November 7, 2022 10 comments Print
Understanding the Ukraine Crisis, Part 2: The Ukrainian Perspective – Interview with Olena Semenyaka
Available now for members!
From the start in early 2014, I have made a point of not taking sides in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. It’s a complex situation – and there are legitimate concerns on both sides.
But I have made an effort to understand the issue – and to help others understand it. The best method for doing so is to let both sides argue their own case.
To that end, back in Dec. 2018 I decided to make two interviews — one with a representative of the pro-Russian perspective, and one with a representative of the pro-Ukrainian perspective.
The purpose for doing this was:
- To create understanding rather than encouraging anyone to take sides.
- To document these voices for historical purposes, before the historians sink their ideological claws into the conflict and start distorting it.
Since the conflict has now escalated into a full-blown war, these interviews have become relevant once more and I have decided to make them available for members.
Here’s Part 2, the Ukrainian perspective, recorded Jan. 3, 2019.
(Part 1 is here.)
This is an interview with Olena Semenyaka, at that time international secretary of National Corps – a nationalist political party in Ukraine. I have since learned that she currently has an important position in the Ukrainian parliament (I have not been able to confirm this).
Semenyaka is also an intellectual with an academic focus on the Conservative Revolution, Ernst Jünger, and Martin Heidegger.
Personal side note: One sloppy journalist has said I have “close ties” to National Corps. It’s completely false. I have no “ties” to them at all.
I interviewed Semenyaka, just as I interviewed Dugin, in an effort to understand the war. As far as I’m aware she’s the only representative of National Corps I’ve ever spoken to.
I’ve spoken at conferences where Semenyaka was also a speaker. Other speakers at those conferences are vehemently pro-Russian.
I’ve given one speech in Ukraine — about rather theoretical aspects of pagan metaphysics…
I’ve interviewed Dugin three times and Semenyaka only once…
I’ve given interviews to academics and journalists doing research on the Right. Do they now have “ties” to me?
The idea that you can’t talk to anyone without having “close ties” to them is so silly that it deserves no further comment. I’m an independent observer and my views have nothing to do with any “ties”.
I am on record stating that I was neutral in the Russia-Ukraine conflict up until February 24, 2022. The only thing that changed my stance at that time was that Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which changed the nature of the conflict.
Note about the recording: The audio quality is bad. I was traveling at the time and Semenyaka had a weak internet connection. I’ve done what I can to improve it.
If I focus and listen through my headphones (rather than speakers), I can make out most of what’s said. Hopefully you can do the same.
Because many members have asked for it, and because it is an important historical document, I have decided to make the recording available — in spite of the quality.
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The core claim of the anti-‘support Ukraine’ position goes like this:
It’s a U.S. war on Russia, Europe and Ukraine itself.
Ever since 2014 Ukraine is being puppeteered from the outside towards its own destruction. Nothing that Ukraine has done, the coup, the two ATOs, its insistence on joining NATO, its refusal to implement the Minsk agreement and its refusal to negotiate peace makes any sense from a Ukrainian point of view. Ukraine is being sacrificed in order to harm the geopolitical opponents of the U.S. (Russia and Europe’s relations with Russia).
Can we at least agree that if this assessment is correct then ‘supporting Ukraine’ is being complicit and the only meaningful position one can take is to call out the puppeteers in Washington and their puppets in Ukraine ?
1. The core claim of the anti-‘support Ukraine’ position…
I have not seen much of an anti-‘support Ukraine’ position in the Western Right. Instead, I have seen a “100% toe the Kremlin party line” position, parroting every shred of war propaganda, which is different.
And that’s what needs to be defended by those who toe the Kremlin party line. (Of course, I have then seen the same people claim that no one actually defends the Kremlin party line, which is predictable – I call it “implausible deniability”.)
So first of all we need to be honest about what we’re discussing.
2. It’s a U.S. war on Russia, Europe and Ukraine itself.
It’s of course no such thing. If we’re going to have an intelligent discussion, we can’t start from a cartoonish premise like that. It’s fine for dumbing-down memes, but not good enough for actual analysis.
3. Ever since 2014 Ukraine is being puppeteered from the outside towards its own destruction.
There are outside interests involved, but that was also the case before 2014. Again, “puppeteered from the outside towards its own destruction” is a cartoonish description that doesn’t lend itself to intelligent analysis.
4. Nothing that Ukraine has done … makes any sense from a Ukrainian point of view.
Of course a lot of what Ukraine has done makes sense from their point of view. Just because it doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense to them.
5. Ukraine is being sacrificed in order to harm the geopolitical opponents of the U.S. (Russia and Europe’s relations with Russia).
Again, this talking point doesn’t make sense. Of course the US is supporting Ukraine for its own (American) purposes, just as Russia is attacking Ukraine for its own (Russian) purposes.
