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Debates over the proper approach to the Russo-Ukrainian War have dominated much of the year. Yet discussions within the western left have not always featured the perspectives of Ukrainians and Russians themselves. The Real News Network board member Bill Fletcher, in partnership with Haymarket Books, hosts a panel with Ukrainian and Russian academics.

Yuliya Yurchenko is a senior lecturer and researcher in political economy at the Political Economy, Governance, Finance and Accountability Institute and the Economics and International Business Department, the University of Greenwich (UK). She is the author of Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketisation to Armed Conflict (London: Pluto Press, 2018) and many other publications, including in Capital and Class and New Political Economy. She is vice-chair of the Critical Political Economy Research Network Board (European Sociological Association), co-coordinator of the World Economy working group, IIPPE, and an editor for Capital and Class.

Alona Liasheva is a PhD candidate in Urban Studies (URBEUR) at University of Milan-Bicocca focusing on housing in Eastern Europe. She is a co-editor of Commons: Journal for Social Criticism.

Ilya Budraitskis writes regularly on politics, art, film and philosophy for e-flux journal, openDemocracy, LeftEast, and other outlets, and teaches at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and the Institute of Contemporary Art Moscow. The Russian edition of his essay collection Dissidents among Dissidents was awarded the prestigious Andrei Bely prize in 2017.

Studio: Dwayne Gladden


The following is a rushed transcript and may contain errors. A proofread version will be made available as soon as possible.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Welcome to The Real News. This is Bill Fletcher. Thanks for joining us.

The Russo-Ukrainian War, or more precisely the Russian aggression against Ukraine has brought forward some interesting and peculiar schisms within the left and progressive movements in the Western world, including but not limited to the United States. Today the Real News Network has the opportunity to interview two Ukrainian activists and one Russian activist regarding the conflict and its ramifications. All too often, certainly in the United States, there’s been a tendency by some progressives to almost dictate what they believe to be the terms upon which the Russo-Ukrainian war should be settled. Our objective in this broadcast is to hear the voices of people from Russia and Ukraine.

We’re honored to have with us today the following guest, Yuliya Yurchenko, Alona Liasheva, and Ilya Budraitskis. Yuliya is a senior lecturer and researcher in political economy at the Political Economy, Governance, Finance and Accountability Institute, and the Economics and International Business Department, the University of Greenwich in the UK.

She’s the author of Ukraine and the Empire of Capital: From Marketisation to Armed Conflict and many other publications including in capital and class and new political economy. She is vice chair of the Critical Political Economy Research Network Board of the European Sociological Association, Co-Coordinator of the World Economy Working Group, IPPE and editor for Capital and Class.

Alona is a PhD candidate in urban studies at the University of Milan-Bicocca, focusing on housing in Eastern Europe. She is a co-editor of Commons, a journal for social criticism. Ilya writes regularly on politics, art, film and philosophy for e-flux journal. openDemocracy, Lefteast, and other outlets. And teachers at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and the Institute of Contemporary Art Moscow.

The Russian edition of his essay collection, Dissidents Among Dissidents was awarded the prestigious Andrew Bailey Prize in 2017. Guests welcome, and thank you for joining us today. I want to begin with a question for all of you to answer and it is, what are the latest developments in the war? Help us understand what is happening right now. What are the conditions like in both of your countries and how has this impacted political consciousness? So let’s just start with very briefly, what’s your assessment of the current situation? And I’d like to start with Yuliya, if you could take a crack at that and then we’ll just go through everyone.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Thank you very much. Thank you for having us here and facilitating this crucial discussion that is getting more urgent by the day. The situation is Ukraine is both desperate and also defiant if you like. Not defiant, excuse me. Heroic in some sense. So in the recent days, Russia has ramped up its attacks on civilian infrastructure, on its occupied territories and on the cities of Ukraine that have seen sporadic attacks lately. So Russia has been using swarms of Iranian drones to terrorize civilians in cities such as Kiev perhaps. And that has caught a lot of international news but also a lot of other major cities.

And one of the examples is Zhytomyr for example, a couple of days ago, that’s without water and electricity, as are many other cities. 30% of energy infrastructure of the country is destroyed by now. A lot of water utilities and supply systems are damaged and it is a very clear message to Ukraine that comes from Russian TV channels, Russian politicians and military mouth pieces and is evident in Russian action that Russia wants Ukrainians to freeze to death this winter.

If bombing didn’t push them into submission, then hunger, lack of sanitary conditions and lack of heat will. This is a full on scale genocidal war. Ukrainians are resisting. Ukrainian spirit is still upbeat despite all of this horror. But of course we have to understand that spirit alone and solidarity alone and the networks that Ukrainians have been building for over eight years now, of course will not be sufficient to withstand this terrorism without adequate support from partners from abroad. Including United States of course.

And we are talking here as military and humanitarian support of course and diplomatic pressure on Russia to stop terrorizing Ukraine, stop its genocidal invasion, withdraw the troops and allow for legitimate authorities to take control over the annexed territories, illegally annexed territories. And help provide adequate help both to occupied people and of course also return those who have been captured and kidnapped and sent to Russia including hundreds of thousands of children who have been stolen from Ukraine.

