Russia’s Sacred Landscape, and the Place of Eastern Ukraine within It



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The confrontation in eastern Ukraine (or Novorossia, as southern and eastern Ukraine were called during the days of the Russian Empire) between pro-Russia activists and the central government in Kiev has escalated dramatically over the weekend. The hottest point is the Donbass region. The government buildings in its capital Donetsk have been occupied by activists for more than a week. During the last two days an additional half a dozen of towns were sites of pro-referendum demonstrations and their government buildings were taken over by armed groups.


Activists wave Russian national flags on the balcony of the regional administration building decorated with a banner reading “Donetsk Republic”, in Donetsk, Ukraine on Monday. (Source: AP)

According to Reuters, today Ukrainian security services launched an operation to clear the police headquarters from separatists in one of these secondary towns in Donbass, Slavyansk. Reports from Slavyansk have been inconsistent and contradictory, but apparently this attempt was unsuccessful. Both government and anti-government sources, however, agree that a number of people were wounded and at least one was killed.

What will happen next? Will Kiev go all out attempting to suppress by force what is now a full-blown insurrection? Will Russia send troops across the border? I suspect nobody knows, even the Russian president Putin.

Cliodynamics cannot tell us what will happen tomorrow or next week, and I leave it to the pundits to make such predictions (experience shows that they are as good as tossing a coin, anyway). Instead, in this blog I will focus on structural conditions underlying this conflict. This is where our science can be of help.

My argument is that eastern Ukraine (specifically, Donetsk, Lugansk, and Kharkov regions) is a completely different story from Crimea. More specifically, whereas Crimea is of high ‘sacral’ significance, as I argued in a series of blogs and the Aeon article, eastern Ukraine has very little sacred value, if any, from the Russia’s point of view.

How can we evaluate sacral significance of any place? This question was raised by several comments to my previous blogs. The best way would be to quantify the frequency of linking such adjectives as sacred, holy, hallow, etc., with particular place-names. We can also investigate whether there are such symbolic buildings as mausoleums, or pilgrimage sites. We can do it both for modern and for historical polities. (For example, it would be very interesting to know whether the Visigothic state designated any locations as sacred – specifically, was Toulouse of any sacred significance? If yes, why did they give it up so easily?).

I haven’t done such a study for Russia (remember, this is a blog, not a scientific article!). However, in the Russia’s case we have a very convenient proxy. As anybody who grew up in the USSR knows, about a dozen of Soviet cities were more special than others, because they have been designated as ‘Hero Cities.’


Motherland Calls: the World War II monument on Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd (Source)

This honor was bestowed on cities that were locations of heroic deeds during World War II, but interestingly enough the overwhelming majority of them were already symbolically significant places even before the war. For example, the first batch of Hero Cities, named in 1945, were Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), Stalingrad (today Volgograd), Sevastopol, and Odessa (the others were designated so about 20 years later).

All these places are of great symbolic and cultural significance to the Russians, and not just because they were defended heroically during the WWII. St. Petersburg was, of course, the Imperial capital for two centuries.

Stalingrad was founded in 1555 as Tsaritsyn Fortress and played a key role in extending Russia’s geopolitical power in the southeastern direction. It’s associated with a series of Cossack rebellions. But most importantly, its current name, Volgograd, evokes the most significant river in Russia – Volga. Volga, together with its tributaries Oka and Moskva, is without doubt Russia’s Sacred River.

Sevastopol doesn’t need any further comment. Odessa is also of great cultural significance – it’s renowned in Russia for the wit of its inhabitants (the best jokes – anecdotes – were from Odessa), for its popular songs (sort of like Naples in Italy), and it was prominently featured in many Russian books and movies.

I don’t want to belabor my non-Russian readers with too much more Russian cultural and historical trivia, but perhaps I should mention one Hero City that most of you probably haven’t heard about – Tula. Again, Tula has a very strong presence in Russian history and culture. It was established as a linchpin of the chain of fortresses, the Great Abatis Belt, which protected Russia from the Crimean Tatars.

After the frontier moved away, Tula became the most important center for armaments production. It is also famous for its samovars and gingerbread. All Russians know the saying, “You don’t take a samovar to Tula,” just as English are advised not to bring coal to Newcastle.


The Merchant’s Wife by Boris Kustodiev, showcasing Russian tea culture. (Wikimedia)

So I would argue that the map of Russian Hero Cities actually is a good depiction of its “Sacred Landscape,” at least in the western direction (a separate study would need to be done to map the Sacred Landscape into Siberia and Far East.

Hero Cities

Source: Wikipedia

And this brings us back to eastern Ukraine. Note that neither Donetsk, nor Kharkov or Lugansk are on the map. In fact, I doubt that the majority of Russians would be able to find Lugansk on the map before the recent events. The point is that eastern Ukraine has no particular sacred significance for the Russians.