However… actually bombing Ukraine for your purposes isn’t “sacrificing” it, while sending military aid is “sacrificing” it? Perhaps Russia is doing Ukraine a favor by dropping bombs on its cities?
These are the kinds of mindless talking points that make the Right look really, really foolish.
6. Can we at least agree that if this assessment is correct then ‘supporting Ukraine’ is being complicit and the only meaningful position one can take is to call out the puppeteers in Washington and their puppets in Ukraine?
No, because it’s a dishonest argument with hidden, false premises. (And see point 1, it’s not really about supporting Ukraine.)
This is not a conflict between the US and Russia (there’s a little country called Ukraine that’s also involved); and even if it were, we shouldn’t support Russia.
Yes, we should call out the Washington establishment. But we should also call out the Russian establishment. The point being that the Russian establishment is just as bad as the Western establishment, and no more deserving of sympathy from Right-wingers in the West.
My post was not at all mindless, foolish, dishonest and those sort of things, it was simply misunderstood.
I analyzed nothing and I made no argument about anything. I simply presented a hypothesis as such, offering no support whatsoever. I didn’t intend to fool anyone into believing that I somehow proved it by stating it.
Also, I never said that Russian actions promote Ukraine’s interests or that Russian actions are moral or legal or justifiable.
I don’t intend to defend everything that the ‘pro-Russia’ side has said, much of it is peripheral and irrelevant, and a part of it also silly (I assume that you also have no desire to defend all the things that the ‘pro-Ukraine’ side has said).
Let’s limit the discussion to the conflict in Ukraine. We want to understand who is doing what and why. That’s the most interesting and important task, isn’t it ?
Wait a minute here because this comes dangerously close to a specific ‘official’ Ukrainian propaganda point that you see on Twitter about ‘westplaining’, borrowed from Critical Theory, and goes like this:
“You don’t get to have questions/opinions/criticisms on the subject because you don’t share the life experiences of Ukrainians. Shut up and let Ukrainian voices speak, your job is to listen and do as you are told”.
Even if you don’t philosophically object to that, you still run into all sorts of problems:
– How come Ukrainians get to impose their reality on us and get us to act on it by supporting their war? Why don’t we get to have our own reality?
Why, for example, an American can’t say “I am angry at my government and I want to see it taking an L in Ukraine, please feel my pain”.
– Even if we absolutely must have someone else narrating our reality for us why choose an Ukrainian? Why not choose a Russian separatist and accept that the things he says maybe don’t make sense to us but make sense to him?
It seems to me that if we are going to have an intelligent discussion at all, we must agree that we have epistemological access to realities in Ukraine and we can judge what makes sense and what doesn’t.
To be continued.
I’m not saying that you are foolish. I’m saying that the talking point you gave me as an example has made the Right look foolish. And it has.
It seems to me that if we are going to have an intelligent discussion at all, we must agree that we have epistemological access to realities in Ukraine and we can judge what makes sense and what doesn’t.
Go to Eastern Europe. Talk to the common folks. Look at what the situation is like. This is not an impossible task.
So let’s get into the research and analysis of the issue or else it’s like arguing over a diagnosis without ever looking at the patient.
It’s really not that complex, it’s rather straightforward actually.
After 2015 Ukraine had two options:
-Implement the Minsk II agreement or something equivalent (which was about giving some regional autonomy n o t to the whole of Donbas but only to the separatist controlled region, to about 1/3 of Donbas, about 3% of Ukraine’s territory on the border with Russia).
-And commit to neutrality with security assurances from Russia, U.S., U.K., etc. (a stronger version of the assurances Ukraine had under the Budapest Memorandum, for what they worth)
Now, there are those who claim that such ‘capitulation’ on the part of Ukraine would undoubtedly have led to a Russian invasion of the country two or five years down the line (or ten or twenty for that matter).
But such a prospect would have been extremely unlikely.
With the issues of U.S. military encroachment and the looming threat of an eventual Ukrainian attack on Donbas (and even potentially Crimea) removed, the only Russian incentive that could drive an aggressive policy towards Ukraine would have been the mythical revisionist and expansionist tendencies of Russia.
As proofs of those tendencies, the ‘Support Ukraine’ narrative typically mentions the ‘examples’ and ‘precedences’ of the supposedly Russian imperial expansionist forays in Chechnya(!), Georgia, Crimea and Donbas – none of them indicative of strategic aggression.
But even if those tendencies existed, they would have had a very hard time materializing due to a permanent, strategic counter-incentive enough to deter (several times over) any such Russian moves, and that is, of course, the relations with Europe.
