my next question about that. First of all, I’m going to ask this to wind things up. A lot of the argument that tries to explain why Russia invaded and, to some extent, justify it is that the Americans manipulated 2014. It was because of the American involvement that [Viktor] Yushchenko had to run, and the pro-Western government came to power. How important was the American factor in all this?

Denys Gorbach

Well, there was this video with Victoria Nuland handing out food for the protesters, which was very amusing. Then it was used thousands of times to prove the Americans meddled. Frankly, I certainly doubt very much that it was a planned event, that it was somehow guided from the very beginning to the very end. On the other hand, I see nothing extraordinary in the probability that the American Secret Service, I don’t know, the American state, in any case, was following the situation closely and reacted accordingly, trying to adjust its policies. So it would be strange if it would not have been the case.

Paul Jay

Yeah. They saw an opportunity and did whatever they had to in order to manipulate the outcome.

Denys Gorbach

Yeah. But it seems to me that even so, I personally tend to believe that nobody wanted to actually depose Yanukovych. At least, this was clearly true for the Ukrainian opposition. So for the parliamentary parties in their position. They were extremely satisfied with this decision, the last decision to taken jointly with Yanukovych about the elections that should take place a year later, the constitutional reform and something else. So they got their power, and there was no reason for them— they did not push for anything more than that. I think this is one of those moments where we can safely acknowledge the free play of social forces at hand, the moment of extreme weakness of the State, but also of the opposition. So the crowd is not securely controlled by anyone, including the American intelligence services. So the moment of extremely extreme undecidedness of the lack of determination in which it is enough for a random guy to jump up on the stage and say, ‘yeah, what the hell. Are we going to settle on this now? Did we spill our blood for Yanukovych to remain President one more year?’ To just electrify the crowd and to push it into the direction in which it was not going to go like a minute before.

Paul Jay

But there are television channels owned by oligarchs who are really promoting this, right. It’s not just the random guy.

Denys Gorbach

They were promoting what? And at what point? There were television channels during the course of this protest, during the weeks that they lasted, that rearranged their politics towards supporting or at least covering this protest. Yes, that is so. But I’m speaking about this very short and decisive moment when the mood changed from, okay, surely we all support the protesters, and we want the opposition to prevail. Now that opposition seems to have prevailed with these accords, everything seems to be fine. Afterwards, this all suddenly changes into, yeah, let’s take Yanukovych down. Let’s just get killed and killed and blah, blah, blah. This is not something that was a supported institution, explicitly or implicitly, by way of propaganda on the T.V.. This was not the case. Then afterwards, after the change of power, the T.V. and everyone else adjusted themselves.

Paul Jay

And after the change of government, there’s a lot of suppression of pro-Russian forces, right?

Denys Gorbach

Yes, there is this conflict. There is this government in Kyiv which takes the place of the President that has fled the country. It is all very unclear, legally. You call it a coup. Yeah, it can be called that. You can also call it a revolution. It is more pleasant sounding, but basically, this relates to the same events if you are a lawyer. So there is this climate of uncertainty and genuine fear in the South and Eastern regions, which is opportunistically, certainly exploited by Russia on the one hand, which heats up the situation, but also by a part of Ukraine and oligarchs who in this protest see this as an opportunity to negotiate for a big piece of the pie in the new political configuration.

Paul Jay

So let’s get back to the present day, and we’re going to talk another time and do more history. If I understand correctly, you’re arguing no to NATO and no to Russia, that there should be an independent Ukraine, and you’re part of a socialist website. Your vision is an independent socialist Ukraine if I have it right. What was your ability to organize in Ukraine? To what extent? Either from Zelenskyy and government forces and/or the far right. To what extent was the Left targeted prior to the invasion?

Denys Gorbach

It was not targeted as a political agent simply because it is too weak, the Left in Ukraine. So starting from these events in 2014, the Left, at that point, lived through an enormous split from the Russian Left, by the way. So Ukrainian crisis managed to split the Left in both countries.

Paul Jay

What was the nature of the split in Ukraine?

Denys Gorbach

Which part of the conflict to support? There was a Left who saw the chance to promote their agenda in Maidan, who tried to align their socialist agenda with the demands of the EuroMaidan protesters. There was the Left who did the diametrically opposite thing, who joined the protesters in Odesa, in Kharkiv, in Donetsk, hoping that there would be a political opening for them in the new regimes in the separatist republics.

Paul Jay

In Eastern Ukraine, which much of the Russians Left supported them.

Denys Gorbach

In Russia, there was also a split. I don’t know which one was the larger part of that. But yes, certainly that was an important part, maybe the larger part of the Russian Left that went for the support of Ukrainian separatism, basically for the support of their own government. In hopes that this is some kind of working-class uprising, for the simple fact that red flags were tolerated in one place and not tolerated in the other place. So this was already enough for some people to make their decision.

