No «Ukraine fatigue» for Andreas Umland after eight years of war
This is the second issue of the Ukraine Calling relaunched. Our guest today is Andreas Umland — Analyst of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies
Andriy Kulykov (AK): OK, so this is the second issue of the Ukraine Calling relaunched. I’m Andriy Kulykov, I will be presenting this show, and our guest today is Andreas Umland. He is the Analyst of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies, and one of the people whose tweets and whose Telegram I read constantly. And even today I got at least two messages from Andreas – obviously not addressed directly to me, but to his rather big audience on Telegram – one of them is about the statement by the Amnesty International; it is the comment on what he calls the infamous Amnesty International report about the behaviour of Ukraine’s military. And another one, which came a bit earlier, is stories about Ukrainian Nazis were rare before 2014, and they surged at the moment when Russia’s plan faltered. Andreas has been in Ukraine, and I think for Ukraine, even before 2014, but my first question to you is, what are you witnessing changing in Ukraine since 2014, and in the world’s attitude towards Ukraine?
Andreas Umland (AU): I think the major change has actually happened not in 2014, but in 2022; five months, or now almost six months ago when this large invasion happened. There was already a spark of interest in 2014, but since 2022, since 24th of February, the attention has dramatically risen to Ukraine. And now you can, in Germany and in many other European cities, see Ukrainian flags everywhere, and Ukraine is in mass media every day. And there are all these organizations now that present themselves. So suddenly now, Ukraine is on the map of most people, and unfortunately it needed to take this large invasion by Russia for that to happen. The 2014 annexation and the start of this, I call it “pseudo-civil war”, in Donbas was not enough. So back then there was a certain change as well in the international perception of Ukraine, but that was only for a few months, and more of a spark. But now I think that is a more fundamental change. And in a very odd way, Putin has now integrated Ukraine into Europe.
AK: Andreas Umland, you’ve been watching the situation, or I would rather say, you’ve been influencing the situation in Ukraine and around Ukraine for many, many years. And now, with the resurged or flared-up attention to Ukraine, do you find it easier or harder to explain things in our country and around our country?
AU: Well, it has become much easier now because the flow of information now is enormous, and the illusions about Russia are now largely gone. There are still some people who are trying to explain or defend Russian behaviour. But the discussions we had until early this year 2022, about for instance, how to find a solution for the Donbas, for the Minsk Agreements, and these discussions have largely gone, and it has now become easier to explain Ukraine. The problem is rather now the discussion about the best strategy vis-à-vis Russia. And unfortunately there is still a division within the West, that some people think it would be less risky for the West to not help Ukraine that much and to not sanction Russia that much, because that would presumably escalate the situation, and that such an escalation is bad for the West. And now the main problem is plain and simple fear on the side of many people in the West who fear World War III, who fear nuclear war, and the Kremlin is of course playing with this fear, and is trying to exert pressure. So to put it in more sort of general terms, one could say that the main problem before the 24th of February was Russia’s soft power that was successful to a degree, now it’s largely Russian hard power that is generating this sort of hesitant approach from the West towards Ukraine.
AK: Of course, a whole gamut of questions rises from what Andreas Umland, Analyst for the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies, has just told us. I’ll try to go on with the issue of third world war. Several months before the Russian invasion, the full-scale invasion, I mean, I got a present from a friend in Canada, who sent me a novel called 2034. And this is a novel about the third world war co-authored by Admiral Stavridis, and the world war begins there in Southern China Sea. Of course, we now see the flaring up of tensions between China and Taiwan, but in that novel, Ukraine is almost never mentioned. Why do you think there was such a misconception that Ukraine doesn’t matter? Or am I wrong in this? The conception was there, but maybe not spoken about?