So the issue of whether to take it or not becomes one of fairly rational geopolitical consideration. And the potential costs of such a move hugely outweigh potential gains. It is doubtful that a majority of inhabitants in eastern Ukraine would support such a move. It would be hugely expensive for Russia. It would lead to lasting enmity from Ukrainians remaining in the rump Ukraine. It is likely to trigger much more serious sanctions from the West, and the other BRICS powers are likely to be against it.


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Donetsk, Kharkov, Lugansk not sacred and no particular advantage to hold – quite possibly a cost to Russia – in geopolitical terms.

Kiev is on the Hero City list. If the Russians did not invade Kiev after the revolution in Kiev do we still consider the city sacred?

What is the best, most objective way to measure sacredness to a polity anyway?

* Number of sites on territory that are considered sacred (e.g. monuments, battlefields, buildings)
* Number of references in film, art, fiction and poetry to territory or sites within territory

Any other good ones?

I would predict that Brest Fortress, Minsk, Kiev and Odessa, whilst sacred to Russians, will not be as measurably sacred as Sevastopol, Petersburg, Volgograd and Moscow.

I would expect this quartet also to be measurably more sacred than Smolensk, Kerch, Tula, Murmansk and Novorossiysk – Sevastopol may be especially noteworthy for comparison because it wasn’t until recently considered to be on Russian soil.

I’m tending toward the view that certain strategic locations encourage sacredness, or become sacred after a lot of money is spend “tarting it up” so to speak. 🙂 This would explain why sacred values so often coincide with strategic imperatives (which both happen to be absent in the above case but present in the Crimea).

Peter Turchin

Kiev is a special case, because it is a huge sacred value for the Ukrainians. So the logic of the Dove-Hawk-Bourgeois game suggests that the agent in possession will fight much harder to retain it than another agent coveting it. My reading of the Russian political discourse suggests that this is well understood there, and only the most extreme nationalists are dreaming of annexing Kiev.

SEF Editor

A note from the editor: I have just removed a comment to this post, because it called the Eastern separatists an inflammatory name (“neo-Nazis”). The conflict in Ukraine has inflamed passions and led to both sides calling each other “fascists” and “Nazis.”

I remind all readers that our policy at the Social Evolution Forum is that we focus on science. Ideological or partisan posts and comments, on the other hand, are discouraged and will be removed when they step over the line.


I didn’t call them “neo-Nazis” as a derogatory term. There is plenty of evidence that key members of the “Eastern separatist” groups are well-known activists of National-Bolshevik Party, Young Russia, Shield of Moscow, Russian National Unity and other neo-Nazi groups. Unfortunately, all of it is in Russian, at least for now.

Peter Turchin

Vladimir, this ‘evidence’ comes from highly partisan blogs. In any case, I am asking you to desist, because next there will be posts from Russian nationalists calling you names, and I will have to close this blog to comments.


OK, it’s your blog… but note that this evidence has never been disputed by the other side, and the people they have IDed are fairly public characters.


vdinets, check your sources.

No Russian ever heard about these parties. They exist exclusively in the virtual Russophobic world of Ukrainian bloggers, I am afraid:) Exept for one – National Bolshevik Party. Although it is not even a party.

Basically, it is an art project and a one-man show of a very flamboyant writer and leftist cultural figure Eduard Limonov ( ethnic Ukrainian 🙂 who is this party’s head and founder. The very name of the party is tongue- in -cheek. Being a dissident in Soviet times, he lived for years in NYC, then moved to Paris. After the Soviet Union collapse he moved back to Moscow.
Leon Trotsky look-alike, he has been part of numerous stunts and scandals, épatage is what this man practices mostly. The whole ‘party’ is a small group of Limonov’s admireres, mostly young girls. When Limonov tried to register it as a political party, it was denied registration by Russian authorities. (“One party program used in the past supports a man’s right not to pay attention when his girlfriend talks to him.”) Politically Limonov is far left with a Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ twist.

He is a harsh Putin’s critic and was very active in 2011 protests against his rule.

My point is – Limonov and his ‘party’ can be called anything – punk, Trotskyst, anarchist, whatever – but neo-Nazi!

Eduard Limonov interview: Political rebel and Vladimir Putin’s worst nightmare
Marc Bennetts meets Eduard Limonov, the 1970s New York punk, incendiary novelist and possible future leader of Russia


I know who Limonov is, thank you. His political views (see are indeed a weird mix, but they include a very strong ethnic supremacy component, and if you read the texts on their website, you’ll see that they consider themselves the left wing of the “traditional” Fascist movement. As many opposition groups who have once opposed (or pretended to oppose) Putin, such as Left Front, they have now been co-opted into actively supporting his policies.

