Александр Петриков специально для «Кашина»

With great sadness and as a very unpleasant surprise I found that some sources accuse me of various sins regarding the brutal war of aggression that Russia is waging on its neighbor, and mother country, Ukraine. As a Russian writer I condemn this war in most unequivocal terms. It destroys the body of Ukraine, but it also destroys the bodies of young Russian soldiers and the very soul of Russia. In this context, I decided to make a special selection of my articles on Russian-Ukrainian affairs since 2014, and I offer them to your attention. I might have been mistaken in my attitude to this festering conflict, but then again no sane person could imagine delirious Putin attacking Ukraine. In the first days of war, I’ve written: «If, on February 24, Vladimir Putin would sleep late as usual, and then go to ride his horse in the pool, every single one of the victims and soldiers would be still alive.» I call on all people of good will to stop this war. O.K.


11 April 2014:

That idea about fascists and «Russia, save me!» — In Donetsk it is limited to the area enclosed by barricades around the regional state administration. In Russia it is the coverage area of federal TV channels.

This, I think, is the most important thing in the whole eastern Ukrainian story. Russia has become too dependent on a non-existent problem. This has never happened before. This addiction is frightening, it reeks of disaster.

12 May 2014:

A Russian invasion of Donbass would be terrifying. The consequences of this invasion would be incommensurably larger and disastrous, disproportionately more tragic than those of the annexation of Crimea, especially since Crimea was like that (predominantly Russian, disloyal to Kiev and unwanted by Kiev) for all 23 post-Soviet years, while Donbass became that (unruly, warring, frightening) in just one month with the active intervention of Russia itself. And the Donbass as such, as has been said many times before, is no Crimea at all, and even to imagine the transformation of Donetsk and Luhansk regions into a new «federal okrug» is beyond human capacity today.

18 May 2014:

Russia — of course, it has been responsible for the Ukrainian crisis since its beginning and in the particular case of Donbass, propaganda support is sufficient to consider Russia a patron of separatists.

16 June 2014:

And so, too, is the St George's Tape. What did it mean a year ago? «On the 9th of May I will watch the parade on TV, then drink a beer and go for a walk on Poklonnaya Gora. If I meet a veteran, I'll give him a flower. Then I'll drink another beer accompanied by Gazmanov. Then I'll watch the parade and maybe I'll drink some vodka» — something like that. But that was a year ago. Now the tape sounds something like this: «I have to work tomorrow, and I am not fit for the front line, but if I were fit and if it were not for work, I would go for sure to kill Right sector. I hate the Ukrainian people and their bosses, the Pindos((insulting to Americans, translator's comment). Ukraine has not died yet, but we are trying.

For another story about a popular nationalist website. A year ago: »I read it, yes. I also find Russians a splendid European people, we are proud of Glinka and Skryabin, and Malevich too. I do not people suggesting that Russians are somehow worse than any other nation in Europe. Let's argue about it. Now it is getting to look like this: "I'll transfer the money to my Yandex Wallet. If all goes well the money will reach Strelkov's units and maybe he will buy a new MANPADS in a military store. And when another helicopter is shot down near Slavyansk my share of the reward will be the result.

There are probably more options, but these three are the most common. My option is the first one. It concerns me, personally I was subscribed for Glinka and did not subscribe for MANPADS. How am I supposed to feel now?

7 July 2014:

This spring too many people have said too much about the bleeding-less and peaceful annexation of Crimea to Russia, well — it wasn't bloodless at all. Russia's Crimea was costed with the lives of many dozens of people in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Those corpses in refrigerated trucks were the price Russia paid for the Crimean federal district. Is the price too high, too scary? If Russians had been told in February that Russian Crimea would cost them a thousand Russian and Ukrainian cadavers, maybe their enthusiasm would not have been so great? But no one questioned the Russians about anything, and they have nothing to worry about — as they always have.

14 July 2014:

When Margarita Simonyan, head of the Russian state media, writes: "And still, Lord, make sure there is no war", she unlikely means: "Lord, make sure there is no me", but it would be foolish to deny Russian television's role in fuelling war sentiment and expectations.

14 August 2014:

Strelkov and Boroday (referring to DNR leaders, translator's note) today clearly symbolise a very simple and scary thing for some people: the way things were before the annexation of Crimea will never be the same again.

Never again will the days of mild authoritarianism return, in which a suitable place for themselves could be found by anyone who for one reason or another cared to remain a "respectable person". Cushy jobs have turned sordid and have become hot because there is now a charred cadaver from the Donbass lying on every one of them. Before the Crimea, it was possible to cooperate with the state as if half-heartedly, i.e. bicycle lanes are OK, but the Bolotnaya case can be ignored. The Donetsk war radically shifted the boundaries of compromise within Moscow, and within those boundaries there was no more room for those who were commonly called system liberals.