Some are saying that Russia is deserting into these kind of actions as an act of last resort if you like, and they’re recognizing because they’re running out of supplies and the morale of their troops is low, which is undeniable to some extent. But at the same time we should not be underestimating the severity of the situation, nor should we expecting for it to be over within the coming days.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Alona, do you wish to add anything to what Yuliya just said?

Alona Liasheva:

Yeah, I completely agree with Yuliya’s analysis of situation in civilian, among the civilian population. Moreover, I’m based in Lviv and my family is in Kiev now. So I’m experiencing electricity cuts and absence of internet when I cannot text my mother. But at the same time I wanted to add on the situation on the front line. Because in the last weeks we’re clearly seeing how Ukrainian army took lead leadership in this war. How the counter attack of Ukrainian forces is being successful. And we are not only talking about this media examples of Crimean bridge, but we’re talking about liberation of Kharkiv oblast. We’re talking about liberation of parts of Kherson and Donetsk and Luhansk oblast.

And now one of the main questions on the front line is if Kherson, the siege of Kherson will be liberated. And looks like the Ukrainian side has all the chances to do it. But at the same time we need to remember that all news about successes of Ukrainian army after them, after this amazing and happy news about liberation of some regions, come news about war crimes committed by Russian soldiers. And also come news about deaths of our soldiers who are taking part in this operations.

But this is something which probably sometimes comes out of the picture when we are seeing this amazing news about successes of Ukrainian army.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you. Ilya, how does this look from within Russia?

Ilya Budraitskis:

To be in this war. Of course this mobilization was not very well welcomed. In Russian society during the last four weeks you have very massive run out of the country. So from the late September, more than 400,000 people, mostly men, left the country. And of course you have much more people who are tried to escape from the army, from the mobilization in the different ways.

Also, you have growing spontaneous resistance in the country from the beginning of mobilization. More than 30 military officers in the different parts of the country were burnt. Also you had a number of spontaneous protests. And I think that this mobilization was the very big mistake for President Putin and create a very serious challenge for his regime in the foreseeable future.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

I’m almost embarrassed to ask this question, but eight months into this war, there still remains a debate, certainly in the US and I’ve sensed in other parts of the West about the origins of the war. And you hear from some people that this war would never have started had it not been for NATO expansion. And I’m curious from the standpoint of the three of you, how do you look at what are the actual origins of this? Who’s at fault and where if anywhere does NATO fall into this whole equation? And Alona, I’d like to start with you on this.

Alona Liasheva:

I have heard this question so many times. And sorry, but it’s almost a joke for me because Ukraine is a sovereign state. And there is only one imperialist army on its territory and it is Russian army. There are no NATO soldiers. We are receiving and not in the amount, and not in the needed speed, the weapons from members of NATO but not from the NATO itself. So this question honestly sounds like a joke from a Ukrainian perspective. Because for us it’s rather, we are critical of NATO. Not because it has somehow influenced start of the war, but because now some NATO countries are not sure if they are ready to help Ukraine.

And clearly there was a strong underestimation of Russian imperialism among international community. Because yes, Russian imperialism and Putin’s power ambitions are the key reason why this war started and why it goes on even when Russian forces fail to achieve what they wanted. Moreover, for many Ukrainians NATO is not even a thing. I’m a sociologist and we continue to interview people now and we also ask them questions about, “What do you think, how this war started?” And many of my respondents, they do not even know what NATO is.

So yeah, I would say that the reason why people ask this question, because they do not perceive Ukraine as a sovereign state. They do not perceive Ukrainians as people who have a right for self defense. And I would say that this geopolitical framework is wrong in its very beginning. But I’m really happy that you ask the question in this way. You ask Ukrainians about what actually goes on. Yeah, thanks.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

No, absolutely. I mean, it’s sort of amazing to me when I hear people in the United States make these arguments, but they keep coming up. And Yuliya, I’m just curious whether you want to add anything to this. And Ilya, I’m also, I’d like to hear from you on this.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Thank you. Yeah, I want to second Alona’s sentiment about this. I was smiling as you asked this question as well. And of course this is no laughing matter, but I’m a political economist and we’re always told that we need to think, we need to ask ourselves this question cui bono. Yeah. But as we have also seen with the anti-vaxxers arguments, cui bono does not always have the answer. Just because pharmaceutical companies produce vaccines, it doesn’t mean that they have produced the virus to kill people.

Similar thing we can say about the spread of NATO. Do arms producers benefits from wars? Certainly. Who else would possibly be… Not certainly… Maybe not milk producers. But it doesn’t mean that they are behind manufacturing this conflict. Another thing that we need to understand is that when certain people threaten to kill you and turn your country into nuclear dust, and that’s a quote from quite a few by now Russian politicians, you probably need to believe them.

Let’s just look at Putin’s speeches and their evolution over the years. And also the main discourse and certain narratives that dominate Russian state TV and also Russian parliamentarians. It is very loud and clear that they do not recognize Ukraine as a subject in its own right. By now it’s outright genocidal rhetoric. And we’re still wondering whether NATO is an issue or not. Somehow we keep forgetting that the Baltic countries, for example, have joined NATO and they’re kind of closer to Russia than all that in terms of territory. By now also Finland and a number of other countries are talking about expedited membership in NATO. And there is a running joke in you in Eastern Europe that Russia and specifically Putin’s regime, because Putin’s regime doesn’t equal Russia, are the biggest recruitment agents for NATO. And NATO doesn’t even figure half the time anymore in Putin’s rhetoric as unhinged [inaudible 00:20:13] made sound to us.