Paul Jay

Well, let’s end with this. However, one analyzes this, and I’m talking now about progressive people outside of Ukraine. Almost everybody agrees, either wholeheartedly or halfheartedly, that this invasion is illegal. These laws about respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity, at least as far as I am concerned, are not there primarily to defend the government and elites of these countries. It’s to defend the populations of these countries from being slaughtered. The law is very clear. The U.N. [United Nations] charter is very clear. You do not invade unless your country is under imminent threat.

While I don’t think in terms of scale, there’s any comparison between what Russia has done in Ukraine and what the United States did in Iraq. There’s no comparison since World War II, and even if you include the fire bombings of Japan and the nuclear bombings of Tokyo, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, there’s no comparison that the largest, greatest war criminal on the planet has been the United States. It has to be seen. It’s not a devil. It’s just the dominating force of global capitalism. And when you’re the dominator of global capitalism, you think you can do whatever the hell you want.

On the other hand, all the big-scale war crimes, including the war in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq, they’ve all ended as debacles for the United States. On the other hand, that’s another conversation. But the fact that Russia has violated international law in Ukraine, there’s no need for a conversation about whether it’s not as bad as what the Americans did. Yeah, okay, the Americans have killed far more people than anyone. But if you’re Ukrainian right now, you’re suffering from the Russian invasion, and any abstract conversation about who’s worse is irrelevant. So all that said, what do you want? What do progressive Ukrainians want from people outside, from the Left outside? What should people do if they want to show solidarity and respect for international law?

Denys Gorbach

Well, first of all, I would continue your thoughts.

Paul Jay

My rant.

Denys Gorbach

I would continue, but by reiterating the fact that it is high time to reassess optics because reading exclusively geopolitical framework just simply does not do either ethically or analytically; it doesn’t help you to understand. If you are thinking in terms of exclusive zones of influence and so on, without admitting the agency of working-class men and women, it is problematic from the Leftist point of view. It also doesn’t help you to understand reality. Yes, the first thing is to make it easier for Ukrainians. To relieve them of the responsibility to spend efforts explaining the legitimacy of their resistance right, which is something that Palestinians or Kurds do not have to do. In their case, everything is clear for them. In the case of Ukrainians, they have to do lectures about the Ukrainian Nazis and whatnot.

Now in terms of actual solidarity. What would be a good idea to do? Beyond the simple fact of supporting the Ukrainian resistance, at least morally, there is a campaign that some comrades in Ukraine as well as in the U.S. have already started for cancelling Ukrainian debt, external debt. I don’t have the figure in my mind, but it’s very high. It is mostly added to the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. It only keeps growing. Certainly, if we want the situation to improve somewhat, at least after the war, the way out would be a Marshall plan which would not be possible without debt relief. So I would say the area in which the efforts of the international Left would be the most useful, the least controversial for them. So they do not have to cheer for NATO, they have to fight the familiar enemy of the IMF, and this would be for the general good of everyone.

Paul Jay

Does it not also need to be a demand, no NATO for Ukraine? Even though there probably won’t be. And what about this issue of, at the very least, once the conflict is over, assuming it will be and assuming there’s still a Ukrainian government that isn’t a puppet Russian government to stop this militarization of Ukraine? Which, let me just add, raises the thorniest question for the Left that’s used to not wanting any militarization. What attitude should the Left have in your view towards the further arming of Ukraine at the current moment?

Denys Gorbach

Well, I understand this disposition, but I must say that it is relatively recent, historically speaking, because traditionally, the socialist movement has grown up as a movement, as a phenomenon in the 19th century supporting the armed struggle of the Irish, of the Polish, of the Hungarians. In the 20th century, there was Vietnam, the African peoples and all the other smaller countries which were supported. There was no talk about stopping arms flowing to Ho Chi Minh. Everybody understood. Everybody accepted that the U.S.S.R. and China should help Vietnam fight militarily. I would probably share that position as long as the war lasts. I would see this as a justified position from the point of view of my understanding of socialism, of Leftist agenda.

Paul Jay

That there should be support, at least as long as the war is on.

Denys Gorbach

Yes.

Paul Jay

That the Ukrainian people should be armed.

Denys Gorbach

Yes. There is a different question of the no-fly zone, which is extremely popular in Ukraine right now.

Paul Jay

Yeah. What’s your take on that? Zelenskyy, what was it just yesterday, spoke to Congress again, calling for a no-fly zone.

Denys Gorbach

It seems that the very name is a bit misleading. I reckon that most people who call for it simply don’t realize what it, in fact, means.

