Tag Archives: Ukraine

Rebels without a cause

I’ve long said that if you want to bring peace to Ukraine, you need to develop a proper understanding of how the war in Donbass began and of the exact dynamics between the various players, including the government in Kiev, the Russian Federation, and the rebel movement. Attempts to view the conflict purely in terms of ‘Russian aggression’, ignoring its internal dimensions, are bound to point towards policies which see the solution as lying solely in pressuring Moscow. Such policies will fail because they ignore the local nature of the rebel movement and the genuine fears and grievances of the people of Donbass. At a minimum a peace settlement will require autonomy for Donbass, an amnesty, and a change in various Ukrainian policies such as those connected with language.

To make this argument, I have provided evidence in this blog and in various academic and other publications that the initial uprising in Donbass was local in nature; that the overwhelming majority of rebels have always been Ukrainian citizens; that the Russian government only slowly and reluctantly became involved (in large part to gain control of a process over which it originally had little control); that Moscow’s preference has always been for Donbass to be reintegrated within Ukraine with some sort of autonomy, a preference which has put it at odds with the rebel leadership; and finally that patron-client relations are complicated and do not give patrons complete ability to manipulate their clients (indeed the patron may even become something of a captive of the client). All this means that the wishes of the people of Donbass and of the leadership of the rebel republics cannot be ignored. Instead of blindly supporting Kiev as it does its best to alienate eastern Ukraine, Western states should be pressuring it to live up to its commitments in the Minsk accords.

This argument is, of course, entirely at odds with the prevalent narrative coming out of Kiev and Western capitals. It is satisfying, therefore, to read a report which pretty much confirms everything I’ve been saying these past five years. Entitled Rebels without a Cause: Russia’s Proxies in Eastern Ukraine, the report was published yesterday by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). The ICG gets a lot of its funding from governments, notably Qatar, Australia, Canada, France, Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as from foundations such as Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society. It’s not by any stretch of the imagination a ‘Kremlin proxy’. That makes its conclusions all the more striking.

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Fact checking

The big news from Italy this week is the seizure by Turin police of a massive arsenal of weapons held by a neo-Nazi group. Among the weapons was a stonking-big air-to-air missile. Reporting the story, the BBC links the neo-Nazis to ‘Russian-backed separatist forces’ in Ukraine, saying that:

The raids were part of an investigation into Italian far-right help for Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, local media said. … On 3 July a court in Genoa jailed three men who were found guilty of fighting alongside the Russian-backed separatists who control a large swathe of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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Splitter!

‘Anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat.’ Winston Churchill.

One of the many problems with schism is that it tends to undermine legitimacy. A long-standing institution, such as a church, has a certain legitimacy among its members just due to inertia. A sufficiently long tradition can by itself justify an institution to those who belong to it. But when a group breaks free, it lacks the same justification, and thus the same legitimacy. Consequently, it’s not surprising that splitters may end up splitting up among themselves. And so it is that we shouldn’t be altogether shocked by the extraordinary goings-on in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine/Ukrainian Orthodox Church, or whatever it is the various factions are calling themselves today (People’s Front of Judea, maybe?).

From the late 17th century onwards, Orthodox parishes in what is now Ukraine were part of the Russian Orthodox Church and were governed from Moscow; first through the Moscow Patriarchate; then following the latter’s abolition through the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church; and finally, after the Revolution, through the Patriarchate once again. This remained the case until the final days of the Soviet Union. At that point, the Church split. Russian Orthodox parishes in Ukraine formed a new Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), which acquired autonomy from Moscow but remained ultimately subordinate to the Patriarch there. Metropolitan Filaret of Kiev, however, refused to go along with the new arrangements, and in due course broke away from the UOC to form a rival Church, also called the UOC, of which he proclaimed himself the Patriarch. Ukraine thus now had two UOCs, generally known as UOC (MP – Moscow Patriarchate) and UOC (KP – Kiev Patriarchate). Adding to the complications, from 1990 a third institution- the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) – also operated in Ukraine.

An interesting aspect of these schisms is that there was no apparent doctrinal reason for them. As far as I have been able to ascertain, none of the Ukrainian churches disagree on key doctrinal issues. Instead, the causes of the splits appear to have been the personal ambitions of certain clerics allied with nationalist politics. The latter then led last year to an attempt by Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko to unite the various churches in a single organization which would be free of control from Moscow. To this end, Poroshenko persuaded the Patriarch of Constantinople to issue a decree establishing a new independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which would combine the OUC (KP) and UAOC. The hope seems to have been that members of the UOC (MP) would then flock to join the new OCU, so destroying the UOC (MP).

