Ukraine Update: Interview with Luke Harding

WEDNESDAY 26 OCTOBER 2022

UKRAINE UPDATE, Ukraine World Podcast with journalist Luke Harding

  • Harding’s new book:
  • https://www.amazon.com/Invasion-Inside-Russias-Ukraines-Survival-ebook/dp/B0BBC4TLH9/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1E75BPYEFB38U&keywords=luke+harding&qid=1666903129&qu=eyJxc2MiOiI0LjAyIiwicXNhIjoiMy44NCIsInFzcCI6IjMuNDUifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=luke+hard%2Caps%2C551&sr=8-1
  • WEDNESDAY 26 OCTOBER 2022
  • UKRAINE UPDATE, Ukraine World Podcast with journalist Luke Harding
  • Harding’s new book:
  • https://www.amazon.com/Invasion-Inside-Russias-Ukraines-Survival-ebook/dp/B0BBC4TLH9/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1E75BPYEFB38U&keywords=luke+harding&qid=1666903129&qu=eyJxc2MiOiI0LjAyIiwicXNhIjoiMy44NCIsInFzcCI6IjMuNDUifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=luke+hard%2Caps%2C551&sr=8-1
  •  
  • Harding was removed from Russia for covering what were considered controversial subjects such as how much money Russian president Vladimir Putin has, or the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, or the war in Chechnya.  
  • Harding describes the invasion and war against Ukraine as a  19th century imperial war of conquest.  “It is,” Harding maintains, “Vladimir Putin’s war.” 
  • The following are notes on Harding’s comments.
  • What started as an aggressive war has now been presented to the world as a defensive war, a war to protect Russian territory from Ukraine and from the West.
  • There is an “incoherency” in this war effort which is partly why it is failing.
  • Russia, under Putin, is a “mafia state.” 
  • Review of Harding’s book “Mafia State.”
  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/21/mafia-state-luke-harding-review
  •  
  • Podcast Host: It’s not just Putin, it’s Russians who have invaded and perpetrated so much violence.
  • Harding references a book “The Captive Mind.”  And says that what we have in Russia is a captive mind.  
  •  
  • Russian television perpetrates the idea that Ukrainians are Nazis, not people,  or American puppets, or vassals.  They are portrayed as sub-human.  Much of the population consumes this propaganda every day.  And this propaganda works.  It works in Russia and elsewhere.
  • Harding: “The Russians are bad at many things, but they are good at propaganda.”  They are good at information.
  • Putin doesn’t believe in anything.  He is a supreme nihilist.  He is probably the world’s foremost exponent of nihilism.  He doesn’t believe in truth. 
  • People in the street repeat what they have seen on Russian television when you ask them what they think about Ukraine. 
  • One of the problems is the vast difference between what is actually happening in Ukraine and what the Russian media puts out.    
  • Host: Do you see a way out of this?  We don’t see much of a hope.  There have been many protests, revolutions and movements in Russia.  While they make some change, there is no fundamental change. 
  • Harding: There are brief “anarchist moments of democracy” where you think there is a chance for a change.  Then there’s a really concerted counter revolution.  And, authoritarianism is restored.  The only common theme is that Russia will always remain a great power.
  • (Note: Facebook is banned in Russia.)
  • We have seen brave people in Russia: Navalny, for example, and journalists investigating Russian money.  There are principled, educated, moral people who want a better future.  But, they are dealing with an extremely repressive police state.  It’s very hard to oppose that state.
  • Popular protest is very hard.  The forces in civil society are very weak. 
  • Aside from popular protest, there is the theoretical possibility of a coup. 
  • But, Harding calls the notion of a coup, a “unicorn.”  The most likely scenario is for Putin to exit “horizontally.  The way he dies is up for grabs.  And we don’t know when this will happen.  Things are not going well for Putin in the war.
  • “I don’t see a palace coup scenario.”  Says Harding.
  • Harding references “The Death of Stalin”, a film.  He says that we all think it will be like the movie, but that is unlikely.