Young Russia is one of relatively few registered political parties in Russia ( Shield of Moscow is a group that regularly organizes pogroms of non-Russian immigrants and provides legal support for arrested neo-Nazis; they have extensive online presence – just look them up. Russian National Unity is one of the oldest and largest neo-Nazi groups in Russia; you can read about it in Russian-language Wikipedia (


I do not follow all the twists and turns of this eccentric as closely as you do. After all, this bizarre man can one day describe in grafic details a sexual encounter with a black man ( so much for his alleged ‘ very strong ethnic supremacy component’ ), the other day he marries a sixteen year old schoolgirl fifty years him younger. One day he agitates for the creation of the Russian Republic in Kasakhstan (and spends two years in prison for it), the other day he is one of the main organizers of anti-Putin marches in Moscow. And so on. The old clown is eager to do and to say anything that will bring him media attention. This kind of personalities are not taken seriously anywhere. Please, don’t make of him more than he is.

I checked the links you provided and understood why nobody heard about them.

Young Russia registered less than 2 years ago and strives to create an ‘open, just, democratic civic society’ and ‘rule af law’. For all good things, against all evil… Neo-Nazis, really?

Moscow Shield – ‘ Calling itself a rights organization, Moscow Shield seeks to root out unregistered immigrant workers’…’ carries out searches for illegal immigrants before reporting violations to the authorities’. This is the group’s sole purpose. Nothing more than that. There are dozens similar groups in the US.
Indeed, illegal immigration is a huge problem is Russia, especially in Moscow.
Demands for curbing illegal immigration are becoming popular in Europe and the US, not just in Russia. Is Tea Party neo-Nazi in your view? Is UKIP of Britain? And many others whose members will be elected to the European Parliament this coming May, as projected.

Russian National Unity – this one would have probably fit the bill if it hadn’t ceased to exist in 2000. It was a far right nationalist party, according to Wiki. Never registered and always under hard pressure from authorities. A fringe group never with large following.

So, that’s it?

On the other hand, certified neo-Nazi parties are mainstream in the Ukraine.


No party in Russia is what it pretends to be. One is called Liberal Democratic Party, but in reality it is just the opposite. Neo-Nazi groups in Russia constantly split, merge, and change names, so you are right, it’s difficult to follow them, especially since in recent years the line separating them from pro-Putin groups openly financed by the government is increasingly blurry. But they have thousands of supporters (at the most recent Russian March, their people were the majority of the 10,000-strong crowd in Moscow, and often the sole organizers of similar marches in other cities).

I am not saying that all “little green men” in eastern Ukraine are neo-Nazis. There are also members of fringe Cossac groups, Russian special forces officers, career criminals like Aksenov (the new governor of the Crimea), and other pleasant folks. They’ve been openly recruited on Russian social networks since February. But at least 60% of such recruitment ads I’ve seen were run by neo-Nazi or at least ultra-nationalist groups.

I don’t know what you mean by “certified neo-Nazi parties” in Ukraine. I don’t know a single party matching your description. Right Sector is not a party, it has less than 200 people (less than 100 by some estimates), and it’s not a neo-Nazi group, although Russian propaganda tries to portray it as such. True, it has murky origins, but in recent months it has mostly behaved very reasonably, and has clearly evolved into a movement that is much more moderate than the far-right mainstream parties in, say, France.

Anyway, I think it is wrong to explain Russian actions using geopolitical, cultural, historical, or other traditional approaches. The sole purpose of Russian policy is removing any threat – real or imaginary – of a popular movement similar to Maidan in Russia that would threaten Putin’s absolute power. If you analyze recent Russian propaganda, you’ll notice that Crimea is not mentioned nearly as often as you would expect; it all but faded from the news after a brief spike. The main idea now is that a good citizen must follow the party line no matter what it is, and anyone who doesn’t is a “national-traitor” and part of the “Fifth column”. I find the situation in Russia a lot more troubling than the situation in Ukraine.


‘I think it is wrong to explain Russian actions using geopolitical, cultural, historical, or other traditional approaches.’

Now I see the purpose of your comments. You have been trying to show Peter Turchin your disagreement with his scientific approach to historical processes. I wouldn’t guess, if you didn’t say so.

As for the Eastern Ukraine, all those men and women in their thousands, mostly middle age, who are trying to show their Ukrainian passports to the cameras, do not look like ‘Russian special forces officers’ or ‘career criminals’ to me at all. They look like ordinary provincial Russian folks.:)

‘Right Sector is not a party, it has less than 200 people (less than 100 by some estimates), and it’s not a neo-Nazi group… it has mostly behaved very reasonably’

I saw other estimates by Western analists of at least two thousand.