We need to pay attention to what they’re saying. If anything, the launch of the full scale invasion, and we need to remember that Putin invaded, Putin’s regime invaded Ukraine with annexation of Crimea in the beginning of 2014. In that period, by having have invaded Ukraine, they have actually put a wedge between Ukraine and its potential NATO membership, but also have boosted support for NATO in Ukraine. Which most Ukrainians didn’t support in 2013. So I think very often it is a bit of a straw man on the “international left”, quote, unqoute. Because it’s not a homogenous group of course. But on the international left amongst those from who we hear this argument, I think there is still kind of some sort of denial of reality that Cold War is over. And USSR doesn’t exist anymore. And Russian Federation isn’t USSR, nor is it an ideological counterweight to United States imperialism.

Also all of these narratives about how Ukrainian workers and Russian workers shall rise against their oligarchic regimes are absolutely divorced from reality. Under which conditions in the middle of genocidal war, is this going to happen? Would I want to see that happen? Absolutely. Is this going to happen now while actually Ukrainian workers and Russian workers are killing each other? Some with genocidal intent and some trying to protect their homes, it’s probably not likely to happen. So I think we need to, when we try to make any analysis, and again I’m going to invoke my political economy training, we need to work with the material reality in which we’re trying to derive, and discursive reality from which we’re trying to derive conclusions.

And that reality is, that it’s a neo-colonial war of conquest with the genocidal intent. Where Putin wants to have Ukraine to Russian Federation to exploitation because he’s hellbent on also having the access to the Black Sea ports amongst other things. And if he can’t have Ukraine with Ukrainians, he’ll have it without. And that’s the end of it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Yuliya, I want to just follow up on that and then I’d like to ask Ilya the same question, earlier question. You’ve mentioned genocide a couple of times and genocidal intent on the part of the Putin regime. Many people use those terms and they throw them around loosely. I’m not accusing you of doing that. Tell us why you use that term. What is it about, what is going on that has led you to that conclusion?

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Well, there are plenty of reports published already and I encourage your viewers to take a look at the Kharkiv Human Rights Group for example. They’ve done a couple of very consistent reports. Including the UN missions as well. There is an international consensus now that it is a genocidal war. Deliberate intent to target an ethnic group on the basis of ethnic group. Theft of children and forced educating them into Russian. Burning Ukrainian books and filtration camps in occupied territories on the basis of how Ukrainian you are.

All of those are examples of Russia committing crimes of genocide. Again, there are international human rights lawyers and those who specialize in genocidal convention who actually have produced consistent reports in this. I think Alona can also say a couple of words to this specific point.

Alona Liasheva:

Yeah, I wanted to share preliminary outcomes of the research I’m conducting now on deoccupied territories. Me, I collect interviews with people who survived occupation in Kiev region. And my colleagues collect interviews with people who survived occupation in Kharkiv region. And we talk to people who went through torture and all this interrogations by Russian army. And from what we hear is that people were tortured or not, killed or not on the basis on if they consider themself Ukrainians.

They were interrogated and tortured with a question, is Ukraine a state? Is Ukrainian language language? And so on. And it just one of the many examples that this war has an aim to target civilians based on who they are. And not taking into account all the multiple war crimes like not letting people escape from the occupied regions. Like bombing of civilian infrastructure and civilians and so on, and so on.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

If I could jump right in just for a second. There are five conditions in the Article II of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, that also differentiated from any other war crimes. Those are crimes that are committed against a specific national ethnic, racial or religious groups that constitute, one first condition, killing members of the group. Box ticked. Two, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group. Torture, mental and physical, overwhelming evidence including corroborated by Russians themselves.

Three, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part. Just look at the shelling of the cities and look at what’s going on in occupied areas. Four, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. Multiple evidence of men being castrated and women being raped to the point where, quote, unquote, “You will never want to birth Ukrainian children anymore.”

Those were the lines that were told to them by those who were mass raping them. And last but not least, forcibly transferring children of one group to another group. All of that, again confirmed by international observers, confirmed by Ukrainian party and Russians themselves. They produce videos on their TV where they show how there’s children in thousands, in hundreds of thousands stolen from Ukraine are being put for adoption. Even if they still have their parents alive, into Russian families to be turned into those who love Russia. So it’s just, at this point the evidence is overwhelming.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Good. Ilya, I want to return to the question of the origins of this war and actually a couple of things. One, from your analysis what you see as the origins. But there’s this other thing that you mentioned in describing the Putin regime as semi fascists. And I’d like you to talk a little bit about that, as well as how you see the origins of the Russian aggression.

Ilya Budraitskis:

I’m pretty agree with all that was said about the very imperialist regions of this war from the side of Russia and even the very imperialist way of explanation, the very imperialist narrative that came directly from Putin’s speeches. So if you follow his first speech just before the invasion, he actually named the main reason of the invasion. And the reason was that he believed that this is a historical land belong to the Russian empire.

So that was very clear. So the NATO argument, of course that it is still there, but I will say that now Putin is much more open about his games and doesn’t want to convince anyone inside Russia so much about the possible Ukrainian membership in NATO as the main reason for this war. So I think that that is a pure imperialist war from the Russian side. And it is important to understand this imperialism not only in terms of let’s say economic interests. Because of course the war is already disastrous, not only for Ukraine but for Russian economy as well.

