Rostislav Ishchenko: Ukraine’s Transformation From a State to a Gang of Bandits

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Any crisis can finish in different ways. The result can be an absolute crash of the structure that entered into a crisis. But circumstances can arise in such a way that the fight for survival and the search for ways out of the crisis will allow to not only overcome it, but will even reinforce the structure that survived the crisis. The simplest and most well-known example is the USSR, which, despite losses amounting to nearly thirty million people, the destruction of the entire European part of the country, and the huge strain on the economy and the undermining of the foundations of agriculture, emerged from the Great Patriotic War more powerful and stable than it was when it entered it.

It is never too late to make the right decision as long as the State, at least, formally exists. This thesis is also illustrated by an example from our [Russian – ed] history. But, unlike the Great Patriotic War – the living witnesses of which are already rather few in society, and soon there won’t be any at all, this event happened at the time of today’s 30/40-year-old people.

When 18 years ago Vladimir Putin became the President of Russia, the country was in deep crisis. The economic, financial, and demographic indicators practically did not leave Russia a chance of surviving. The “partners” that wanted to quickly finish it off and divide it up among themselves possessed an incomparably bigger military, political, and diplomatic potential, and their international prestige was unshakable, while at the same time the Russian prestige was literally on the floor.

Today, Russia is close to that moment when no gun in the world will dare to fire without its permission. But ten years ago, in 2008, during the August five-day war, Moscow drastically changed the balance of power with one move. Now everything seems so simple, that the number of people willing to do “better than Putin” exponentially grows every year, and social media is literally teeming with “handymen-intellectuals” born to govern a superpower. But in reality it was many years of painstaking work on the adoption and implementation of repeatedly verified decisions with no margin for error.

The too early demonstration of not only intentions, but even of already-existing capabilities, could result in Russia being swatted, without waiting for when it’s stronger and can declare its pretensions. Victory in this game – stretching for one and a half decades (up to 2014) – after being on the verge of defeat interests us precisely as an illustration of the fact that absolutely unsolvable problems don’t exist, but there are rulers who are not able (or are not willing) to solve them.

Ukraine after 2004 and before 2014 resembled France of the period of the Thermidorian Convention and the Directory: the elite, which broke-through to power was concerned only about its own enrichment and was ready for any betrayal, and was totally detached from the problems of the State and nation; the people, who were ready to at least five times a day carry out coups, but who time after time brought to power progressively worser rulers; the empty treasury and a crumbling economy. Everything was almost identical, as far as events and facts occurring in countries that are culturally and historically distant from each other with an interval of two centuries can be identical.

France was saved by Bonaparte, who turned out to be not only a successful military leader and an ambitious person, but also a great politician. The organisers of the coup against the Directory were going, in full compliance with the Ukrainian tradition that emerged two centuries later, to replace “Yanukovych” with “Poroshenko” (five Directors for three consuls) and to continue to plunder – but by themselves, at the same time reaching an agreement with external forces to palm off the squeezed-like-a-lemon country in exchange for the preservation of their own lives and wealth. It is precisely Bonaparte who gave an epochal character to the ordinary event of French politics of the late 18th century. He made the country, which was rapidly moving towards capitulation and restoration, great again.

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A more difficult problem stood in front of Ukrainian society. Ukraine had no “old regime”, and they had nothing to restore. Ukraine didn’t exist in a restored reality. Accordingly, its economic and political elite also didn’t exist. This means that in front of local oligarchs, bureaucracy, the military, and the secret services – which preferred to go to serve the newly created State, counting on a rapid career promotion and receiving new ranks – was the task to “win or die”.

Unlike the people who lived before, live during, and will live after Ukraine (those who will survive), for the political and economic elites the existence of the Ukrainian State was the only guarantee of their personal well-being and status. Ukrainian Generals, Admirals, diplomats, and ministers can only be Ukrainians – they aren’t needed anywhere else. At least because colleagues from Burkina Faso will be chosen over them in terms of qualifications.

As was mentioned above, Ukrainian politicians, unlike their French counterparts two centuries ago, could not expect to return to the situation prior to the current regime (to become a “monk of the white fleur de lis”, as was said back then in Paris), because “before” there was nothing. Logic dictates that in such a critical situation, when there is nowhere to retreat, the demand for Putins, Bonapartes, Peter the Greats, Catherine the Greats, and Aleksandrs in Ukraine should significantly exceed the available supply. Ukraine was supposed to attract managerial talent from around the world.

But it was exactly the opposite. Even the small reserve of sensible and appropriate politicians, journalists, business people, and experts that it had and who were willing to work for it was actively marginalised by the Ukrainian elite and pushed out of the country.

I remember how at the time of Yushchenko’s reign Vladimir Malinkovich left Ukraine. It would seem that it is precisely this person who should’ve been in demand by the Ukrainian authorities. He was in the dissident movement since the 70’s, he was an immigrant, he was an employee of “Radio Svoboda”, and actively worked against the Soviet Union. He returned to Ukraine (unlike many other dissident-“patriots” who chose to give advice from the comfort of America and Europe) in 1992. He is the strongest of Ukrainian political experts (past, present, and future). At least because he evaluates real facts, and not his own desires. At the same time he is a modest person and, unlike his colleagues, he did not demand political positions and exorbitant fees. But it turned out that he wasn’t in demand.

He wasn’t in demand because of his professionalism. Malinkovich, reasonably believing that if there is a need for his advice, then it means that in this sphere he knows much more than the receiver of advice, tried to explain to Ukrainian politicians how to act correctly. But they needed their consultants, advisers, etc. to simply make statements about the genius of the chief who chose the only right path. Moreover, the more the common pattern contradicted the correctness of the path, the more there was a need to shout about such genius.

