Ukraine War Day #133: Zelensky The New Mazepa

Dear Readers:

Hetman Ivan Mazepa

Pushkin wrote so many terrific works, it would be hard to name a favorite. But — gun to head — I would have to admit that mine is the epic poem Poltava. Of which here is one of my favorite passages. A very powerful scene. The context: Cossack Hetman Mazepa, treasonously conspiring against his ruler, Tsar Peter I (sometimes with Sweden, sometimes with Poland), has plotted to frame his subordinate, Ataman Kochubei. The latter happens to be Mazepa’s (involuntary) father-in-law, since the elderly Mazepa has seduced and then eloped with Kochubei’s young daughter. Kochubei has always been loyal to Russia and to the Tsar, but has been tortured into making a false confession. On the night before his execution, Kochubei has an interesting conversation with Mazepa’s henchperson:

Орлик: Мы знаем, Orlik: We know
Что ты несчетно был богат; That you were rich;
Мы знаем: не единый клад We know you buried treasure
Тобой в Диканьке укрываем. Somewhere in Dikanka.
Свершиться казнь твоя должна; Your execution will take place;
Твое имение сполна Your estate, in full
В казну поступит войсковую.Will be confiscated by the army.
Таков закон. Я указуюSuch is the law. I order you
Тебе последний долг: открой,As your final duty: divulge
Где клады, скрытые тобой?Where you hid the treasure?
Кочубей:Kochubei:
Так, не ошиблись вы: три кладаYou’re not wrong: 3 treasures
В сей жизни были мне отрада.In this life brought me joy.
И первый клад мой честь была,And the first of these, my honor,
Клад этот пытка отняла;Torture wrenched it from me;
Другой был клад невозвратимыйThe second treasure can never be returned:
Честь дочери моей любимой.The honor of my beloved daughter.
Я день и ночь над ним дрожал:I fretted over it day and night;
Мазепа этот клад украл.Mazepa stole it from me.
Но сохранил я клад последний,But I have kept my last treasure,
Мой третий клад: святую месть.My third treasure: holy vengeance.
Ее готовлюсь богу снесть.I offer this up to God.

We Shall Rebuild The Cities, We Shall Win Back Our land!”

And so I have this piece which evokes images of Mazepa and the fateful battle of Poltava. In which the loyal Kochubei was finally avenged postumously. But who is Mazepa here, and who is Kochubei?

Держись, моя красавица!

Was it Marx or Engels who once wrote that history always repeats itself — but the second time as farce? For Act I we have the tragic hero, then in Act II they bring in the clowns.

The Russian blogosphere is having a field day with this story. In which the Swedes, virtue signalling so madly their arms almost fell off, gifting Zelensky with some historical document from their archives. Allegedly a letter (actually a xerox copy) from the 18th century signed by Swedish King Karl XII. In the letter Karl orders his Ambassador to Constantinople to “recognize” the Zaporozhian Sich. Whatever “recognize” means in this context. Because the chronology is such, according to historians:

  • Tsar Peter I seized Narva in 1704. Whereupon Karl XII moved his troops into the Ukraine, hoping to strike at Russia from its southern flank.
  • Hetman Mazepa switched sides from Russia to Sweden and offered to Karl his entire troop of Cossacks. In return, he asked the Swedish King to appoint him Governor over Vitebsk and Polotsk, once these territories had been wrested from Russia. These are the events which Pushkin wrote about in his poem. Some of the Cossacks did indeed follow Mazepa, but most remained loyal to the Tsar.
  • Karl XII as a result suffered a crushing military defeat in 1709, at the battle of Poltava. And Sweden was never again quite the Empire it used to be. Which is why it still smarts with rage and hates Russia so much.
  • Mazepa, having to kiss goodbye his dream of ruling Vitebsk, fled, along with Karl, to the Turkish fortress of Bendery, where he soon died. Cause of Mazepa’s death is unknown. There are many legends, one of which: He was captured by his fellow Cossacks and strapped backwards onto his own horse, which kept on running all night until the Hetman died. Another legend has it that Mazepa was eaten alive by lice (lice, that theme, again!) but it is also possible that he died a natural death.
  • The letter in question, of whose copy Zelensky is now the proud owner, was written in 1711, in other words two years after the fateful defeat at Poltava. Hence it is unclear exactly what Karl thought he could control in Zaporozhie at that point. In any case, the letter was preserved in the Swedish National Archives.