And the territories that are occupied by Russia, they’re destroyed. So you have a city of Mariupol which played a significant role in the economy of Ukraine, which is now in ruins. So you can’t say that you have some rational economic interest behind it. But I believe that there is another element in the imperialist politics, is the element of territorial control. So for example, I don’t believe that American invasion to Iraq was just about the oil. It was about the political and territorial control in this part of the world.

So that is the aim of Putin, which I mean could be understand by the American anti-imperialists. Because they have this kind of experience in their own recent history. But I also believe that there were not only external but also internal reasons for Putin’s regime to launch this war. And of course it was related with the growing politicization. Which we can see during the last, let’s say 10 years in different forms in Russia.

So it was the answer to the ongoing crisis of his own political system. And if we look at all the record of the Russian special military operations during the Putin’s era like 2008 in Georgia. Especially 2014 in Ukraine with annexation of Crimea and military involvement of Russia in Donbas. All these operations, all these military invasions played an important role to prevent the growing opposition to the regime.

So in this way, the start of this war this year for Putin was the moment to start also fully fascist move of this regime from the top. So just in a week after the start of this invasion, all the independent media were destroyed. All the political groups which still existed, opposition, political groups were crushed. A number of huge draconian laws were implemented.

And I want to remind that from the start of this war, about 20,000 people were convinced for the so-called discreditation of the Russian army and distribution of the fake information about the so-called special military operation. So of course that is exact reason for this war, to eliminate any sort of opposition in the country. And before this invasion you can say in some way that Russia was a kind of authoritarian, electoral something. That it was not full scale dictatorship. Now you can say that this turn happened. And this turn happened exactly after the 24th of February.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Alona and Yuliya, speaking of fascism, what has often been raised is actually two things within Ukraine. One is there are constant references to fascists in the military, fascists that were involved in the Maidan Uprising and events. So one issue is how significant is the far right within Ukraine? And the second issue is somewhat different. Which is that it appears during this war that there have been moves by the Ukrainian government that have been repressive against workers, against sections of the left, neoliberal economic efforts that have been undertaken. How do we interpret that? So there’s two questions. One is about, to what extent is there a particular danger of the far right within Ukraine? And the second is about the question of what is happening under the auspices of the Zelenskyy government. Alona?

Alona Liasheva:

Yeah, probably I will talk more about the political part of this question because I’m not a economist, at least not at the moment. It’s also an important part of Russian propaganda and justification of the invasion that they tried to… At least in the beginning of the invasion, of the full scale invasion, there was a lot of talks about de-nazification and talking about Ukrainian far right before the 24th and after. Yes, there is such a force in political subject in Ukrainian politics as far right, but it’s a 100% less significant than in Poland, Hungary, France, US of course.

They did not manage, any of the far right parties did not manage to enter the parliament. They were mostly active in small street demonstrations. Yes, they did more work on this street politics level, but they were not a significant subject in Ukrainian politics.

And for sure it is, even if they were more prominent, even if they had a huge party in parliament, it is matter for Ukrainians to solve its issue with far right. That’s one thing. But what is also, and I think there is an important change now, of course there are in this popular resistance to the Russian imperialism, there are some parts which are far right. But they’re just a small part of this whole resistance. Because a lot of people who decided to join the army, they justify why they want to fight Russia with Soviet, anti-fascist rhetorics of fighting Hitler, Germany.

And everyone who joins Ukrainian resistance has his or her own explanation, why I do this. And of course after the victory we will need to talk between ourselves, “Okay, what kind of country do we want to have? What kind of politics and social structures do we want to have?”

But it’s of course the question Ukrainians have to answer. And now we’re just fighting for the right to be free to decide for ourselves what kind of politics we want to have. And being part of this huge mainstream far right organizations, they need to calm down their far right rhetorics. And if you take a look, what kind of people are now liberated as parts of Azov Battalion, these people joined Azov Battalion on the 24th of February because it was just like a media battalion. And they wanted to defend their country. And they were like, “Okay, Azov. I go there.”

But they’re even speaking Russian as their everyday language. And this is interesting to see how with this popular resistance, the far right needs to move closer to the center. Because otherwise they will not be supported by the popular resistance. And yes, we do not know what’s going to happen after the victory, but now we do not even have this freedom to decide what kind of country and politics we want to have. And now the main aim is to be free from the Russian occupation and then we will talk about far left, far right. We will fight between ourselves, without weapons of course, but we are getting ready for huge political discussions about all the possible questions. But Russia took the freedom for us to decide what kind of political spectrum we can have.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you. Yuliya on those two questions.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Yes, thank you. I second Alona in this conversation. Well, first of all, I think one thing is, one important moment, one important point of clarification that needs to be made about Azov, because we hear about Azov all the time, is that well, it was a volunteer battalion. And well there are still people who volunteered to go to the army. But a lot of different battalions and volunteers who formed eight and a half years ago when the first invasion happened.

