Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The army is not just soldiers (summoned, mobilised or employed under contract), not only officers and generals who graduated from schools and academies, not only weapons and equipment, and not only rear services and HQs. The army, first of all, is a tradition.
It’s not a coincidence that certain armies were traditionally considered as strong adversaries, and others that weren’t inferior to them in terms of weapons and numbers were considered as weak. For example, in 1940-1941 the British army were fivefold inferior to the Italians in terms of weapons and numbers, but crushed them in Libya and Egypt, having put them on the verge of destruction. But Hitler sent Rommel to Africa, and the latter (together with German divisions) for over two more years aggressively pursued the British, three-four times superior in terms of numbers, across the desert.
When traditions are lost, the army instantly loses its fighting capacity. Thus, for example, the corps of the former imperial army “Ukrainianised” by the Provisional government collapsed before the eyes. Afterwards not only the Directorate, but also Hetman Skoropadsky (who also commanded one of such corps) couldn’t recruit a sufficient number of defenders of his power from among the populous Ukraine. People went to anyone: to whites, to reds, to Atamans, but not to Ukrainianised units. The ones that nevertheless managed to be created distinguished themselves not by feats on the fronts of the civil war (Denikin’s Cossacks in general expelled them from Kiev with lashes), but by being responsible for 70% of the Jewish pogroms that took place in the years of war in Ukraine.
The reputation of being an army of pogromists was so loud that the French court, on the basis of this data, even acquitted Petliura’s murderer Sholom Schwartzbard as the avenger for his relatives killed during pogroms. And after all, the same people who served in Petliura’s haidamakas also heroically fought on the fronts of World War I under the Russian imperial banner. “Just” a loss of traditions turned yesterday’s heroes into a rabble worse than bandits. Bandit-Atamans —in their majority former Petliura’s officers who left his army with their units and even divisions, because the depth of moral decay of this “army” was too excessive even for them.
Thus, we can safely say that the abolition of traditions destroys the army more effectively than the most horrifying enemy. This axiom is known since the most ancient times. That’s why all military leaders, statesmen, and human communities sought to do everything so that their armed forces were built on the basis of a powerful and ancient tradition, so that they cherished the memory of the victories of ancestors, and so that they sought to increase their glory.
There is, however, one unique State that tries to build itself up contrary to the entire global experience. It already almost disappeared from the political map of the world. It isn’t noticed any more by former allies, and the western neighbors who recently became kindly intended in relation to it started impudently preparing themselves for the partitioning of its territory. But it, with persistence worthy of the best application, tries to use the entire human experience in exactly the opposite way. This State is Ukraine.
Ukraine has no stronger enemy that its own leadership. Enemies, spies, saboteurs, and pests simply wouldn’t believe that it is possible to destroy the basic foundations of one’s own statehood so openly, frankly, with conviction, and with impunity. But Ukrainian leaders do everything so that Ukrainian statehood can’t be saved after they leave, even under the most favorable conditions and with external help.
It would seem that, after destroying the economy, finance, education, healthcare, the municipal sphere, the decomposition of state bureaucracy and law enforcement bodies, the only remaining force cementing Ukraine is the army. Yes, it can’t repel an external attack – even the attacks of the manyfold weaker armed forces. Yes, it isn’t even able to win the internal civil war in Donbass. But this is the only State institute whose benefit isn’t called into question by the majority (this shouldn’t be confused with effectiveness, which, of course, doesn’t exist and isn’t expect to one day exist) and which acts on all the territory of the country and unites in its ranks military personnel from all regions without exception.
Certainly, several decades of selling off army property and plundering the budgets has put the Ukrainian army in a difficult position. The strongest blow to its moral base was struck by the civil war, in which the army acted against its own people (albeit a part of them), and during which the professional structure was in many respects replaced with unscrupulous gastarbeiters who came to serve in order to earn money to live.
Nevertheless, the tradition that elevated the history of Ukrainian military units and divisions to the level of their Soviet predecessors, who won glorious victories that were retained in their names, was preserved and kept this semi-decayed and semi-plundered army that was almost killed by its own State above the water. During the Debaltsevo operation of January-February, 2015 this army even showed the known persistence in defense, doomed in advance because of the inadequate and thievish leadership. It is interesting that those who defended themselves appealed precisely to the Russian-Soviet tradition to stand to the last.
Paratroopers of this army, even if they have never jumped with a parachute, nevertheless remembered Vasily Filippovich Margelov, were proud of blue berets and the motto “Nobody except us!” exactly in the same way that marines who have never been on distant campaigns lived with the memories of the great past of their units and divisions. The entire army lived in the past. Without the past it stopped being an army and finally became what it represented — an armed rabble.
The first time a blow was struck to the past was when new uniforms were issued, which had nothing in common had with the army’s traditions. The fight put up by air and sea paratroopers to preserve their mottoes, emblems, and the colour of their berets testifies to the sharpness of the problem, as well as the intuitive awareness of it at the lower level along with the absolute indifference of the top level. But this is still half of the trouble. Almost all armies change the colour and cut of their uniforms. Many armies switch from epaulettes to tabs and back, periodically putting signs of distinction on the sleeve and/or on the head wear. It happen that the colour of berets changes too. New generations come and gradually get used to it.
But it is impossible to get used to the absence of tradition. If, according to official historians, Ukraine has existed for several millennia and all this time was a large military power battling for its independence, then where are the traces of these victories? And if, as the older generation in the families of current military personnel remember, Ukraine fought against an external enemy in the same ranks with other republics of the USSR, then why are the traces of these glorious affairs being destroyed?
It is exactly at the second stage that military history and the army tradition come under strike. Having found himself in a deranged state after the publication of decrees of the President of Russia concerning the assignment of honourable names to 11 military units and divisions, the Chief of the Ukrainian General Staff Viktor Muzhenko demanded from his subordinates in the shortest possible time to finish the “decommunisation” of the army. He motivated his actions by the law on the ban of communist and nazi symbolics.
It’s truth that in the Ukrainian army there is no fight against nazi symbols, there is even the explain (from Vyatrovich) that they aren’t nazi, but national Ukrainian symbols. But they lump in everything with communist symbols – not only State Soviet (which, although isn’t communist in itself, belonged to the State run by the Communist Party), but even Russian imperial symbols (not only the St. George’s Ribbon, the St Andrew’s flag, and monuments to Ekaterina, but even monuments to Pushkin and place names connected to the names of Russian tsars and Ukrainian Hetmen who truly served them). They already start to slowly “decommunise” even Bogdan Khmelnytsky.
While the Russian army returns to itself both its historical Soviet (connected to the liberated cities in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Germany), and imperial (in 2013 Vladimir Putin’s decree the 1st separate rifle regiment received Semenovsky’s name, and the 154th independent commandant’s regiment became Preobrazhensky) names, the Ukrainian army is being definitively cleansed of any Soviet or Russian past. Baser minded politicians and servile generals consider that they thus sever ties with Russia.
No, they sever ties with their own military tradition, definitively destroying the remains of the army’s pride, turning the last semi-remained State institution into a crowd of armed marginals who are eager for loot and self-affirmation at the expense of the unarmed citizens of their own country, and who are capable of doing nothing else except pogroms.
By abolishing traditions, the Ukrainian General Staff also abolishes the Ukrainian army. I am even afraid to assume what they will abolish next in Ukraine just to spite Putin.
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