A copy of the letter was handed to Zelensky by the visiting Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson. Zelensky was tickled pink and used this dubious gift to spew his usual bloviations about Cossacks and Ukrainian freedom. Analysts don’t see much point in Zelensky’s PR over this letter, except to repeat usual Ukrainian B.S. over their ancient claims as a sovereign nation. Claims that are usually based, as in the Mazepa example, on a series of betrayals and military defeats.

This entry was posted in Military and War, Russian History, Russian Literature and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Ukraine War Day #133: Zelensky The New Mazepa

  1. Liborio Guaso says:

    In the end, the comedian Zelensky, leaving destruction and death behind, will hide somewhere in the West to enjoy the millions received for his role as a democratic leader.
    Then, if he reaches the age of ninety, someone will think of judging him for his crimes, as has happened with the original Nazis and other democratic assassins, as has recently happened with the Argentines.

    Like

    • S Brennan says:

      To paraphrase Sting, the younger:

      Mr. Zelensky
      You’ve sown a bitter crop
      It’s foreign money that supports you
      One day the money’s going to stop
      And we’ll dance

      Like

  2. Stephen T Johnson says:

    Clearly, I need to go read me some Pushkin.
    I think there’s a very interesting question behind this: Are elensky’s claims of a pending reconquista mere bloviation, whistling past the graveyard, or does the collective west have a cunning plan ? If so, what?
    I suppose I can believe in an Anglo-Polish-baltic expeditionary force, and maybe some attempt has been made outside Ukraine to reconstitute a new Ukrainian army with real NATO kit instead of the pittances of modern weapons bulked out with all the obsolescent weapons they could scare up in Eastern Europe along with past-expiry rocket launchers, but that combined force is, I think, unlikely to reach parity with the military Ukraine had at the start of all this, unless you believe that team NATO has Wunderwaffe (F-35s? LOTS of HIMARS? Leapards and Abrams and what not?) that will turn the tide. The old Ukrainian army is dissolving in the Donbass, so can’t figure in the calculations, it seems to me. Other than that, we’re just left with – at best – potential hordes of poorly trained and badly equipped infantry. Those home guard/ volksturm formations can fight well in defense of their homes, but not in offense.
    On the other hand, I can’t see the collective west just accepting the Loss, nor can I believe that the US will be foolish or desperate enough to actually engage directly, at least not yet.
    So, Quo Vadis?

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Quo Vadis? It’s a pertinent, and scary, question. All depends on the Westies, I reckon. Are they literally crazy enough to launch WWIII?

      I am seeing contradictory clues in Westie media, for example (scanning some random Westie headlines yesterday), I saw that (a) Forbes is declaring confidently that the Ukie defeat in Lugansk was a clever ploy to hold down 50 Russian battalions, and that the end goal is to retake Kherson. Which the Ukies will surely do very soon, with their brillliant counteroffensive. Along which lines, (b) I saw a more pessimistic headline (forget which propaganda organ) according to which Europeans have basically given Ukraine a hard deadline: Either recapture Kherson by August, or the money stops flowing in.

      Other signs and portents include: Zelensky will start to conscript women into the army. I can’t help but feel this will spark some kind of revolt within Ukrainian society. Or will it? It would certainly put Russians soldiers in a horrible position, where they would be forced to shoot at women. I mean, they don’t mind killing trained sniper-women, but just ordinary drafted women who barely know how to hold a rifle?

      Like

      • FatMax says:

        “Or will it?”
        No, it won’t. Ukies die like dumb cattle in their trenches and they still haven’t revolted.

        “put Russians soldiers in a horrible position”
        Why? Would they have issues with killing drafted Swedish women? Or Polish? Did they have issues with killing Chechen “Black Widows”? They had zero issues with killing Volkssturm women during WWII, right?
        So what’s the big deal? Smells like TOXIC MASCULINITY and PATRIARCHY to me, tsk tsk. 😀

        If they balk at killing other human beings that are armed and willing to kill them, they deserve to die for being stupid. Also, some of those “ordinary drafted women” are Ukronazi to the bone and deserve to be mulched and turned into fertilizer.