And some of them… There were valid arguments about some of them were being not as much potentially under the control of the Ukrainian army and the rest of it. Well, that is clear, that is no more the case. It hasn’t been for years. They’re integral part of Ukrainian armed forces, subject to direct command of the Ministry of Defense. So we are talking about a part of Ukrainian army. Name me one army in the world that doesn’t have some people in it that are right wing, that’s where they go.

Everybody even in the peace time is a bit more patriotic, nationalistic, whatever you call it. That is their career choice. They love that kind of thing. So looking for right wingers in the army is… I don’t know, looking for grain in silos. It’s an absolutely normal phenomenon everywhere in the world. But there was this whole also narrative about the right wing coup in Ukraine. Well, there wasn’t one. There was almost one in the US quite recently, but there wasn’t one in Ukraine. And none of those people have, as Alona already mentioned, made any significant… They didn’t have any political significance.

But we need to remember that when Ukraine was in the middle of a war in 2014, no right wing party gathered enough votes to get into the parliament. Alona already mentioned, but it’s important to understand that Russia invaded Ukraine. And even in at that point in history, nationalists didn’t manage to get into the parliament.

So if Ukraine is a country that with that kind of record has a problem with far right then I do not know which country doesn’t. Look at what’s happened in the recent French election. Look at what kind of coalition has won in Italy just now. I think we should stop trying to apply some sort of political purity tests to a country that has been invaded on the premise of it not being a nation. There will be some reactionary nationalist sentiment and it would be strange if there wasn’t. But when Poroshenko was going into an election into 2019 with nationalistic slogans, he was rejected. Nobody wanted that around. So we need to understand and we have seen now through this war that the state of political discourse in Ukraine is that whoever is Ukrainian and calls this country their own, and fights for it and wants to work for it, that is the definition of Ukrainian.

We’ve seen a serious forging of Ukrainian as a civic identity. How it will all play out once the war is over, it’s for us to see. I’m not in the business of making predictions for the future, especially in such a dynamic, for a lack of a better world, world situation. But I think these kind of narratives about there being some nationalistically motivated people in a war, in a genocidal war when their nationhood and ethnic identity is being denied as real is simply unrealistic.

In terms of the kind of anti labor laws and generally kind of antisocial reforms that the government is pushing to some extent. So there are a couple of dimensions here. I’m going to try to be brief. First wartime economy. We need to understand that we cannot judge Ukraine by the same token that we can judge any other country that’s in the peace time. There will be certain radical measures being adopted by the government, whether they will remain in place after the war is over, it’s a separate matter. I suspect that some of them will. Because we have serious neoliberals in charge who we also need to remember, their ratings were going through the floor before the war has started.

And these kind of antisocial, if you like, legislation that has been adopted. It has less to do with the fact that the government is nationalistic and more with the fact that they’re neoliberal. It’s a perfectly standard position of any politician who is obsessed with small state and big market to make a [inaudible 00:45:27] on the right of citizens, individuals and especially workers. And tilt the benefit towards the interest of capital at expense of the workers. This is a battle that we will be fighting without weapons after the war is over.

And I think the price the Ukrainians are paying to have that civic dialogue and class struggle, to use the language that’s more familiar to me, is very high. And in that sense I’m hopeful. Because Ukrainians, the revolution that was stolen from them by Russian invasion into 2014, that local oligarchs can manage to utilize, instrumentalize to remain in power, because none of them protestors wanted to stay in power in 2014. And they managed to twist this invasion to say, “We need people with experience in charge up until the war is over.”

The war is in its eight and a half year… It’s in the second half of its eight year, nine year. And once it’s over, that class conflict that was in the streets of Kiev and Vinnytsia and Donetsk and Luhansk and Odessa and Sevastopol in 2014 and 2013, that will have to be reckoned with. And those in power, whichever party they belong to, whoever will remain in power, we’ll have to build a fairer society and a fairer state and give more rights to the people. Because Ukrainians will not put up with being taken for an economic ride anymore.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you. Ilya, I wanted to ask in terms of what’s going on in Russia, I mean we’ve been seeing in the mainstream media about people trying to leave. Men particularly, who were being called up. But I actually wanted to start at a different place and in some ways it flows from your discussion about the nature of the Putin regime. To what extent is there a mass base for the Putin regime or mass movements, and also to what extent has there been broader opposition to both the regime and the war? How do we understand the internal situation in Russia?

Ilya Budraitskis:

It’s a very good question about the social base of the regime. Because if we come back to this fascist issue, as we know the fascist movement from before, they were movements rising from below. But in the case of today, not just in Russia, but I think in some potentiality of many other countries with this far right turn, including US, we can see how this shift could be moved from the top. Could be moved without kind of mass grassroots movement.

So Putin regime started 22 years ago as the regime of neoliberal de-politicization. It was instilled with the idea, which is also very kind of common for any type of neoliberal regimes of the pure management. Where the ideology, the active political participation and so on doesn’t matter. So the only thing is to manage economy. To delegate this right to some kind of professionals and live your own private life. And this dominance of the private life, this neoliberal de-politicization lead more and more to the authoritarian political forms.

And in fact, we can see how during this transition of the Putin’s regime from some kind of neoliberal authoritarianism to the current situation, how it was faced with kind of double movement. With the kind of clash in between this tendency toward the de-politicization and dominance of the private life, private sphere and some social movements that were trying to [inaudible 00:50:27] the situation. Like for example, in 2011 there was a huge movement against the authoritarian design of this regime. And even some four or five years ago we also experienced the serious movement against corruption. And in fact against social inequality, huge social inequality, which is still the main element of the Russian society. So as I said before, all these attempts of building the opposition from below were confronted by the more and more repressive answers from the top.

