We Are Fighting a War of Meanings

NEW – February 24, 2023

Interview with the “Evening Moscow” newspaper

Aleksey* [Shorokhov – a well-known Russian writer – SZ], you once wrote that you have been participating in the fate of Donbass in words since 2013, and in deeds since 2015. It is obvious why you decided to go to the Special Military Operation zone. Then tell us why you care about the fate of the Russian-speaking people in Donbass, as well as in the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.

“I care about the fate of my Russian people wherever they live – on the southern outskirts (Ukraine) of historical Russia, on the western – in Belarus or on the lands of the Ural Cossack Army (present-day Kazakhstan). It is natural, it is normal, when a Jewish writer cares about the fate of their fellow tribesmen, a Chechen – about their own, a Russian – about their own.

After the monstrous genocide of the Russian people in the 20th century, I believe that today is not the time to think in the usual categories of Russian intellectuals ‘about the fate of the world’, the time to think first of all about their own.”

How did your friends and family take this news? They must have been very worried about you…

“My friends took it calmly, as a natural continuation of what I always did.

With relatives, frankly, it is more difficult…

But I think they were also waiting for something like this.”

How would you justify the need for a Russian special operation in Ukraine?

“There are several ways to answer your question…

As far as I know, the military (tactical) necessity and even the inevitability of conducting a SMO was formed by January 2022, when it became obvious that an offensive group of Ukrainian nazis would be deployed in the Donetsk direction – for a preemptive strike with access to the borders of the Russian Federation and a subsequent attack on Crimea.

The moral necessity of protecting the people of Donbass, let’s just say, screamed to heaven a long time ago – to understand this, it was enough to visit the ‘Alley of Angels‘ (where children killed by the nazis are buried) in Donetsk, and just visit Donbass.

We were very late with the moral necessity…

Well, the strategic need to protect the Russian population of the former Ukraine was already obvious from the mid-1990s – when the Anglo-Saxons began to create the aggressive nazi project ‘Ukraine = Anti-Russia’ in the original territories of historical Russia (Novorossiya, Malorossiya, Slobozhanshchina).

In previous decades, the Russian authorities tried to cover the flames of this man-made fire with multi-billion dollar loans, extinguish them with free gas, and fill them with cheap oil. But the fire of Nazism and Russophobia from this flared up in the south-western outskirts of Russia all the brighter and more terrible.

There is another need – cultural, historical, civilisational, if you will.

After all, war was declared on Russia precisely as a civilisation – and this means, first of all, war was declared on the Russian world, on the Russian Orthodox Church. Over the past year, more than 15 million Russian books have been burned in the former Ukraine, hundreds of monuments of Russian culture have been demolished, hundreds of churches have been taken away from believers, the Kiev Pechersk Lavra and other holy places of Russia have been desecrated.

If Russia is not just a place of residence and earning money for us, but an original Civilisation and Fatherland (the land of our fathers, where we live according to the precepts of our fathers), then it is our duty to protect our Civilisation, our way of life.”

Tell us, since what day were you in the area of the special operation? How were you trained before being sent to the SMO?

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“I first got into the free zone in March 2022, after which I spent more than two months there intermittently as a military enlistment officer and volunteer.

Help for the frontline ‘A ‘loaf’ for Donbass’ project, which we organised with the poet Igor Panin, required almost monthly business trips to the war zone.

Well, since the New Year 2023, I have already volunteered directly to the active unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

What division are you in and what are your responsibilities?

“I am a member of a special-purpose volunteer detachment, I hold the position of deputy commander of the detachment for political work, my direct duties include working with personnel, working with the media, and information security of the unit.”

What combat missions did you take part in that turned out to be the most difficult and dangerous for you?

“Now our unit, which already has experience of successful combat operations in the free defence zone, is being re-equipped, theoretical and practical training of replenishment is being carried out for the conditions of the current war and the features of the upcoming theatre of operations, combat coordination.

Therefore, I can only talk about past business trips as a military enlistment officer and volunteer. Well, there the hottest places were near Kharkov in the spring of 2022, there were (and, alas, still remain) hot sections of the front near Gorlovka: Zaitsevo, Novobakhmutovka, Mayorsk, Izotov Mine – areas where the famous Third Gorlovka Guards Brigade (now 132nd brigade of the 1st Army Corps of the Southern Military District of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) operates. Plus, of course, the same suburbs of Donetsk – Spartak, Veseloye… It’s always loud.”

Aleksey, do you manage to write in the SMO zone? You manage to collect material for future literary works?

“Alas, if someone is looking for inspiration in the war – I can disappoint: inspiration overcomes (sometimes even knocks down) most often those who storm the shot glasses in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and not those who storm the fortifications of the nazis…

War – if you came not to watch, but for real: this is work. And it should be done well, with full dedication, in our current situation – at the limit of our strength.

I’ve only written five or six poems in my entire career, no more…”

What events that you encountered during the special operation could form the basis of your future work?

“In war, as elsewhere, I am primarily interested in people. People and everything connected with them. These are my compatriots, my peers, who live a different, more meaningful, though often shorter life here than in the rear.”

Can we say that events on the territory of Ukraine are now developing on a larger scale than in other hot spots?

“Its scale has long surpassed all the armed conflicts that occurred after the Second World War: Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq…

The front line is more than 1,000 kilometres long, the massive use of armoured vehicles and aircraft on both sides, the amount of ammunition of all types used daily is most likely close to the same numbers for the Great Patriotic War. Well, the number of losses both on our side and on the side of the nazis during the year of hostilities is incomparable with the colonial wars of the West in recent decades…”

Are there many volunteers among the participants of the special operation? These are usually mature people?

