The 2022 year came to an end. A year that will be marked in the history of the world with the title of “Year of War”. During this year, both here in Lithuania and in the West, there have been many analyses of why Putin started this war, as well as many predictions of how this war will end and what its impact will be, both on Ukraine, on the West and on Russia itself.
Strangely enough, as the year draws to a close, I have to conclude that perhaps the most accurate analysis of the causes and consequences of this war was provided a month before the war, at the end of January 2022, by the retired Russian general Leonid Ivashov, who, in his famous statement of the Assembly of Russian Officers, warned in the strongest possible terms of the tragic consequences of the war, first and foremost, for Russia itself. The statement proved significant at the time in that it was radically opposed to the Kremlin’s planned war with Ukraine, considering that such a war could ultimately destroy Russian statehood. Alongside this, it also contained more extremely harsh and bitter criticism of Putin’s policies, both domestic and foreign, making it clear that such policies are simply detrimental to Russia. This is why, at the end of the statement, Putin’s resignation is also ultimately demanded.
It is worth pointing out that Ivashov is not some liberal who has consistently opposed Putin. Still, neither is he another Girkin, Rogozin or Prigozhin who criticises Putin for not crushing Ukraine and not restoring Novorossiya.
Colonel-General Ivashov is known as an orthodox Russian nationalist and is certainly no friend of the West. He was a high-ranking official in the Russian Ministry of Defence under Yeltsin (Chief of the Main Department of International Military Cooperation of the Russian Ministry of Defence (1996-2001)), who notoriously brought Russian troops into Pristina during the Yugoslav Wars against NATO opposition, and thus caused a great deal of confusion. He has been and continues to be an outspoken opponent of the enlargement of NATO to the East.
What prompted the almost 80-year-old general to make such a statement and who was behind it is difficult to say today. According to Wikipedia, Ivashov is a descendant of the famous Decembrist Ivashov; in 2001, he was dismissed early by Putin, along with many other officers, and he is currently a member of the famous ‘Izbor Club’, where, according to the Lithuanian analyst Marius Laurinavičius, all the most important Russian affairs are decided, including its geopolitical situation.
It is possible that all three reasons – nostalgia for the glory of the Decembrists (in the Russian Dekabrist), a personal dislike of Putin, who dismissed Ivashov from the high office, and, finally, an attitude established even before the war amongst the Izbor elite that Russia is structurally in a deep crisis – have led to the publication of such a statement, while at the same time warning of the tragic consequences of such a war on Russia itself.
It is worth noting that General Ivashov continues to comment on various YouTube channels on the progress of the war and remains consistent: Putin must leave office, and the Kremlin’s nuclear threats against the West are complete nonsense, as any attempt by Russia to use a nuclear weapon would result in the liquidation of the Russian state. Although General Ivashov has reached a respectable age and likes to digress into reminiscences, the overall understanding of the situation and the existential threats that the war has posed to Russia remains very clear and convincing.
That is why, finding some time in the inter-holiday period, I read carefully once again the statement issued by the Russian Officers’ Assembly on 26 January 2022, signed by General Leonid Ivashov. I was quite surprised at how accurate the analysis of Putin’s desire for war and the predictions of the tragedy of the war for Russia itself were at the time.
I have therefore decided to simply go through the statement again in detail, to look at the highlights, to add a few comments of my own, and to try to draw some conclusions about further scenarios in Russia itself from the Russian officers’ statement:
The statement starts with the assertion that the world is at risk of war (the statement was issued on 26th January, while the war started on 24th February). According to the authors of the statement, every major war is a tragedy and a grave crime. Russia is at the centre of this looming catastrophe, and this is the first time in history because, until then, Russia had been fighting defensive wars against threatening enemies. However, at the moment, there are no critical external threats to Russia that would justify war because the greatest threats to Russia are its internal threats.
The statement goes on to say that Russia is on the verge of historical extinction, with all the key vital spheres of the state, including demography, in a state of steady degradation and with population extinction rates breaking world records. That degradation has taken on a systemic character, and in any complex system, the collapse of one of the elements can lead to the collapse of the whole system.
And this, according to the authors of the statement, is the biggest threat to the Russian Federation. But it is an internal threat, the main causes of which are the model of the state, the quality of government and the state of society. This is what constitutes the main threat to Russia’s fate: the unviability of the state model, the complete incapacity and unprofessionalism of the government system and the ruling bureaucracy, and the disorganisation and passivity of society. According to the statement’s authors, any country would not survive in such a state for long.