Just yesterday Right Sector mob severely beat up the presidential candidate from Eastern Ukraine, ethnic Russian, right after he took part in a TV talk show speaking for federalisation of the Ukraine. They smashed his car and slashed the tires of an ambulance in their rage. Check Youtube, lots of footage.

The day before yesterday Right Sector were rioting and burning tires on Maidan Square in Kiev – again – demanding Azarov’s resignation for being “too soft” on Eastern Ukraine and demanding distribution of weapons to go to fight the people of Eastern Ukraine.

I for one would not call it ‘reasonable behaviour’.:)

To have a better idea of who they are, watch this BBC footage. If it is not Neo-Nazi, I don’t know what Neo-Nazi is.

Neo-Nazi threat in new Ukraine

‘I don’t know what you mean by “certified neo-Nazi parties” in Ukraine.I don’t know a single party matching your description.’

I can give you an example of such a party and I want to emphasize it, it is a _mainstream_ party.

It is called Svoboda ( “Freedom” ) Party.

This is the party that started as the Social National Party of the Ukraine back in the mid-1990s. It changed its name in 2004 for PR reasons.
It celebrates the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and Ukrainian members of the Waffen SS “Galicia Division” as national heroes.
It’s rabidly anti-Semitic and Russophobic.

The Svoboda leader Oleg Tyagnibok was one of the Maidan revolution leaders trio, the others being Yatsenyuk and Klichko.

“In 2004, Tyahnybok was kicked out of former President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction for a speech calling for Ukrainians to fight against a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” – using two highly insulting words to describe Russians and Jews – and emphasising that Ukrainians had in the past fought this threat with arms. (!)

In 2005, he signed an open letter to Ukrainian leaders, including President Yushchenko, calling for the government to halt the “criminal activities” of “organised Jewry”, which, the letter said, was spreading its influence in the country through conspiratorial organisations as the Anti-Defamation League – and which ultimately wanted to commit “genocide” against the Ukrainian people.

Tyahnybok stresses that he has never been convicted for anti-Semitism or racial hatred, though prosecutors opened a case against him after his 2004 speech. “All I said then, I can also repeat now,” he says. “Moreover, this speech is relevant even today.”

Other Svoboda members have also courted controversy. Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a parliamentary deputy considered one of the party’s ideologues, liberally quotes from former Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, along with other National-Socialist leaders.”

And so on. Read the article.

Now, Svoboda Party has four ministers in the current interim government (vice prime minister, minister of education, minister of agrarian policy and food supplies, and minister of ecology and natural resources, and defence minister until a week or so ago) and thirty-six deputies in the 450-member Ukrainian parliament. In the 2012 election won by Viktor Yanukovych, the party took 10.45 percent of the vote and over 40 percent in parts of the Western Ukraine.
In 2012 Tyagnibok was voted Person of the Year by readers of the country’s leading news magazine, Korrespondent.


I don’t generally disagree with Peter Turchin’s approach. But I think he is wrong to assume that current Russian government tries to protect the interests of Russia as a country, rather than the interests of just one man and his immediate friends. And now he is being proven wrong: he predicted that Russia will not try to repeat the Crimean scenario in eastern Ukraine, but that’s exactly what is happening.

I haven’t seen “thousands of people” showing their Ukrainian passports anywhere. In fact, it is very unusual for separatists to be able to gather more than a few hundred for street protests. Polls repeatedly show that the overwhelming majority of East Ukrainians don’t want to become part of Russia.

Even Right Sector itself has never claimed to have more than 200 people. And even if it did have 2,000, that’s still far from a “mainstream party”. The presidential candidate they tried to beat up is widely seen as one of the people responsible for murders of Maidan protesters; he is currently under formal investigation (also for large-scale corruption) and is about to be stripped of immunity.

“Freedom” party did start as bordeline neo-Nazi, but at that time it was a fringe party with negligible voters’ support. In the last few years (starting in 2009-2010) it shifted very significantly towards the center, dropped ethnicity-based rhetoric and is now trying hard to show that it’s not anti-Semitic. Only after that shift did it gain considerable support. Its leaders might or might not be sincere when they say they are not anti-Semites, but nothing they publicly said or did recently would qualify them as neo-Nazis.

Stepan Bandera was arrested by Germans almost immediately after German invasion of Ukraine, and spent three years in a concentration camp. Look up his biography in English-language Wiki: he was an interesting person. It’s a matter of opinion, but I don’t think it’s accurate to simply label him “Nazi collaborator”. I think he was a nationalist in the Western sense of the term (meaning something similar to “patriot”), rather than in the way that the same term is used in Russian (meaning ethnic supremacist or racist). Bandera was no angel, but he was clearly less anti-Semitic than other major players in Eastern Europe at that time, and he was not personally responsible for any war crimes.


