We travel to Ukraine, where Russia continues its attack along a 300-mile frontline across the eastern region. This is as the U.S., Western allies promise more weapons to Ukrainian defenses. There is concern about an escalation since Russian President Vladimir Putin abandoned negotiations for a ceasefire. We speak with Ukrainian political scientist and historian Denis Pilash, who is a democratic socialist, part of Sotsialnyi Rukh, and is also involved in humanitarian aid efforts in western Ukraine that he calls “the backbone of Ukrainian resistance.” He says Putin’s imperialist military aggressions should be seen as analogous to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other nations.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN:Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the blockade of a huge steel complex in Mariupol, a southeastern Ukrainian city. There are thousands of Ukrainians living there, including fighters with two regiments – the 36th Marine Brigade (far-right Azov Brigade) and civilians. Russia had been contemplating storming the complex, but has decided to blockade it for now. This comes as Putin claims Russia has, quote, “liberated” the rest of the city, which has been devastated by weeks of Russian attacks.
The fighting continues along a 300-mile frontline across eastern Ukraine. The governor of Luhansk claims that Russia controls 80% of the area. Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine, is one of the two Donbas regions.
The United States and its allies continue to funnel weapons to Ukraine. Wednesday’s meeting between President Biden and U.S. military officials at the White House was held.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:Weapons and ammunition are constantly flowing in. And we’re seeing just how vital our alliances and partnerships are around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: In other developments, the prime ministers of Spain and Denmark are in Kyiv today for talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Human Rights Watch has also released a reportRussia is accused of war crimes committed in Bucha, a suburb near Kyiv. According to the group, there was ample evidence of torture, enforced disappearances, and summary executions.
We’re joined now by Denis Pilash, a Ukrainian political scientist and historian, member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization Sotsialnyi Rukh, or the Social Movement. He’s also an editor at Commons: Journal of Social Criticism.
We are glad you are here Democracy Now!, Denis. It’s great to have you with us. It would be great if you could start by talking about the resistance in Ukraine. We hear a lot about the military resistance, but if you can talk about, overall, the kind of resistance that doesn’t get coverage?
DENIS PILASH:It is not because of the military resistance. Although hundreds of thousands have volunteered to the Armed Forces and the territorial defense units respectively, but also because of the millions of people who are involved in humanitarian efforts and maintaining the infrastructure. For example, the essential workers, railway workers, employees of the state railroad company, did a remarkable job in evacuating millions from the most dangerous to safer regions. Many of them were actually killed. Many of them were killed in the course of their jobs. This is also true for healthcare workers, nurses, and doctors who risk their lives to save the lives of others. Russia is also targeting hospitals, so many of these people are also being killed. There are also these spontaneous networks of nonhierarchical solidarity on the ground in different areas and cities across the country that helped people relocate and distributed humanitarian aid, food, and medicine. This is the backbone of the Ukrainian resistance.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Denis, I want to ask about the, just yesterday — we reported it in our introduction — the release of this Human Rights Watch reportBucha war crimes. You had said in March, a month ago, that Putin’s war crimes are following in the footsteps of the war crimes committed by governments like the United States. But since these massacres in Bucha, you’ve said the correct analogy now might be to what Indonesia did following the occupation of East Timor or what Pakistan did in — West Pakistan did to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in the war in 1971. Could you expand on this? What do you see in the war’s evolution, how has it changed since March and why do you believe these situations are now more accurate.
DENIS PILASH: I think that it’s really the same crime of military aggressions that was done by numerous other governments and other imperialists, as well. And in this case, Putin’s war in Ukraine or his wars in Chechnya were — or Yeltsin’s war in Chechnya, were in the same line with, say, Bush and Blair and their cronies attacking Iraq. The atrocities revealed by these horrifying photos from Bucha/Irpin/Borodyanka shows us the full range of atrocities. These include sexual violence, torture and mass executions. And here we see also some kind of ideological explanation by some of the — in the Russian propaganda machine that Ukraine, in a way, has to be cleansed.
And this leads us to these analogies not just with, many have recalled, Srebrenica and what happened in the wars in the former Yugoslavia in the ’90s, but really to what happened, for instance, when pro-American dictator Suharto occupied East Timor and unleashed acts of genocide against the local population in the 1970s. We see that the reality of this occupation can lead to mass obliteration and destruction of human lives in certain places.
NERMEEN SHAIKH:So, Denis, do your support the continued supply weapons to Ukraine which is exponentially growing now despite the fact many say that supplying these weapons will only prolong war?