One cannot disagree with this critical analysis of Russia’s current state of affairs. There is a lot of legitimate concern about Russia’s internal state, which threatens its continued existence. The only surprising thing is that Russian generals and military officers proclaim this. But there have been many cases in the history of the world where military officers have taken it upon themselves to save their country from those internal threats that they themselves were able to see.
The authors of the statement went on to say that the tension created by the Kremlin on the issue of Ukraine (the statement was issued a month before the outbreak of the war, when the Kremlin was actively and publicly raising the issue of Ukraine’s alleged threat) is artificial and self-serving because it is organized only for the benefit of some of the internal Russian political forces. According to the statement, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became an independent state, a member of the United Nations, with the right to individual and collective defence under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Until the beginning of 2022, the Kremlin authorities have claimed in all the Minsk talks that the Donbas belongs to Ukraine and have never mentioned in any international organisation (neither the UN nor the OSCE) that Ukraine is committing genocide against the population of the Donbas.
According to the authors of the statement, for Ukraine to remain Russia’s friendly neighbour, it was necessary for Russia to demonstrate the attractiveness of the Russian state model and system of government to Ukraine and other neighbours. However, Russia has not become so attractive. Its development model and the mechanisms of international cooperation used in its foreign policy is alienating practically all its neighbours, and not only them.
The fact that Russia has ‘acquired’ Crimea and Sevastopol and that this has not been recognised by the international community (which means that the majority of the world’s states continue to recognise that this is Ukraine’s ‘property’), the authors of the statement go on to say, is a clear proof that Russia’s foreign policy is a failure and that its domestic policy is unattractive. Attempts to make anyone ‘love’ the Russian Federation and its leaders by ultimatums or threats of force are utterly pointless and extremely dangerous.
The use of military force against Ukraine will, firstly, call into question the very existence of Russia as a state; secondly, it will turn Russians and Ukrainians into mortal enemies once and for all. And thirdly, there will be tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, and these will be young, healthy men in the first place. This will have an impact on the demography of both dying countries. On the battlefield, the Russian troops will not only have to deal with Ukrainian troops, many of whom will be Russian-speaking but will also have to deal with the troops and military equipment of many NATO countries.
Again, it is worth noting that the prediction of the course of the war made in this text was, and remains, remarkably accurate, especially when we consider it after 10 months of a tragic war. No naive insight that Kyiv would be captured in 3 days can be seen in this statement.
The authors of the statement go on to say that if Russia goes to war against Ukraine, it will be added to the list of states that threaten peace and international security, it will be subject to the most severe sanctions, it will become a pariah in the international community, and it will possibly lose its status as an independent state (! – a significant prophecy).
Again, one cannot help but wonder at the accuracy of such predictions about the consequences of war on Russia’s international status. It is worth noting that the authors of the statement consistently repeat themselves when talking about threats to the continued existence of the Russian state. These are both internal structural threats and the threat of criminal war planned by the Putin regime.
According to the authors of the statement, the President, the Government and the Ministry of Defence cannot be so blind as not to see these consequences because they are not stupid not to realise them. Therefore, according to the authors of the statement, the question arises as to what are the real objectives of the tensions that are being raised and of the possible large-scale hostilities (at least 100 000 troops are being mobilised on both sides).
The authors of the statement themselves answer the question they raise about the real reasons for the war by arguing that the country’s leadership, unable to lead the country out of a systemic crisis (which could lead to a popular uprising and a change of power) and supported by oligarchs and corrupt officials, as well as by the Kremlin-fed media and power structures, has decided to prioritize a political strategy that will ultimately destroy Russia’s statehood and decimate the local population. The war is how this will be achieved, with the sole aim of preserving the Kremlin’s elite’s anti-national power for a while longer and preserving the wealth they have seized from the people. As the authors of the statement say: we cannot offer any other explanation.
Again, surprisingly accurate analysis of the real reasons for the war: I myself have been saying the same thing all along: that Putin did not start the war because he felt he was very strong, but just the opposite – because he felt that the regime was weakening, that it was unable to resolve any of the country’s systemic problems, that the people’s allegiance to the regime was falling dramatically (as in Belarus in 2020), and that it, therefore, had to go to war. Just to “preserve their anti-national power for a while longer and to preserve the wealth they have seized from the people “.
And at the end of the statement, the authors explain that they, the Russian military officers, are demanding from the President of the country that he abandons his criminal policy of provoking a war in which Russia will find itself alone against the combined forces of the West, and they are also demanding that Putin step down in order to make it possible to put Article 3 of the Constitution into practice (“The bearer of sovereignty and the only source of power in the Russian Federation shall be its multinational people.”)
This was the statement issued almost a year ago by the Assembly of Russian Officers, the head of which is a descendant of Decembrist Ivashov. It is worth remembering that the Decembrists were Russian officers of the early 19th century who, in 1825, wanted the same kind of democratic changes in Russia as the Great French Revolution brought to Europe at that time.
