Gregor Razumovsky, direct descendant of the last Ukrainian Hetman
What is happening in Donbas is not an uprising, but a war being waged by Russia against Ukraine
19.06.2019 10:00

A direct descendant of the last Ukrainian Hetman, Kyrylo Razumovsky - Gregor Razumovsky - now lives in Vienna. He is 54 years old and is a historian and specialist in Eastern Europe (in particular, Ukraine). He worked as a journalist, analyst in Vienna, an expert in the European Commission's department on EU enlargement, and owns a consulting company.

Despite the fact that the Razumovsky family has long been forced to leave Ukraine, Gregor is actively interested in Ukrainian events, empathizing, feeling a strong emotional attachment to the homeland of his glorious ancestor. According to him, he always considered Razumovskys to be Ukrainians, "but in a somewhat archaic sense." Unlike even some Ukrainian citizens, he also clearly understands that what is happening in Donbas is "not an insurgence or uprising but a war that Russia is waging against Ukraine." He also thinks that the Kremlin's hybrid aggression opens a "window of opportunity" for Ukraine and gives a number of professional recommendations to improve the image of Ukraine in Austria in particular and the EU as a whole.

Gregor Razumovsky spoke about these and other things in an interview with Ukrinform's foreign correspondent in Austria.

Question: Mr. Gregor, repeated assertions by Russian historians who state that your ancestor Kyrylo Razumovsky and your entire family are to be identified as Russian. Could you, as the first representative of your House, bring clarity to this question?

Answer: Well, first of all, let’s try to understand why the Russians are so keen on assimilating the Razumovskys. I believe it is not directed against us, as a family, but to make half a century of Ukrainian history disappear. One more of many examples for gradually deleting facts from Ukrainian memory. History is rewritten, memory eroded, identity is lost. It’s a ploy that Russia's rulers have been using against Ukraine since 1654. How and more importantly – why – did all the original copies of the Treaty of Perejaslav disappear? Only few Ukrainians know about the war waged by Ivan Vyhovskyi against Moscow; why is that? Why do Russian history books ignore the Treaty of Hadiach of 1658 or portray it as an act of treason?

After Poltava, after Ivan Mazepa had been defeated and Baturyn had been destroyed by Menshikov, he went on to annihilate everything Ukrainian that he could get his hands on. This is how nearly the whole architectural period of the Kozak Baroque was destroyed in the Hetmanate. Why? Here, we are speaking about 1712, 1713 - half a century before Kyrylo Razumovsky enters the stage. By reducing the Razumovskys to two lucky imperial favorites with no particular political interests and no real ties to their homeland, an effect is achieved. There is a purpose. It effectively reduces the history of the "golden autumn" of the Hetmanate from 1750 to 1764 to a trivial anecdote. And this serves to wipe out the whole period from 1713 to 1764.

I believe that that answers your question, does it not? We simply never were anything else than a Ukrainian family. It annoys me all the more when so-called patriots, Ukrainian ones, tell me that my family is Russian. What they are doing is repeating the Russian propaganda as it has been fabricated since 1764.

To sum it up: no one in the surviving branch from our Ukrainian origins starting with Kyrylo through his son Gregor to me has been in Russian services or has identified himself as Russian. But of course, this does not mean that all members of our family have always been loyal to Kyrylo's memory, nor that all will always be.

Q: So we should clearly speak about the Ukrainian roots of your family?

A: Hetman Kyrylo himself, as princess Dashkova notes in her memoirs, only spoke a “small Russian idiom”. A typical way of how the Russian nobility but also many of today's Russians have treated and treat the Ukrainian language. As the anecdote shows, Kyrylo did not speak Russian, he obviously spoke Ukrainian, but I cannot say how well he wrote it. A large amount of his diplomatic communication was in French, but he had also learnt German during his studies.