So you can say that even year ago before the war was started, the most organized opposition in Russia was already destroyed. For example, Alexei Navalny was jailed in early 2021. His organization was labeled as the extremist and prohibited. You have already hundreds of political prisoners in Russia. And I think this number will grow. So there is no any way out for Putin then to intensify the repressions. But I believe that his regime is in crisis. This military operation, this war against Ukraine, it will fail. And it will definitely lead to some kind of deep political and social changes in the Russian society.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

I have a couple of final questions that I’d like to ask the three of you. One is that in the beginning of the interview we talked about the renewed missile strikes on civilian targets. Periodically Putin has threatened the use of nuclear weapons. And I’m wondering how each of you sees those threats. To what extent are those serious threats? To what extent is Putin playing poker with the rest of the world? And I’d like to start with you Ilya, on that question.

Ilya Budraitskis:

Yes, I will say that we should take Putin seriously and it was proved from before. So exactly, was the question about if the full scale military invasion to Ukraine could be possible and [inaudible 00:53:43] yes. That it became a terrible reality. So I think that there is such a possibility. And of course Putin is ready to play with this very dangerous rhetorics for years, even before this invasion. Like two, three years ago he already mentioned this kind of treat from Russia to the West or whatever. So I think that there is such a possibility. But I think that there are also some limitations of this possibility. Because the very, let’s say command coming from Putin to start this kind of nuclear strike will create some exact political risks for him. As we see for now all the failures in Ukraine, in the Russian media presented as the failures of the military authorities.

So you have all time change of the leading military figures in the top of the Russian army. And of course Putin himself, he is not responsible for the military failures, he’s responsible only for the right strategic political decisions. So that situation could possibly provide some kind of tensions in between Putin and the military elite. And if this kind of command will come from Putin to start a nuclear attack, that could create some opposition from the military. Because of course the realization of this kind of command is totally dependent on the military leadership. And I believe that at least there you have maybe a little bit more responsible people than Vladimir Putin.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you. Yuliya, on that same question.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Well, I agree with Ilya that when somebody threatens to throw nuclear bombs at you, you really need to pay attention and take it seriously. And we’ve also seen that Putin has made a lot of decisions and a lot of them were his near unilateral decisions. We know he’s taken control over a lot of military command himself. That may seem contrary to some of the logical conclusions that we could [inaudible 00:56:54]. So to that end, I think we need to take it seriously. Also, one thing that tells me that we need to take these threats seriously is the fact that we have seen a normalization of nuclear strikes over years. And especially more recently in the public discourse in Russian TV, in Russian parliament, in Russian papers. If about 10 plus years ago, it was only, and even eight and a half years ago, it was predominantly people like Vladimir Zhirinovsky talking about nuclear dust that we can turn everybody into.

Then by this time last year it was a normal chat to have on state TV programs about how it is possible to win nuclear war. And by the time United States are still collecting the rubble, Russia will already have been rebuilt and look how great Hiroshima and Nagasak look by now. That was a normal conversation in Russia and state TV. And what that does is that gets viewers used to the idea that this is not something shocking and scary and is a major taboo and we need to be terrified of it.

This just becomes kind of entrenched as in normal parts of warfare and we need to take that extremely seriously. The kind of blame game that’s been played inside the Russian state, especially against the Russian military command and those who are going to be in charge of mobilization on the local level for example, is something that is potentially rather de-stabilizing. And I agree with Ilya here. That there may be resistance within those who will be involved and will be made later responsible to execute certain commands. But we certainly need to take this very seriously. I absolutely agree.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Alona, did you like to add anything?

Alona Liasheva:

Yeah, I think that in this danger of nuclear attacks we do not need to follow the same path as many people who became now this passive social base for Putin’s regime did. And what I mean is that there is a part of Russian society which actively believes that propaganda and supports Russian imperialism. But at the same time there is and we do not know exactly, okay, but there are Russian citizens who came to the point of such disbelief to propaganda to any media and to even small forms of collectivity that they perceive politics as something so far away from their everyday life that this kind of position becomes the social base of the regime.

And I think we should not underestimate, even if they sound completely crazy threats from Russian elites about nuclear attacks. At the same time talking more practically, if we’re talking about tactical nuclear weapons, we do not need to forget that Russia keeps using forbidden weapons from the very first day of war.

And Ukrainian army already saw phosphorous weapons which are in their harm on the same level as tactical nuclear weapons. And we are already experiencing something very close to nuclear. So inside of Ukraine people are not that scared because we already seen apocalypses going on in our everyday life. But yes, I do even consider threats of strategic nuclear weapons as serious. I have water, power banks and food stored at home for me and for my cat. And I have my personal nuclear protocol as many other Ukrainians who consider this a serious issue. At the same time they are ready even for this, because for them safety of their country, of their people is even more important than this fear of nuclear attack. And this is what also is just amazing how people are really ready to resist even hearing those horrible threats.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

If I can just jump right in just for one quick second, if you do not mind me.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

No, go ahead.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

I think, yeah, one thing to add to what Alona was saying and what I want to mention because it really frustrates me and it has for years. Well, not for years, but for a year now. A year ago around this time we were talking about distinction between a minor and a major incursion. That was the narrative coming from Washington and a couple of other western centers. And how those may potentially lead to different sets of consequences for Russian Federation.

