The 26th May is the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the shelling of Donetsk by Ukrainian forces in 2014. For the Donbass Ukrainians that opposed the new Maidan regime this event marked the point of no return. It followed the burning alive of the anti-maidan protestors in Odessa on May 2nd 2014 and Ukrainian forces trying to storm Mariupol that same week. The shelling has continued daily ever since, including today, killing several people. Yet, listen to the news here and there is silence about that. The casualties caused by a Russian missile strike in Dnipro were reported however, and President Zelensky’s comment that this showed the Russians to be “fighters against everything humane and honest” was not put in the context of what his own forces are doing. An enemy of the United States would be accused of “shelling his own people”.
Nevertheless, most people who support the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, or call for a Russian military withdrawal and restoration of the pre 2014 borders, sincerely assume that this would be a liberation for the people who live in the Donbass and Crimea; and that this is where the war would stop.
This interview with Kyrylo Budanov – the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence (the GRU) – by a journalist who has been making a film supporting the Ukrainian war effort released last week, shows that the Ukrainian high command (and journalists) have no such delusions.
Budanov says a number of interesting things in this interview, some of them revealing, some quite far fetched. He is, after all, an intelligence officer, so he has access to a lot of information; but, as an intelligence officer, a large part of his job is to spin false but instrumentally useful narratives. He is also a firm believer in the notion that if you will something hard enough, it will come to pass and that Ukraine will “win”, despite their succession of grinding defeats since the new year and the terrible cost in lives that is the price of carrying on.
At the same time, he is secure enough in the presumed support of his audience to describe what the sort of victory he wants would look like. In the same way that the Guardian is now so sure of the allegiance of its readers to Ukrainian nationalism that they can reveal that, when collaborating with the Nazis in WW2, they killed around 100,000 Poles, a massacre described as “genocide” by the Polish government as recently as 2016.
In the interview’s final section, about what would happen in Crimea if Ukraine’s war aims were achieved (starting 36:57 minutes in) he is quite blunt that “victory” in the sense of military reoccupation would only be the start of a “difficult” “multi year process” of “reintegrating” territories with a population that is actually hostile and does not want to be reoccupied. Three million people with, as he puts it “a completely different view of the world”*. The interviewer uses the euphemism “three million not very devoted people” and Budanov states that those people with an “altered psyche” who can be “re educated” should be – without specifying what should be done with those that can’t, though “physical elimination” is a phrase he uses elsewhere. This will have to be done with a carrot and a stick, as the two only work together; and with a “firm hand”. This will be “hard work” he says.
Many words can be used to describe this scenario. “Liberation” for those 3 million people is not one of them. If you believe in self determination, you can’t support this.
His comments at the end section about “a new security architecture in the world” are put in context by a section “About the Future of Russia” a little before this (at 32.45 minutes in). In this, the interviewer pulls across a map of the Russian Federation – “your famous map” with the partition borders – that Dick Cheney and Zbigniew Brzezinski originally proposed back in 1991 as a way to manage the “Post Soviet space” most amenably for the US – drawn in in thick blue felt tip lines; remarking that “its been shown a lot”. Not in the media here it hasn’t. It might make people wonder a bit.
This isn’t Budanov’s map, but is similar. If you google US aim to partition Russia and click on images, you get a number of variations.
Budanov uses a number of euphemisms about “unanimous transformation” of Russia and the prospective partition being “conceptual”, and speculates that the more defeats the RF suffers the more it will break up, starting with the Caucasus. His confirmation, when discussing the prospect that “new states” will be imposed on the wreck of the RF that, “Russians are well aware of this” gives a tacit recognition that the Russian security concerns raised in the run up to February 24th were real and existential.
His statement “we don’t need Russia in the form that it exists now”, underlines this and, given where the partition plan originated, cannot be defined as defensive.
*If you want an insight into why the people in Donbass might have a “completely different view of the world” – which Budanov suggests is a result of “propaganda” – consider these personal accounts from the day the Ukrainian army started shelling Donetsk city on May 26th 2014. These are from the Donetsk Anti Fascist site.
