Yevgeny Messner (1891-1974), last chief of staff of the Kornilov Division of Baron Wrangel’s White Russian Army and later a member of the Russian Liberation Army during World War II, wrote the book that forms the basis for what is now known as Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid war” strategy.
That book, Mutiny – the Name of the Third World War (in Russian, Buenos Aires, 1960), and his other writings as an émigré military theorist, Aleksandr Zelenko, who served as a KGB psychoanalyst and now works at Kyiv’s Shevchenko National University, says, had a major influence on Soviet military thinking from the 1980s.
If anything, Messner’s influence has even grown since then and is now a core element of Vladimir Putin’s approach, Zelenko argues. (On Messner’s influence, see If You Want Peace, Win the Mutiny War! The Creative Inheritance of Ye.E. Messner (in Russian, Moscow: Voyenny universitet, 2005, 696 pp.; reviewed here).
Zelenko says that when he was at the KGB, he helped develop the application of Messner’s ideas and their extension to various networks subordinate to each other in a matryoshka-doll fashion. He suggests as well that Moscow could apply them not just in Ukraine but rather “at any point up to Gibraltar.”
According to the psychoanalyst, there are currently between 4,000 and 7,000 Russian informers in Kyiv and up to 5,000 armed platforms. He added that at present there are in Kyiv alone “about 18,000 militants prepared to create a [pro-Moscow] ‘Kyiv Republic’” as a means of undermining Ukraine’s independence.
Moscow has not exploited this resource, Zelenko suggests, because it doesn’t have enough resources inside Russia to exploit the situation. It thus has gone slower than it might have in Ukraine because of its troubles at home, even though it had laid the groundwork for much more dramatic moves.
One has to recognize, he continues, that in the Donbas, in every district,”there was a Russian agent” whose primary task was to recruit 50 people to serve the pro-Moscow cause. Kyiv, he says, knew all about this because Ukrainian border guards were being corrupted to allow Russian agents to pass easily into Ukraine.
Asked by his interviewer Tatyana Zarovaya why Russians are not “ashamed” to seize the territory of others, Zelenko says that because they lack any real ownership of property, they project that situation on others: “If I do not have property, then you can’t either. Therefore, Putin didn’t ‘steal’ Crimea from you; he ‘took’ it.”
Russians are people of the Horde, he says. They are “the product of evolution of a particular type.” Western civilization is based on the right to life, freedom and property, and law is their instrument. For the Russians as a people of the Horde, “law has no importance and the word of the strong and the master is above everything else.”
The people of the Donbas have a similar psychological type, he says, one that respects the strong and feels that those who talk about justice are weak and do not deserve any respect. “For peoples of the Horde, a neighbor can be either an enemy not yet suppressed or a slave.”
“Parity for them is impossible, equal rights for Horde types means something undefined.” And that is why, Zelenko continues, that “the very best tsar from the point of view of Russians is he who oppresses them: Ivan the Terrible, Stalin … [and now] Putin.” Opposing such rulers for such people is “madness,” as is viewing any ruler as the servant of the people.
Many in Ukraine and the West do not recognize this divide between them and the Horde peoples, but the latter do very clearly and even proudly, Zelenko says. In the lead up to the Donbas violence, some there even talked about the people of that region as being of a distinct anthropological type.
And if Ukraine reabsorbs the Donbas, it will have to deal directly with “the bearers of an alien mental system and an alien psychological type.” And right now this will be especially difficult because the Donbas people think that they have won: “Ukraine is withdrawing first, asked for peace first, and is conducting itself as the losing side.”
Only when they discover that this is not the case and that they are not wanted or needed by Russia with which they have identified will there be a chance, he suggests.
Meanwhile, Ukrainians need to unite as a nation. At present, “we have a feudal state, and nations like political parties arose under capitalism.” The only way forward is to recover what Ukraine lost in 1654 and overcome the sense of “incompleteness” that has infected Ukrainian thinking ever since. There is hope this can happen, but there is much to be done.
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