AU: Well, one could actually argue that perhaps Ukraine, and the Ukraine issue, is indeed overestimated, in that we are not actually here on the brink of World War III between Russian and the West, because Russia does not want World War III and it’s too weak to conduct such a world war. Whereas China may, in 2036 feel strong enough to go to war with the US. So I would actually rather support this view of the issue, in that we’ve for instance seen what happened in 2015 when a NATO country, Turkey, shot down a Russian airplane over Syria, and according to normal Russian military doctrine, that would have demanded an adequate counterstrike sort of answer; shooting at least a Turkish airplane down, perhaps even destroying a Turkish airport in response to this shooting down of a Russian airplane. But nothing like that has happened, and I think the reason is that Turkey is a member of NATO and that Russia does not want this world war. And it’s now talking a lot about it, quite purposefully, and it’s trying to threaten the West, not only with world war, but also with an energy crisis, and also with this idea of a Russian-Chinese alliance. But I don’t believe all of that. I don’t think that Russian has actually that much leverage, and that Russia is constantly trying to look scarier than it is.
AK: I am a bit surprised, although you have started to explain this, that you said that Russia fears that they may not win the world war, because the entire rhetoric of Russia is, “we are the strongest, we have the right to at least influence the entire politics all over the globe”. And this psychological pressure I think really influences many people, in Ukraine including. As an analyst, as a person who’s been watching and influencing the state of affairs for many, many years, how do you counteract this psychological pressure? I’m pretty sure that you were one of the objects of Russian pressure as well – I’ve read articles.
AU: Well, I’m just one of many who is in the field, and what I am usually trying to talk about is the immediate threats that the Russian behaviour is already creating currently for the West. And here, one could mention the most obvious thing now with the grain exports and with the possible hunger in Africa and in Asia, and then the repercussions this then may have for political stability in Asia and Africa, and also for new immigration pressure for the EU. Or the subversion by Russia of the logic of the non-proliferation regime, the regime for the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons. Because Russia is obviously behaving the way it behaves because it has nuclear weapons. Ukraine has no nuclear weapons. And the odd and actually very risky side aspect of this is explicitly allowed to have nuclear weapons, and Ukraine is explicitly forbidden to have nuclear weapons by the Non-Proliferation Treaty both of these countries has signed. And Russia’s behaviour obviously undermines the logic of this treaty because it suggests to all countries around the world that you cannot count on security, and if you’re not part of an alliance, if you don’t have nuclear weapons yourself or you’re not part of an alliance which has nuclear weapons, and so it may be very suggestive for the West – not only for the West but for many countries around the world – that now this, that Russia has basically employing this treaty that is supposed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons for its war against Ukraine, and that then this entire regime becomes undermined, and then that can have grave repercussions. At least once, let’s say, in a future, in a technological future that I cannot know yet, it may be easy to produce nuclear weapons. Currently, it’s not so easy to produce nuclear weapons, but who knows; maybe in ten years it may be much easier to produce a nuclear weapon. And then the current conflict and the hesitant help to Ukraine by many countries around the world, or let’s say, the behaviour of China, which is also an official nuclear weapons state, may then suggest to many countries to actually get a nuclear weapon to protect itself or to expand its territory. Or one could mention the Ukrainian nuclear power plants and other such – so I’m trying to talk about these things which have direct repercussions for Western security, and that are much more tangible than this threat of World War III.
AK: The threat of World War III and of nuclear war, you know, have been growing in the times when “nuclear war” was one of the word combinations that sounded every day, that resonated in our minds, and we were immensely happy almost every day because it wasn’t happening. And then détante came, and then another aggravation, then cruise missiles, and the neutron bomb and all these kinds of stuff. But still, it has not happened, so is nuclear war what we used to call a “scarecrow”? Or is it, does it have a chance to become a reality?
AU: I think it is largely a scarecrow, or it’s used this way by Russia now. And we should also remember, I’m old enough to remember these times when in the Cold War we were afraid of this; what we should also remember is that there were many more nuclear weapons back in the Cold War than now, because the arsenals have gone dramatically down. There are still thousands of warheads, but it’s not any longer these huge amounts that were there during the Cold War. Especially the US and Russia have greatly reduced their arsenals. And you know, for decades World War III has not happened. And the Cold War, and I think now that is also used as a scarecrow by Russia because many people have forgotten that we’ve already lived in these extremely dangerous times –
AK: Or they have not just lived in those times.
AU: Yeah, or that they’re too young to remember or yeah, exactly. And yes, so this is a psychological war, and unfortunately one has to say, successful. At least in Germany I see it with many ordinary people, they are really afraid of World War III now, and you see in local newspapers they’re discussing bunkers, the state of the bunkers and where they are, and you know, where to hide if World War III happens. But you know, I don’t think that is really, this is all about World War III, I think it’s more about the stability of the Russian political regime. This is much more about domestic Russian affairs than about really some sort of apocalyptic confrontation between Russia and the West.
