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An Insider’s Guide to Ukraine

By Marty Peak Helman

The clubhouse was crowded last week in anticipation of our speaker. How crowded? Let’s just say that latecomers were forced to sit at the head table, a space usually avoided by all (including the club president and guest speaker! Club members definitely prefer less formal crowding at the “regular” tables)! All this enthusiasm was in anticipation of hearing from Paul Zalucky, former chief of the CIA station in Kiev and earlier, Warsaw, and now retired and resident on Southport.

Paul, who just returned from several weeks in Kiev, emphasized that one needs to know the history of the region in order to understand the ongoing war in Ukraine. “What happened in the 1500s is happening again,” he said, and then briefly ran through 500 years of history, pointing out that the Russians are descended from Mongols and Tartars and historically had a khan (later a tsar) who was an absolute ruler, but ran the country with little administrative organization. That is the system the Soviets inherited and that Russia knows today under Putin.

Further, he said that VE Day (Victory in Europe) didn’t come to Eastern Europe in 1944, but rather, in 1991, when the Soviet Union was forced to soften its grip on the East. “That’s why Poles are helping Ukraine today,” he explained. The Ukrainians also compare themselves with the British, who held out single-handedly in Western Europe in WWII until the US joined the fight.

“How can you negotiate with someone who wants to build imperial power?” he asked rhetorically. Putin is applying a scorched-earth policy in Ukraine, committing genocide, in Paul’s opinion, all with the goal of terrorizing the population. It’s a policy that worked for Putin in Serbia and Chechnya, and it might have worked this time around, except that the Ukrainian people have proved absolute in taking a stand and willing to die to prevent tyranny.

There were two turning points early in the war, Paul said. At the very beginning, when the Russians invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the US was pressuring Zelinskyy to leave Kiev, but he publicly replied: “I need ammunition, not a ride.” That statement, and his subsequent actions gave the Ukrainian people the backbone they needed to commit themselves to the fight. Then, in May of that year, Zelinskyy toured the town of Bucha and saw first-hand the massacre and atrocities committed there by Russian soldiers. He came away convinced that negotiation with war criminals was not possible – that Ukraine is basically dealing with barbarians incapable of humanity. Paul explained that the Russians are killing the intelligencia in every town they capture. He quoted Golda Meir: “You cannot negotiate peace with someone who has come to kill you.”

Paul said that there are really four power centers – and four armies – in Russia, including war lords like Progozhin, and that Putin doesn’t trust any of them. He said the Russian army doesn’t replace units, but rather, individual soldiers, so there is very little unit cohesion in Russian ranks. Additionally, the Russian army doesn’t have NCOs, but rather, an officer elite working with often subscripted troops with minimal respect on either side. “When the Russians break, they will break quickly,” he believes. The problem is that Ukraine doesn’t have air cover. What they do have is passion, love of homeland, and a philosophy of starve-stretch-strike that is proving extremely effective.

What does the future hold? How will the war end? Paul said that there were too many variables to make predictions, but that it is possible to look at indicators. For example, he explained that Ukraine’s army is not as unprepared as many believe -- NATO countries have trained 25,000 to 30,000 Ukrainians since 2014. He displayed a map showing Russian incursions and Ukrainian pushback and pointed to the bridge between Crimea and Russia. He said the Ukrainians have the means to bring it down any time they want, that they are just waiting because they don’t want to destroy it with Russian troops still on the Crimean side.

Paul said that many people in Ukraine and throughout the west see this fight as this generation’s war of good against evil. “Biden is doing a pretty good job, but we need a John Kennedy to get out in front and lead public opinion,” he ended.

Bottomline: Paul believes that Russia will lose as long as the West sticks together. He also believes that how the war in Ukraine ends will influence world history for the next 100 years.

Last week was also President Tory’s first time wielding the gavel, and many happy dollars were offered for a successful year. Also celebrating were Sue and Bill Louisignau, on 50 years of marriage. Spouses at the event included Doug Fowle, Monica Elder, Andy Mutch and our speaker’s wife Carole. Other guests included Lorraine, Jan, Byron, Donna and Bobby, Concha, Steve, and Peter.

This week's meeting will be a mostly social meeting with a "Classification Talk" by Boutique Director Barbara Thornton. Barbara has had a interesting life, living on the island of Martha's Vineyard before moving to Maine.

The "Fun Committee" is meeting at 4:45 this Thursday at the Clubhouse. Be there for fun.

Come join us! We have fellowship, fun and great speakers every week. And we give back to the community through our work delivering donated veggies and the funds we raise in the Big Rotary Barn each week. If you have a passion to make a difference in our beloved Region, then ask any Rotarian for more information. You’ll be glad you did.