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          I did see some reports of women in the Trans-Carpathian region protesting against the draft. But those people are Hungarians, of course, so not as willing to die for Bandera.

          Like

          • FatMax says:

            I’ve seen that too. They protested against male draft, too.
            But yes, these people are Hungarians and not dumb cattle like the rest of Hohols.
            We might have issues with Hungarians here in the Balkans, but no-one can deny their willingness to make a ruckus. Much respect to Magyars!

            Like

  3. daniel_s says:

    Despite Russia having the upper hand right now, I also wonder whether elensky is just a deluded fool, or if Ukraine/the West still can turn the tide. Hope not.
    Russia’s capability of rebuilding and integrating the Donbass will be decisive also for the future of rump-Ukraine, i believe.

    Now somewhat off-topic, i came cross this quite recent blog with, in my opinion, some interesting food for thought:
    https://aurelien2022.substack.com/p/after-the-cavalry-didnt-charge

    Like

    • peter moritz says:

      “Despite Russia having the upper hand right now, I also wonder whether elensky is just a deluded fool, or if Ukraine/the West still can turn the tide.”

      Russia so far has only fielded its voluntary troops, and only the peacetime contingent, while Ukraine has actually fully mobilized. Russia aside from some exceptions has also not brought into play its most modern equipment.
      Russia achieved its success with an attacker-to-defender ratio of 1: 3.

      In my humble opinion, based on what I could ascertain so far, the West could theoretically turn things around only by getting involved directly, which would mean that the NATO states themselves become targets – as clearly expressed by Putin – with all the consequences of an escalation to Armageddon but before that, closure of all gas and oil supplies to feed NATO countries’ industries. This would mean no replacement of all the munitions already sent to Ukraine, which the west is already running short of.

      Like

      • peter moritz says:

        See this analysis of western non-capacities:
        https://rusi.org/explore-our-research/publications/commentary/return-industrial-warfare
        “The mass scale combat has pitted 250,000 Ukrainian soldiers, together with 450,000 recently mobilised citizen soldiers against about 200,000 Russian and separatist troops.”
        “In short, US annual artillery production would at best only last for 10 days to two weeks of combat in Ukraine. If the initial estimate of Russian shells fired is over by 50%, it would only extend the artillery supplied for three weeks.”

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          The numbers don’t lie. Whoever planned this war (or at least allowed it to continue after the first couple of months) obviously doesn’t understand basic mathematics.

          Like

    • I read that piece, and I don’t think there’s much of a there there. Seriously, NATO is not involved so far? O RLY? Yes, the US is not sending their own soldiers to experience kinetic denazification, but that’s cowardice, not lack of involvement in a hot proxy war. As to Russia being tapped out on troops- who (well, who in their right mind) is going to bet on that? This all smacks of whistling past the graveyard to me.

      Like

      • yalensis says:

        From what I understand, U.S. has some special ops in there, but, as I learned in Armchair General Academy, that’s not enough to turn the tide in a war. The only hope the Ukies have left is a strategic counteroffensive in the Kherson region. Which would entail several brigades of integrated infantry, artillery, cavalry, etc. From what I understand, the Americans have ordered the Ukrainians to do precisely that, and by a certain deadline, which is August. Hopefully the Russian side is aware of these top-secret plans, and doing something on the defensive side, on that particular front.

        Like

  4. peter moritz says:

    As to the economic situation in Europe…tighten your shoelaces so you can outrun it:
    https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2022/07/the-coming-sanctions-induced-economic-tsunami.html

    Like

  5. Noted all these Swedes strongly supporting Ukraine and hating Russia on Twitter. Hypothesised this was because they lost their empire because of Russia so I’m glad to see I’m not alone.
    BTW Charles XII loss at Poltova just reinforces Field Marshal Montgomery’s First Rule of War, “Don’t March on Moscow”

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      There is an old Russian joke about creatures with the longest memories: Champions are elephants and women. But should add Swedes to that list, boy can they hold a grudge!

      Like

      • FatMax says:

        Maybe they can hold a grudge, but they aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. I worked with them for several years. If it weren’t for “foreigner” technical staff, they’d starve to death.
        The greatest concentration of office plankton I’ve ever seen, LOL. How low the mighty have fallen!

        Like

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