By now we are at a conversation that the red line to not cross is a nuclear strike. How did we get from the red line being a major incursion to a red line being a major strike. And at some countries… And still there being conversations about, and delays or protracted schedule if you like for air defense systems, for major weapons to Ukraine. Ukrainians are still not so much as even allowed to shoot onto the territory of Russia. Even though they’re being threatened with nuclear strike.

I think there must be a serious conversation on international level of what kind of red lines actually do exist. How meaningful those are. Because Putin will go further. If that line keeps being pushed, why would he take it seriously? I think the international leaders must actually start taking their own threats seriously. If you say that this is a red line and then you keep moving it, Putin will keep trodding over. And that is something that I think is also a big part of Putin getting bolder in this war.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

So that’s actually a good segue into my next to last question. And it’s a question I want to ask Yuliya and Alona specifically. Because in some segments of the peace movement in the West, and I’ve seen this in the United States very directly, there are those who have spoken against the Russian invasion but they’re opposed to weapons from the United States and NATO going to Ukraine. They basically make the argument there must be negotiations and to the extent to which US and NATO countries continue to supply weapons to Ukraine, it prolongs this and makes peace less and less feasible and might even provoke Putin into a nuclear strike. So how do you address that? The so-called peace movement in the West? How do you respond to that? Alona, start there.

Alona Liasheva:

Yeah, super short question. If you look at what Zelenskyy was saying for the last years, I’m saying years not months. If you look at what Ukrainian diplomatic corpus was doing in the last years, it is clear that Ukraine was ready for diplomatic negotiations till the 24th of February. And still they were. Even now there are attempts to start this peaceful negotiation which are being thrown away immediately by the Russian side.

And if the situation is like this, the only way out of this war is complete military defeat of Russia with destruction of the regime. I think that Ukraine, whatever happens still needs to try to go into peaceful negotiations. Of course on its terms of Ukrainian state being sovereign in its territories of 1991. At the same time this is now looks completely impossible. So the only realistic outcome of this war is yes, military defeat of Russian regime. Unfortunately. I say it with great pain.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Yuliya, same question.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Thank you. I agree with Alona, and I want to also make an appeal again to the red lines to an extent if you like. First of all, we need to start with understanding that this war started in 2014. That all of this time there have been negotiations and I have a lot of problem with how those negotiations started to begin with. Because they have sown the seeds for the current war. The fact that Russia was allowed to get away with annexing Crimea, and the onus of that is on those who have negotiated the Minsk agreements. And it is on the United States and it is on the UN and it is on a lot of other international partners. If you allow countries to cross such red lines, and again, it was also not the first war that Russia has started. So if you allow those lines to be crossed, there will be more lines crossed.

That is also very important to remember. Another thing here, because there are always these kind of conversations about how Ukraine is just simply not willing to negotiate, why is the onus of… First of all we’re not talking about equally culpable parties to a conflict. Why is the onus to negotiate and concede on the victim? This is gaslighting. This is absolutely gaslighting. Because the victim was too provocative. Ukraine wanted too much sovereignty. Wanted international law to be upheld.

Russia recognized Ukraine in its 91 borders. Russia has signed the Budapest Memorandum as a guarantor or Ukraine’s military security. Should Ukraine be attacked. When Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons mid 90s. And then Russia goes and attacks and invades Ukraine. What is Ukraine supposed to do? Russia has stepped over so many red lines. I do not understand why anybody is appealing to Ukraine to concede.

Now it is clear that there is genocide being perpetrated in Ukraine. And yet Ukraine is still being asked to concede. Also, I want to ask those who are asking Ukraine to appease Putin, because a lot of it goes as to, let’s kind of do a bit of appeasement here, right? Again, there was a lot of that done and look where we are now. Do those people have any idea of what has been happening before even February 24 in the territories occupied by Russia to ethnic minorities, to labor movement, the de-development, de-industrialization, the harassment. De-industrialization, hounding protestors, ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars.

Destruction of free press. That is even before the recent invasion that was the price of so called ceasefire. Next, since the recent invasion started and since every day we hear about mounting new evidence of torture, mass rape, kidnapping of children, harassment, you name it, it’s there. That is what we are saying okay to, when we’re asking Ukraine to just stop shooting and put down the weapons. It is again an empirically uninformed, heartless, bourgeoisie luxury, pacifist argument. You cannot deny the victim of aggression the right to defend. If you’re denying somebody the right to defend, your morality is out of the window and I have nothing to say to you.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

So that leads us to the final question, which Alona you actually began answering. That is, what will it take for the war to end in a just peace? Alona, you basically said that the Russians have to be militarily defeated. And I wanted to ask Ilya and Yuliya that same question. What will it take for the war to end in a just peace? So Ilya, I’ll start with you and then Yuliya, you have the final word.

Ilya Budraitskis:

Thanks. I also want to add to what already was said, that in fact accordion to Putin’s imperialist philosophy, Ukraine as such is not kind of subject of any serious negotiations. Because Ukraine according to the Russian leader as most of the small nations, they are not subjects of international politics, but just objects of someone else interests.