It is worth summarising the main points of the statement in question:
– Neither Ukraine nor the West poses a security threat to Russia; Russia’s threats of war against Ukraine are therefore criminal;
– Russia’s greatest threat to its existence comes from its systemic internal crisis, especially its demographic crisis;
– the root cause of the internal crisis is a flawed state model, mismanagement by the Government and a passive society. In other words, the authoritarian model of the state is becoming the root cause of Russia’s crisis and a fundamental threat to its further existence;
– Russia has not developed either a model of governance that is attractive to others or a successful foreign policy. Attempts to ‘force’ others to ‘love’ Russia or its leaders are doomed to failure and are disastrous for Russia itself;
– the war will be disastrous for Russia itself in particular because the Russians will forever be mortal enemies of the Ukrainians, thousands of young men will perish, and Russia in Ukraine will have to fight not only the Ukrainians (including the Russian-speaking ones), but also the equipment and troops of the NATO countries;
– Russia faces the threat of total international isolation, crippling sanctions and even the loss of its status as an independent state;
– the war could completely destroy the Russian state and its nation; the only answer to why the Kremlin is initiating such a disastrous war is that the government has the sole aim of preserving its anti-national power for a while longer and of preserving the wealth that it has seized from the people;
- that is why not only an abandoning of the preparations of war is demanded, but also Putin’s immediate resignation, because that is the only way to avoid Russia’s ruin.
Now, almost a year after the start of the war, such insights and predictions are genuinely astonishing, not only in their accuracy but also in their civil courage. And, above all, behind all the words, there is a deep concern for the fate of Russia, not the imperial ‘hurrah-patriotism’ of Girkin or Prigozhin, but the concern of a genuine Russian patriot for the ‘Russian tragedy’. The same as in the patriotic declarations of the Decembrists in 1825.
One can only speculate why General Ivashov is still allowed to express his critical views in public when others are being mercilessly imprisoned for their far lesser criticisms of Putin and the war. Perhaps the Kremlin realises that putting the general in prison will only exacerbate his criticism and that a ‘general’ is traditionally more respected in Russian society than some ‘liberal oppositioner’.
Ultimately, it is not very important what role the same General Ivashov or the Russian Officers’ Assembly under his leadership currently play in Russian society. Such a statement, published almost a year ago, only demonstrates the fact that there is more to critical thinking in Russia than just what can be found in the liberal opposition to Putin. And most importantly, the brightest sprouts of that critical systemic thinking can be seen among the military and retired officers.
Can any far-reaching conclusions be drawn from this?
However, when many people nowadays consider how the change will come about in Russia after the defeat of the war, one hears all sorts of scenarios, sometimes even fantastical. For example, all the peoples once conquered by Russia will rise up: the Chukchi, the Chuvash, the Mordovians, the Yakuts, etc., the publicised plans to form armed Russian resistance groups in Ukraine and in Russia itself, which will, in due course somehow take over Moscow and overthrow Putin, seem equally unconvincing; it is also unlikely that a mass political movement for change in Russia can emerge in Russia and that such a movement will succeed in bringing about change in Russia through democratic means.
Of course, all these scenarios are theoretically possible, and a mixture of them is also possible. However, one should not forget the reasonably widespread historical experience of the military officers (not necessarily of the highest rank) taking the initiative to save their countries from ruin as they see it, using the organised force of at least part of the army, and often almost bloodlessly taking over the power of their country. There have been many cases of military officers taking power in this way and becoming bloody dictators. Still, there have also been many cases in the history of “smart military officers” taking power in this way and managing to stabilise a country, returning it to a normal path of development and creating the right conditions for the evolution of democracy in that country. I do not wish to expand on this topic. Still, for those who would like to read more academic research on the subject, I can only recommend once again S. Huntington’s excellent “The Third Wave: Democratisation in the Late Twentieth Century”.
I am not an expert on the Russian army or the prevailing views among its officers. Nor do I pretend to be. However, history shows that, quite often, officers feel a special sense of responsibility for the future of the country they are sworn to serve.
Whether there are any such officers in the Russian army, I do not presume to judge. But it is safe to say that there are some among the Russian reserve officers. That is why such a systematic statement of their Assembly was being born.
I cannot answer whether the intelligent officers of Russia will take the initiative to save Russia from ruin.
However, I cannot deny that there are intelligent people in Russia, either. This means that the time will come when the Russians start looking for ways to save Russia from the threats posed by the Putin regime. Otherwise, Russia is heading for certain doom. And that is not attractive to many Russians.
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