The New Observer Uncategorized Sense on Ukraine

Sense on Ukraine

Of course; to get any sense, any rationality, you have to leave the Guardian far behind you and go to “alternative media”.

The interviewee on Unherd is Anatol Lieven, a British journalist and analyst. Interestingly he says in the piece that he learned journalism at the BBC – one imagines that the BBC of today is not the one where he learned the values of objectivity he talks about. As he says; journalists should tell the truth; they can then comment on it in any way they want, but they should tell the truth. The way that 99% of Western media 99% of the time tells stories these days is they mix the desired political narrative into the facts and pass off the result as objective journalism.

There are three parts to this interview. In the first part Anatol Lieven and Freddie Sayers discuss the internal problems of Ukraine. The main point they make is that Zelensky’s fighting talk has led to the situation whereby most people in Ukraine now expect nothing less than the return of Crimea. This makes any possible compromise problematic. Were Zelensky to attempt a compromise based on giving up some territory this would be resisted by the right-wing militias and probably by the army as well. These groups could lead a coup. These are the same forces that Obama declined to arm because: “Can we be certain that any lethal aid that we provide Ukraine is used properly, doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, does not lead to over-aggressive actions that can’t be sustained by the Ukrainians?” [1] Now, as a result of Western enthusiasm for sending weapons these people are indeed in possession of quite a lot of Western weaponry – though not the 300 Km missiles that one imagines they really want.

The second part of the conversation pertains to the role of the media. This is why I have linked to this video. Anatol Lieven articulates what is essentially the main theme of this site. The media has a duty to tell the truth. They have a duty to their own calling. But also; many Western political leaders get their orientation about what is happening from the media. If the media cook up fairy tales the decisions made based on those fairy tales, will not be good ones. It is hard to find objectivity in the Western media these days.

In the third section Anatol Lieven makes the very astute point that “Ukraine has already won” – even if they were to accept the current line of control as the new border. He has studied history and understands that since the middle of the 17th century Russia has played an oversized role in Ukraine. At Pereyaslav in 1654 Cossacks signed an agreement which gave Russia sovereignty (according to one version of how the treaty is understood) over Ukraine. This is from the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

In 1654 at Pereyaslav he [Khmelnytsky – a Cossack leader] concluded with Moscow an agreement whose precise nature has generated enormous controversy: Russian historians have emphasized Ukraine’s acceptance of the tsar’s suzerainty, which subsequently legitimized Russian rule, but Ukrainian historiography has stressed Moscow’s recognition of Ukraine’s autonomy (including an elective hetmancy, self-government, and the right to conduct foreign relations) that was virtually tantamount to independence (see Pereyaslav Agreement).


Only after the Cossacks had suffered a disastrous military defeat (December 1653), however, did the rada receive the Muscovite delegation at Pereyaslav and formally submit to “the tsar’s hand.” Two months later (March 1654), the details of the union were negotiated in Moscow. The Cossacks were granted a large degree of autonomy, and they, as well as other social groups in Ukraine, retained all the rights and privileges they had enjoyed under Polish rule. But the unification of Ukraine with Russia was unacceptable to Poland; a Russo-Polish war (Thirteen Years’ War) broke out and ended with the division of Ukraine between Poland and Russia. See also Andrusovo, Truce of.

Anatol Lieven says that he visited the Eastern parts of Ukraine before the war and found a lot of people very “pro-Russia”. One result of the current conflict has been to polarise opinion. The 85% of Ukraine which is now not under Russian control is very firmly “European”. Anatol Lieven argues that this, 85%, is more than Ukraine has ever had before (except of course between 1991 and 2014). They should settle for this. (I would add that it is highly likely that had they been willing to accept the loss of Crimea and the LDNR before the war they might have been able to have lost even less). Putin stated in March 2022 that he would not stand in the way of Ukraine joining the EU if they agreed not to join NATO; there is no reason to think he did not mean this. This is a realistic point of view; even those of us who are playing catch-up reading Ukrainian history can rapidly see that the country is split. The historical point is that from about 1670 to the end of the 18th century Russia controlled the Eastern half of Ukraine and then from the end of the 18th century the whole of Ukraine was under Imperial Russian rule accept Galicia in the West which fell under the Hapsburgs.

Looked at objectively it makes sense for Ukraine to cut their losses. To take the 85% of their territory and to join the EU. The majority of people in Crimea and in the territory of the LDNR do not want to be part of a Western focussed Ukraine anyway. Ukraine would also, one imagines, have to agree not to join NATO in order to get a final deal. It seems to me that this is the common-sense view and this is what Anatol Lieven is articulating. But, as he says, both the West and Kiev have locked themselves into positions which make it hard for them to compromise. I can sympathise with Ukrainian nationalism. I think it would help (as I have written before) were Russia to look for face-saving measures it could offer in relation to Crimea. But is it worth endlessly dying for this strip of land?

Anatol Lieven also points out that the unspoken strategy of the hardliners in Ukraine and also in their allies Poland, (and perhaps in Lithuania too), is to cause the “Putin regime” to fall. This is in fact the only rational strategy behind the campaign to put Crimea under pressure. The idea is not so much to take Crimea permanently, but to sever it from Russia and strike a political blow which would cause Putin to fall. They think that this would in turn lead to the break-up of Russia. This is the actual strategy. It is immensely high-risk and immensely dangerous. As Anatol Lieven comments part of the driver for this is long-standing hostility from Poland towards Russia; but this is something which is being added to the conflict. It isn’t strictly about “defending Ukraine”. But; this is what happens in wars; they escalate. I don’t think this strategy is viable; which is probably quite lucky. It is a sort of secret because they don’t talk about it openly probably because it is so risky. One assumes they fully understand this in the Kremlin.