Interview With Ukrainian Subscriber Sergei Hovyadinov

Ukrainian Sergei Hovyadinov subscribed to The Kelly Letter in 2012, when he worked in Moscow as a lawyer for Google. After that, he completed graduate studies at Stanford University, and currently lives in Indiana.

To better understand the situation in Ukraine, I spoke with him last night.

The following are highlights from our 40-min conversation, which took place via Zoom on the evening of Thursday, March 3, 2022 US time:

(2:15) Who is Sergei Hovyadinov?

(3:37) His hometown of Kherson is near Crimea, so the 2014 annexation was stressful for his family.

(5:27) His family is now hiding at home, seeing Russian troops out the windows.

(7:07) Just you watch: Next, Russia will try claiming that the Kherson region wants to be independent. It’s a stage fake.

(8:06) Difference in Western and Russian media coverage of the invasion. It’s black and white.

(9:30) Putin’s justification for the war makes no sense. It’s not about a buffer against NATO, or natural gas deposits, or water for Crimea. And his historical rationale is absolute nonsense. This is just about him wanting to reconstitute the Soviet Union.

(15:20) We can’t know if he was bluffing and proceeded from pride, but few expected him to invade.

(18:55) Russian soldiers invading from Belarus might have thought it was a training exercise, but the ones invading from the south knew it was a real war.

(22:33) There’s a lot of evidence that Russian troop morale is low.

(24:08) Putin is acting irrationally.

(26:14) Sergei has not heard that Russians do not expect Putin to survive this. However, there’s a brain-drain exodus of information technology workers from Russia.

(29:45) We can’t know how this will end, but Ukrainians want to keep fighting.

(30:45) On Tuesday, Russians bombed the Babi Yar holocaust memorial near Kyiv, killing the memory of those people (the more than 30,000 Jews massacred there by Nazi Germany in 1941).

(31:30) The West has resisted helping Ukraine militarily, but seems to be coming closer.

(32:36) Ukraine’s weakest point is control of its skies.

(33:07) How long will the West stand down as atrocities mount in Ukraine? Probably longer than you think. Remember Syria, and President Obama’s meaningless red lines.

(35:32) Please support Ukrainians in any way you can. The humanitarian crisis is going to grow.

He suggested looking over aid ideas offered by The Washington Post at:

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Thank you for watching!

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  1. Gregory Iwan
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    The sum of the comments I have seen here (through 1800 MST US) touches on numerous realities — some current, some historical.

    The politics of greed are irrational but also inscrutable and immovable. Let’s face it: Putin himself siphons off tremendous wealth from the petroleum and other natural resources Russia dispenses to the world. How strange it is, that in terms of 18th-century economies, China runs the spinning wheel, leather working bench and bakery in the cabin, Russia brings the firewood to the door, and we and the rest of the West and other “developed” nations buy the clothes, tack, and bread — on credit.

    For decades now the USA has “offshored” so much production that it is rare to find anything not stamped “made in China.” Russia behaves relatively rationally; if you want to know the time, Guido the Cossack has wrist watches up both arms from which you may choose.

    Everything has become a good deal more complex recently, thanks to a certain virus that took hold in Wuhan, PRC. Putin is nothing if not opportunistic. And there may be a bit more, geopolitically and historically speaking, to Russian paranoia over its western borders. Ukraine has long been an invasion route into Mother Russia. The Nazis used its flat plains, aiming at the oil fields of the Middle East. Napoleon used Ukraine, too, though his principal route knifed through Poland. Look out, Warsaw.

  2. Jan
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Jason, for this objective, though sad, interview and the many good questions. I will pray for the safety of Sergei’s family.

    We, like so many, have been trying to discern the purpose behind Putin’s war. I don’t understand the politics, but Putin has no problem telling the world, “To hell with you, we’re taking Ukraine, and you’d better stand back, or else!”

    • Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:48 am | Permalink

      You’re welcome, Jan. It is indeed hard to understand Putin’s thinking here, which is why so many, including Sergei in this interview, question his sanity.

      Cartoon of Putin shooting himself in the foot

  3. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Jason and Sergei. This was a very informative conversation and falls in line with other authoritative opinions that I have read.

    Fiona Hill’s book There is Nothing for You Here also gives insight into Putin’s mind and behavior.

    This is one of those defining moments in history that will inevitably impact how authoritarian regimes choose to steal territory in the future.

    • Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:41 am | Permalink

      You’re welcome, Steve.

      About Fiona Hill’s book There is Nothing for You Here, Julian Borger wrote at The Guardian last November:

      While other Trump-era memoirs have focused almost solely on the carnival, Hill’s scope pans out to the wounded country that put him in office, and then wider still, across the Atlantic to Britain and then across Europe to Russia.

      What they all had in common is rapid, catastrophic deindustrialisation. In Russia, that came about through the chaotic collapse of the Soviet Union. In the US and the UK, it was inflicted by the political leadership and their economist gurus.

      “Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan helped to drive the nail into the coffin of twentieth-century industry while ensuring that those trapped inside the casket would find it practically impossible to pry the lid off,” Hill notes. Those buried alive, in that memorable metaphor, lost their sense of community and self. …

      Where Hill is most provocative is in her warnings that having centuries of democratic experience will not necessarily protect us from Russia’s fate. “Russia is America’s Ghost of Christmas Future”, she argues, a harbinger of things to come if we can’t adjust and heal our political polarisation.”

  4. Steve
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    We cannot shut down pipelines and oil and gas leases without expecting the vulnerability thus derived will not be exploited by our enemies. Renewables cannot cover all current energy needs let alone future growth. Nuclear and hydro will have to become part of the energy equation but both remain unpopular.

    Until energy alternatives are finally in place decades from now, carbon sources will be needed. To not recognize this is folly.

    Buying oil and gas from Russia when we have ample reserves in Canada, Mexico and the USA simply finances Putin’s strategy for domination. Weakness and stupidity beget exploitation. Conserve and use wisely, yes, but starvation diet with a wolf at the door? No thank you.

    • Tommy
      Posted March 5, 2022 at 4:06 am | Permalink

      Put people to work. Fast track the Keystone pipeline as if your life depended on it, because it might!

  5. Tommy
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    It is time for the people of the world to take stands against all governments for FREEDOM. Time for the ants to stand up to the grasshoppers. (A Bugs Life).

  6. Henry Mourad
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Jason, if you have a chance, would you ask him why there was no action by the Ukrainian to bomb the hell out of that 17 mile convey?
    They were stalled and appeared to be like sitting ducks!
    Thank you.

    • Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:32 am | Permalink

      I pointed him to this comment thread, and hope he’ll respond.

    • Sergei
      Posted March 6, 2022 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

      Hi Henry,

      It’s actually even longer than 17 miles.

      I am not a military expert and have no inside information into the UA military thinking, but my guess is that it is a matter of prioritizing the defense where it is most needed at the moment.

  7. Pamela Dunn
    Posted March 5, 2022 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Again I find this official narrative to be very one-sided. How does Sergei explain this?

    • Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Graham said in the video provided by Greenwald that he’d had enough of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and that it was time to help Ukraine push back. It’s been a cause of his for many years.

      He said just today, on CBS Mornings:

      “What I hope will happen here is that the world, not just the American people, will make a case against Putin that’s been made for 20 years. He’s literally jailed opponents in Russia, poisoned people, carpet-bombed Aleppo, Syria and Idlib, and Chechnya and nothing happened. Enough is enough.”

  8. Kent Lacey
    Posted March 4, 2022 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    I have two simple observations on the actions of Russia. There is almost never a justification for one country to invade militarily another country. In 99% of these occurrences the aggressor is wrong.

    My second thought is that the world is constantly changing, faster and faster these changes happen. And there is something new, and it is almost perfect, about the fact that the world is strangling Russia without firing one shot. Russian economic well-being is going down the toilet as we watch. Their reputation has fallen to a new low point, and when their money is frozen in bank accounts all over the world they feel the pain. As shipping freight is curtailed and air flights are banned, that only leaves turning off the sale of energy and Russia will be on life support.

    It is a new way that we have made traditional wars old-fashioned and for the first time in human history (I think) the war is being fought by men and women at computer terminals and in governments and corporations around the world.

    Will it work? We have a ring-side seat.

    • Posted March 5, 2022 at 7:25 am | Permalink

      It’s a good point, Kent. We do indeed have a ring-side seat on whether economic warfare is sufficient. We could end up in a bifurcated world on two fronts:

      A Chinese/Russian internet beside a Western one

      A Chinese/Russian trading economy beside the global one

  9. Zachary Hughes
    Posted March 4, 2022 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Sergei and Jason, for this interview and providing us with such clear perspectives on such a terrible situation.

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