//I don’t generally disagree with Peter Turchin’s approach. But I think he is wrong to assume that current Russian government tries to protect the interests of Russia as a country, rather than the interests of just one man and his immediate friends.//

The sacred values that Turchin is writing about are not the same thing as what a realist would call a rational “interest.” That sentence doesn’t make sense in terms of Turchin’s bourgeois Hawk theory. He’s suggesting Russia’s interests may be irrational.

Personally, I disagree a bit. Sometimes these irrational values do align with rational interests. Sometimes they don’t. In Crimea, they both matched up. That’s why the annexation was always the outcome IMO.

In Kiev the sacred value (Kiev hero city) clashed strongly with the rational interest against (direct Russian intervention would cause an immediate war, whereas they could stay out and not much would change strategically). In Eastern Ukraine there are few sacred values and little rational interest for a Russian intervention.

I’m sure there is analysis that could be done at the elite level in Russia. However, you can over-emphasise the role of individuals.

Any analysis should also examine whether the people make it easier for their elites to take some actions over others.

A state/government is not a machine that can be driven around by a human operator at will. Sometimes in history it appears that way, but all government comes upstuck in the end. It is formed only through the cooperation of masses of individuals.

//And now he is being proven wrong: he predicted that Russia will not try to repeat the Crimean scenario in eastern Ukraine, but that’s exactly what is happening.//

Is it? Ukraine looks likely to be split. A lot of people predicted this before Crimea was even annexed.

There was a very popular blue/yellow map of Ukraine in the Washington Post that explained the situation to the ordinary ignorant person.

Here’s another from this year

Very unlikely Russia actually annexes the Eastern half of Ukraine. Question is how to amicably separate and in what form the separation occurs (federalism vs separatism).


Bandera pent time betweeen 1941 and 1943 in a German prison in Spandau. He spent time in concentration camp between 1943 and 1944 in the VIP section of a concentration camp in Sachsenhausen,I am writing it to clarify that he was not subjected to the Nazi practices usually associated with those places. It was more like a high-security prison. He was released when he promised to cooperate with Germans. Re his “patriot” credentials and your claims of him not being a racist just check the program of OUN/Stetsko government in respect to Poles in Eastern Little Poland and Volhynia. The program proposed Ukrainization of peasants and murder of intelligentsia, quite similar to the program of fascist Ustasha in respect to Serbs.


EdwardT: The question here is, does Putin even know what Russian people really want? He destroyed the independent media; he cut all channels of legitimate interaction between his government and the masses; his polling services constantly skew the results… Masha Gessen, who wrote his biography a while ago, has already noticed that he was “increasingly uninformed”. Is this situation sustainable? Well, Stalin lived until an old age and died in his bed despite having killed millions of people, including a few successive elites. Pretty much nobody in his country benefited from his policies, but his rule continued for almost thirty years.

The whole issue of Eastern Ukraine splitting off would never have come up if it wasn’t for Russian propaganda war and Russian covert invasion. For a Westerner, it’s difficult to imagine what Russian TV is like these days. Every time someone interviews people in the East who support Russian commandos, they repeat tales clearly heard on Russian TV, about an army of Banderites on its way to invade Donetsk, about Kiev planning to ban speaking Russian, about Maidan protests having been organized by the US State Department, about Europe being ruled by gays who force homosexual training into school curriculums, and so on, ad infinitum.

If you look closely at Washington Post maps, you’ll see that they don’t actually explain anything. Odessa Province is predominantly Russian-speaking, but all attempts to stir anti-Kiev protests there have failed. Only in two provinces in mainland Ukraine have Russian intelligence services been successful in creating support for separatism. Language and ethnic composition are secondary; the main factor is that these two provinces are mining areas, economically depressed, with almost entirely working-class population and the best reception of Russian TV. It’s an uprising caused by ignorance, suffocating corruption and desperate poverty – the same factors that have in the past allowed Yanukovich to get support there (although, as recently found evidence have shown, his electoral victory was a result of fraud even in these provinces).

I think there is a good chance that Russian invasion will fail and the East will not be split off. The Russian forces seem to be losing whatever support they have had in the first few days; they have failed in larger cities and are on the defensive in the few small ones they’ve managed to capture. Unless Russia either finds a way to send thousands more of its special forces officers into Eastern Ukraine, or begins an all-out military assault, Russian “little green men” will eventually have to surrender or try to escape back into Russia.



//The question here is, does Putin even know what Russian people really want? He destroyed the independent media; he cut all channels of legitimate interaction between his government and the masses//

the breaking news is there is a country in the world where a leader and his cronies have a lot of power, and use that to influence the masses to further enrich themselves? that seems to be how elites operate in many modern societies. For a topical example –

The US is an oligarchy, Princeton and Nortwestern Universities study concludes

The peer-reviewed study, which will be taught at these universities in September, says: “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

where there is general hysteria – excessive media speculation about something that might soon be news, that isn’t news yet – there is very little truth. actually, no truth, because it’s not happened yet. so I expect the not happened yet to continue. Russia to confound expectations and stay out and East Ukraine to stay within Ukraine. sort of. the solution will be novel and employ a lot of lawyers. in fact, a lot of lawyers may be the solution.