As Yegor Lethov sang: "The rifle is a feast", everything is going somewhere into uncharted realms, and no one knows what will happen tomorrow. The times, which no one has yet learned to call pre-war, although they should, now look quite idyllic — some sat at RIA Novosti, some at the Higher School of Economics, some under Kudrin, some under Gontmakher, each with explanations about "making the country better" or "I myself do not agree with all things," and everyone was fine. It will never be so good again, and this is probably reason enough for strong emotions — but only for those who had a pleasant time before the war.

21 August 2014:

The term "Novorossiya", which until this spring was all about Ekaterina The Second and Potemkin, about Odessa and Askania Nova, about the Black Sea veld and Black Sea beaches, has now switched its meaning. No tickets are sold to a country of the past, and Novorossiya is now a few armed enclaves in depressed Donbass, which is represented by foolish deputy Tsarev. It is a dirty war, which Ukrainians call hybrid and military history textbooks call civil war, but in any case this war would not exist if the Kremlin had not provided Donbass with some advances and even more machine guns and other ammunition after the annexation of Crimea. The guns fired well, the Donbass turned into something like the old Chechnya.

25 August 2014:

The Russian Federation, it is unclear by whose decision, it is unclear by whose will and it is unclear why it is waging another "local war". If these rumours are anything to go by, Russia is waging a war that invalidates everything Russian officials say about Ukraine and which, like any "local war", does not even provide for an honest memory of those who, while carrying out orders, are being killed in it. Shameful secrecy, appropriate only if it conceals something beyond shame — this secrecy today expresses the disrespect of the Russian state for both the paratroopers themselves and their families, and for all of society, which in any case has a right to know where and on what grounds Russian soldiers are fighting and dying.

13 October 2014:

Local militias and Russian volunteers who have purchased the propaganda rhetoric about the junta, the Banderovites and Russian peace. Those Russian military officers among whom, as far as we know, there was no one who resented using the army like this — as if it were not an army but a mercenary unit, without banners and insignia and without honour, with anonymous graves and lies in the Vremya TV programme. Burned in Odessa. The passengers of the Malaysian Boeing. Several Russian and other (Italian was the first to die) journalists. Prisoners and hostages. Accidental and non-accidental victims. People killed in action and in bombardments, from a mortar or a stray bullet, or beaten to death, tortured, died from wounds. The lives of each of these people as a result of the war in Donbas is a statistical figure, which will be waved around for a long time by those who do not care about these lives and deaths. But why did they die? For nothing, just for nothing. Who is guilty? "Nobody's fault."


January 8, 2015:

The political culture of present-day Donetsk and Luhansk has been shaped by war, war always devalues human lives, and the logic of war in such situations inevitably devolves into the logic of repression. The term 'Novorossiya' referred to the romantic times of the Russian Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in practice it turned out that in eastern Ukraine the Soviet history of the thirties was reenacted, when yesterday's heroes in a matter of hours could turn into enemies of the people and, at the same time, into the deceased. Instead of a "Russian Spring", it was a visual guide to Bolshevik terror.

22 January 2015:

Well, what does it look like? Two alien armies, one from the Carpathians and one from Russia, are fighting to the death in the wretched land of Donetsk. One is from those coffee grounds where there are spires, paving stones, Vakarchuk and the Ukrainian language. The other is from the mayonnaise lands like Donetsk. Soldiers from Pskov, from Biysk, from Baltiysk. Two foreign armies are fighting for other people' land.

One day they will get tired of it, wars are never endless. Dead soldiers will be buried, the living will return home — some to their Vakarchuk in Lvov coffee-houses, the others to their mayonnaise in Biysk five-storey blocks. Everyone will be left with his own, and so will Donbas. A land foreign to all; there are many horror films about abandoned mining regions — a simple American family goes by transit through the wilderness steppe, and there… The hills have eyes! Mutant miners that no one has cared about for long enough. Now they will kill and devour everyone.

No one will ever confess this out loud, but both Kiev and Moscow have not cared about the people who are living there from the very beginning. Both in the mythology of a young European democracy confronting the bloodthirsty Mordor and in the mythology of an empire recreating its Russian world, there is no place for the people of Donetsk, Lugansk and the surrounding Gorlovka and Makeyevka. No one has even come up with an attractive promise about what awaits them in a bright post-victory future, no one has told them that after victory they will become a great nation and will fly to the stars — they will not fly anywhere, not at all. There will be a black hole between Russia and Ukraine and the only possibility to claim minimum happiness is to get out of the negative hole. What were they fighting for? For nothing.

