New Approach to the Ukraine tragedy: Ukraine should be bridge between East and West

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

In a recent comment that was written January 11, 2024 by Prof. Anatol Lieven from the American neocon “Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft” under the title “Russia’s upper hand puts US at cross roads”, even Lieven in his capacity as Director of the Eurasian Program at the Quincy Institute, describes what several other “Realists” from the US elite (like Prof Mearsheimer and Prof Jeffrey Sachs) describe as present “strategic” impasse for the US. According to Lieven the US Strategy to weaken Russia and defeat it, did not work out as planned; hence the line that it’s time to find an exit now.

Lieven states: “given that Russia now has the advantage on the battlefield and senses that time is on its side, to get Putin to end the war and his ambition to subjugate Ukraine or seize more territory, Washington will have to offer some serious incentives. This will need to include showing that the U.S. is prepared to meet Russian concerns about the U.S. and NATO security threat to Russia (concerns that are genuinely held throughout the Russian establishment) ..… This will mean agreement to a Ukrainian treaty of neutrality, with security guarantees for Ukraine, that will allow that country to follow neutral Finland and Austria during Cold War and develop as a free market democracy. Western sanctions against Russia would need at least to be eased if not suspended, but with a binding commitment that they would automatically resume if Russia launched new aggression. On the issue of the territories presently occupied by Russia the only possible way forward is to defer the question for future talks under United Nations auspices putting the maximum possible security measures in place to prevent a resumption of war, that would lead to a far greater Ukrainian defeat.”

One should look at Lievens commentary in line with what from the Russian side, the influential Russian strategic security expert Prof S. Karaganov underscored in an interview (27.12.) with “Rossiskaya Gazeta” as well as in two articles for the January edition of the Russian magazine “Russia in Global Affairs”. In very harsh and at times quite provocative terms, he points to the “historical failure” of the Western and particularly German elite, and underlines that the “foundation of the Western economic, political and cultural supremacy is being knocked out.”

According to Karaganov a “new iron curtain” is being erected, while around the world tectonic changes are occurring  that “will lead to multiple crisis around the globe” in the near future. “Russia is much better prepared for this period than a few years ago” he stated. Aside revitalizing the Russian economy and building military strength, “we are reviving the spirit of Russia.” Russia would look into the future with confidence.

In terms of “normal relations between Russia and the West,” Karaganov has no illusions. “It will take at least one and a half generations – i.e. about 20 years for this to happen. (..)  “We have to realize that we no longer need the West. We have taken everything useful from this wonderful European journey Peter the Great commenced in the past. Now we need to return to ourselves, to the origins of Russia’s greatness. This, of course, implies the development of Siberia, its new development, which means reaching new horizons. We must remember that we are not so much a European but a Eurasian country.”  And “by returning to Siberia and the Urals, by building  new roads and a new industry we will return to ourselves (…)  We should not deny our European roots; we should treat them with care- Russia needs to go forward. And forward does not mean to the West, but to the East and the South. That is where the future of humanity lives(!)”  He describes what he sees as “Russia’s manifest destiny. i.e. to understand, who we are. We are a great Eurasian power, Northern Eurasia, a liberator of peoples, a guarantor of peace and the military core” of the “World Majority.” … We become more and more aware that our most important asset is the Russian spirit and Russian culture.”

In the other commentaries Karaganov described the new challenges for Russia in terms of being a core of the BRICS and emphasizes that Russia, which is chairing BRICS this year,  sees its future role in the frame of what he calls the “World majority.”

General Kujat and Historian Peter Brandt: Do not go to the bitter end!

In an interview with Flavio von Witzleben (December 7th) former Gen. Harald Kujat together with Peter Brandt, one of the co-signers of a comprehensive peace and ceasefire proposal, that was published by some German Press in September 2023, reiterated that it would be “military insanity” to send “Taurus” missiles to Ukraine (which a majority of CDU and CSU politicians demand e.h.), since this would bring Germany closer to get involved as a “direct war participant.”  Kujat soberly reiterated what he had said several times in other interviews, that in respect to the Ukraine war, the Russians built formidable defense installations and that the state of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is such, that they can hardly launch any concentrated attack.  “We would be insane if we would send soldiers in such a situation,” Kujat said, which stands in contrast to statements from the side of such self-styled military experts who “argue in favor of continuing the war until its bitter end.” He quoted directly from a statement made by the US Senate majority leader Mitch Mc Connell, who gave an interview to “Face the Nation” in which he referred to the US congressional vote in mid December that was supposed to grant a 60bn Dollar financial package for Ukraine. This failed however.  At the time Mc Connell stated: “When we speak about help for Ukraine lets speak also about where the money will flow. A substantial amount will flow into 38 of the US Federal States and be spent there in order to replace those weapons which we gave to Ukraine with more modern ones. This way we rebuild our industrial base (!). We will not lose Americans and the Ukraine is defeating one of our biggest geopolitical rivals.”(sic )

Kujat then quoted from the famous Prussia military expert von Clausewitz who had defined “war as a continuation of politics with other means” and stated that “when a German minister says that Ukraine will win because it must win, then this is Voodoo.” A reasonable solution should be oriented at a “just peace”, following for example the principle which the Church Father St Augustine had written about in “Just War”. St Augustine stated that it is “just” to defend oneself  under the condition that the aim is a peaceful settlement of the war” and criticized that “we suspended politics and spent no rational thoughts on how to bring the war to an end.”