AK: And since you mentioned Germany, many people here in Ukraine and in some other countries think that Germany is probably one of the staunchest- no, I would not say “allies” of the Putin regime, but one of the countries where the illusions about Russia, which you mentioned earlier, are most prolific. Is it really so, or is this just an impression that we get because we do not know Germany as well as we should?
Andreas Umland (AU): When I speak about this in Germany, I am usually very critical about German foreign affairs and also the cooperation with Ukraine and the insufficient sanctions against Russia, but here I would rather like to defend Germany in the sense that since 24th of February we have really seen a paradigmatic change in German thinking about Eastern Europe. So, earlier, after- already after the annexation of Crimea there was already a change but there was still then this illusion that by cooperating with Russia, Russian Imperialism could somehow be contained, and there was this interdependence theory and the idea that through economic [unclear] we would also be then politically- that would also moderate the Russian regime, politically. And that has now obviously failed this policy and now we have actually a change both in the political elite and even in the population among ordinary people the change in public opinion is actually quite stunning. If you look at the first month of this year and then in spring there is an almost diametrical change, for instance, concerning the delivery of weapons. There’s still a discussion now against the threat of World War III about heavy weapons in Germany. There’s a divided public opinion but that does- even that I would sort of partly defend this divided public opinion because it’s not informed by some sort of sympathy for Russia or for Putin, but it’s rather determined by this fear of World War III. Some people are more fearful, they don’t want Germany to send too many heavy weapons to Ukraine, and others are less fearful, and they usually then support more resolute help.
So, I think there is now a rather fundamental change in the many problems that we see with German delivery of weapons and fulfilling all of its promises that the German government has made over the last five months. The main problem here is implementation and a lack of experience in doing that. So, Germany usually has the image of being a highly effective and powerful country, but we are not very powerful and effective in military terms. This is, or also in conducting geo-political conflicts. This is not something that we have usually done in the past. We are very good in cultural exchange and developmental health, in economic cooperation, in scientific cooperation, these are our classical fields of foreign policy, but military technological cooperation with heavy weapons is something new to us. And that’s why its going very slow, contradictory, back-and-forth, but that is, I would say that is more sort of a practical issue than an ideological issue. I think the ideology has actually changed, the foreign policy doctrine apart from the mentality.
AK: You still say we when talking about Germany. You spend so much time in Ukraine that you must have gone native in some aspects at least. And you work for the Stockholm Centre, so you are a bit Swedish, I presume. But do you feel yourself a European, a German, a Ukrainian- and by the way, the issue of Ukrainian identity, how do you treat it?
AU: Well, myself, I’m- I don’t see much contradiction in feeling myself affiliated to different identities and nations, and indeed, I think my main sympathies are now with Ukraine. I think that is, I’ve lived here 20 years. Kyiv is actually the city in the world where I’ve spent relatively most of the time. I never lived longer in any other city, neither in Germany nor elsewhere than in Kyiv, so I feel very much attached to Kyiv and Ukraine. Yeah, Ukrainian national identity is now, I think finally, I would say complete? There is a saying, a very cynical saying in Political Science which goes like, “not only do nations make wars, but also wars make nations.” And so, this is the result now of this war, this unification of geopolitical outlooks and you know, the identity issue seems to be largely solved now- has been largely solved in the last five years now. Already, it has been pushed already in 2014, then there was this push towards sort of national unification. But even before that, I mean there was all this discussion in the West that I never understood about the allegedly divided Ukraine. Most countries are divided in one way or another, you know, in Germany the West and East is divided and maybe even the deeper divide is between the Protestant North and the Catholic South. Italy is divided, Poland is divided, Great Britain is divided. So, this is actually yes, there was division and which has been and is now much less in Ukraine but that is not so unusual actually for many countries, and there are actually other countries, like let’s say Belgium, which are much more divided than Ukraine ever was. So, that was always this discussion about the sort of incomplete national identity of Ukraine was always somewhat artificial I thought and- but now the issue is basically done. I think there is a very small minority now left in Ukraine that sort of is not any longer- is still not attached to the Ukrainian state.