There are fundamental differences between the US and Russia. True, American system gives a lot of power to the super-rich. But American economy is demand-driven, so the rich need a relatively prosperous middle class to keep the economy running and the profits coming in. There are free media, independent opinion polls, and real elections; the candidate with more money doesn’t always win. In Russia, the economy is increasingly limited to oil and gas exports, so the oligarchs don’t really need the rest of the population: all they have to do is prevent the people from rioting. That can be cheaper done by brainwashing and beefing up the military and the police than by improving life standards. So bringing the US into this conversation is counter-productive.

I really don’t see how lawyers could play a role in an international armed conflict. Issue an injunction on TV tower seizures?

I have my own scientific explanation of what is going on, but it is very different from Peter’s. You see, in recent decades there’s been a major shift in the ways countries interact with each other. There’s been less conflict and more cooperation. The major economies are now so interdependent that fighting a war with another developed nation is like shooting yourself in the foot. But we know from the evolutionary theory that all systems based on trust and cooperation have to be resistant to cheating, or they don’t last long. Putin is trying to cheat the system, to use all advantages of international cooperation while at the same time playing a purely selfish game of territorial aggression, hoping that the world today is too profit-oriented and interdependent to afford cutting out a major player, no matter how badly that player behaves. If Putin succeeds, cooperation-based system will be eventually destroyed and the world will go back to the same system that has existed for many centuries, the system of constant fighting over territory and resources.



// Putin is trying to cheat the system, to use all advantages of international cooperation while at the same time playing a purely selfish game of territorial aggression, hoping that the world today is too profit-oriented and interdependent to afford cutting out a major player, no matter how badly that player behaves.//

You must have some advantages of international cooperation. With “international cooperation™” you can invade anywhere and everywhere there’s oil contracts to taken. Want a new site to supplement a network of c63 overseas military bases (which by pure coincidence happened to all be targeted at control over the most valuable geostrategic real-estate on the planet i.e. trade routes, oil supply)? What you need is some international cooperation!

Please explain how instances of territorial aggression are counted up within the rules of your science because I don’t understand how you can call “the system” one based on cooperation as it is constantly at war, invading places that are not their own countries. This is what you claim Putin is doing now (although there are currently no confirmed reports of Russian military in East Ukraine).

// If Putin succeeds, cooperation-based system will be eventually destroyed and the world will go back to the same system that has existed for many centuries, the system of constant fighting over territory and resources.//

According to my count the do what I say or else-based system which you call “international cooperation” is responsible for lots of instances of fighting over territory and resources. It’s strange that we cannot count international conflicts up the same way and thus come to completely different conclusions about the nature of reality. The world didn’t fundamentally change a few decades ago. What happened has occurred in history before, only today its on a far greater scale than before, so a lot of people don’t get it.


Before I answer your question, could you make it a bit more specific, please? I’d really appreciate if you could tell me:

(1) Has there been a single case since the end of the Cold War when a developed country invaded another country, annexed its territory and took possession of its mineral resources? I can’t remember any; please help me out.

(2) Could you name a single country or territory that does NOT have “valuable geostrategic real-estate”? Again, I can’t think of any such place; even the Antarctic has immense geostrategic importance.



SZ: if the Wiki article on Bandera is to be believed, all ethnic cleansing and other war crimes perpetrated by Ukrainian nationalists have happened after Bandera was arrested, and he didn’t support them. The plan you are quoting speaks about removing non-Ukrainians hostile to independent Ukraine, not all of them. It sounds terrifying today, but compared to what other political forces of the day have done, it was relatively moderate.


The Volhynian genocide perpetrated by fascist OUN/UPA happened after Bandera’s arrest, full agreement. However it completely corresponded to the Ukrainian nationalist ideology. If you have some scholarly sources confirming that he did not support the genocide please reference them.
The plan of Stetsko government was to murder Polish inteligentsia so being a member of the Polish inteligentsia was equivalent to being hostile to independent Ukraine, per OUN ideology.
The plan was essentially a copy of the actions of Nazi Germany perpetrated in the territory of Poland directly incorporated into Germany.
The Polish inteligentsia problem was solved by Germans and Soviets and Ukrainization of peasants was not pissible during a family feud with Nazi Germany hence OUN/UPA took a shortcut of genocide of non-Ukrainians, mainly Poles, with some numbers of Czechs and Armenians, and a murder of a large number of Ukrainians not supporting such a sick ideology. Today the direct ideological successors of those murderers are Svoboda and Right Sector.


