I’ve found a car to drive me around the front line this morning, and everything seems to be going to plan. There was no negotiation; I was quoted a fair price from the outset and the entire arrangement seems very straightforward. Some things in wartime Ukraine are easy and straightforward, and this so far appears to be one of them. I had a quick snooze on the bed after a hearty breakfast, and now I’m going out to do my new job: as a journalist, inspecting what the Russians have done to Ukraine’s cultural heritage out east in the Donbas with all their mortars and their rockets and all the rest. I’m also going to stop by in Sloviansk, to see the conditions under which the International Legion - the foreign soldiers fighting for the Ukrainian Armed Forces - are operating, because by all accounts they’re getting a terrible pounding.
These things ought to be reported upon, because they’re at the front line of the most villainous and dangerous war in Europe since the end of World War II and we need reportage of a high calibre to explain to the world what is really going on. It’s obvious that very few people get out here; it’s extremely remote and the dangers are perceived as being particularly high. Because I have been working along the front line for some months, and I have a lot of historical experience of Ukraine, particularly in her east and her south, I don’t feel particularly concerned or alarmed. I know that the military checkpoints we pass will be benign and friendly, and I know that life in wartime Ukraine is a far cry from the image often portrayed of it in the mainstream media. That’s why we set up the Lviv Herald, www.lvivherald.com, to tell the truth about what’s really going in Ukraine amidst the blitz of often misleading media coverage in which time and financially pressured journalists and under deadlines to produce copy, and they are looking for any scandal or dramatic event upon which to create an easy and credible report.
The approach of me and my colleagues is I hope more subtle, and involved objectively and impartially dissecting the facts of each event as it takes place in this infinitely complex and intransigent war that seems to have ground to a stalemate not just over the past two years but rather over the past ten years. I am increasingly convinced that it is contrived to look at this war just as a series of events beginning on 24 February 2022, the conventional date upon which it is imagined that Russia invaded Ukraine, but instead part of a continuum of shocking military escalations from political interference in Ukraine’s political culture that began back in 1999 when Russian President Vladimir Putin pre-selected himself for succession to Russia’s first post-independence President Boris Yeltsin, and then subsequently had Yeltsin murdered in Moscow’s Central Clinical Hospital. What’s been building up ever since then has been rule of Ukraine by FSB mafia state with an ever-increasing Russian military presence growing on Ukraine’s borders.
When Ukraine’s ruling classes - the Oligarchs - didn’t like what President Putin was doing to Ukraine and didn’t like the influence he was exerting over their colossal business enterprises, admittedly acquired through kleptocracy - and they exerted political resistance through Ukraine’s admittedly corrupted and purchased pseudo-democratic post-independence structures, then President Putin decided to overthrow them and replace them with his proxies and lackeys. Nowhere was this more the case than in the Donbas, where the industrial heartland of Ukraine, consisting of her coal and steel resources so important to the Soviet Union’s economic and military sustainability, had been divided up between two or three corrupt and criminal men, who ran these areas as their own. After the Maidan Revolution in 2014 overthrew an incompetent and widely reviled Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovich, President Putin decided to overthrow the relevant Ukrainian Oligarchs who had acquiesced in or even promoted the Maidan Revolution in Kyiv, and that is why he unleashed the Russian proxy forces we came to know as the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic. But these forces, make no mistake, were mere emanations of the Russian state, being equipped and financed by the Kremlin and initially operating under the Kremlin’s direct instructions.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces then had to mobilise for the first real time in the history of post-independence Ukraine, and fight these Moscow-backed insurgents. Amidst the chaos of that war, which never really came to a complete halt, Moscow lost full control over the Donbas separatists who imagined that they could act outside the Kremlin’s writ and also outside the Ukrainian Oligarchs’ writs as well. The net result of all that was that Mr Putin decided to have the key figures in the Donbas separatist movements murdered, which is his standard modus operandi in any situation in which he feels that people of power or influence are stepping out of line. Those events took place in 2017 / 2018, and from then on it was only a matter of time before there would be another Russian invasion of Ukraine to finish the work that the Donbas separatists had begun and then mucked up. They had tried to replace the Ukrainian Oligarchs in power and influence, rather than remain subservient to the will of Mr Putin, and therefore they too had to be replaced. And that is, in large part, what the second Russian invasion of Ukraine, beginning in late February 2022, is really all about.
This second Russian invasion of Ukraine is as much about removing all traces of the original Donbas separatists and purging Russian-occupied territory of forces without total loyalty to and control by the Kremlin. In my mind, a lot of the events we have seen since 24 February 2022 have been a distraction; this was the real purpose of it all, which is why Russia formally annexed the occupied territories in a grand ceremony amidst much fanfare in Moscow. The rest is mere death, and now Moscow is manoeuvring diplomatically and politically to cement its territorial acquisitions in Ukraine. One of the things Russia needs to do if she is to succeed is to undermine the international presence in the Donbas, in the form of the International Legion, and that is why I am going to do my best today to try to find out what is going on in and around Sloviansk. I don’t know whether anyone will talk to me. I have brought the accreditation papers, so let’s see whether people are too suspicious or whether they will open up. I’ll be sure to let you know; you’ll read my report right here.