AK: “Wars make nations,” an apt phrase of course, but this suggests that nations are being made around resistance and around something that they perceive negatively. What is the positive thing that may unite or unites Ukrainians, from your point of view, Andreas?
(22:55) AU: Well, I think that’s basically an open issue. That’s a matter of construction. I mean, I think national identity is something good, but I would still think national identity is something- as a famous scholar has once said, “nations are imagined communities.” So, it’s a matter of construction. You can use whatever you want as a sort of unifying idea. Obviously, the major issue is always literature and language. That is, of course, perhaps the most unifying issue. And then historical discourse is more complicated. And here, not only domestic but also foreign affairs plays a role, so, what we know from opinion polls is that Holodomor has always been something unifying in Ukraine identity since the 1990s already when basically the literature became popular about, or became read about the Holodomor. Other issues are more contentious but that is also not so unusual, so, that is also present in other nations. Yes so, I guess the positive, the main positive issues, of course, is Ukrainian culture. Not only literature but also other forms of culture and the history and again, I wouldn’t comment on that much because, that is basically, the history is rich, the literature is rich, the culture is rich and whatever then becomes more important- I’m not even sure this can be regulated in any way, that something may be spontaneous what then people are most united by.
AK: Coming back to what you have said, Andreas, I may be mistaken, but I thought I heard the word imperialism leaving your lips. Are you a Marxist?
AU: No, no, I think, no, no, I’m not a Marxist, also I’m also not an anti-Marxist, I think, you know, Marxism can sometimes be useful, but imperialism is not necessarily a Marxist term, I think. It’s something that is the main pathology of Russian political culture, as it was for a long time of German political culture. The idea that you know, you should rule territories outside your nation, that is something that is unfortunately still an issue here in the post-Soviet space. For Germany, I think that’s gone fortunately, but not for Russia.
AK: So, Andreas Umland, an analyst at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies, is not a Marxist, but sometimes I read allegations that you are a Nazi.
AU: (In agreement) Mhm.
AK: And this is, to my mind, because you are trying to be objective and unbiased, but other people, in the fact of you are trying to be unbiased, see your bias. Would you defend yourself in this respect?
AU: No, I mean, what often is the issue here is that there is a certain part of- I mean, I don’t want to discuss the Russian discourse, I think that’s actually not worth discussing much, but what often happens in the West is that left-wing researchers, they have recently taken an interest in Ukrainian ultranationalism, both historic and contemporary ultranationalism, which did exist and does exist so I’m not denying that. The problem that I often have then in communicating with journalists or researchers about that is, and the same goes for my colleagues like Anton Shekhovtsov, or Vyacheslav Likhachev, or Ivan Gomza, we are commenting much on this is that we come from comparative right-wing extremism studies, so all of us have studied other forms of right-wing extremism first, let’s say Gomza, French ultranationalism; or Anton Shekhovtsov, West European ultranationalism; Likhachev and myself, Russian ultranationalism. And then we’ve later on, we’ve come to study Ukrainian ultranationalism. And then we see that it’s not- it’s something that is present and is perhaps also a problem but that is, in comparison to other countries, it’s actually minor. It’s actually less than you would expect, in terms, for instance, of the electoral support, the strength of the parties, the presence in the Verkhovna Rada. It’s actually, in all of these regards and also regarding violence against, let’s say, LGBT, Roma, and so on- which does exist, all of this is does exist and I think that electoral support that the far-right still gets is too much, like it’s too much in many other countries, but it’s relatively less. And when I’m arguing this then people think that I’m sort of- have sympathies for that or that I’m sort of defending that but now we have actually the result of many of these warnings, in the West also, where I think many journalists have actually supported this Russian discourse that there is allegedly here in Ukraine some sort of major threat, and the problem with these Western comments was that often then they were retranslated into Russian and then these Western-concerned anti-fascists, they become then suddenly witnesses for Russian propaganda, where the Russian propaganda says “well, it’s not only us saying that there was a fascist coup in Ukraine and ultranationalism/fascism is major problem in Ukraine, but it’s also these and they’re researchers, Western researchers at Western universities.” And so, oddly, many of these concerned anti-fascists in the West, because they see it out of proportion, they’ve become now, unwillingly certainly, they’re not supporters, most of them are not supporters of Putin at all, they are actually anti-Putin-ists, anti-fascists, anti-ultranationalists, anti-imperalists, and so on, but they’ve become with their alarmist discourse about Ukrainian ultranationalism, they’ve become then unwitting supporters of this Russian propaganda war.