14 April 2015:

Nor has Russia been able to demonstrate to the population of eastern Ukraine any positive alternative to withering away as part of Ukraine. Yes, no one disputes that this was precisely miserable and that life in Donetsk and Luhansk before the war was not a model of civic comfort and joy. But that life today seems an unattainable ideal compared to the current reality of the "people's republics" transformed, with Russia's active involvement, into a hopeless Chechnya. By destroying the old Donetsk and Luhansk regions, Russia has demonstrated that it is incapable of organising a social order in their place, which would look advantageous against the background of what has gone before. Russia has acted like a novice watchmaker who has learned how to take the mechanism apart, but has not yet figured out what to do to put it back together.

21 May 2015:

We just know that if the Russian military admits that its serving officers were doing something with weapons in their hands on Ukrainian territory, it will be a huge scandal that will cause huge disadvantage to our state. New sanctions, new UN Security Council resolutions, a new round of international tensions — and much more. Is it possible to recognize these troops as our own if it will bring so much trouble to our state? The state do not need any hassle, so it is necessary to persist in calling Aleksandrov and Yerofeev former Russian soldiers who themselves went to Luhansk for some reason and did something there — what exactly the Russian state will not say. They will pretend not to know because otherwise the Russian state would be in unpleasant situation.

That is, in order to avoid getting into trouble, the Russian state agrees that Aleksandrov and Yerofeev are simply Russian citizens who privately violated the Ukrainian criminal code and are to be punished in accordance with the Ukrainian law. Yes, it will probably be harder for them than for traditional prisoners of war. Maybe they will be beaten, tortured, forced to say something on camera, threatened with death — but there will be no new sanctions, no new United Nations resolutions, no new round of international tension. Just two people, not two thousand, not two million. Two people is a reasonable price for not having a new round of tensions, isn't it?

Try saying it out loud, clearly: "Yes, I believe that even if Aleksandrov and Yerofeev are active soldiers, Russia should not recognise them as such. Let the Ukrainians do what they want with them, let the Ukrainians judge them according to their own law — but there will be less foreign policy embarrassment for Russia. It is normal, it is necessary. This is an affordable price."

15 June 2015:

Instead of a republic of free people, we have got an expected banana dictatorship in a terra-cotta landscape. Even the most romantically inclined observer from Russia today finds it incomparably more difficult than a year ago. It is hard to justify the behaviour of the authorities of the self-proclaimed republics, the abductions and killings of their opponents, and the general, far from any Russian patriotic ethos, atmosphere prevailing in these "separate areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions". Borisov, I hope, will be pulled out (unless, of course, some kind Novorossians shoot him "in the basement" on the first night), but what about the others? No, not those who are being held captive there, but those who last spring said so many loud and strong words about the "Russian irredenta"? Do they understand that everything still hangs on those words, even after Strelkov was ousted and Mozgovoi's death?

June 18, 2015:

Guest: Hello, Oleg. My name is Maria, at the very beginning of the meeting you said that Venediktov had Ryabtseva, you had Prosvirnin (Editor-in-chief of the nationalist media outlet Sputnik & Pogrom, translator's note). And I wanted to ask you a question about your attitude towards Prosvirnin and what Sputnik & Pogrom is doing in general.

О. K.: The question is really a straightforward one. I have a humanly tender relationship with Prosvirnin, because we have known each other for a million years, somewhere around 2001–2002, at least on the internet, and personally since 2004, but that's also a long time. Our human relations formally ended about 3–4 months ago, when he called me a Ukrainian and I said that I was too kind to you all these years, since then we do not communicate and maybe we never will, but it does not cancel the fact that he influenced me somehow and I owe him a lot in my personal development. He is a very bright, good, talented author and as for his position on Ukraine, I have also said from the beginning that it seems to me to be excessively cannibalistic since last April, and I find it unacceptable to collect money for weapons for the military and to recruit people to the war, and moreover I wonder how the special services that keep Russia under wraps have allowed people from Sputnik and Pogrom to take volunteers and weapons there, and there must have been some dirty game. So that's exactly why I don't welcome it here and don't share their values.

13 August 2015:

This year and a half has given Russia a chance to destabilise. Not a great chance, but a different one from zero — and before Crimea, as is now clear, it was exactly zero. Crimea and the ensuing war in Ukraine gave Russia a chance for political change in our country. Why did this happen — good intentions, schizophrenic messianism, a mistake in rational calculation? I don't think anyone knows, but thank God Russia will never again return to the suffocating year of 2013 from which Crimea and Donbass pulled it out.

