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A Russian General Agrees with Joe Biden: The War in Ukraine Is an Historic Mistake

TOS-1A from the Russian Military.

A Russian General Agrees with the US President: One month before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, a retired Russian general condemned the imminent war in much the same terms as President Joe Biden. Both the general and US. President have called on President Vladimir Putin to step down. War against Ukraine, the general wrote, is an unnecessary and criminal act that will harm the Russian people and their country. Biden now calls Putin a war criminal.

Leonid Grigoryevich Ivashov, age 78, is a retired colonel general who heads the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly. On January 31 Ivashov posted a statement by the Assembly on its website. It began: “Today humanity expects war—which means the inevitable loss of life, wide-scale destruction, the suffering of large masses of people, an end to daily habits of life, and to the life support systems of states and peoples. A major war is a huge tragedy—a serious crime for which someone is responsible.” The scale of the coming war, Ivashov warned, was evident in the number and combat formations of troops formed by the parties—more than one hundred thousand servicemen on each side. Russia, leaving naked its eastern borders, was throwing units to the borders of Ukraine.

Compelled by Putin to retire in 2001, Ivashov for years served as president of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies. He also contributed to a book on geopolitics that called for Russia to defeat the United States and retake control of Eurasia using every kind of combat. In 2022, however, his manifesto declares: “For the first time in history. Russia is at the center of this impending catastrophe. Before, Russia and the USSR fought only just wars–when there was no other way to protect its vital interests.” He seems to forget his own role in putting down Czechoslovak reformers in 1968 and sending paratroopers into Pristina in 1999. He also supported Russia’s military intervention in Syria—necessary, he told Russia’s Channel One viewers in October 2016, to prevent construction of a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would bring disaster to Gazprom and the Russian Federation’s budget. (On March 23, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised Qatar as a reliable supplier of gas and urged it to step up exports to   reduce Europe dependence on Russia.)

What threatens Russia today? Ivashov says that the country is on the brink of dying–for internal reasons. “All important spheres including demographic are degrading. The rate of extinction is breaking world records. Degradation is systemic. As in every complex system, the failure of any one element can lead to the collapse of the entire network.”

Why did Russia provoke [provotsirovaniia] tensions to rise to war? “The frenzy whipped up around Ukraine is artificial and mercenary [korystnyi] for some internal forces,” Ivashov says-implying some forms of corruption and military-industrial collusion.  Ivashov states that the real danger for Russia is not NATO or the West but “the unviability of the state model, the complete incapacity and lack of professionalism of the system of power and administration, the passivity and disorganization of society.” Under these conditions “no country survives for long.” Putin risks “the final destruction of Russian statehood and the extermination of the indigenous population of the country ”

Yes, there are also external threats, but they are “not now critical and do not directly threaten Russian statehood or vital interests. Strategic stability is being maintained; nuclear weapons are under reliable control; NATO forces are not building up or showing threatening activity.”

Ivashov defends Ukraine’s right to individual and collective self-defense, as stipulated by  UN Charter Article 51. “As a result of the collapse of the USSR, in which Russia (Yeltsin) took a decisive part, Ukraine became an independent state, a member of the United Nations.” The professor of geopolitics seems not to recall that Ukraine and Belarus, thanks to Stalin’s insistence, became founding members of the United Nations in 1945.

The Kremlin on February 28, 2022, recognized the independence of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, but had not yet done so when Ivashov posted his statement, which claimed that Moscow regarded these territories as integral parts of Ukraine. The fact that most of the international community refuses to recognize Russia’s acquisition of Crimea and Sevastopol, said Ivashov, demonstrates the failure of Russian policy. He added that “ultimatums and threats of force to compel others to like [poliubit’] Russia is senseless and dangerous.” To have Ukraine remain a friendly neighbor, Ivashov writes, Russia needed to show the attractiveness of the Russian model. Ivashov notes that neither the UN nor the OSCE has backed Kremlin claims that Ukraine has perpetrated genocide in its southeast.

Ivashov asserts that the use of military force against Ukraine will jeopardize Russian statehood and forever make Russians and Ukrainians mortal enemies. Tens of thousands of young men on each side will die, worsening the future demographics in our dying countries [-.02% population growth in Russia, -.06% in Ukraine]. Russian troops will face not only Ukrainian soldiers, among whom will be many Russian lads, but also military personnel and equipment from many NATO countries. Oversimplifying reality, the professor and retired general warns that NATO members will be obliged to declare war on Russia. Adding another fantasy, Ivashov says that Turkish president Erdogan will dispatch two field armies and ships to liberate ‘Crimea and Sevastopol and possibly invade the Caucasus.”

But Ivashov correctly predicts other results of the Ukraine war. “Russia will definitely be included in the category of countries that threaten peace and international security, will be subject to the heaviest sanctions, will turn into a pariah of the world community…..Russia’s president and the government, the Ministry of Defense cannot fail to understand such consequences, they are not so stupid.”

The officers’ statement ends by demanding  the President of the Russian Federation reject the “criminal policy of provoking a war in which Russia would find itself alone against the united forces of the West.” The officers demand the president resign according to Article 3 of the 1993 Russian Constitution. Its provisions, however, are vague and contradictory. The article provides that “the people of the Russian Federation shall exercise their power directly, and also through organs of state power and local self-government. The referendum and free elections shall be the supreme direct manifestation of the power of the people. No one may arrogate to oneself power in the Russian Federation.”

Ivashov’s officers appeal to all military personnel whether in the reserve or retired and to all Russian citizens to support the demands of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, to actively oppose war and war propaganda, and to prevent an internal civil conflict with the use of military force. How weighty are the views of the officer’s assembly is unknown. Kremlin censors did not for several weeks takedown Ivashov’s online statement. Did it mean the Kremlin wanted to not offend some influentials or chose not to bother with an insignificant faction? In any case we are witnessing some overlap between the views of usually hardline nationalists with liberal idealists and foreign critics such as the US president.

Walter Clemens is an Associate, Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Boston University. His books include Baltic Independence and Russian Empire and Can Russia Change? 

Written By

Walter Clemens is Associate, Harvard University Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Boston University. His books include Baltic Independence and Russian Empire and Can Russia Change?