AK: Recently, I’ve published a video sent to me by my relatives from London, UK, about a huge demonstration, a huge rally in support of Ukraine and one of the people who answered or replied to this tweet said, “What do they want? They want the UK government to flair up the war?” And this is not for the first time that I hear this opinion. And you touched on this as well earlier in our conversation. So, there’s a concerted effort I think by Russia, but also shared opinion among many Western Europeans that delivering arms to Ukraine, and then you can continue delivering financial support, or any other support, of course makes us stronger, but at the same time it prolongs the war. How can we counteract this, and one of the messages that Ukraine’s been spreading since at least February this year was that Ukraine is now protecting democracy and peace in Europe and the entire world- we’ve heard this before, and many people here believe that this is so, but will Western Europeans or Americans ever share this point of view?
AU: Yeah, it’s a complicated issue, I’m actually somewhat hesitant to support this idea that you know if we don’t stop Putin now in Ukraine he’s going to go to Berlin, or something like that. That’s I think overdrawn and that doesn’t fly in Germany. I think there’s no immediate threat of this. But something I’ve been arguing for instance, is if you know there’s also this discussion about a ceasefire and so on. If you now give Putin a ceasefire, yeah, and then the troops are not going to be employed in Ukraine anymore. Putin has recently mentioned, when he compared himself to Peter the Great, the city of Narva. What happens then if Russia then redeploys the troops that are currently in Ukraine to the Russian-Estonian border and tries to reconquer, as Russians would put it, Narva? Which makes sense from a Russian point of view because Narva is the most Russian city outside Russia. It’s more Russian actually than Sevastopol in terms of the percentage of citizens of Narva that are ethnic Russians as well as in terms of the percentage of Russian speakers in Narva. So-
AK: Yeah, I’ve been there once, I was totally surprised that I saw only some official signs in Estonian language, and I watched local television and they were all speaking Russian. Although they did not express some separatist or hereditist ideas at that time but still this was very, very, unusual in Estonia where you see a total different situation in other places.
AU: Yeah. And then, of course, you know, most people will know that, but one has to add, that Narva is on the territory of NATO and the European Union. And then actually, Article 5 comes in. The EU treaty article- I think it was 23.7, something like that, also, through the European Union is also a defense union is also obliged to help each member country to defend itself and then we have, actually, World War III. So, you know, that is then actually- you know, and then you- once you tell it that way, perhaps maybe that then is understood. Also, about the weapons deliveries- I mean, the question is not only tactical today that Russia- that Ukraine needs today the heavy weapons, but the question is also, if we ever come to a ceasefire, what is actually going to happen then? I’m afraid Ukraine is not going to enter soon either NATO or the EU. Ukraine is probably not going to get any other military alliances. It may get some sort of security guarantees again, but you know, Ukraine already had experiences with such security guarantees. So, there’s nothing actually on the table here for Ukraine. The only way for Ukraine to survive the next years is to arm itself or to be armed by- with, by its Western allies. Or other non-Western allies.
And so Ukraine needs these heavy weapons anyway. It’s just not for the war now. Maybe Ukraine even needs the weapons more for peace, to preserve peace once we have achieved it. So, that is something that is a way of thinking that is actually difficult to grasp for many Germans unfortunately, that’s not the way they think. They want to have some sort of agreement with Russia, and we sign something and sort of come to an understanding. That is a world that unfortunately many still live in. They are very skeptical now of Putin, but they still don’t understand how to deal with such a situation.
AK: Andreas Umland is an analyst and scientist, he works now for the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies, but he also is a prolific writer for social networks. Why you, who always paid attention as a scientist and an analyst, and whose works are being critiqued in both positive and negative ways by your colleagues, why do you resort to social networks?