This doesn’t seem to have happened. Some UOC (MP) parishes have joined the OCU (allegedly not all entirely voluntarily), but most have not, and those which have are mostly located in the west of the country. Rather than unite the country, the establishment of the new church seems only to have further accelerated its division into western parts (now overwhelming OCU) and eastern/southern parts (still mostly UOC (MP)). The new OCU also isn’t as independent as its creators imagined it would be, as it is officially subordinate to Constantinople and has been downgraded from being run by a Patriarch (Filaret) to being run by a mere Metropolitan (Epiphany).

The new arrangement has not pleased Filaret, who lost his position as head of the church he created. In May, Filaret declared that in his opinion the UOC (KP) had not been abolished, and he remained its Patriarch. He refused to sign the OCU’s charter at a meeting of its Synod, claiming somewhat bizarrely that, ‘The Synod (…) was aimed at the destruction of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Now there is an influence on our primate of these pro-Moscow forces that have entered. And their task is to destroy the Kyiv Patriarchate.’ Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, however, refused to back down, pointedly declaring that, ‘Filaret is no longer Kyiv Patriarch, but a former Kyiv Metropolitan.’

In response, Filaret has now gone one step further. On 14 June, he sent out messages to bishops inviting them to a Council of the supposedly abolished UOC (KP). The Council met yesterday. It announced that the UOC (KP) still exists, that Filaret is its Patriarch, and that it retains the rights to all its property. Unsurprisingly, the OCU has stated that it doesn’t recognize Filaret’s Council or its results. According to one source, on Monday the OCU will formally declare that Filaret and his supporters have split from the Church, albeit saying that, ‘it’s not a schism, it’s just separation of a specific group that supports the opinion of Patriarch Filaret’.

How many people will follow the Patriarch remains to be seen. His Council yesterday does not appear to have been well attended. Most senior clerics seem to be loyal to the OCU. Nevertheless, the new split can only harm the legitimacy of the OCU, and it makes it much harder for the OCU to claim that it is the one true Ukrainian church and that people should leave the OUC (MP) to join it.

Once again, religious doctrine appears nowhere in the disputes. Instead, the warring parties trade nationalist rhetoric, each portraying themselves as the true defenders of the Ukrainian nation. One article published with the headline ‘Only Patriarch Filaret will protect Ukrainian faithful in diaspora’ commented that the creation of the OCU had sold Ukraine out to the Greeks (i.e. Constantinople). By contrast, ‘Patriarch Filaret is almost the only leader in the Ukrainian Church who still believes that it must be independent and serve interests of Ukraine.’ Against this, supporters of the OCU accuse Filaret of playing into the hands of Moscow. As one Ukrainian religious scholar puts it, ‘It’s hard to say directly that this is exclusively the influence of the FSB, or some Russian intelligence services. But the fact that Holy Patriarch Filaret’s ambitions are being successfully warmed up is hard to deny.’

In the mid-19th century, the Slavophile theologian Alexei Khomiakov wrote an influential tome entitled ‘The Church is One’. He stressed the value of sobornost’, a sort of spirit of voluntary collectivism which results in decision making by consensus and agreement by all to respect the decisions taken. Sobornost’ seems to be rather lacking at the moment. And as the clerical battle heats up, God seems to have been forgotten. The OCU was from the start a political not a religious project. It’s hardly surprising that it’s floundering. There is, I think, I lesson there for religious and political leaders everywhere.

Peace candidate?

The impending victory of Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian presidential election is splitting the commentariat into two. On the one hand, there are the optimists. Zelensky is less beholden to the nationalist vote than Ukraine’s current president, Petro Poroshenko, and has avoided divisive ethno-national language of the sort which has characterized Poroshenko’s campaign. According to the optimists, therefore, he will be much better placed to bring the conflict in Donbass to an end. Serhiy Kudelia, for instance, remarks that, Zelensky ‘offers a new type of political leadership that could improve prospects for reconciliation and the peaceful reintegration of the Donbas in the near to medium term.’