This is going to be a very politically incorrect and very cruel sentence, and I apologise in advance. Here it is: those few thousand people in eastern Ukraine, including the passengers on the Malaysian plane, gave their lives for Russia to escape from what we used to call stability. They died for Russia, even though they did not intend to. Let those who come after them erect a monument to them in Moscow. Their lives paid for the future of Russia.

10 November 2015:

The maxim "Not leaving our own men behind", so popular since the annexation of Crimea, has taken on an anecdotal tone in these incomplete two years — of course we do not abandon them, we just pretend, when necessary, that they are not our own, but rather someone we don't recognise at all. At best, even ideally, the maximum the " unthrowable" can expect is to be part of a special operation, carried out in secret, as if it were something obscene.

27 February 2016:

Both the ex-RFSR and the ex-USSR are too complete with internal contradictions, systemic hypocrisy, frozen conflicts and other things of the same order. The ease with which these states appeared on the political map of the world in 1991 was all too deceptive — the gun was still hanging and everyone thought Chekhov was mistaken about the gun, but no, it just wasn't the last act.

Contradictions needed to be resolved and the spring of 2014 opened the way for both countries, one to become a European nation state, the other to rid itself of its imperial destiny (and probably, in the epilogue, also to become a European nation state). In a few generations it will all be forgotten, and maybe the two countries will even become friends. They are neighbours, after all.

28 March 2016:

Instead of engaging in its own nation- and state-building, post-Soviet Russia imagined that it was doing just fine. In 25 years it has come to a complete moral bankruptcy, the most visible symbol of which is the complete Somalia built by Russian forces on the rubble of Donbass. This is something that will really have to be returned to Ukraine, assisting it in restoring statehood and infrastructure on the territories corrupted by the "Russian world" and expecting no compensation in return. A separate debt that will belong to any post-Putin government in Russia is to those residents of Donbass who were willing to become loyal Russians and denied themselves the opportunity to re-enter Ukraine along with the territories. These people will be obliged to be hosted by Russia, providing them with everything: jobs, education, housing — which they were deprived of as a result of the "Novorossiya" adventure.

22 September 2016:

Because the Kremlin apparently had no goals other than the destruction of Maidan Ukraine from the very beginning: neither "Russian peace" nor the protection of their compatriots, nor land-gathering and whatever else the official Russian rhetoric was about that spring — none of this mattered to the Kremlin at all. Of course, the authorities also treat Russian citizens with contempt and care little about their well-being, but Russians have nowhere to go and everyone is used to it, and here Russia was the result of a conscious choice for people, and for everyone this choice turned out to be mistaken and, for some, fatal.

September 28, 2016:

Every gangster knows that if you cannot avoid the Criminal Code, you have to play with the Criminal Procedure Code — the investigator will be enraged, but he will be forced to review the testimony, arranging new examinations and confrontations. If the circumstances are favorable it will be possible to pave the way to the amnesty, or, as also happens in Russia, to another reorganization of the law enforcement agencies and to a situation where the case is still at the stage of being reviewed by a new investigator. Perhaps one will even be able to go home on bail, waiting for the trial which is never to happen. It is strange to compare a state to a gangster, but if Russia acted gangster-like in eastern Ukraine, it is probably logical that it continues to do so in the investigation of the shooting down of the Boeing.

17 October 2016:

Motorola (prominent DNR field commander) was too odious to mourn him as an innocent victim not an innocent, of course. But it's still important to understand that he didn't make himself a suicide attacker. He became famous as the subject of Lifnews reports in the spring and summer of 2014, and every "friend of Novorossiya" has a selfie with Motorola in his family album. There were few stars in this war, and all the stars were produced by the Russian media, which needed bright and convincing images of ordinary militiamen confronting the "Kiev junta". Russian television and writers close to it fattened Motorola up for slaughter — and they fattened him up. Among its other qualities, the Donetsk war was Russia's first real reality show of the kind found in eighties Hollywood dystopias, where the fleeing man the viewer is watching must die and it will be a successful finale. And indeed — what post-war fate could he have counted on?

2 February 2017:

Not so long ago, it was fashionable to promise Donbass the fate of Pridnestrovia, but so far it looks more like Karabakh, where the protracted political uncertainty and the disputed status of the territory are accompanied not by mutual indifference of the parties as in Moldova, but by shootouts at every opportunity and the never-ending threat of a big war. But the comparison with Karabakh is somewhat defective. In the Caucasian confrontation at least both sides have been brought up in a spirit of fanatical attachment to an area sacred to each country, however far-fetched, while here the very word "Koksokhim" (the bombed-out plant in Avdiivka, on which the town depends for heating) sounds so grim that even the most patriotic heart would beat faster at its sound. A dead land inhabited by living people is probably the right way to call the Donbass now. In three incomplete years the war has taken on its most diluted form, devoid of any embellishment in the form of heart-rending slogans, intelligible formulas, global interest and an obvious final point beyond which peace is guaranteed. All this was lost sometime in 2014 or 2015 and all that was left was war, endless, pointless and not at all touching.