Kyrylo's fifth son, Gregor – our branch of the family – was forced to leave the Russian Empire because of his ardent criticism of the czarist system, and the corruption of Petersburg and Moscow. Gregor's descendants remained in western Europe. Gregor's grandson, my great-grandfather Camillo senior, went by car from Czechoslovakia to Baturin and planned and paid for the renovation of the Hetman's palace. His son, my grandfather Andreas senior, spoke Ukrainian and shortly after the begin of WW I, he was taken prisoner by the Russians and spent nearly two years in a Russian prisoner of war camp.

My father, Andreas junior, was probably the best-known member of our family in the last century, but like his father, his first Slavic language was actually Czech, without ever considering himself as such. He achieved some fame as a political analyst writing for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, where he warned extensively about the threat that the soviet union posed for the free world.

As to me, raised in Holland, Belgrade, France, and South Africa, I have always considered us to be essentially "Ukrainians," but in a somewhat archaic sense. I can understand if some of your readers will find that a bit strange, considering how long ago our family had to leave their homeland. Perhaps our family simply has a different concept of history.

Q: However, the current spelling of the name Razumovsky is in the Russian way and not in the Ukrainian manner – Rozumovsky.

A: Yes, that's a question that comes up again occasionally. Actually, I am not quite certain myself. Gregor mostly used the Latin-alphabet version with "a" when traveling in western Europe and so did his brothers and their father. I think it must have been because the diploma whereby Oleksi Rozum was accorded the title of Count of the Holy Roman Empire used the "Rasumoffski," spelling with "a. "That was under emperor Charles VII in Frankfurt, on the 27th of April 1744. Even so, it is a bit complicated: my ancestor Gregor still occasionally wrote "Rozoumovsky" – with a second "o" after the "z,", before settling in Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic. After that, all papers bear the version "Razumovsky," which is the one we have been using since 1811 in our line. But the Cyrillic version, such as it was printed by Mykhailo Kozachinskyi in 1745 in his panegiric for our family was Rozumovskyi. This shows that both versions of the name are correct.

Q: You freely speak in three languages: English, German and French. How about Ukrainian? Do you speak Ukrainian?

Not so much... I would like to speak more. I've been learning it again and again but I cannot speak very much... Well, I understand it a little. Actually, I am all too much aware how absurd it is that my Ukrainian should be so horribly bad.

Q: As a historian yourself, you will be well aware of the situation around the history of the development of the Ukrainian language, which survived despite constant suppression and even banning. How important do you see the Ukrainian language as one of the pillars for the existence of an independent and sovereign Ukrainian state?

A: I have been saying all these things about Ukrainian culture and identity, but even so I think that you can have a Ukrainian identity and speak Russian or any other language. I believe it is important to truly identify with your country and all its people, feel true respect for the state and respect the laws. And feel as a part of the culture is far more important than the language you speak because your parents or your grandparents, for professional reasons or as a consequence of soviet ideology, at some point started speaking Russian.

Let's never forget that the Soviet Union was a prison of nations. And that the pressure of Russification was enormous. Let us be tolerant and generous. Two good Ukrainian qualities, after all.

Q: But without Ukrainian as a state language, could Ukraine be possible as a Ukrainian state?

A: Ukrainian should be the primary official state language, it should also be the language that is taught at universities. For that reason, it should be taught at all schools, because that would otherwise exclude young Russian native-speaking Ukrainians from access to higher education and jobs. But that doesn't mean that there shouldn`t be the possibility, especially for the elderly, to communicate with civil servants in Russian, also in the paperwork. Switzerland easily manages three languages; even Germany has Danish and Sorbic and allows for their language on a regional basis. Why should Ukraine be less flexible than Switzerland?

Q: Now the question to you as a researcher deeply interested in the Ukrainian issues. Have you been surprised by the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, what conclusions could you make based on their results about the Ukrainian nation and democracy?

A: Actually, I was very impressed and satisfied that the elections took place the way they did. Because it proves that a real democratic process, the way we hope for in all European countries, is guaranteed in Ukraine. Ukraine is European, no less than Spain, France, and Germany. And this is what was shown in these elections, for the whole world to see. There were no demonstrations with rioting and not too much buying of votes by the candidates. In this, we should thank Mr. Poroshenko, as he did contribute substantially to this result.