That scares the hell out of hardliners who believe that any peaceful settlement of the war in Donbass would inevitably involve some sort of surrender to Russia. Poroshenko’s supporters thus view Zelensky’s coming triumph far more pessimistically. Poroshenko has been resolute in his refusal to make the concessions necessary to bring peace to Donbass; he has approved numerous nationalist projects, such as laws restricting the use of the Russian language in the media and education, and the decommunization law; and he struck a blow at the Moscow Patriarchate by negotiating the formation of a new Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Zelensky, it is feared, will not be so reliable.

Both the optimists and the pessimists share the assumption that Zelensky may help bring peace to Ukraine by softening the tough line taken up to now by President Poroshenko; they just differ in their opinion as to whether that’s a good thing. The problem with this assumption is that it’s not exactly reliable.

A common solution to civil conflicts is some sort of power sharing system. This can involve mechanisms to guarantee that minorities are represented in central government structures (e.g. Lebanon and Northern Ireland) or some sort of federalization or confederalization of the country in question (e.g. Bosnia-Herzegovina). These mechanisms have definite disadvantages (for instance, they entrench the divisions which caused conflict in the political system), but in general people consider the price to be one worth paying for peace. In Ukraine’s case, it has long been obvious that the only way to reintegrate Donbass into Ukraine and thereby bring the war there to an end in a manner favourable to Ukraine is through constitutional reform which would give Donbass some sort of special status (i.e. autonomy) within Ukraine, combined with an amnesty for all involved. This is in effect what was promised in the Minsk II agreement of February 2015.

To date, Poroshenko’s government has not only failed to make concessions of this sort. but has also done its best to make it impossible for future governments to do so, by means for instance of a law redefining the conflict in Donbass as a war against the Russian Federation. It is precisely a fear that Zelensky will change direction that inspires the hardliners’ dislike of Ukraine’s likely future president.

These fears, however, are unjustified. As the UNIAN information agency announced today:

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky has said Donbas does not need to be granted any special status. … Zelensky also said that, if elected president, he is not going to sign the law on amnesty for the militants of the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics’.

Since these are two absolutely necessary conditions for any peaceful settlement of the war in Donbass, this pretty well nixes the idea that Zelensky is the ‘peace candidate’. Further evidence of Zelensky’s future policies towards Donbass can be seen also in a statement of the first ten steps he plans to take upon taking power. Number one is ‘invite the United Kingdom and the United States to join the Normandy format’ – in other words to join the process which is meant to negotiate how the Minsk agreements will be put into practice.

The Normandy format, like the Minsk agreements, are pretty much dead. But bringing the UK and the USA into the peace process is about the last thing you’d suggest if you were truly interested in bringing them back to life. Not only are those countries the two states in NATO (perhaps barring Canada) which are the most resolutely hostile to Russia, but they have also shown not the slightest interest in persuading Ukraine to make the concessions required to fulfil its obligations in the Minsk agreements. On the contrary, the Americans have very much pushed Ukraine in the other direction. Take, for instance, the American response to Vladimir Putin’s proposal for a peacekeeping force in Donbass. Whereas Putin proposed a force which would be deployed along the front line and physically separate the two warring parties, the Americans, through their representative Kurt Volker, have suggested creating a force which would occupy all of rebel-controlled Donbass, take over the rebel republic’s borders with Russia, and disarm rebel formations, all before any political reforms (such as granting of autonomy) are enacted. This plan turns the order of events laid out in the Minsk agreement on its head, and in effect amounts to an abandonment of the agreement and to the rebels’ total abject surrender. For that very reason, it has no hopes of succeeding.

Ukrainian politicians do not yet seem to have grasped the need to compromise, and the Americans in particular have encouraged this blindness. Bringing them into the peace process only makes sense if you have no intention of making concessions yourself and see the solution as lying entirely in pushing things in a more hardline direction through increased pressure on the Russian Federation. The fact that Zelensky has proposed this tells us a lot therefore about his attitude towards Minsk and the peace process more generally – namely, that at this point in time, he’s very much not somebody who’s prepared to do what needs to be done to obtain peace on terms favourable to Ukraine (i.e. see Donbass restored to Ukrainian control).