2 March 2017:

Donbass will never become the patriotic holiday that was commemorated in Russia three years ago (and, judging by recent polls, still is) — understandably, we too will be told about historical justice, but this is a very different kind of justice than was the case with Crimea. We are not talking about an imperial gem with the "Swallow's Nest" and the naval monuments of Sevastopol, but about a land practically scorched, populated by its people, who have existed for three years in conditions of war and social catastrophe. In reality it is the admission to Russia of several million refugees with territory, i.e. not the triumph of land-gathering but the heavy burden to which Russia is condemned by history. And it will not be with celebratory salutes that this annexation will be accompanied, but with a morose phrase "hold on" addressed already to the whole country. We will be explained that there was no peaceful alternative to annexation and that now all the economic and domestic disruption to be expected is justified by rescuing people of Donbass from a humanitarian disaster.

24 July 2017:

Vladimir Putin is proud of his law degree and recalls it often. A trademark of Putin's rule is precisely the observance of legal formalities in the most slippery situations: the unmarked military, the letter from Yanukovich asking for troops and even outside wars and international crises, the Kremlin's entire domestic policy is, by and large, built on exploiting weaknesses and unclear wording in the laws. The lawyers behaving like Putin's Kremlin are sometimes called gangland lawyers. This is when a criminal group has a person with a lawyer's licence who takes care of minimising the legal risks of the most desperate crimes and ensures that criminals cannot be caught in the act. All quite legal and yet extremely immoral.

5 September 2018:

Donetsk stability is not exactly hell after all. Donetsk stability is the absence of hunger, four decent heating seasons, salaries for state employees, functioning schools and hospitals, i.e. human life ensured exactly within the limits that allow avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe. What goes on for four years can go on for forty years or as long as you like. All the dreams of 2014 have in fact boiled down to the satisfaction of minimal domestic needs. The former enthusiasts of the "Russian spring" have long had nothing to hope for — even the not-so-glorious experience of Crimea looks like unattainable phantasm to them.


9 April 2021:

They say Putin needs all of Ukraine. Then the capture of Kiev (and long urban battles, which the Russian army has not fought for twenty years), the passionate Maidan capital, where there is simply no one to greet the Russian tanks with bread and salt. But let's imagine that they will take Kiev, putting thousands or tens of thousands, fence off the "green zone" around Bankova. They will install Medvedchuk as head of the occupation administration and then they will go further west towards the main historical trauma of Soviet enforcement officers, passed down from generation to generation, against the West Ukrainian underground. This underground may run trains for decades. Eventually it will force Russia to the well-known Kadyrovian version — "The governor of Lvov Region, Dmitriy Yarosh, received Vladimir Putin at his residence. It is alluring, isn't it?

21 January 2022:

That is to say, even 2014, when pro-Russian sentiment in Ukraine probably reached its historic high point, now seems like an unattainable ideal — everything Russia could rely on there it squandered then, turning the two reclaimed enclaves into criminal holes for who knows what more — to make money for some murky oligarchs, or to scare off the rest of Ukraine.

26 January 2022:

The peace that is possible now, the peace that is an alternative to war, as of the end of January 2022 can only be described in one way: that everything is as it is now. Crimea is Russian, all the tanks are on the Russian side of the border, Donetsk and Luhansk are unrecognised pro-Russian enclaves, Zelensky is in Kiev, Putin is in Moscow. There is no one touching anyone, and Patrushev sees Sullivan from time to time and comes to an understanding on a wide range of issues. The threats we have seen and felt in these harsh days are an encouragement to cherish the few that are available. To any other peace ("peace») the way goes only through war, i.e. by death, destruction and other nightmares.

23 February 2022:

Russian destiny, in its most literal sense, has become locked into the once seemingly irrelevant issue of NATO enlargement. And the prospect of seeing Kiev or Kharkiv destroyed is sold to society as a future consolation prize in case of (very likely) failure of negotiations and economic collapse, but surely the excitement of tanks on Khreshchatyk will be as massive as the excitement of Crimea in 2014? Those tanks will not bring happiness even to those who enjoy the Ukraine described in Putin's ultimatum — a non-aligned, «demilitarised» and ratified Crimea.