Russians would need to be mad to choose to sacrifice their potential strategic partnership with Europe, deliver the continent to the U.S., take a massive economic blow by way of sanctions, pay the cost and take the risks of a large scale war and try to reinvent their future as the junior partner of China, in other words all the cost thay are now paying, just so that they can expand their territory to include some non strategic region of a neutral Ukraine.
But even if we were to speculate that Putin and some people around him are indeed possessed by a fetish for territorial expansion and are willing to sacrifice anything to satisfy it, still they would have had a very difficult time explaining and selling such plans to the rest of the country’s ruling elite.
All in all, the probability of a Russian invasion of a neutral Ukraine, and with the issue of the separatist region settled, would have been all but nonexistent.
And the second option:
-Insist on NATOizing the country
-Refuse to implement the Minsk agreement (or any agreement for that matter).
-Keep the low-intensity conflict going along the ‘contact line’.
-Keep harping about how you’re going to liberate Crimea along with Donbas.
-All at the same time while you are building an ever larger military force at a rate that Russia can’t possibly keep up with.
This option all but guarantees war.
It’s trivial, almost definitional:
When somebody tells you that he does not intend to resolve an ongoing conflict by means of a negotiated compromise, and he does not intend to freeze it either, while he builds up his military, then assuming human intentionality (you are not dealing with a cat making decisions by pressing buttons at random), he is telling you that he plans to go to war.
At least the other side had better interpret it this way and act accordingly.
To put it differently, just try a mental exercise.
Given Ukraine’s policy and assuming a non-expansionist/imperialist posture on the part of the R.F. (Russian Federation), use your imagination to produce a timeline that does not result in all-out war.
You won’t be able to find one.
But such a war was always going to be catastrophic for Ukraine.
It’s cost, predictably, would have been enormously high across every metric and the nominal objectives that were used to justify the original confrontational policy (incorporation of the separatist region in east Donbas without autonomous status and NATO membership), could only move further away.
So it’s really a no-brainer. In fact it takes a lot of effort for someone to manage to get himself confused on the issue.
The Ukrainians themselves were not particularly confused despite the enormous hate propaganda and warmongering that their media constantly fed them.
The 2019 elections were, by and large, a referendum on a peace settlement and Zelensky was unequivocally the peace candidate. He was elected on a mandate to put a negotiated end to the conflict.
But after the election Zelensky betrayed his electorate and policy became even more confrontational.
The reason for this betrayal was that, very unfortunately for the Ukrainians, there were forces outside of their country that after 2014 had acquired enormous influence over the local political apparatus, they had made themselves the major powerbrokers in Kiev.
For those powers, peace was simply not an option: You can’t ‘overextend’ and weaken the R.F. through peace, nor can you permanently and totally sever the ties between Europe and Russia in this way.
To seal the fate of Ukraine, there were certain groups within the country that truly expended enormous energy and went to extraordinary lengths in order to block, derail, prevent and sabotage the peace process.
The most obvious structural problem with those groups was that they had built themselves up as a paramilitary and political-police force ‘securing’ (or effectively occupying) parts of the country where the population was deemed as of questionable loyalty.
Western liberal apologists for such organizations are correct when they say that as civilian political movements they were quite weak and, in fact, of smaller influence and significance when compared with ideologically similar groups in most western countries.
Their power and status was entirely vested in performing a service for the state under a virtual marshal law, a state of emergency and siege brought about by the perpetual crisis and conflict in the east.
It was under this exceptional state of permanent conflict and instability that such organizations rose to become the overlords of entire cities, and war might have been a disaster for their country but peace would have been a disaster for them.
So the war in Ukraine was a completely unnecessary and preventable catastrophe that was made unavoidable by U.S. interference intended exactly to plunge the country into such a war, alas, assisted by the activities of opportunistic groups within Ukraine that would not consider peace and stability as an option.
(I’m inserting a mischievous parentheses here where I’m diverting from analysis and enter the realm of meta-narrative by suggesting that maybe it’s the romanticization and idealization of those groups and the subsequent need to defend their reputation that makes some westerners so avert to calm discussion and analysis. The irony, of course, is that defending the reputation of those people [and not just in the sphere of high politics] ultimately requires smearing and tarnishing the reputation of practically all of the DR in the west)
I appreciate the comment and I probably agree with most of your points. A more detailed answer will have to wait. I’ll just make three quick points of my own.
1. None of these technical problems of policy have anything to do with my position on the war.
When the English speaking Right wet their pants with joy as Russia invaded Ukraine, it was not because they had made a technical analysis of what would have been the best course of action for Ukraine. They were overjoyed because they had been consuming memes about Russia for years, so they were primed for being manipulated into thinking that Putin was somehow their ally (call it what you want, but that’s the gist of it). So they essentially started destroying the Right from within while being useful idiots on behalf of a power that’s not their friend…
Your analysis is mostly reasonable as far as it goes, but that’s not the issue here. My concern is that the Western Right is committing suicide.