Instead, based on his current statements, we are more likely to see a continued insistence on the absolute capitulation of the rebel forces and the Russian Federation. The result will be that the conflict in Donbass will continue to dribble along at its current low level for the indefinite future. Of course, the things politicians do once elected often differs from what they promise during elections. And much may change during Zelensky’s presidency which may push him in a different direction. For now, though, the idea that his election will do much to accelerate the arrival of peace in Ukraine seems a little far-fetched.

 

Looking in the wrong direction

This blog returns regularly to theme of disinformation, drawing attention to the fact that the most prevalent sources of disinformation in any country are domestic, not the product of ‘foreign meddling’. For instance, whatever ‘fake news’ Russian bots may have placed on the internet prior to the 2016 American presidential election pails into insignificance with the daily well-publicized deluge of nonsense which came out of the mouth of candidate Donald Trump. Brexit didn’t happen because of ‘Russian interference’, but (among other things) because of the deceitful claims of pro-leave British politicians, such as the notorious claim that the UK would be able to spend 350 million pounds more a week on the National Health Service if it left the European Union. And so on. When you’re looking for disinformation, it makes much more sense to look close to home than somewhere in far off lands.

Despite this, numerous commentators believe that we can learn a lot from one country’s efforts to combat foreign disinformation – Ukraine. A few days ago I mentioned former Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy. This is what he has to say on the matter:

There’s some lessons to learn for Canadians. I think Ukraine’s on the front line, and there’s a wake-up call that anybody’s election, including ours in six months, could be altered, disrupted or problems could be created in terms of disinformation if you’re not very watchful about it.

Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul shares Axworthy’s point of view, saying the following on Twitter:

Just attended a fascinating discussion on Russian disinformation efforts in Ukraine. We Americans could learn a lot from our Ukrainian colleagues.

Various Ukrainians are keen to support this perspective. ‘While unique, Ukraine’s experience holds broader lessons for how to tackle these emerging phenomena [i.e. disinformation],’ writes one. ‘Britain may well face more of such challenges in the future – it should learn the lessons from Ukraine if it wants to deal with them effectively,’ says another.

Ukraine is currently in the middle of a presidential election campaign. So let’s take a look at how the struggle to protect the Ukrainian democratic process from disinformation is going. An article in today’s Kyiv Post has a lot to say on the matter. It tells us:

Amid increasingly fierce competition, the big guns are coming out: negative campaign ads, so-called ‘black PR,’ and online disinformation. … ‘I think there’s a lot of playing hard and fast with the rules of the information space,’ says Nina Jankowicz, a Global Fellow at the Kennan Institute and an expert on disinformation. … ads and social media posts intended to mislead and scare voters have come to play a central role in the presidential race.

Apparently, therefore, Ukraine isn’t doing as well as McFaul, Axworthy, and co. would have us believe. So, let’s take a look at what this ‘black PR’ and disinformation consists of.  The Kyiv Post provides some examples, including:

a website with ties to the Ukrainian security agencies has accused the Zelenskiy campaign of receiving financing from the Russian security service and a Russian-backed militant who fought in Ukraine’s occupied Donetsk Oblast. … social media users have long complained of facing harassment from porokhobots — i. e. Poroshenko bots — who vocally defend the president. Some, they allege, are not just ordinary citizens expressing their honest opinions, but paid ‘trolls.’ … In late March, the 1+1 television channel broadcast a program which accused Poroshenko of corruption and implied he had killed his own brother. … On April 10, an organization associated with Poroshenko sent subscribers to its messenger app accounts a video which showed Zelenskiy being hit by a garbage truck and strongly implied he was a drug addict. … In the last week, at least two entities have published information suggesting that the Zelenskiy campaign is tied to or receiving financing from Russia.

In short, it seems that both sides in the Ukrainian election are using both the mainstream media and social media to spread false stories about their opponents, and that these are getting a wide distribution. The thing to notice, though, is that this is something that Ukrainians are doing to one another. As the Kyiv Post comments:

So far, however, domestic disinformation has largely overshadowed foreign. ‘I think most of the disinformation that we can confirm was actually distributed by the campaigns themselves and by domestic Ukrainian actors for political purposes,’ Jankowicz says.