Anyway, with Mr. Zelensky somebody has been elected who is from another age, really from another era than his predecessor. Mr. Zelensky is young and politically “inexperienced” as his critics always point out. Actually, I consider that to be one of his main positive qualities. Persons who are my age and above have been socialized and have studied in the times of the Cold War. Many if not most have never truly managed to adapt to the world as it presents itself today. Somebody who’s 41 today was 13 when the Soviet Union fell apart. He grew into a new world.

Q: Will the new president succeed in his work?

A: If he manages to do one very central thing, at least to reduce the number of Soviet socialized, minded people in the Parliament. I think that is the main thing now. Clean the Rada and make it younger.

I mean, I don't know Zelensky, I've never met him, I can't judge anything about him. But the things that you can see: he's dynamic, he's into his job, he's taking it seriously and he seems to be genuinely interested in the political side, the duty to actually improve things, not just managing a situation, preserving the status quo and his power. Yes, I am optimistic.

Q: For centuries, Ukrainians have been struggling to create an independent and sovereign state that includes also your ancestor Kyrylo Razumovsky's activities. However, all these attempts were constantly eroded by the imperial ambitions of Russia. Do you consider the current Russian aggression against Ukraine as the next round of this historic confrontation and as a consequence of Moscow's continued desire to preserve its influence on Ukrainian territories?

A: Yes, I do. And I find the way the western world is reacting to Mr. Putin's acts of aggression horribly disappointing. And we are constantly confronted with new threats by the Kremlin: perhaps I misinterpret the situation, but to me, there is only one way that Mr. Putin's announcement of giving out Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Donbas can be interpreted: To pave the way for a military intervention to "rescue" his Russian "compatriots," much as he did in South Ossetia in 2008, in Georgia. Or to threaten to do so, knowing that Ukrainians will recognize the parallels, even if western media and politicians do not. This being said, I feel that Ukraine has become like a pawn in a Great Game between the great powers, Russia – holding on to the illusion of being a superpower - on the one hand, the European Union and the United States on the other. Such questions as "Can Ukraine become a member of the EU?" or "Should Ukraine become a member of NATO?" play a decisive role. Because as long as there's any kind of military conflict in Ukraine, the country will not be allowed to join either the EU or NATO. That is also something that the Kremlin will consider an advantage from the war. And let us be clear about this: What is happening in Donbas is not an insurgence or uprising but a war that Russia is waging against Ukraine, with the whole world looking away and inviting Mr. Putin to parties and weddings, as for instance in Austria by the foreign minister Karin Kneissl. It is diplomatic tradition and international convention to grant heads of state free entry and exit when they are invited for inter-governmental or state affairs. But why does Mr. Putin, who is held responsible for murders in the EU and unilateral wars of territorial expansion against neighboring countries, get the same treatment that a tourist will receive? One aspect of the sanctions should, I believe, be to forbid precisely that.

Q: How would you describe the current political regime in the Russian Federation, do you understand the way of its leadership thinking?

A: I differ from many other analysts in saying that I don’t think that Mr. Putin is as much in control as everybody believes him to be. In the past, in the early years of his presidency, he had a strategic vision for his country, he nowadays seems to be acting increasingly in a reactionary way. I believe that Mr. Putin has come to feel, but only to feel and not yet accept a number of things. He is getting older. After that gigantic boost that oil and gas gave Russia's economy in Mr. Putin's mental and physical prime, he suddenly finds himself the president of an economically weak country and at the same time starting to really feel his age. That explains his anger, his paranoia and his disappointment. And like many strongly ambitious leaders with a weak character before him, he has not prepared anyone to be his successor. No one who – in a possibly democratic future Russia - will grant him amnesty or will allow him to keep all the riches that he has allegedly been piling up, if not for himself, then for his children, stealing from Russia's citizens. I see a man who wanted to make Russia great again and himself powerful and rich. And now realizes that he has managed to ruin his country's economy and make a terrible mess concerning long-term relations with Ukraine. To my mind, Mr. Putin has become irrational, which is demonstrated by his needless military expenditures in a time when his people really have other concerns. It is this irrationality that this makes him so dangerous. It is when people fail that you have to watch very, very carefully.