AU: Well, you know, that’s my understanding of what we as academics are for, you know. Especially with political scientists, I wonder why you would be a political scientist if you are not also somehow trying to eventually influence politics, maybe in a very indirect way. But if you just do political analysis and then publish something in an obscure academic journal, I mean you can have a certain cognitive satisfaction from that, but usually I would think most political scientists would not enter the profession from such a motivation. Because if you are pure [a] scientist, I mean by all go and do physics, astronomy, or mathematics, then you can sort of live in this parallel world of academia. So as political scientists I think we are also political. We are not just studying politics, we are by definition almost also involved in political affairs, and social media is just one of the instruments that we recently received. Before it was journalism mainly, or you go into politics actually yourself. Some of my colleagues do that, they go into [political] parties, they go into parliament, and so on. The problem is if you do that, if you go this way, then you can’t do much research actually anymore. Whereas this sort of journalism, social media activity, plus research, it’s still something possible.
AK: Out of the huge numbers out of your academic articles, and your social network posts, which ones in your assessment have made the biggest impact?
AU: Good question. Unfortunately, one has to say in a way it’s usually English language publications because that’s most widely read. Well, there’s a certain ranking of the outlets, so Foreign Policy for instance is a journal or website where I published before. And in social networks, I’m actually now surprised in the last month, I would say, how important LinkedIn, in my perception, has become. Otherwise, it would be Twitter of course, but LinkedIn has now also something that has gotten more prolific in my perception at least. Facebook is actually not that important. So, when I’m posting something on Facebook the responses are actually limited often, and the most feedback you get usually are on LinkedIn and Twitter.
AK: And the message you were able to promote, the most important message from your point of view, that met with, if not approval, then acceptance, from your audience?
AU: Well, the last months were just organized of a number of so-called open letters, which is actually somewhat secretarial work often because you have to write a lot of emails to organize them. And that has had some impact. We’ve written before the war with colleagues, mainly in Eastern European studies and security studies, warning about the coming war. After the start of the war, we called for weapons deliveries. Just a couple weeks ago we published a counter letter to a German open letter that was called “Ceasefire Now!” published by German intellectuals who are afraid of World War 3, and therefore advised the German government to promote a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia. And our counter letter was called “Heavy Weapons Now!”, and so that is often rather actually, as I said, secretarial work, because you have to write a lot of emails to get everybody on board, and the information, and then find somewhere to publish it. Otherwise, in the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies, I think we are relatively new, slightly more than a year old, and we are trying to influence the Western debate in a way as to remind, as to say, the West, of its own values.
AK: By the way, will you define Eastern Europe for me and our listeners? And the West as well?
Andreas: Yah, I mean, that is now a difficult question actually. You can argue that Ukraine is actually part of the West, and countries like Poland. The odd thing is that sometimes the East European or Central European countries are more Western in their culture, at least in my perception, than some of the classical Western European countries, which have become sort of fishy in terms of defending liberalism, independence, human rights, and so on. But in Sweden, I think, far more than in continental Europe, there is a better understanding of these sort of core Western values, and it’s a little bit, I would say, a mission of our center to remind our colleagues about what that means in the policies of the European Union, of NATO, of nation states, of Europe, vis-à-vis, Russia, and also vis-à-vis the countries that need help like Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, especially.
AK: Before we come to questions which will be rounding-off this conversation with Andreas Umland of the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies, a question about the language. We are talking English now, there is a clash of Ukrainian and German accents on air, but still, we are talking English. And I have thought for quite some time that in Ukraine we pay too much attention and too much significance to explain in ourselves in the English language at the expense of other European and world languages. Is it right to talk to Germans, Spaniards, and French in English? I mean the general attitude. Does the German, or Polish, or Italian audience really get the messages in a language that is still foreign to them?
