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Western fear of "escalating" the war with Russia has led to more casualties among Ukrainians

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Taras Kuzio is an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and Professor in the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy. His previous positions were at the University of Alberta, George Washington University, and University of Toronto, International Institute of Strategic Studies, German Marshall Fund of the US and Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Taras Kuzio holds a PhD in political science from the University of Birmingham, England, an MA in Area Studies (USSR, Eastern Europe) from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, and a BA in Economics from the School of European Studies, University of Sussex. He held a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Yale University.

Taras Kuzio is the author and editor of 22 books, including Russian Disinformation and Western Scholarship (2022); Ukraine’s Outpost: Dnipropetrovsk and the Russian-Ukrainian War (2022); Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War. Autocracy-Orthodoxy-Nationality (2022), Crisis in Russian Studies. Nationalism (Imperialism), Racism and War (2020), (co-author) The Sources of Russia’s Great Power Politics: Ukraine and the Challenge to the European Order (2018), Putin’s War Against Ukraine. Revolution, Nationalism, and Crime (2017, 2019), Ukraine. Democratization, Corruption, and the New Russian Imperialism (2015), From Kuchmagate to Orange Revolution (2009), and Theoretical and Comparative Perspectives on Nationalism (2007).

In February 2023, you co-authored a book on Fascism and Genocide: Russia’s War Against Ukrainians (Ukrainian Voices). Could you outline its key messages and relevance for Ukraine?

It was written to show how Vladimir Putin and the fascist Russian state are pursuing genocide against Ukrainians. The book analyses the sources of Russian fascism and genocidal policies and how Ukraine is fighting back militarily and through volunteer groups and civil society. The book also shows how Ukrainian national identity rapidly changes in response to Russia's invasion, military aggression, and genocidal policies.

In your book on Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War released in 2022, you mentioned that Russia failed to accept Ukraine as an independent country. Do you think that it will be possible to change that perception of Ukraine among Russian elites and Russian people once Ukraine de-occupies its territories?

In the USSR, Joseph Stalin formulated the concept of Russians and Ukrainians as "brotherly peoples." Although they were different, they would forever live together because they were born together in Kyiv Rus. The Soviet regime was more progressive than contemporary Russia because it at least recognised Ukrainians as a people with their own language, republic, and seat at the United Nations. But Soviet and Russian recognition of Ukrainians would only exist if they accepted they would remain living with Russians and they were younger brothers.

In post-Soviet Russia, this has stagnated to the pre-Soviet position in the Tsarist empire, and White Russian emigres of denial that Ukraine, a Ukrainian people, and a Ukrainian language exists. Pre-Soviet Russian nationalists believed in a pan-Russian people composed of 3 branches - great, little, and white Russians, and Ukraine is an artificial construct created by the West to weaken Russia. Little Russians want to live with Russia but are prevented from doing so by West Ukrainian Nazis and the US.

This view of Ukrainians contradicts reality as if Ukrainians do not exist, how can they defeat Russians militarily? How can Ukraine be a Nazi state if a Jewish president leads it? Nevertheless, Russian nationalists and propaganda continue to deny the existence of Ukrainians and Ukraine. It depends on how a Ukrainian military victory will take place and whether Russian myths about Ukraine and Ukrainians will remain for a long time. If Russian military defeat leads to regime change, then democrats and reformers could come to power, as after the Crimean and Russo-Japanese wars and World War I. A Russian democratic regime could be more critical of these stereotypes and myths about Ukraine and Ukrainians. If Russian military defeat leads to Putin being replaced by another nationalist, then there will be no changes in Russian stereotypes and myths.

We should remember that it takes a long time for countries to change their attitudes toward their neighbours. The British took nearly 100 years to normalise relations with Ireland, from the 1916 Irish uprising to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

What is your view on the Ukrainian response to Russian aggression since February 2022? How do you think Ukraine can improve its response?

The first way it can improve is for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to support a national unity government, as in Israel after the Hamas terrorist attacks. Zelenskyy should halt his personal vendetta against former President Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskyy has shown himself to be a Ukrainian Winston Churchill with incredible abilities to do PR lobbying of the West to support Ukraine with military and economic support.

What is taking place is a horizontal war by Ukraine of the army and security forces with volunteers and civil society, a people's war, against a vertical war by Russia of a top-down army and no volunteer movement or civil society.

Zelenskyy has rightfully banned pro-Russian parties and media, but parliament needs to take a final step in banning the Russian Orthodox Church, Putin's 5th column in Ukraine.

There is little to suggest regarding military planning as Ukraine has been more successful than imagined. The West is to blame for sending military equipment in a drip, drip fashion rather than all at once, which allowed Russia the time to build fortifications and lay minefields. Western slowness and fear of "escalating" the war with Russia has led to a higher number of Ukrainian military and civilian casualties and the prolonging of the war until next year, rather than the offensive culminating in military victory this year.

How can Putin be stopped in Ukraine? What are the risks for Ukraine and the world if he succeeds?

The US, Germany, and France should be encouraged to state their goal publicly is Russia's military defeat - as have the UK, Poland, Czech Republic, four Scandinavian, and three Baltic countries. The West should send all types of military equipment that Ukraine requests, especially long-range missiles; only nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons should be out of bounds. The West should publicly state that Ukraine can attack targets inside Russia. Russia's Black Sea Fleet should be targeted by Ukraine and destroyed.

Russian political, academic, think tank, and media leaders should be criminally charged as war criminals by the ICC. Western intelligence agencies should increase their support for Russian groups who wish to overthrow the Putin regime.

The West should prepare Ukraine for NATO membership after the war ends, and Russia is militarily defeated. Ukraine is left again in the grey zone, Russia will launch a second invasion after it has rebuilt its army. The only way to prevent a second Russian invasion is to bring Ukraine into NATO.

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