The sources are Heroes and Villains: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine,
by David R. Marples, and The Reconstruction of Nations by Timothy Snyders. There are also a few Polish studies. All war crimes were organized by Mykola Lebed, who became the leader of OUN after Bandera’s arrest. Bandera wasn’t fully aware of what was going on, but he stated that he didn’t agree with new OUN policies.

Anyway, there is no reason to accuse Svoboda or Right Sector of ever committing or even planning any acts of ethnicity-based violence. Right Sector has lots of non-Ukrainians in its ranks. All recent anti-Semitic activity has been limited to areas controlled by Russian forces, and Jewish leaders have repeatedly stated their support of Maidan revolution. Trying to present the Ukrainian uprising as a neo-Nazi coup is one of the main components of Russian propaganda war, but it is as fake as claims that “little green men” are not Russian commandos.


Thank you for the two references, will check them to verify the exact wording. The “Polish studies” is too general to qualify for a scholarly reference.
Re Svoboda and Right Sector: any organization directly linking its ideology to OUN and glorifying UPA leaves itself open to accusations of being fascists and neo-Nazis. The only way for them to avoid such accusations is to condemn genocidal OUN/UPA. If they do not want to do that it says something about their true face. Their choice.


I haven’t heard the recent Svoboda’s position on this, but Right Sector claims that OUN didn’t commit any of the crimes it’s accused of. Here’s their recent interview:

II am not a big fan of either Svoboda or Right Sector; I think their role in Ukrainian politics is rapidly becoming detrimental. But it is obvious to me that the way Russian propaganda uses them for fear-mongering is completely unjustified.


Right Sector can of course claim whatever they like but the facts are different. I read that interview a while ago and what I saw was pretty consistent with the usual lies used by Ukrainian nationalists when talking about OUN/UPA.
“Even if to take the whole history of OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists – note by translator), there have never been any terroristic acts leading to the deaths of citizens.”

Forgot or lied (more likely), as cases of: Tadeusz_Hołówko, Bronisław Pieracki or Ivan Babij, a Ukrainian and a director of an Ukrainian high school whose murder was condemned by Andrey Sheptytsky, tell a very different story.

“But it is obvious to me that the way Russian propaganda uses them for fear-mongering is completely unjustified.” They are a low hanging fruit, any propagandist would be happy to have them as targets.


You are right, but denying that OUN has committed crimes is not the same as agreeing with criminal policies. A lot of mainstream Muslim politicians deny that the Holocaust has happened, but it doesn’t automatically make them neo-Nazis.


Muslims do not have Mein Kampf as a holy book, so the strenght of the comparison is not very strong. In case of Svoboda and Right sector there are direct references to OUN/UPA and Bandera. As long as they do not remove those references it is a fair game to accuse them of agreeing with the policies of genocide. The ball is in their court. Personally I think they will never do that.


Communists in many countries still have works of Lenin, Stalin and/or Mao as their holy books. All three are responsible for much worse crimes than OUN. Does it mean that Communists are neo-Nazis?


And I’m not even talking about the real holy books and the terrible crimes committed by all of the world’s main religions – genocides, ethnic cleansings, etc. Are all Christians and Muslims neo-Nazis, too? They have never publicly condemned the violent takeover of the Promised Land by the Israelites or the conquests and forced conversions by Mohammed.


Communists, Nazis and fascist like Ukranian nationalists are all worth condemning. They also share many similarities.
Ukrainian nationalists, like the ones from Svoboda, still quote the Ten Commandments of Ukrainian Nationalist.
They deny the Volhynian genocide spreading misinformation using tactics straight from a Communist propaganda playbook, by caling the massacres “second Polish-Ukrainian war” or “peasants revolt” to avoid any connection with the ideology they still profess.

“Does it mean that Communists are neo-Nazis?”
Being responsible for crimes does not make anyone a neo-Nazi. Ideology does.
Get the basics right and stop discussion with a strawman you created yourself or do that offline.

“The sources are Heroes and Villains: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine,
by David R. Marples, and The Reconstruction of Nations by Timothy Snyders.”
I have checked them both today and have not seen any confirmation that Bandera was against genocide of Poles. Please be kind enough to give me the page numbers to confirm what you wrote.


“All war crimes were organized by Mykola Lebed, who became the leader of OUN after Bandera’s arrest. Bandera wasn’t fully aware of what was going on, but he stated that he didn’t agree with new OUN policies.”

Just to interject myself into this historical debate, on a subject I actually know a bit about.