American Scholar Nicolai Petro: A new approach to the Ukraine Tragedy

In the search to finding a “reasonable” solution to the present conflict that is raging in the midst of Europe, it is worthwhile to look at a background study, that was compiled by the US scholar,  Russia as well as Ukraine expert Prof. Nicolai Petro from the Rhodes Island University. The book contains a precise and rich historical study and unlike the “mainstream” arguments given by European, US and German politicians and media, presents new facts. The book was published under the title “The tragedy of war in Ukraine. What classical Greek tragedy can teach us about conflict resolution” (2023, De Gruyter, Berlin-Boston). In his study Petro described Ukraine  as a country that “suffers from the inability to define a sound and unifying identity for the nation.” He particularly critically examined the role of Ukraine’s Right- Wing militants in politics that have their historical roots in Galicia and played a huge role during the Maidan events.

Petro essentially rejects the common line that is particularly pervasive in German circles and media and stresses that the “essence of Ukrainian discord cannot be exclusively attributed to Russian subversion or even invasion.  He calls events in Ukraine “tragic” and advocates to reflect about the “Greek tragedy” during Athenian democracy 4rth century B.C. (Aeschylus, Sophocles) and what lessons could be drawn in order to heal the inner discord of Ukraine, i.e. overcoming vengeance and express readiness for compassion and reconciliation.

The Athenian tragedy which at times was performed in front of 18 000 Athenians according to Petro  involved “compassion and the ability to listen to the other side.” As Aeschylos had illustrated for example in his “Orestia” it can heal and reconcile i.e. make better citizens. The “Common Good” was placed above personal advantage and the stage showed that the “audience can chose between yielding the pursuit of vengeance and catharsis by purifying the emotions so powerful that it allows emotions such as pity (eleos) and compassion (oiktos) to enter the soul and take the place of rage.”

Another aspect in Petro’s  study is that he tries to  shed light on the role of the “Far Right” and on the tragic flaws that run through the history of Ukraine like a red line: namely the lack of meaningful dialogue between Galicia and Donbass – the cultural heartlands, respectively of Ukrainian speaking and Russian speaking Ukraine: “It is my hope that a deeper understanding of these will provide what Thucydides once called a grammar to aid in the reconstruction of the language of politics.”

He differentiates between two distinct identities of Ukraine: the Galician and Malorossiya. Galician Ukraine was Austro Hungarian related, while the Malorossiya  Ukrainian identity  with major urban centers like Kharkov, Odessa, Dnipro and Donetsk saw itself distinct from, but still complementary to Russian culture. “If the modern Galician ideal is a Ukraine that can serve as Europe’s bulwark against Russia, the Malorossiyan ideal is that Ukraine can serve as a “bridge between Europe and Russia.” According to Petro “to my mind the most important conflict is still the conflict within Ukraine m between Russophile East (Malorossiya) and its Russophobe West (Galicia).The conflict has been going on for at least 150 years and has erupted in serious military hostilities inside Ukraine four times. During World War I and II, after the 2014 Maidan – and now in 2022.It should be noted that in each instance, violence was exacerbated by the intervention of foreign powers seeking to tip the scales within Ukraine to their own advantage. Resolving this internecine conflict would therefore be a long way toward limiting the ability of “foreign actors” to intervene. This however would require a new level of dialogue, compassion and mutual reconciliation among Ukrainians themselves(…) The tragic cycle of Ukraine will therefore end when Ukrainians realize that a complete revolution is a revolution of compassion and dignity that views all Ukrainians regardless of religion, language or cult.” Hence Petro’s proposal that it would make better sense “to position the Ukraine as a commercial bridge between Eurasia and Europe, rather than as a wall between them. Reestablishing mutually commercial ties with Russia would not only revitalize the country’s industrial production, but also promote healing within Ukraine by encouraging rather than external migration.”

The role of the “Far Right”

Nicolai Petro pays special attention to the Far Right and its role in Ukraine history. He points for example to the fact that between World War I and World War II there was the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) and its ideologue Dimitry Dontsov, who argued that “nature does not know humanism and justice, but what we call endurance is simply the extermination of the weak.” The Dontsov line became influential with the ideology: “ The right of a nation to exist, according to Dontsov, must be “above the life of any given individual, above the blood and death of thousand, above the well- being of a given generation, above abstract mental calculations, above universal human ethics, above any imaginary concept of good and evil.” As Dontsov stated “Ukraine should either become a conquerors’ nation or suffer extinction. It’s unifying ideal must therefore be to destroy Russia, for only with Russia dismembered and its territories absorbed into Ukraine, can Ukraine achieve security and greatness.” As Petro underlined, the OUN became a “natural ally of the Axis powers in World War II and they had open sympathies for Nazism and Italian fascism,” Petro explains.  An expression for this was Stepan Bandera who openly hailed fascism and is regarded today as hero.”