  • “It’s not just that they are gangsters. (the Kremlin)  They are provincial gangsters…They are small petty stupid vicious nasty, uneducated gangsters who have seized the state.”
  • Harding references the book: Nothing is real, Peter Koramansov, who writes about Ukraine.  “It’s all a play.”  The parliament, politics.  These things exist in Russia, but they are not real.  (That soon will be the situation in this country.)
  • Remembering that it is a mafia state, explains so much about what Russia is doing.
  • Civil society in Russia has been violently suppressed.  At one time there was a vibrant civil society, but many of the people who were part of that vibrant society have left.  Gary Kasparov, for example. 
  • Harding notes video “Explainers” on the Guardian website.
  • https://www.theguardian.com/tone/explainers+world/ukraine
  •  
  • We are near the end.  “This is the end of Putin.”  How that happens, when that happens, I don’t know.  My feeling is that we are towards the end.
  •  
  • Host: Russia is not a nation state.  It is an empire with lots of ethnicities inside it.  Can these ethnicities challenge the central power?
  • The various ethnic powers are still too weak. 
  • Harding mentions the author, Victor Suvorov.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Suvorov
  • Suvorov wrote a series of books about his own experience inside the intelligence services of Russia.  He has defected now.  He describes Russia as having a sort of cancer.  He thinks that the state will collapse and divide into all these separate ethnicities.  But, Harding feels, these national minorities are too weak.
  • The Chechen wars were not that long ago and the Chechens paid a terrible price for their effort.  It’s a warning to others trying the same thing.
  •  
  • Host: This is one of the reasons Putin hates Lenin.  Under Lenin, the separate ethnicities were considered free to develop their cultures.  This was a time that was much less totalitarian.
  • Harding agrees.  Putin “has been reviving the classical Russia imperial thinking of the 1820s and 1830s.” 
  • Putin hates Lenin.  But in occupied territories they put up statues of Lenin.  This demonstrates that there is no ideological consistency, which refers back to the mafia issue.   “There is no coherent ideological project here from Putin.  It is just a messianic desire…to go down in history as Ivan the Terrible, or Peter the Great, or Stalin…”
  • Instead, Putin will go down in history as a “sociopathic adventurer.”  He will “lose everything.”
  • Harding’s book: “Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival.”
  • It’s the first book reported from the front lines.  In Autumn of 2021, Harding was convinced there was going to be an invasion, unlike many others.  Harding says, always bet on the really terrible path, that is what Putin will do.
  • This is a new age.  “The Germans have abandoned pacifism.”  “It is a transformational moment.”
  •  
  • Host: When talking to Ukrainians I see ordinary people become heroic. 
  • Harding: In Ukraine people did what they could, students made bombs, not because anybody told them to.  In Russia, everything is from the top down.  People are compelled to join the military.
  • There is an intellectual tradition of self-government in Ukraine, the Cossacks, for example.  This is a totally different model from the Russians.  Ukraine is a super collective.  A “flourishing of civil society…horizontally bonded society…(and it) will win.”
  • Host: What has the West misunderstood?
  • Harding: I can think of about 300 things. 
  • For one, the nature of the Putin regime.  This has been a real problem in terms of Western policy.  For too long, there was a naïve belief that Putin could be accommodated.  There was a feeling that you could arrive at some mutual space, reach a deal, an agreement with Putin.  The last 20 years tells us that Putin has never been interested in a mutual solution.  And, for Putin, everything is zero-sum: What is good for America is bad for Russia.
  • It’s “fuckyouism.” Putin just wants to fuck everything up.
  • For example, the pipeline explosions.  It’s clear that the Russians did it and that it was meant to send a message to the Europeans.  Policy makers have finally wound up, after so much – assassinations, the dismantling of civil society in Russia, the Georgia war, 2014.  And after all this we have gone back to containment.  You cannot sit down with Putin and make an agreement.  He will lie and cheat and break it.  That’s how he sees practical politics.
  • “Russia is a spoiler…a dangerous player in world affairs…the only way to contain Russia, I’m afraid, is with military force.”