Perhaps, then, Axworthy and McFaul are correct after all. Ukraine does have something to teach us about the role of disinformation in democratic elections, namely that it’s widespread, and that for the most part it is produced domestically, and not abroad. The Canadian Security Establishment (CSE) produced a report a few days ago highlighting the threat from ‘foreign interference’ in Canadian elections. I will comment separately on this in a few days’ time but, dare I say it, if CSE and others are really concerned about the integrity of our electoral processes, they’re looking in the wrong direction.

Abusing human rights

I came across the following while reading the Globe and Mail newspaper over breakfast this morning. Referring to former Canadian foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, who has been leading the Canadian mission observing the presidential election in Ukraine, the Globe informed readers that:

Russia is abusing the human rights of people living in Crimea and other Kremlin-backed parts of eastern Ukraine by using landmines, border delays and online propaganda to discourage them from voting in the Ukrainian election, the head of Canada’s election monitoring mission says.

Axworthy is particularly exercised by the fact that, ‘There were no voting stations for Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and the Russian-controlled parts of the eastern Donbass region.’ The Globe continues:

‘I think the Russians really are abusing the human rights of these people,’ Mr. Axworthy said. ‘They have an important right to vote, and I think they are doing everything in their power to try to undermine it.’

He said some of the election observers in eastern Ukraine heard about voters being deliberately held up at the Russian-controlled border, while others couldn’t even get to the border.

‘We had discussions with some of the observers who were talking about how in the areas around some of the checkpoints there were land-mine fields that people see as a real risk,’ Mr. Axworthy said.

Obviously, it’s not good news if people living outside their country can’t get to vote. But whose fault is that? It’s not Russia’s responsibility to set up polling stations for the Ukrainian election. That’s the responsibility of the Ukrainian government. But back in January, the Ukrainian Central Election Commission announced that it would not open any polling stations in the Russian Federation, thereby depriving 3-4 million Ukrainians living in Russia of the right to vote. Why doesn’t Mr Axworthy mention that?? Do Ukrainians in Russia not ‘have an important right to vote’? And why is it Russia which is ‘doing everything in their power to try to undermine it’ when it is the Ukrainian government which took the decision to deprive its citizens of the ability to exercise this right?

As for delays on the borders between rebel-held Donbass and government-controlled Ukraine, these are real, but as has long been reported, the Ukrainian government is in large part to blame. Let me here cite a headline from the New York Times: ‘Ukraine Clamps Down on Travel to and from Rebel Areas’. As the report which follows says, ‘the Ukrainian authorities are now doing all they can to halt cross-border movement, deploying the full force of a Byzantine bureaucracy on the more than three million people living in rebel-held areas.’ But somehow, according to Lloyd Axworthy, the fact that people in Donbass find it hard to get into government-controlled Ukraine is Moscow’s fault! Go figure.

Land mines are another issue which is much more complicated than presented in this article. It’s natural that Mr Axworthy should be concerned about them as he was one of the architects of the 1999 Ottawa Land Mines Treaty. Tens of thousands of landmines have been laid in Donbass. Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has complained, ‘Not only are the sides not de-mining, they are in fact laying more mines.’ Note the use of the word ‘sides’ – both the rebels and the Ukrainian army are guilty of using these weapons. Ukraine denies this, but both the OSCE and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights accuse the Ukrainian army of laying anti-personnel mines in Donbass. The Russian Federation, incidentally, has not signed the Land Mines Treaty. Ukraine, however, has both signed and ratified it. Ukraine is thus in clear breach of its treaty obligations. Why then does Mr Axworthy paint the mine problem as a Russian one and not condemn the Ukrainian army for its actions?

Returning to my earlier point, the Russian government isn’t depriving Ukrainians of their right to vote: the Ukrainian government is. But that’s not all. The Ukrainians previously also deprived Russians of that right too. For when the Russian presidential election was held last year, the Ukrainian government posted policemen outside the Russian embassy in Kiev and the Russian consulates in Kharkov, Odessa, and Lvov to physically prevent Russians from entering the buildings in order to cast their votes. Lloyd Axworthy says that voting is an ‘important right’ and that it is an ‘abuse of human rights’ to stop people from voting. But we never heard so much as a peep from him when the authorities in Kiev did just that.

Unfortunately, Canada’s political elites, like those in many other Western countries, seem to have absolutely no discernment when it comes to matters concerning Russia and Ukraine. They lap up and regurgitate Ukrainian propaganda without the slightest bit of critical thinking; they seek to turn every story about Ukraine into an opportunity to bash Russia, even when Ukraine is actually the one responsible for the problems being discussed; and they display the most shameless double standards. Today’s article in the Globe and Mail is a case in point. It gets absolutely everything wrong. Sadly, that’s pretty much par for the course.