Since 2014 , according to Petro. “today’s conflict effectively strangled the development of healthy regionalism in Ukraine and the since 2014 the ‘language issue’ has become, if anything,  more toxic , with several leading political and cultural figures openly declaring that of a Ukrainian to use Russia is tantamount to treason.”

One reference was the  2004 “Orange revolution” which ended in a complete disaster and showed how a popular government with enthusiastic western support became the most unpopular government in Ukraine’s history. The line then given was that Galician identity would be the only legitimate identity for all Ukrainians and would end up uniting the rest of Ukraine against it.

Role of US State Department

According to Petro “It was the first time that western governments actively took part and interest in changing the course of Ukrainian politics. The groundwork for this had been laid 2003 (!) when US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice brought in Stephen Krasner, a Stanford Scholar,  “who argued that the sovereignty of weak states should be limited because of the threat they pose to international order. Together with Carlos Pascual, a former director in the NSC responsible for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia as well as US ambassador to Kiev (2000-2003), they devised a strategy of anticipatory US intervention in the domestic affairs of such weak states.  A list of states was then drawn up and “reconstruction blueprint prepared for them with external actors such as western states. Such countries could expect to receive “financial political and military assistance (Krasner “Building democracy after conflict. The case for shared sovereignty” in “Journal of democracy”, 16 no 1 -2005). According to Petro Pascual explained that “assistance should be provided by rapid response teams composed of private companies, NGO’s and think tanks, shaped three to six months off the typical government response time. The goal of such intervention would be to change the very social fabric of a nation”. Ukraine was an obvious candidate of “shared sovereignty from the start.” USAID funded groups like “Development Associates Inc.” later claimed to have “played a decidedly important role in facilitating Ukraine’s turn to democracy in 2004.” “Working alongside NDI, IRI, Freedom House, the Strengthening Electoral Administration in Ukraine Project (SEAUP)  “directly trained 7,405 individuals at the territorial election level ….over 95.000 polling station commissioners and 1,350 judges, as well as justices of the Ukraine Supreme Courts.”

After his humiliating defeat in the 2010 elections, President Yushchenko rehabilitated ONU leader Stepan Bandera and declared him to be a national hero. During the Maidan events December 1, 2013 and January 19, 2014 when radicals attacked police and when militia were killing 100 people by using snipers, according to Petro “the Far Right was underestimated in its influence which was not just asking to sweep away the current political establishment, but the entire political system.”

February 20, 2014 the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland (later joined by the Russian Ambassador) flew to Kiev to broker a peace deal. By that time more than 1000 people had been killed in another round of sniper fire coming “in the area of Maidan controlled by the Maidan forces.” Two days later then President Yanukovych relinquished power and agreed to early elections; in the interim Yatsenyuk agreed to act as interim Prime Minister. Many Malorossiya Ukrainians in Donetzk etc. considered this as a “coup,” Petro remarked.

It was the Far Right that has “set the tone for national politics since then 2014.” He mentioned groups like the “Social National Party of Ukraine” (SNPU) established in October 1991 in Lviv, which  promoted a Ukrainian form of national socialism based on the ten commandments of the Ukrainian nationalists, which had as symbol the “teutonic  Wolfsangel”, and had its own military wing modelled after the Nazi Party.  “One of its most famous member Andrey Parubiyn became commandant of the Maidan in 2014 and later speaker of the Ukrainian parliament.”  The party later got renamed into “Svoboda” that played a role in the Maidan events.

According to Petro 90% of the Right’ Sector’s activities were coordinated with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and security service of Ukraine. “Svoboda” after 2014 was given key positions in parliamentary committees for national security and defense and law enforcement; five regional governorships and five government ministries in national and internal security.  Furthermore according to Petro, Vadim Troyan, a former member of the Patriots of Ukraine and deputy commander of Azov battalion, was first named head of the police for the Kiev region(2014-2021) and then promoted to deputy head of the national police. The Far Right also helped to promote an important ideological innovation in government, the “nationalist narrative of perpetual war with Russia.” According to this narrative, while the military conflict with Russia technically began with the seizure of the Supreme Soviet in Crimea,  “it was actually part of a long established Russia plan to destabilize and absorb all of Ukraine.”

In order to heal from its internal discord, Petro’s book gives the advice that Ukraine should learn the lessons from Greek tragedy and instead of vengeance seek dialogue as well as compassion and reconciliation- along the model of various “truth and reconciliation commissions” like the South Africa one, that paved the way for dialogue after apartheid. He leaves no doubt that peace can only be brought to Ukraine if Ukraine sees itself and is seen as a “commercial bridge between Eurasia and Europe, rather than a wall between them. Reestablishing mutually commercial ties with Russia would not only revitalize the country’s industrial production, but also promote healing within Ukraine by encouraging dialogue rather than external migration.”

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