2. I’m not really sure what you’re saying here:
“When somebody tells you that he does not intend to resolve an ongoing conflict by means of a negotiated compromise, and he does not intend to freeze it either, while he builds up his military, then assuming human intentionality (you are not dealing with a cat making decisions by pressing buttons at random), he is telling you that he plans to go to war.
At least the other side had better interpret it this way and act accordingly.”
Are you saying that Ukraine was going to declare war on Russia? Was Ukraine going to launch an invasion?
Obviously that can’t be taken seriously…
Of course they should have resolved the issue through negotiated compromise. But now the Ukrainians are probably less inclined to do so.
3. In your final paragraphs, you talk about romanticizing “certain groups” in Ukraine (by way of explaining sympathy for Ukraine?). I’m not sure what you’re talking about, but I take it you’re referring to radical nationalist groups in Ukraine. That’s just rubbish.
In none of my comments about the war have I referred to any radical nationalist group in Ukraine, and I haven’t seen anyone else refer to them either. They don’t even figure in my analysis. The existence or non-existence of those organizations has nothing to do with my attitude toward the conflict.
(For the record, I don’t imagine that those groups will be influential in the long run – at least under current circumstances.)
I sympathize with the Ukrainians because they’re being invaded by a dysfunctional, multi-racial, post-Soviet state that has nothing good to offer them… And the Right is burning its own credibility to the ground by cheering on the invasion.
I haven’t observed this phenomenon, maybe it exists but I haven’t seen it.
I was not referring to you, but there are people who appear overly charmed if not infatuated with such groups.
I’m talking about the low intensity conflict that had been going on in southeastern Dondas.
If Ukraine were to keep up with the, nato resourced, spectacular expansion of its military forces while keeping the conflict open, the list of possible outcomes would have been:
– Ukraine attempts for a third time to take over the region by force (the two previous attempts had failed and had led to the signing of the Minsk and Minsk II agreements respectively), Russia intervenes both to defend the separatist region and to force Ukraine to agree on neutral status.
– Russia decides that the strength of the Ukrainian military is approaching levels that would make a war very costly (and further down the line prohibitively costly) and launches a ‘preventive’ war.
– One of the above but with the side about to get attacked launching a ‘preemptive’ attack itself.
This article gives you a broad sense of how the dynamic was developing in the months preceding the invasion:
I don’t see what the Ukrainian side was trying to achieve through its policy except launching or provoking a war.
This argument for supporting Ukraine would make sense if what were at stake was the political alignment of the country. In other words, the R.F. were invading with the aim of overthrowing the current establishment and imposing a regime similar to the one in Belarus (presumably that would require heavy handed repression in western Ukraine and the permanent presence of R.F. troops or pro-Russia militias from the east, in and around population centers in the west).
I can’t see how the Russians could ever have hoped to get such a semi-occupational regime in power.
I just assume that their initial objective was to shake up the existing establishment; to get it to snap out of its zombie-like state; to give patriots (and indeed, any person with a consciousness, anyone not psychopathic) in Kiev a rallying point and a chance to wringle out of the american stranglehold and finally do what Ukraine had been refusing to do for the last seven years.
And it almost worked.
The regime was indeed rattled, it got shaken up and it sought out a peace deal with rounds of negotiations starting on the 28th of February (four days after the invasion) in Belarus; when the broad outline of an agreement started to become visible, meetings moved to Turkey and were brought under Turkish mediation around the middle of March; by the beginnings of April the two sides had agreed on the basic points (withdrawal of Russian troops from all the territories they occupied after the invasion, neutral status for Ukraine and security guarantees excluding Crimea and Donbas) and it seemed that finalizing and signing was imminent but the powers-that-be sabotaged it.
So we went to the second phase of the war where Ukraine is totally committed to no negotiations and to fighting a forever-war with the objective of liberating all of its territory, including Crimea.
Just think what the cost in human lives (if nothing else) was in early April and what it is today.
The people that did this to Ukraine, that keep doing it and that have been doing it since 2014 are evil.
An even shorter answer would be: It’s not all that important whether Western nationalists support Ukraine, but when I see the Right carrying water for Putin I am embarrassed.
Yes, but you already know how the Duginoids are going to reply, they’ll say “It’s not that important whether western nationalists support Russia, it’s just embarrassing to see them carry water for the neocons”.
Such statements are based on premises that eventually have to be established. Otherwise it’s like doing a decameron film review, passionately exchanging arguments on various aspects of it, but without anyone having bother to watch it.
It is undeniable that the vast majority of the English speaking “DR” has been cheerleading the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s not an opinion of mine or something I made up. It’s a fact.