  • “Putin is a coward…terrified about his own personal security…(an example is the) long table…(he is) terrified of death, his personal extinction.”  He feels that he was sent by God to do great things. 
  • Biden has promised huge consequences for nuclear strike, and Putin’s fear would be extermination.  Strangely enough, if he thinks the Americans are going to try to kill him, it might save us.
  • “The Kremlin does increasingly resemble a Doomsday cult.”
  • If we are talking about restoring all of the territory, including Crimea and neutralizing Russia, that’s quite a big ask.  If Ukraine surviving as a sovereign state on a Westward trajectory, Ukraine has already won.
  • There is the hope that “tyranny will not prevail.”
  •  
  • Harding was removed from Russia for covering what were considered controversial subjects such as how much money Russian president Vladimir Putin has, or the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, or the war in Chechnya.  
  • Harding describes the invasion and war against Ukraine as a  19th century imperial war of conquest.  “It is,” Harding maintains, “Vladimir Putin’s war.” 
  • The following are notes on Harding’s comments.
  • What started as an aggressive war has now been presented to the world as a defensive war, a war to protect Russian territory from Ukraine and from the West.
  • There is an “incoherency” in this war effort which is partly why it is failing.
  • Russia, under Putin, is a “mafia state.” 
  • Review of Harding’s book “Mafia State.”
  • https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/21/mafia-state-luke-harding-review
  •  
  • Podcast Host: It’s not just Putin, it’s Russians who have invaded and perpetrated so much violence.
  • Harding references a book “The Captive Mind.”  And says that what we have in Russia is a captive mind.  
  •  
  • Russian television perpetrates the idea that Ukrainians are Nazis, not people,  or American puppets, or vassals.  They are portrayed as sub-human.  Much of the population consumes this propaganda every day.  And this propaganda works.  It works in Russia and elsewhere.
  • Harding: “The Russians are bad at many things, but they are good at propaganda.”  They are good at information.
  • Putin doesn’t believe in anything.  He is a supreme nihilist.  He is probably the world’s foremost exponent of nihilism.  He doesn’t believe in truth. 
  • People in the street repeat what they have seen on Russian television when you ask them what they think about Ukraine. 
  • One of the problems is the vast difference between what is actually happening in Ukraine and what the Russian media puts out.    
  • Host: Do you see a way out of this?  We don’t see much of a hope.  There have been many protests, revolutions and movements in Russia.  While they make some change, there is no fundamental change. 
  • Harding: There are brief “anarchist moments of democracy” where you think there is a chance for a change.  Then there’s a really concerted counter revolution.  And, authoritarianism is restored.  The only common theme is that Russia will always remain a great power.
  • (Note: Facebook is banned in Russia.)
  • We have seen brave people in Russia: Navalny, for example, and journalists investigating Russian money.  There are principled, educated, moral people who want a better future.  But, they are dealing with an extremely repressive police state.  It’s very hard to oppose that state.
  • Popular protest is very hard.  The forces in civil society are very weak. 
  • Aside from popular protest, there is the theoretical possibility of a coup. 
  • But, Harding calls the notion of a coup, a “unicorn.”  The most likely scenario is for Putin to exit “horizontally.  The way he dies is up for grabs.  And we don’t know when this will happen.  Things are not going well for Putin in the war.
  • “I don’t see a palace coup scenario.”  Says Harding.
  • Harding references “The Death of Stalin”, a film.  He says that we all think it will be like the movie, but that is unlikely.
  • “It’s not just that they are gangsters. (the Kremlin)  They are provincial gangsters…They are small petty stupid vicious nasty, uneducated gangsters who have seized the state.”
  • Harding references the book: Nothing is real, Peter Koramansov, who writes about Ukraine.  “It’s all a play.”  The parliament, politics.  These things exist in Russia, but they are not real.  (That soon will be the situation in this country.)
  • Remembering that it is a mafia state, explains so much about what Russia is doing.
  • Civil society in Russia has been violently suppressed.  At one time there was a vibrant civil society, but many of the people who were part of that vibrant society have left.  Gary Kasparov, for example. 
  • Harding notes video “Explainers” on the Guardian website.