According to Putin’s philosophy, there are just a few real sovereign powers in the world. Like US definitely is one of them. China is one of them. Definitely Russia is one of them. But Ukraine, Baltic states, Poland, or even most of Europe or even most of the Latin America, they are not, just exist as the subjects of any talks with the true sovereigns. If the American peace movement want to have a world like this where you will have three, four sovereigns, which will divide the world according in their own needs, so that is the way how to build this world.

And the way to build this world is to recognize the right of Putin, to get what he want from Ukraine or from any other post Soviet country. Because he definitely will continue after he will get some piece of Ukraine, he will probably discover other Russian historical lands in Kazakhstan or in Moldavia or in the Baltic states. And of course his main interest is to have such a dialogue, such negotiations with the true sovereign as the United States. So in this sense of course he need Donald Trump to be American leader, to have a honest and open partner for such a deal. So do you want to have this world? Do you want to have such a leadership in your country? Do you want to have such a philosophy behind the American political elite?

So that are the questions that raised by Putin’s leadership. It’s not just a question of some problems, some territorial problems with Ukraine that should be a subject of negotiations between the Putin and Zelenskyy. The challenge to the world is much more serious. And it is more serious also because it is very much related to the whole, let’s say philosophy. All the way of seeing the world which is not just limited to some unique Russian imperialist nationalism. You can find absolutely the same type of rhetorics as Putin’s in among the Western European far right or in [inaudible 01:15:25] youth for example, which I follow regularly. So there you have nearly the same type of approach than you have in the Putin’s Russia. And the only difference between them is that Putin already instilled this kind of regime in Russia. And these people like Trump or Marine Le Pen, they’re just on the way to it.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Thank you. Yuliya, final word.

Yuliya Yurchenko:

Thank you. Again, I second Ilya here. Because we have seen how many lines and how many wars Putin’s regime has started and they will not stop in Ukraine. And indeed we need to remember how many ethnic Russians or Russian citizens have fled the country for fleeing the war, fleeing sanctions. And that also creates a pretext for Putin to start invading right, left, and center. But also of course he has his [inaudible 01:16:34] ] historic narratives for invading further. But how this war should end and what would make it kind of a fair thing to an extent? First of all, Putin has to be defeated and he has to be defeated militarily. He only understands might. He does not understand negotiations. We have seen that already. And he actually laughs on his way to the bank in the face of politicians of the UN and elsewhere to say that… Well, to show them that they’re toothless.

So Putin needs to be defeated militarily. Ukraine needs to return to its 1991 borders. There needs to be an international tribunal established for war crimes and crimes of genocide. There needs to be reparations being paid at the expense of state and oligarchs from Russia to reconstruct Ukraine. That absolutely needs to happen. And there needs to be an international… There need to be also, alongside the war crime tribunals, there need to be process established with transitional justice. Because this is not something that will happen overnight and it will be a lengthy process.

On international level there needs to be a reform of UN and the international security architecture. We have seen how toothless the UN are. They have failed repeatedly. And again, the war, this current invasion by Russia into Ukraine is not the first war that UN have prevented properly, stopping from escalating.

So there needs to be disbanding of the permanent security council. There should be horizontalization of decision making. We have seen how the whole of the United Nations mechanism have been held hostage by five nations with the right of veto. And it’s been a parade of the powerful. Until we have an international functioning security system, until there is trust in international legislation that equally applies to everybody, to every country, and that sovereignty of each state is sacrosanct, we will never have a stable international security [inaudible 01:18:43].

So that will have to happen. And for that, for the final bit of justice what needs to happen is what also cripples the sovereignty of different nations is the economic unevenness that exist needs to be addressed. And we have seen that around the energy politics and around food crisis that have also kind of interfered with certain voting procedures at the UN. So that will need to be sorted alongside with consolation of debt for the low income countries that they have not been responsible for accruing, but that have been crippling their economic development and survival of their populations.

Without that international justice and fairness in international system will not be restored. So there is a lot to fight for and let’s hope that we’ll live to see that justice happen. And that again, is not just about Ukraine, it’s about every other country who has been done unfairly by international system.

Bill Fletcher, Jr.:

Indeed. Well, I want to thank the three of you. I want to thank Yuliya Yurchenko, Alona Liasheva, Ilya Budraitskis for speaking with us about the Russo-Ukrainian war, the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the threat to peace, the threat to justice that’s been presented by this war.

I want to thank you, the listeners, for taking the time to explore with us what is actually going on. Getting deeper beyond the mainstream media coverage and getting beyond the Russian trolls to be blunt. And the nonsense that many people have been hearing. That has sowed a lot of confusion about what is going on. And hopefully the interview that we just conducted will help in answering a number of questions and hopefully also provoking your interests to explore this more deeply. But also to take a stand on a side of peace and justice and self-determination. I’m Bill Fletcher, thank you on behalf of the Real News Network. Take care.

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Bill Fletcher Jr. has been an activist since his teen years and previously served as a senior staff person in the national AFL-CIO; he is the former president of TransAfrica Forum, a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, including ‘They’re Bankrupting Us!’ And 20 Other Myths about Unions and The Man Who Fell from the Sky. Fletcher Jr. is also a member of The Real News Network Board of Directors.