DENIS PILASH: You see, if, like, making analogies, so maybe supplying Soviet and Chinese weapons to Vietnam, they also prolonged the resistance of the Vietnamese, and thus they prolonged the war, but it was still a unilateral aggression done by an imperialist power — in that case, the U.S.; in this case, Putin’s Russia. Because civilians are dying in large numbers in this country due to all the airstrikes, shellings, and other attacks, there is no safe place. Many objects, including civilian objects, have been damaged in many areas. Anti-aircraft weaponry is a great tool to protect those who are hiding in their basements or in their apartments.
But in a way, these supplies — we also have to remember that Russia also used to be supplied with Western weapons, from Germany, France and from other countries, and that even now it’s still fueled by these payments for the Russian oil and gas. It can be stated that more German parts are found in Russian tanks than American ammunition in Ukrainian arms.
But, in general, we need to oversee that this military assistance that is needed by the Ukrainian resistance, that it will go to Ukrainians, and it’s not just used as a pretext for this, you know, increasing of military-industrial complexes in the other Western countries, because no one is gaining from more militarized Germany or U.S. It’s really up to the people on the ground, up to the people in the Ukrainian resistance, who need this, not the interests of these companies that have to be preserved.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Denis Pilash, let me ask you about the Azov Battalion, because the U.S. has a rule that weapons to Ukraine can’t go to them, but right now with the massive influx of weapons, there’s no way that they can be traced to where. You have been a vocal critic of the far-right in Ukraine. What are your thoughts? You are also a strong critic of the expansion of NATONow you have Sweden and Finland saying they want the EU to join. NATOAlthough it may seem like one of the reasons behind this invasion, Ukraine being part of NATOThis was a possibility that would not be possible for many years.
DENIS PILASH:It was just a pretext. It was a Russian propaganda trick. Actually, I believe that the main proponent of NATO was Vladimir Putin himself, who actually pushed — and these were the words, for instance, of Ilya Ponomarev, the only MP in the Russian parliament who voted against annexation of Crimea, that this will lead to pushing Ukraine in the arms of NATO. And now he’s doing the same with Finland and Sweden.
And regarding the Azov, that is now not a battalion for seven years but a regiment in the National Guard of Ukraine, well, it’s just one unit in the general resistance, that now I think it’s really up to half a million people who are engaged either in the army or in these territorial defense units. And most of it are now really blockaded in the Mariupol, a city that has — living through a really brutal siege. Maybe the atrocities committed there will be comparable to those in Kyiv Oblast. This group, I believe, is a small part of the general Ukrainian military resistence. And I don’t think that it’s so important, both in terms of, like, percentage compared with the rest of the military and the National Guard and so on, neither in the context of its political influence, because, again, the far right in Ukraine never was really popular electorally, and it never had a mass social base for it.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Denis, I’d like you to elaborate on a point you made about this in another recent interview. On the Azov regiment, you said that, quote, “Just as our understanding of the corruption of Abbas administration and the far-right nature of Hamas … shouldn’t be an obstacle to hearing the plight of the [Palestinians],” so should the presence of the right wing in Ukraine not be a way of not listening to the plight of the Ukrainians. Could you elaborate, and explain how you see these two situations as similar?
DENIS PILASH: I think that any analogy is — well, they can be still very far away, but the core of both situations is that you need to really address the people from below, the grassroots. In both cases, you need to hear the plights of those who are in pain and those who are struggling. And actually, using all this, you know, invoking the problems that exist in every context, it’s just a pretext for remaining — you know, trying to remain neutral. However, Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that neutrality in a conflict between an oppressor or the oppressed is actually playing for the oppressor.
The far right in Ukraine has received a lot of attention. And actually we lost also the far right on the other side of the war, and actually we lost the moment when — like, I can address the Russian sociologist Greg Yudin, who shows how the Russian regime itself became more and more a fascist side, so it was becoming an open far-right dictatorship. And this war, it’s a massive step in not just stirring up all these nationalist feelings throughout Eastern Europe in other countries, but, first of all, it was boosting the ultranationalist sentiment in Russia, and it was boosting the repressive apparatus in Russia. It was suppressing all forms of discontent, almost eradicating the antiwar protests.
So, again, the big problem here is that we have an imperialist power that is now run by a far-right regime, not just in terms of its ideology, invoking Ivan Ilyin and other fascist thinkers, but in terms of its praxis, what it has already done not just in Ukraine but in many other places in the post-Soviet space, which it regards, as, for instance, U.S. does towards the Latin American region, that it’s its backyard, and it’s entitled to do whatever it wants. In the case of Russia, it does the same thing to its neighboring countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Denis Pilash, you have been fiercely critical of the role Russian oligarchs have played, I mean, back to 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But you’ve also talked about the involvement of the Ukrainian elite. It would be great if you could talk about their importance today and your views.