Q: Don't you think that the hybrid war with the use of military tools which Putin's Russia started against Ukraine should be considered in the broader context - the shadowy war with the use of a variety of non-military means against Western liberal democracies, trying to undermine all these countries politically and destabilize the situation?

A: Actually, first of all, yes. I’m absolutely certain that that is the intention. Let's be clear about that: I think that the concept of democracy and the idea of having it in Russia gives Mr. Putin and his gang sleepless nights. In that spirit, Russia has not only been directly targeting the people of western countries by perverting the use of social media. Beyond that, it also seems to have successfully recruited a fair number of politicians and journalists of right-wing parties and publications to propagate Kremlin propaganda.

I am of course speaking about the German Alternative for Germany (AfD) or the alleged financial support for the French Front National and the known personal relations to the Austrian Freedom Party. If true, these actions would be simply unprofessional, because it is short-sighted. As little in the long-term interests of the Russian Federation as the Donbas war.

Why all these psychological warfare-actions against some of the most powerful EU-states? Why on earth should Moscow be on the one hand investing so much in lobbying to get the sanctions against Russia lifted, whilst simultaneously taking these offensive steps? Could it really be that Mr. Putin truly believed that all of that would not eventually become public knowledge? Or that he truly believes that the EU is the enemy of Russia and simply doesn't care, or actively wishes for a confrontation with the west? These are terrifying thoughts.

Anyway. Now Moscow has declared to leave the INF treaty of 1987, adding nuclear threat to the insults given above. The chances of regaining the EU's trust, of long-term cooperation between the EU and the Russian Federation are growing thinner by the day. What for, why does Mr. Putin wish to isolate his country?

Which leads us to the relations of Russia with its "brother country" Ukraine. Forgive me my cynical remark, but if you really want to have good relations with your “brother”, you don`t go about killing his children. If Mr. Putin was unhappy about the Euromaidan and the failure of his Eurasian Economic Union, well, then he was unhappy and should have come to terms with it. Again, you don’t kill the children of your brother because you are unhappy about their behavior. This is not just a matter of ethics, it is a matter of shaping alliances.

There’s one thing the Kremlin was always good at - playing chess with other nations, but also its own. Sowing discord and animosity; dividing and ruling. That is the way the Kremlin has been dominating Ukraine for centuries. Now it is still playing the same games, but with one glitch in the system after another. Trying to murder Mr. Skripal in Salisbury last year is a good example for this anachronistic behavior. There is a reason why the governments of the civilized will not send killers to murder somebody in a befriended country. Because it is terribly counterproductive to do so.

Q: So maybe we are approaching a new type of the so-called Cold War?

A: I hope not. But it could be that we are already in it. And sometimes I fear it is so. The dialogue has, of course, suffered enormously and without mutual trust, it will be impossible to renew the trust as it was when Mr. Putin came into his office, between Russia and the rest of the world.

Q: Do you agree that comprehensive resolution of the war in Donbas will only be possible when the Russian Federation takes a political decision to stop its aggression and to withdraw its Armed Forces and armed formations from the sovereign territory of Ukraine?

A: Yes, of course, definitely. Russia is at war with Ukraine, it is a one-sided and asymmetric war of a large aggressive power that has invaded a smaller neighbor with the intent of territorial expansion. Let's be clear about that.

The Donbas is a part of Ukraine both historically as well as according to international treaties. The governing elite of the Russian Federation seem not to recognize one thing. What happens today in Donbas could easily happen tomorrow – or in ten years, or in twenty – in Sakha or in any of the regions of the Russian Federation. Uprisings and insurgencies are not always instigated from abroad. In fact, I believe that the Kremlin is blindly concocting recipes for the dissolution of its country. It is safe to assume that this is not the intention of the Russian government, so why is it playing with fire?