It’s still not clear to me why there was and is a need to spend a lot of money on the maintenance of absolutely senseless buffoons who, without caring about their own reputation, pass off what is unbelievable as obvious, if it was possible, in a cheaper way without compromising its business and political concepts, to create a really strong and even sometimes prosperous-in-places State, which would feed this elite and defend it for several generations. I’m inclined to think that the cause of this inappropriate behaviour is the low level of intellectual development — the complex of a provincial who came from rags to riches.

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The Ukrainian nouveaux riches, who broke-through to power, but who deep down feel their own inadequacy in their position, with the help of hired “experts” convinced themselves of their greatness. Hence the quick careers of some “Ukrainian scientists” (precisely Ukrainian, because they are known to the rest of the world as charlatans). Nevertheless, it is nice if you are praised not just by anyone, but by a academician. However, if you are the Governor of Kharkov, then even a doctor of science will suffice, and if you are the mayor of Odessa, a candidate for doctor of science will be enough.

The reason for inadequacy may be different. It is even possible that there are several reasons, and that everyone has their own ones. But in this case, the reasons don’t concern us. We are dealing with facts. During 25 years of Ukrainian independence the local elites acted more and more inadequately, having achieved the eventual collapse of the State.

Some people think that if Ukraine does not fulfil its own laws, then it is a sign of strength. It’s like, I do what I want, and nobody orders me around. In reality, this is a sign of weakness. The State is maintained only by the law, respect for the law, and compliance with the law. The State’s refusal of the rule of law turns it into an armed gang. A gang also uses violence to compel obedience. But the State’s coercion is legitimised by the law and a social contract. But a gang engages in direct violence.

That’s why the use of violence is characteristic of the State in exceptional cases: when the law is broken; for the restoration of law and order. Accordingly, the power of the State in reality is maintained not by violence, but by public acceptance. That’s why also the apparatus required for external and internal defence can be relatively small.

But a gang governs only where it exercises direct violence. That’s why the apparatus of violence in its totality and its authority extends only to the place where it is physically present and capable of violence.

Hence the second fundamental difference. The State nourishes itself from within. A relatively small apparatus of defence and governance doesn’t allow the major diversion of resources away from productive labor. That is why the State hates war and tries to avoid it. War not only diverts resources away from production, but it leads to its destruction. That’s why even a victorious war is in most cases disadvantageous to the State.

But a gang does not have productive units in its composition. It is in its totality a mechanism of violence. That’s why a gang can receive resources for its existence only from the outside, by means of violence. Consequently, war for a gang is a normal condition — the only method of production that can help it survive.

People who, even well-intentioned, call to solve any issues by sending “our tanks to Paris” are bandits in their souls. If they had the opportunity, they would build a State that differs from the Ukrainian one only by the size of the territory and the color of the flag. Moreover, they would end up with the same thing in Russia, in America, in Europe, in Africa, and even in China.

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If for 25 years Ukrainian politicians were creating a gang – and they finally created it, it can be assumed with high probability that it is precisely a gang that they needed. I.e., they know how to keep alive, govern, and manage only a very militarised (it’s even better if there are no civilians in it) society that is focused on an existence based on robbery. Who to rob – their own “renegades” or neighbors – is not so important. What’s important is to have enough forces.

I think that there is no need to present a mass of evidence to show that it is precisely such a society that was built in Ukraine: the State tries to rob Donbass; it tries to parasitise the gas transit system; it begs for loans from the West; the “titular nation” boasts about projects that limit the rights of Russian speakers and legitimise the redistribution of their property in favor of the “patriots”; politicians rob each other.

For such a society a civil war is not an excess, but a way of existence. That’s why Kiev is not only not seeking to stop the civil war in Donbass, but is all the time on the verge of its transformation into an all-Ukrainian one. If Ukraine’s Armed Forces were powerful enough, they would have already attacked Moldova and Belarus. After all, neighbours are nothing more than an object for plunder. Even the respect that radical Ukrainian nationalists expressed in relation to Putin, saying “we would like someone like him”, is based on the obvious military and political power of Russia. Ukrainian Nazis drool when imagining being in possession of such a thing – visualising how much they would rob and who they would occupy in such a situation. Their cries about Russia’s intention to capture Ukraine are explained by the fact that they know that if they were in Russia’s shoes they would have captured Ukraine long ago. After all, it’s Russia – as a normal State – that can assume that it won’t amount to a hill of beans, and that the losses will be greater than the acquisitions. But for a gang there are unacceptable losses — the most important thing is to capture the target. For them the number of claimants become fewer when it comes to dividing things up.

Based on the above, it is easy to determine that in 2018 the civil war (with a tendency to become expanded) and the internal competition between Ukrainian politicians (with a readiness to at any time make a transition to an armed conflict) will remain the dominant trends in the domestic politics of Ukraine. Specific “frontmen” can change. The standoff on the line Poroshenko-Saakashvili can transform to the format Yatsenyuk-Tymoshenko or be supplemented by the format Avakov-Kolomoisky.

All of these formats are no more or no less likely than any of the others. Who is involved isn’t important. What is important is that the course of self-destruction imposed on the Ukrainian government by the elite cannot be changed. This elite cannot live and operate differently, and there are no other elites. That’s why even if the dream of Ukrainian “patriots” will be exhausted – that President, Ministers, and deputies will be hung on lampposts (this, by the way, is quite possible), then those who will replace them will be worse — the same bandits, but from the third echelon. Even less educated, much more limited, using even more bestial methods.

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