As far as the first sentence goes – “All war crimes were organized by Mykola Lebed” – that’s actually not quite true either. When the war crimes, particularly the murders of Poles in Volhynia occurred it’s true that Lebed was the de-facto leader of OUN-Bandera. But in practical terms he had been pushed out of any decision making in 1942 by a triumvirate of “young Turks” in OUN-B; Roman Sukhachevych (probably the main guy in OUN-B responsible for collaboration with the Nazis), Dmytro Klyachkivsky (the guy who really was behind organizing the war crimes) and Ivan Lytwynchuk (the one who’s men actually carried out the war crimes). All three had closer connections with the Germans than Lebed, mostly through service in the collaborationist Nachtigall and Roland battalions (often confused in Western sources with SS-Galizien, which was actually mostly a OUN-Melnyk formation) as well as the Ukrainian auxiliary police.

Lebed actually opposed both close collaboration with the Nazis (by 1943), as well as the “Volhynnia Strategy” (that is, committing war crimes as a viable tactic). Not to let him off the hook, his reasons appear to have been mostly strategic – he thought massacring civilians was bad PR and would make OUN-B look bad in the eyes of Western Allies – rather than ethical. He basically just thought that it was not the right time to do it. The internal “coup” against him was also more due to “new blood” wanting to replace “old blood”, in much the same way that the Banderites took on the Melnykites a decade earlier, rather than to any deep ideological divisions. And this was a bloodless coup. Lebed was “upgraded” in terms of rank but effectively shut out from actual decision making. But all in all, he wasn’t the one who organized the war crimes. Sukhachevych and Klyachkivsky were behind it.

Several Western authors make the mistake of putting the blame on Lebed here, including, Snyder and, I believe, Marples. Basically this is a result of a superficial reading of primary sources – “Lebed was officially in charge so he must have been behind it” – and lack engagement with non-English sources (maybe somewhat rectified in later works) which analyze the situation in more detail.

As far as the second sentence – “he stated that he didn’t agree with new OUN policies” – goes, I am not aware of any source which confirms that. The best that could be said for him at the time is that he was in imprisonment and that he wasn’t aware of what was really going on. The decisions on the ground were being taken by the triumvirate mentioned above.

Still. Bandera was the one who articulated the ideology of “organic struggle” of Ukrainian OUN style nationalism, which was really a fancy way of saying that the “noble end” of an independent Ukrainian state justified “any means” no matter how seemingly reprehensible. This is also why OUN-B’s “collaboration” with the Nazis was very much marked by opportunism – they collaborated when they thought it was in their interest, and then fought them when they thought that would get them what they wanted. In this Bandera was influenced by fascism in Italy and Germany, but also by the success of Bolsheviks. He thought their Machiavellian dedication to first seizing and consolidating power, then worrying about actual policy changes was the correct course of action in a world where one faced many dedicated enemies (in Bolsheviks’ case “The Whites”, in OUN’s case anyone who stood in a way of independent Ukraine). So even if he himself wasn’t directly responsible for the war crimes, it was definitely the specific ideology and strategic plan he developed that lay behind it.


Any long-existing political structure or movement has something in its history to be ashamed of. Both US parties have been responsible for crimes in Central America during the Cold War, Japan never apologized for its crimes in China, and so on. Rather than digging through history, one should look at today’s political platforms and ideologies. There is nothing in today’s ideologies of Svoboda or Right Sector that would justify calling them neo-Nazis. They don’t call for ethnic cleansings, discrimination or genocide. If you don’t call today’s Communists neo-Nazis, there’s no reason to call Right Sector neo-Nazis.

You cannot prove a negative. There is no proof that Bandera was responsible for genocide of Poles, or that he condoned it. He has a really good alibi, having been in prison at the time. Case closed 🙂


You said that you had some scholarly references confirming that Bandera did not support Volhynian genocide and you gave the names of two books.
I was interested to see those as I have never seen any information confirming Bandera’s stance on the genocide of Poles, either support of it or disapproval.
Now you are not able to confirm where those alleged statements are located in those books. The burden of proof is on your side, as it was you who gave the references. At that time I saw it as an honest exchange of information but my current conclusion is that you did not expect I would crosscheck the books and were happy to involve in some BS.
The rest of your reply can be summarized shortly as a completely unscholarly attempt to use the: “And you are lynching Negroes?” propaganda tactic. See here: to understand the origin.


Nope, I didn’t say that. I said there was scholarly reference for the facts that he was in prison and the genocide was organized by Lebed. Again, you cannot prove a negative. If there is no proof that he supported the genocide, we must conclude that he didn’t. If there was such evidence, it would certainly be known by now.

The same with Svoboda and Right Sector. You said yourself that they should be judged based on their ideology. I am asking you to prove that their current ideology includes demands for ethnic cleansing, discrimination or genocide. Unless you can provide such evidence, you have no reason to call them neo-Nazis. Can you?

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