AU: My impression is that for the smaller countries is actually fine, like for Sweden for instance. Also, if you look at the data about how many English speakers you have in these smaller [countries], or the Netherlands or other countries like that, then English is actually fine. But for the other countries of course, communication in good quality, German, French, Italian and so on, and perhaps even more important Chinese, Japanese, these are also quite important. And then the issue also is to get into the right outlets, because in all these countries you have these sort of Eastern Europe experts and expert outlets. Now you also have Ukraine related outlets that have a lot of good information often on Ukraine, but that is not widely read. So, the trick is actually how do you get into a generic outlet. That’s also what I see in a way as my sort of personal mission is get into…I mean for instance, there is a brilliant journal produced in Krakow, in Poland, called New Eastern European by friends of mine, Adam Reichardt and Iwona Reichardt, who edit it. It is an excellent journal, but it’s not my first choice. Sometimes I publish there as well and I like them very much, but that’s not quite [what] the audience is. I try to find the people, to reach the people, who are not well informed, who have these sort these ambivalences to reach them. This is the main trick, and sometimes it still doesn’t work because there are these echo chambers [where] we sort of speak to ourselves, that we don’t reach people who don’t have an immediate understanding or interest for a country like Ukraine.
AK: Coming back to…overlap…remembering from what we started our conversation and mentioned there your publication about the Amnesty International statement, which you were harshly critical of. Many people may have overlooked this, could you please shortly…overlap…
Coming back to what we started actually our conversation, I quoted your post about the Amnesty International statement on [the] Ukrainian Army’s actions in this war. Since many people might have overlooked this topic, would you please explain why you felt you should react to this.
AU: Well, in fact, it’s just a Twitter threat and I think for most Ukrainians it will be quite trivial in terms of the content that I wrote about. But just for the western audience I think it was important here to point out that International Amnesty has made here a judgment about tactical military decisions, and I’m not sure actually International Amnesty is qualified to do so, it’s not a military agency or think tank. And second that the implication of this critique was somehow that the Ukrainian Army, when it is posting its troops in residential areas close to civilian infrastructure, is somehow not worried enough about collateral damage that this can lead to. That is of course a very grave accusation, and what is even worse is actually what exactly Russia has been saying over the last 8 years. That the Ukrainian state does not care about Ukrainian citizens. And that’s actually the very justification of the war, that there are these Russian speakers that the Ukrainian army terrorizes somehow. And that’s why Russia has invaded Ukraine, because sort of say, has responsibility to protect by Russia. But we all know the pseudo-civil war in Eastern Europe has been triggered by the Russian state. There’s now actually very good research, there was earlier, actually, already good research by [a] historian called Nikolai Mitrokhin, a Russian historian, who has researched that now there’s also…a very good study by German political scientist Jakob Hauter, who has looked at the exact sequence of the escalation of conflict since April 2014, and he has shown, like Mitrokhin did before, that the Girkin group was in close contact with the Russian state at this time. So, the Russian state has actually created this war, and is today sort of taking this pseudo-civil war as a justification for the large military invasion. And Amnesty International is actually, sort of, with it’s publications supporting this narrative. I think that it would have been fine if Amnesty had been communicating what it had found, not publicly, to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, you know that would have been entirely fine, you know that’s their job, to be critical. But to come publicly out with such a statement against the context, the background, of the Russian justification for the entire war is actually very insensitive.
AK: And finally, 5 or so months of the open-face of aggression, international solidarity, support for Ukraine in many foreign countries, and we start to hear about Ukraine fatigue. But, many, many years of settlements, associations with this country, articles, and secretarial work for open letters and studies and all this kind of stuff, where is your Ukraine fatigue?
AU: No, I don’t have any Ukraine fatigue. On the contrary, I’ve now visited again Ukraine, actually by accident, when the war broke out. Outside Ukraine, I’ve had family obligations in Germany, which is why I couldn’t come here earlier. For me the main problem now with Ukraine now is the logistics of travelling to Germany, so now this has become very inconvenient. I think Ukraine needs even more support now than used to be the case, and I hope that will also now be…actually my impression is that we are not actually going into Ukraine fatigue because what I see in Germany is that many people have noq become interested, and they became deeply interested. And so, I think there is now a certain dynamism and maybe I’m seeing it in rosy colors here, that we’re actually not [letting] us get back to this earlier. I mean the topic of Ukraine fatigue was mentioned many, many times before basically in the last 30 years. I think we are actually out of this phase now, that we will not be in Ukraine fatigue.
AK: Thank you Andreas Umland of the Stockholm Center for Eastern European Studies. You’ve been listening to Ukraine Calling, a radio show at Hromadske Radio in Kyiv, Ukraine.