Q: In many experts' views, the less counteraction Putin encounters, the more aggressive his actions will become. Should the international community steps up its pressure on Russia, including by strengthening the sanctions regime, to contain its aggressiveness and make it abide by its international commitments and obligations?

A: First, let me point out that I do not know how the existing sanctions work, whether they have a political impact, so I am not the best to ask. I am neither an economist nor have I ever seen any reliable data on that question. But yes, if the sanctions work, by all means, increase them.

But what is needed, in my opinion, is increasing media work. Informing western media and decision and opinion makers about Ukraine. Not propaganda, like Russia has been producing. Facts, reality and the different facets of truth. The west must learn about Ukraine, about its strengths and weaknesses. We must be open and honest about it. And we should try to reach the Russian people. The question would be: how? To open their eyes to their responsibility for the terrible mess Mr. Putin put us all in. Mr. Putin, up till now, has not declared a complete dictatorship, but let us be clear about it that he’s not very far from that anymore.

But we must be clear and honest in all respects. The way that the west has been dealing with Russia over the Donbas War is pure "appeasement politics," the same treatment that the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain gave to Adolf Hitler in Munich 1938 under very similar circumstances. Neither the EU nor the U.S. have shown themselves the allies and friends of Ukraine that they claim to be.

Q: Could the media work make Russia reverse its position?

A: Well, it could make a part of the population, presumably the more intelligent part, start thinking about the position of the Russian Federation in the world. I don’t think that Mr. Putin will be swept out of his office by an election because he’s going to rig it again and again. The only way to get rid of him would be if he resigned, or was forced to resign by members of his Junta, or if there’s enough public pressure from the Russian public to sweep him out of the government.

Q: But first they have to turn off the TV…In my opinion, the Russians understand only force, that’s why strengthening the sanctions are needed.

A: The problem is that always when you use force, you engender violence. And look at the Russian government using force against us: does it weaken Ukraine, or does it contribute to stability in this country?

Q: But they've already used force.

A: When you start exerting force on a given group, you will usually only achieve to increase cohesion in the collective. Which makes force actually counterproductive, defeating the purpose you set out with. That is something that Buddha and Jesus had already understood more than 2,000 years ago and that Gandhi and Mandela successfully applied. That’s the reason why I believe one should try to “retaliate” by reaching out to the Russian people. But not through propaganda lies, which Russia has been doing in the West. Simply with information.

With clear-cut, simple content.

But in end-effect, I do believe that a nation has the right to self-defense, as a very last resort. And yes, I believe that the disarming Ukraine's nuclear arsenal in the early 1990s was a terrible mistake and it is the Western European countries, Germany at the very top of them, that are to blame.

Q: In your opinion, how would this Russian aggression affect the further Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine, can you imagine Ukraine as part of EU and NATO some day in the future?

A: I think that Ukraine would be an excellent addition to the EU, simply because it is in all aspects a European country. And if Ukraine manages to shape up to the EU-accession criteria, Ukraine shouldn't just be granted the permission, much rather the EU-member states should recognize Ukraine's natural right to accession, without further discussion.

Speaking about NATO we should not forget one mention its negative side: It was created to defend the western world fight against an attack by what was felt to be a "red empire," an "empire of evil" where Russian was spoken and people would get pulled out of their beds to be shot. Don't overestimate the west. The quality of intelligence that was available was much worse than you would believe and it was not the intention of NATO to liberate the subjugated nations of the USSR. After all, NATO missiles were targeting Ukrainian cities and would have killed millions of Ukrainians in case of a nuclear conflict. For that reason, even if it was only symbolic, I think there should be some new organization. A military organization of the EU, obviously including Ukraine, but also the United States. And perhaps, one day, a democratic Russia.

Anyway, I think that now is a marvelous situation for Ukraine's repositioning in Europe. If it is done wisely and with care. We should step through the window of opportunity that Mr. Vladimir Putin has so kindly kicked open for us.