DENIS PILASH: Well, actually, the Russian and Ukrainian elites, the oligarchic capitalist class, they came from the same source, so they were result of this primitive accumulation of capital in the ’90s, the people who grabbed, in a mostly criminal manner, the riches of the countries and who actually devastated their own citizens to become part of the global capitalist class, of the global ruling class. I think the difference is, evidently, that Russia has more of these. siloviki, these security services people, and also more bureaucratic layers, it’s stronger, but it’s still preserving the interests of Russian big capital.
And in case of Ukraine, you have a number of these competing oligarchs that tried not just to control the economy but also to influence and control the political decisions in the country, and who are still playing the same and who also have shown their contempt towards their own citizens, not just by many of them had fled — like, prior of the invasion, they just left Ukraine — but they continue this looting of the country, and they try to store, as the Russian colleagues, to store what was stolen from their people in tax havens. And this is why, when we speak about, for instance, seizing the assets of oligarchs, be it Russian or Ukrainians, we also need to address the issue of this offshore capitalism of the tax havens, where the majority of these oligarchic elites, they used to use them to prevent not just paying taxes but also to prevent being — to see the ways how they were exploiting the countries.
NERMEEN SHAIKH:Denis, could this be explained? Do you think that the war is benefiting either the Russian or Ukrainian oligarchic class? Who are the beneficiaries of this war as you see?
DENIS PILASH:This war has become so irrational, it seems, that the gains that elites can make are nothing compared with the destruction that is being caused. It went beyond rationale and rational motivation. But, actually, in any case of war, or other harsh situation, it’s like the shock doctrine. Yes, the ruling class seizes this opportunity to limit the rights and freedoms and increase their power. It was evident that this was true for Russia. Then Russia — Russian, this vertical of power, it become even more centralized and autocratic. And these people who are in power for — like Putin and his cronies being in power for 20 years and being unchecked and having no feedback and no democratic procedures from below.
In Ukraine, we also see that our neoliberal lawmakers tried to pass legislation that would make it easier for workers to be laid off and curtail their labor rights. These are the very people who are essential to the defense of Ukraine. However, their rights are being attacked and are being attacked now by the elites who use the situation of war possibly for reducing the space for workers’ rights and unions. So, it’s the case, I think, in almost any war that we see today. This is no exception.
NERMEEN SHAIKH:Denis, lastly, what do you consider a possible end to this war? What concessions would Ukraine need to make? Are these possible? How will this work?
DENIS PILASH: It’s hard to predict. This analogy can also be used to justify arms to Ukraine to those involved in organizing trade unions. They understand that in order to negotiate with the boss who is stronger than you you must also have some power on your team. And it seems now that Russia is still pushing for some kind of — for having the opportunity to grab a bigger chunk of Ukraine, and probably to grab a bigger part of eastern Ukraine. And that’s why it isn’t at this point actually willing to have a, like, clear and equal negotiation with the Ukrainian side. We need Russia to be at the table in order to negotiate a real ceasefire. This is not what was done before, when opening humanitarian corridors meant that their lives were endangered by Russian fire and shellings.
But we have also seen that Russia has been — the Russian military has been quite inefficient in many ways, and their first expectations of that they will have a very smooth blitzkrieg, it failed. They failed. They are still going to present some sort of victory to their people and for the propaganda.
However, it seems like there are many possibilities. Some of these are quite terrible. But having enough international solidarity means that we can also push for a wider range of actions to help Ukraine. It’s not just humanitarian or military aid or helping the refugees. It’s also the issue of cancellation of Ukrainian external debt. It’s the issue of preserving a framework for the rebuilding, the recovery of the country in a more socially just and inclusive, conclusive way. It is also about envisioning an ecosocialist alternative to neoliberal capitalism. This will exclude such fossil fuel empires as modern Russia and modern Saudi Arabia, which are waging a criminal war in Yemen. And also to democratically democratize the international system. Not to resort to the playing of large, great powers that see the world as a playground for a redistributing spheres of influence but to really empower smaller countries and their people to stop this dominance by big imperialist powers like the U. So, it’s really to — we need a more complex vision for the future in order to — not just to stop this war, but to prevent further ones.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you, Denis Pilash, for joining us, Ukrainian political scientist —
DENIS PILASH:We are so grateful.
AMY GOODMAN: — historian, member of the Ukrainian democratic socialist organization, translated into English, the Social Movement, a leftist party created by the working people of Ukraine, also an editor of Commons: Journal of Social CriticismWe are speaking from the west Ukraine.
Next, we speak to Tony Wood, author Russia without Putin: Money, power and the Myths Of The New Cold War. Stay with Us