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“More than half of the Russian volunteers are 40+ people. Which, of course, is very good, because they are mostly trained soldiers, and many of them have more than one military conflict behind them. They are motivated and understand what they are fighting for and with whom.

Political information among them does not need to be carried out from the word at all. All come from the USSR. It’s just that now, through their own experience, people of my and older generations have become convinced that all the cliches of the Soviet agitprop (as they seemed to be in their youth) they turned out to be absolutely accurate and correct: there is Uncle Sam and his Western European sixes (the so – called ‘Big Seven’), there are new mutts from Eastern Europe who have joined NATO, and there are, finally, remnants of Banderism in Ukraine – all exactly according to Soviet cartoons from the Cold War.

I can also share another observation, or rather a reflection. Among the volunteers, there are a lot of people who still have a vague sense of an unfulfilled oath (those who swore to defend the USSR), who did not stand up for their country in 1991-93.They were deceived, disoriented.

And today they are paying their debt. Because there were no illusions left: behind the smiling and cloudless face of overseas democracy lurked the snarling jaws of Nazism and Russophobia.

Instead of human faces, pig faces suddenly appeared. All according to Gogol.”

What tasks do volunteers perform in the SMO zone? Do they have enough combat and physical training?

“The tasks that volunteers perform in the SMO zone are very different – from mopping up and assault operations to actions as part of the saboteur-reconnaissance groups in the operational rear and on the communications of the nazis. Given that there are many experienced soldiers with unique military specialties and serious combat experience among the volunteers, they mostly fight with their heads, not with their feet. However, 40/50-year-old men (if they lived a normal life, did not drink and did not grow beer bellies) are in quite good physical shape. We practiced both full-combat mountain climbing and other elements of physical training – I didn’t see any suffocating or crying people.”

Who now is being fought more – Ukrainian volunteers or nazi mercenaries?

“According to what I know from direct participants in the clashes – on different parts of the front, according to radio interceptions, from 30 to 40% are foreign speech. English, Polish, Romanian speech, from the exotic-Arabic and Latin American…”

Do we have enough technical equipment, such as quadrocopters and thermal imagers, to resist the enemy?

“Both thermal imagers and drones of various types (and vehicles on the front line) are just consumables in the current war. This should be understood. Therefore, they should be delivered to the troops en masse, like sleeping bags and thermal underwear.

The recent Karabakh conflict has already sufficiently demonstrated everything (for those who should have drawn conclusions).

I still can’t say that we have mass deliveries of quadrocopters and thermal imagers to the troops. Because it was necessary to organise mass production of all this yesterday. If not the day before yesterday.

With the beginning of the SMO, the problem was largely sorted by volunteers (I delivered stuff myself, starting in March 2022). Now, I hope, the state will also be involved…

As for providing volunteers, a lot is decided by the unit commander – at the level of personal connections, working with volunteers, sponsors, etc.

However, it has always been so. As is said: an apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

How successful is the practice of using small unmanned aircraft in Donbass by Russian military personnel? How do drones change the course of their air defence?

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“Drones have changed the nature of war very seriously. In any case, in intelligence operations: now both enemy surveillance, target identification, and fire correction are carried out using drones. That is, the work of intelligence groups in the operational rear of the enemy has not exactly stopped, but has changed significantly.

Again – to carry out sabotage today, it is not necessary to drag a charge across the front line, it is enough to aim a kamikaze drone.

Let’s just say that the ability to detect the enemy has significantly increased (including at night).

The means of covert approach to the enemy and disguise change accordingly.

But no Wunderwaffe will change the main thing: victory on the battlefield is determined by the infantry, which means the moral and strong-willed qualities of a warrior. As it is said in the classic Russian film: on the ruins of the Reichstag, private infantry Vanya will be the first to write. And rightly so.”

Aleksey, what do the SMO fighters lack the most right now?

“I think that all of us (not just soldiers) today lack a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the special operation, there is not enough competent information agenda – many media outlets still seem to work ‘for our people’, but by and large – a discordant choir.

Until now, some, to put it mildly, not quite competent correspondents (and editors) in the central media and Telegram channels write about some ‘Ukrainian nationalists’, not understanding the difference between nationalism and Nazism. I’m tired of explaining that nationalists love their own people, and Nazis hate others. It’s not the same thing.

For example, Russian President Vladimir Putin, as you may recall, called himself a ‘Russian nationalist’. But – in the good sense of the word.”

Do the participants of the special operation need spiritual support? And how many volunteer priests are currently at the front?

“The priest at the front is still quite a rare phenomenon, the institution of regimental priests in the army has not yet been revived. Although there are already, alas, priests who died in the performance of their duty…

But mostly, as far as I know, soldiers and commanders go to frontline churches, where there is an opportunity…

As for spiritual, or rather moral and political support, I still think that the recently revived Main Military-Political Directorate should play a more serious role in supporting the fighters. And I’ll explain why.

Our enemy (a former ‘potential enemy’ who is now openly fighting against us in Ukraine) has long been operating centres for information and psychological operations in the Pentagon structure, and now a cognitive warfare department is being created. You know, cognitive!

That is, a war on the level of meanings, a civilisational war! This includes analysing the current situation, media content from AI, working in social networks, creating memes, tracking trends, and launching disinformation and fakes. And all this is centralised – using all the philosophical, psychological, and cultural apparatus available to them at the moment. Against us.

Therefore, you will hardly be surprised when, in answer to your question about priests at war, I say: the ongoing war against us is not just a war against a civilisation different from the West, but rather a war against the Orthodox, Christian civilisation, perhaps the last one.

And this is understood by more and more people today. At the front, too.”

* Recently, Aleksey Alekseyevich Shorokhov was awarded the medal of the Ministry of Defence “For achievements in military-political work”.

Aleksandr Zosimov

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