Q: Which window of opportunities?

A: We have to thank Mr. Putin for the psychological and informational war that he has been waging against the West on and all the other social media, by spreading lies on Tv, Radio and in print targeting the EU and the US public at large. By openly closely befriending senior members of the right-wing extremist Austrian Freedom Party or the equally right-wing Alliance for Germany, not to forget the French Front National, also of the far-right Russia is, of course, slowly generating a lot of resentment in the broader political spectrum.

I think the western European public was never as open vis-a-vis Ukraine and Ukrainian interests as it is now. Historical dialectics at work, pure and simple. I think this is a new situation. Even the Orange Revolution, which already impacted positively on the western media, did not create the same effect as the Euromaidan in western perception. There was a notable, measurable difference. Russia's aggressive reaction to Ukraine's signing of the Association Agreement with the EU contributed to that, of course.

Q: Speaking about the perception of Ukraine in the West, does it correspond with the reality?

A: I believe it was the US president Ronald Reagan who coined the phrase of the “empire of evil”. Basically, that sums up western expectations of the “East”. From 1918 to 1991 that was all it was. Ukraine, together with Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan were felt to be at the core. And then there was the group that one could have called “not so bad but still not good either”. Which included all other members of the Warsaw Treaty Organization. Ever wonder why it was called Warsaw “Pact” and not “association” or “treaty” in the west?

All in all, 28 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the general perception of Ukraine by western opinion leaders and -makers is extremely vague at best. The Ukrainian language is still largely considered to be a Russian dialect, Kyiv is, of course, Kiev, the mother of Russia and not the Rus etc… Ukraine as such is seen as something “new” that has surprisingly and magically appeared after the breaking apart of the USSR, without anyone really knowing why. A smaller part of a larger world that one simply didn't visit, except as a diplomat, a spy, or a shady businessman. Those who are historically slightly more educated will equate the existence of Ukraine with Stalin's wish to have yet another seat in the UN. A few will think about the horrors of WWII, and near to none about topics such as the Holodomor.

Q: What should be done to improve Ukraine's image in Austria and the EU as the whole?

A: OK, since this is a field in which very much touches on my profession, let me answer this a bit less personally. To start with, a fundamental principle. At the core of every communication strategy that is crowned by long-term success, there is transparency and truthfulness. I know, this sounds naïve. Actually, it is the exact opposite. Campaigns based on half-truths or lies will – in this day and age- eventually be found out. And credibility is a capital that a government, or in this case, a country, cannot reclaim once it has lost it.

In direct comparison with Russia, Ukraine can claim, “we don’t need to lie, no subterfuge from us. We can open the doors and windows of our country to you, and you see, when we have presidential elections, the guy from the opposition can get 73% and is not locked away a few days before the elections. Or shot. Or poisoned. And if the new guy becomes president, the old one is not being arrested and thrown into jail. No. They shake hands and that’s it. That’s civilization. That’s democratic, civilized behavior.”

Some more basic facts? The euro-consumer has not yet materialized, much to the regret of the industry. The same holds true for political audiences. Targeting France, Germany or the UK still requires bespoke information campaigns. That sounds expensive but is mainly work-intensive. If we carefully plan our activities and – and this is vital – concentrate on precisely identified target audiences in the concerned countries, it will take time and effort, but it is feasible. The operative purpose will be to disseminate factual and verified information about Russia – and equally reliable data about Ukraine. Biased by necessity and without any obfuscation of that fact, the information will serve to drive home the intrinsic differences between Russia and Ukraine, the numerous failures and crimes of the Russian government, and to state a convincing argument for Ukraine`s accession to the EU. Target audiences are not necessarily those that one would expect; politicians obviously cannot be neglected, but there are other socially relevant multipliers that are surprisingly effective. Identifying and reaching these will be the key to the tactical implementation of the overall strategy.

At this point, I think Ukraine has everything it needs to achieve those goals.

Vasyl Korotkyi, Vienna

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