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We Need a Peace Settlement: Ukrainian Scholar Volodymyr Ishchenko on Russia’s Invasion

Web ExclusiveMarch 23, 2022
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As President Biden heads to Europe for talks with NATO allies, G7 leaders and European Union leaders, we continue our conversation with Ukrainian sociologist Volodymyr Ishchenko.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

On Thursday, President Biden is holding meetings in Brussels with NATO allies, G7 leaders and European Union leaders. This weekend, Friday, Saturday, in Warsaw, Poland, he’s holding a bilateral meeting with the president, President Duda, to thank him for Poland’s efforts to shelter Ukrainian refugees and beyond.

We’re bringing you now Part 2 of our conversation with Volodymyr Ishchenko, a Ukrainian sociologist, research associate at the Institute for East European Studies at the Free University of Berlin.

You’re in Dresden, Volodymyr. If you can talk about what you think needs to happen now, what you think NATO needs to address, and also if you can talk about your assessment of what Russia is trying to do to Ukraine?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: Russia changes — Russian goals changed. Initially, they perhaps planned for much quicker taking over of Kyiv, and perhaps a change of the government, a change of regime, and installing a puppet government in Ukraine. Now perhaps they are scaling down their goals, and they could agree or — I don’t know. We know about this only from the leaks to the press from some reporters’ sources, anonymous, from some diplomats, that now they’re discussing primarily the neutral status of Ukraine, under some guarantees of the United States and perhaps some other military-strong states, and something that would count as so-called denazification, which could mean the regime change before, but now could be much, much less, and perhaps some protection for the Russian language or something like this, some limits on Ukrainian army. And perhaps they also call for the recognition of Crimean annexation and so-called independence of Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Some of these demands are more acceptable for Ukraine. Some are very difficult to accept. But as end result, it would be the — it will be decided on the battlefield.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms — you mentioned Kyiv, clearly a major target of the Russian invasion and also the place where some of your relatives — your parents are there, as well. Could you talk of the impact on your family, what you’ve heard from them of what they’re experiencing?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: I mean, it’s different in different neighborhoods in Kyiv. And some have been — I mean, especially some of the suburbs in — to the west of Kyiv, they were like heavily affected by the fights, and some places destroyed up to the ground zero. Some neighborhoods, I mean, they are more like quiet. And so far, yeah, of course, the city feels that the war is going on. But yeah, some normal urban life is also going on. I’m reading that some of the restaurants or cafes are also, like, starting to open. So, I mean, that’s, of course, diverse. And, like, speaking from Kyiv, it doesn’t mean that the station in Kyiv is representative for the whole Ukraine. And, like, the city of Mariupol is, like, heavily touched by the war, by the very heavy fights between the Russian army and the defenders. And the life in the occupied cities is also different. The western Ukraine, which received a lot of internally displaced people from the eastern regions of Ukraine, is also different. So, you cannot judge just from Kyiv or just from any specific neighborhood in Kyiv.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the impact of these sanctions that the U.S. and other NATO countries have imposed on Russia — clearly, Ukraine and Russia were a major supply of the world’s wheat — the impact this is going to have throughout the rest of the world if this continues, this fight continues?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: I mean, yeah, of course, it’s a major impact, and the wheat export is one of them. And it could touch specifically the Global South countries, specifically in Africa. Some African countries, they import more than half of the wheat from Ukraine and Russia, so that that could be a serious problem of hunger in other parts of the world. But also we see that the energy prices went up. And now Russia is also negotiating that he would trade — they would trade oil and gas, not for dollars but for other currencies, Chinese or Russian. So, I mean, that’s a major impact on the whole world, that we should indeed compare with the impacts of the 1973 crisis or, like, God forbid, the crisis during the First World War or the Second World War.

AMY GOODMAN: Volodymyr, can you explain Mariupol’s significance for Russia, why they are so interested in crushing the southern port city? Explain for people outside of Ukraine why the south is so significant. And also, have you been surprised by the resistance in other places, like in Kherson?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: Mariupol, my understanding is that Mariupol is significant for primarily as the — because it’s the last piece of a route that could connect Crimea to the kind of like mainland Russia. So, now the only direct way between Russia and Crimea is actually the Crimean Bridge, that connects a small strait between Crimean Peninsula and the Russian territory. If they take Mariupol, that would allow a kind of like mainland route between Russia and Crimea. So, I think this is the — well, at least one of the most important reasons why they need it.

And yeah, in Kherson and in other occupied cities, we see the quite significant unarmed resistance, rallies in support of Ukraine of two, like 3,000 people in Kherson, for example. And, I mean, of course, that’s inspiring for the people who fight for Ukraine now. And it’s also like — it shows that there are people who are quite brave, because initially Russians were ignoring those rallies, but now they’re starting to repress them, as we see from the videos. But also, we should understand that 2,000 or 3,000 people rallying in Kherson, which is a city of 300,000 residents, that means that most of the population is passive, either from here, either from sitting and waiting what will happen. And that, yeah, it doesn’t allow to say that, like, the whole city is like rebelling against Russians. But nevertheless, that’s — nevertheless, it’s quite significant, and we should also follow. And if the occupation would continue, it’s quite possible that those rallies would only grow in size.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, as we wrap up, is there something you feel the U.S., in particular, can do? And what do you see is the scenario playing out from here on in?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: I mean, the U.S. could do many things. They could contribute a lot, even to not allow this war to happen. If they knew about this invasion, as they were starting to leak to the press, I believe, even in October, so why they didn’t stop it? Why did they not negotiate with Putin more actively? I mean, now the war is going on. Now what could end it quickly would be a rapid peace settlement that would be signed on some compromise conditions between Ukraine and Russia. U.S. should contribute to this, I believe.

AMY GOODMAN: By doing what?

VOLODYMYR ISHCHENKO: I don’t know. But U.S. is a powerful state. I mean, they have a lot of leverage.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Volodymyr Ishchenko, I want to thank you for being with us, Ukrainian sociologist, research associate at the Institute for East European Studies at the Free University of Berlin. We’ll link to your pieces, your new opinion piece at Al Jazeera, “Why did Ukraine suspend 11 'pro-Russia' parties?” as well as other pieces that you have written.

This is Democracy Now! To see Part 1 of our conversation, go to I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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