Paul Jay

But Zelenskyy must understand, it seems to me, completely reckless on his part to keep pushing it.

Denys Gorbach

I’m not in his head, so I will not answer for him. On my behalf, yeah, I can agree that this is one of the more irresponsible demands and that nobody will win from a direct confrontation between the American and the Russian airpower. People just demanded because it sounds like a smart way of preventing the Russian air force from bombing Ukraine. Sadly, there is no such smart way to just block the Ukrainian sky militarily. After the war, as for militarization and NATO and stuff like this, I think in order to get rid of this unipolarity of the traditional cliches in the Leftist statements, I’m currently thinking of reformulating this traditional demand of dismantled NATO. Sure, it should be dismantled. I mean, I’m not a fan of NATO, but I think what can be underlined here is the disequilibrium between the great powers and the small nation States.

So if, in principle, I support disarmament of everyone in the world, I think we should do it progressively, and we should start exactly with the big powers, with the over armed powers, be it Russia or the U.S. or the U.K. or China. Maybe the first step would be to, for example, destroy, let’s say, the nuclear arsenal. This is a demand that has been on the agenda since the ’60s already. For a while, it looked like nuclear weaponry was a force for good, that it prevents bad stuff from happening. But now we see that is no longer the case. Nuclear forces do not deter other nuclear forces from doing bad stuff.

So I think we can all agree about that. We can also agree about stores of weapons that are already denounced and even outlawed by international laws, such as cluster bombs, cluster munitions, thermobaric munitions, and phosphorus bombs, which were used in Syria, and are now used in Ukraine. No phosphorus bombs so far, but the others, yes.

This all leads me to think that the greatest takeaway from this war should probably be some radical reassessment reinforcement of the U.N. as an international governance agency. I mean, yeah, sure, you’re skeptical, as we all are, but I don’t see any other way. So maybe this can be a part of a utopian, if you will, reasonably utopian, reasonably reform this Leftist agenda of rebuilding this world, making it safer.

Paul Jay

In terms of the peace negotiations going on right now between Ukraine and Russia, should the Ukrainian government simply take two things off the table? Clearly, no NATO and there’ll never be nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Why not say it?

Denys Gorbach

To me, this does sound reasonable. The question is rather about its political acceptability to Ukrainians in the current situation. So today, as long as Ukraine is not defeated militarily. So as long as people do not feel that there is no other option. So in this situation where there is still resistance, and it is reasonably successful, it will not be accepted. It will not be acceptable politically and domestically. Maybe it is unfortunate. I mean, it is unfortunate because I don’t argue for NATO membership of Ukraine. I would be fine with it personally, but such is the situation. Unfortunately, it also looks like Putin has no possibility or no incentive to back off, which is why we will probably not see anything good coming out of negotiations at this stage.

Paul Jay

Alright. Well, on a rather pessimistic note, at any rate, I would say as far as progressive people outside, I think one, yeah, we should demand from the Ukrainian government those two things. No NATO, never nuclear weapons. Which I think is probably never happening anyway. So they might as well say it. The idea that for some supposed prestige, you can’t say it, but mind you, there’s nothing unique about that to Ukrainians. That’s been the road to hell in so many situations. In fact, this inability to accept anything that might lower prestige is fundamental to U.S. policy. It’s exactly the kind of thing that could lead to nuclear war. It’s the same thing for the Russians. This bullshit that you can’t look weak is more important than anything else. It’s the thing that’s going to kill us all.

Denys Gorbach

I’m just following Ukrainian social networks so that I can comment on. It’s not even about prestige for the people at this stage. I’ve seen many megabytes of text with moral outrage about the Westerners who refuse to do anything substantial militarily for Ukrainians in their view. So who does not protect them, but then they also have the audacity to demand from Ukraine, which is clearly the victim here to do concessions to the aggressor.

Paul Jay

Well, let me just add the second part of what I was saying, which is the first thing. Russia needs to get the hell out of Ukraine before anything, even perhaps before there are any concessions. The invasion is illegal. It should end. Most people say that even people who get into a mitigated, complicated argument are also saying Russia should get out. I think that’s a paramount position. Playing with the apocalypse, which is a lot of on all sides people are doing, is nuts.

Denys Gorbach

Yes, I agree with you completely. It’s just that my remark was simply about the rhetoric. So, for example, if you are an ambitious Leftist organization preparing a statement, it’s probably a bad idea to formulate it as ‘we demand from Russia to withdraw and for Ukraine to swear that they will not join NATO’ because of the modality of the expo. Substantially, this is exactly yes. Normally, I think this should be an acceptable outcome in any reasonable scenario.

Paul Jay

Okay. I hope we talk again soon. Thanks very much.

Denys Gorbach

Thank you.

Paul Jay

And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news.

END


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