  • https://www.theguardian.com/tone/explainers+world/ukraine
  •  
  • We are near the end.  “This is the end of Putin.”  How that happens, when that happens, I don’t know.  My feeling is that we are towards the end.
  •  
  • Host: Russia is not a nation state.  It is an empire with lots of ethnicities inside it.  Can these ethnicities challenge the central power?
  • The various ethnic powers are still too weak. 
  • Harding mentions the author, Victor Suvorov.
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Suvorov
  • Suvorov wrote a series of books about his own experience inside the intelligence services of Russia.  He has defected now.  He describes Russia as having a sort of cancer.  He thinks that the state will collapse and divide into all these separate ethnicities.  But, Harding feels, these national minorities are too weak.
  • The Chechen wars were not that long ago and the Chechens paid a terrible price for their effort.  It’s a warning to others trying the same thing.
  •  
  • Host: This is one of the reasons Putin hates Lenin.  Under Lenin, the separate ethnicities were considered free to develop their cultures.  This was a time that was much less totalitarian.
  • Harding agrees.  Putin “has been reviving the classical Russia imperial thinking of the 1820s and 1830s.” 
  • Putin hates Lenin.  But in occupied territories they put up statues of Lenin.  This demonstrates that there is no ideological consistency, which refers back to the mafia issue.   “There is no coherent ideological project here from Putin.  It is just a messianic desire…to go down in history as Ivan the Terrible, or Peter the Great, or Stalin…”
  • Instead, Putin will go down in history as a “sociopathic adventurer.”  He will “lose everything.”
  • Harding’s book: “Invasion: The Inside Story of Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival.”
  • It’s the first book reported from the front lines.  In Autumn of 2021, Harding was convinced there was going to be an invasion, unlike many others.  Harding says, always bet on the really terrible path, that is what Putin will do.
  • This is a new age.  “The Germans have abandoned pacifism.”  “It is a transformational moment.”
  •  
  • Host: When talking to Ukrainians I see ordinary people become heroic. 
  • Harding: In Ukraine people did what they could, students made bombs, not because anybody told them to.  In Russia, everything is from the top down.  People are compelled to join the military.
  • There is an intellectual tradition of self-government in Ukraine, the Cossacks, for example.  This is a totally different model from the Russians.  Ukraine is a super collective.  A “flourishing of civil society…horizontally bonded society…(and it) will win.”
  • Host: What has the West misunderstood?
  • Harding: I can think of about 300 things. 
  • For one, the nature of the Putin regime.  This has been a real problem in terms of Western policy.  For too long, there was a naïve belief that Putin could be accommodated.  There was a feeling that you could arrive at some mutual space, reach a deal, an agreement with Putin.  The last 20 years tells us that Putin has never been interested in a mutual solution.  And, for Putin, everything is zero-sum: What is good for America is bad for Russia.
  • It’s “fuckyouism.” Putin just wants to fuck everything up.
  • For example, the pipeline explosions.  It’s clear that the Russians did it and that it was meant to send a message to the Europeans.  Policy makers have finally wound up, after so much – assassinations, the dismantling of civil society in Russia, the Georgia war, 2014.  And after all this we have gone back to containment.  You cannot sit down with Putin and make an agreement.  He will lie and cheat and break it.  That’s how he sees practical politics.
  • “Russia is a spoiler…a dangerous player in world affairs…the only way to contain Russia, I’m afraid, is with military force.”
  • “Putin is a coward…terrified about his own personal security…(an example is the) long table…(he is) terrified of death, his personal extinction.”  He feels that he was sent by God to do great things. 
  • Biden has promised huge consequences for nuclear strike, and Putin’s fear would be extermination.  Strangely enough, if he thinks the Americans are going to try to kill him, it might save us.
  • “The Kremlin does increasingly resemble a Doomsday cult.”
  • If we are talking about restoring all of the territory, including Crimea and neutralizing Russia, that’s quite a big ask.  If Ukraine surviving as a sovereign state on a Westward trajectory, Ukraine has already won.
  • There is the hope that “tyranny will not prevail.”
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