Marina Kharkova: “May 25 was the last day of peace in Donetsk, as the family celebrated the birthday of my father, a miner. The mood was anxious, restless and tense because of the general situation, but nothing yet seemed to portend tragedy. On the morning of 26, on my way to work, I heard the sounds of flying planes and distant explosions. Everyone had gathered in the largest office and was listening to an employee who lived near the railway station. She cried and told how Ukrainian planes and helicopters had bombed from the air, how their nine-storey building on Privokzalnoye had been shaking, how women killed by shells were lying directly on the pavement bleeding, how the minibus she was travelling in had hurtled away from the danger zone. She sat in silence, clutching her heads, trying to comprehend. Tanya was given water and sedatives – she was so sick. Then, by inertia, they tried to get on with their business. The rumble outside the window increased, though the office was far away from the airport. Ambulances and cars with militia were whizzing down the street. After three in the afternoon everyone decided to stop their pointless attempts to pretend to be busy and drove home. The understanding of what was happening came at once, although the consciousness was still trying to cling to yesterday’s peaceful day. The 26th of May was the point at which “it will never be the same again”.
EIena Hovhannisyan, a biology teacher: “At that time we kept up with the news from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. We already knew how people had been martyred in Odessa, Mariupol and Krasnoarmeisk. I had forebodings of near disaster. It was already hovering over us, but we did not think how tragic, long, brutal, hopeless the events would be. Sometimes it seemed that it was just a bad dream, that I would wake up and everything would be like before. But no. It is an illusion that the war will not touch you. It will touch everyone, sooner or later. We were simply the first to be in the epicentre. And May 26th I will always remember. The warm, sunny weather and the roar of planes in the sky. From the balcony on the side of the airport black smoke could be seen, you could hear explosions constantly. The first shelling, deaths, destruction, grief and pain. Since that day, there would be no peace in Donetsk for another nine years. But we didn’t know it then. And that day was endless, filled with horror and pain. The phones were literally ringing off the hook – everyone was trying to find out what happened to their loved ones, whether they were alive or not. In the evening my son arrived from work; his office was a couple of blocks from the station. He told about the horror in the city, about the dead woman vendor from the station market, about the very young guy who worked as a valet. He was killed by shrapnel from a missile fired by a Ukrainian helicopter. People were falling, screaming, crying, calling for help. Passers-by tried to save the wounded, car alarms howled. The railway station area in any city is the most crowded place. In Donetsk on Privokzalnoye there are markets, shops, banks, the area was teeming with life. They say helicopters flew so low that you could see the pilots in the cockpit. And these pilots also saw that they hit peaceful people. This was not done by some Hitlerites, but by Ukrainians, with whom we lived in the same country. May 26 was the day that turned everything upside down. There is no and will not be our forgiveness for Ukraine. And there will be no return.
From the diary of a Donetsk woman who wanted to remain anonymous: 26 May 2014, from the balcony, I saw planes firing missiles. My husband, coming home from work, told me about the dead in the station square. At the same time as the airport was being bombed, the fighting moved into the city, on Kievsky Avenue linking the city and the airport. People who had lost their jobs or shelter, relatives or loved ones, went to volunteer for the militia. And every day there were more and more of them, including my acquaintances, as the war gradually touched everyone.
It is difficult to describe the sensations of trying to sleep to the sound of shelling outside your windows. The deafening and resounding explosions are somewhere close by. Your heart sinks each time, because no one knows where the next shell will land. But when you see the dawn, you realize that another night is behind you, all your loved ones are alive today.
In addition to the fighting at the airport and the aerial bombardment with unguided shells, Ukrainian snipers shelled the Putilovsky Bridge. This road was then called the “road of death”: civilian cars with people were burnt and shot, and in the Putilovsky Grove there lay the bodies of both civilians unluckily caught up in the active fighting and the militiamen trying to save people. For several days, the bodies were decomposing in the terrible heat: there was no opportunity to pick them up and bury them.
An ambulance was also shot up on the road to Donetsk airport. Its crew, Artem Kovalevsky, the ambulance driver, paramedic Sergei Kozhukharov and doctor Vladimir Vasilievich, miraculously survived and managed to get out of hell.
They told reporters from the local branch of Komsomolka in Donetsk how they managed to survive when Ukrainian snipers shot even those who had managed to run into the wooded area.
Victoria Sergeyevna, neurologist: I was on duty that day, the hospital was far away from the airport, but we all knew what was going on. In the evening, many people of different ages with strokes or suspected strokes were brought to our department. People’s chronic illnesses were exacerbated by the stress. The statistics of deaths from heart attacks and strokes during the war has increased dramatically compared to the peacetime. And these are also our victims of the war, just as innocent as the victims who died under shelling”.