My subscription to the Globe expires on 12 April. I’m not renewing.

Land of the absurd

‘Ukraine bans its Eurovision entrant’. It’s the kind of line an absurdist novelist might come up with. But it’s actually the title of a story in today’s BBC News, and it’s an indication of how truth is sometimes more absurd than fiction. On Saturday, Ukrainian singer Maruv won the competition to represent her country at this year’s Eurovision song contest, but she was almost immediately stripped of her victory.  Maruv often sings in Russia, and was told that she would not be allowed to continuing do so. Even when she agreed to cancel her next tour there, discussions of her Eurovision contract collapsed due to other terms which Maruv considered amounted to ‘censorship’. She complained that, ‘I am not ready to address [people] with slogans, turning my participation into the promotion of our politicians. I am a musician, rather than a bat at the political stage.’ According to the BBC,

In a statement, the state-funded UA:PBC said: ‘The performer representing Ukraine … also has commmitments of becoming a cultural ambassador of Ukraine and delivering not only their music but also expressing the opinion of the Ukrainian society in the world.’ … The TV station was backed by politicians, with the Ukrainian Culture Ministry saying that ‘only patriots who are aware of their responsibility’ should be allowed to sing at Eurovision.

I had thought that Eurovision was a singing competition, but I stand corrected. During the TV show to choose Ukraine’s song at this year’s contest, singers were quizzed by the host on their political views concerning Russia. As a report by AP notes,

Maruv was grilled about her Russian shows during the national finals in Kiev over the weekend. Similarly, another entry, a duo of twins from Crimea, were put on the spot by the host and asked whether they consider Crimea to be part of Ukraine. ‘Depending on your answer, you can either bury your own career or that of your mother,’ the host said, referring to the women’s mother who is a judge in the Russian-controlled Crimea.

What a nauseating statement by the host. But all credit to the twins. As AP records, ‘One of the sisters was brought to tears and said she would always stand by her parents if she were forced to choose between them and her career.’ Don’t expect her to get the contract to replace Maruv.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has transferred its culture wars and censorship proclivities over here to Canada. The cinema chain Cineplex is planning to show the Russian blockbuster T-34 which, as the title suggests, is all about the Second World War and, if the trailer is anything to go by, shows a lot of heroic action as Soviet warriors smash up Nazis with their T-34 tank. It seems like a fairly boiler-plate war movie. But the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) is having none of it. According to the UCC website:

The T-34 tank was the weapon used by Soviet Communism to keep captive the peoples of Eastern Europe for four decades. Together with its Nazi German ally, at the beginning of WWII, the Soviet regime invaded and subjugated eastern Poland, the Baltic States and several other independent east European states. As Soviet forces rolled east on T-34 tanks in the second half of World War II, they systematically committed myriad war crimes, crimes against humanity, mass rape, extrajudicial murder and ethnic cleansing. … That the current Russian regime, which funded this film, seeks to pay homage to this murderous history, speaks only to its own embrace of imperialism, aggression, and belligerence.

A letter sent to Cineplex by the UCC elucidates further:

The film uses a narrative of World War II heroism to inspire a crusade of ‘true’ Russians against ‘fascist’ enemies. This is representative of the pro-Russian disinformation we see around the world … We call on Cineplex to review the film in question and to listen seriously to the concerns expressed about the film and its producers. Please do not allow your company to be used as a means to amplify Russian propaganda and reconsider the decision to screen T-34 at your theatres.

There are some common threads running through these stories. In the first place, what should be entirely cultural activities, or simply pure entertainment, has been politicised, and in a rather unpleasant way. Second, the reaction to unwanted messages is to resort to censorship. And third, this kind of stuff makes the would-be censors look like fools and tends to backfire. The Eurovision publicity will no doubt help sell lots of tickets for Maruv’s next Russian tour; and an attempt to block the showing of T-34 in San Francisco actually led to it being shown in a bigger cinema and even more people seeing it than would have done otherwise. T-34 doesn’t sound like my kind of movie. I hadn’t planned to go to it. But now I will. I’m guessing that the Nazis lose.