Yes, if the regime in Kiev changes…
There is a class of liberal, pro-Western thinkers in Russia, who are also opposed to “Russian imperialism.” And their common trait is dishonesty. Take for instance Vladislav Inozemtsev, who authored Prokhorov’s 2012 Presidential campaign programme, a document which stipulated Russia should aim to become a member of the EU and NATO, two organisations where Russia is a priori not welcome. More recently, Inozemtsev said that having lived in Germany, Austria, France and the US, in the multicultural melting pot of NYC, he has not encountered Russophobia, so apparently it does no exist. But here I will discuss another dishonesty of this group, the claim that Russia is an empire.
Russia is not an empire, it is a national state where 85% of the people are ethnic Russians. It is a large state with many national minorities but many large countries have ethnic and regional minorities, even Germany and France have them. Russia is a former metropole of many countries, and as a metropole Russia maintains links to many of these countries. France for instance maintains control over large chunks of Africa militarily, financially, and over the political regimes there.
Naturally these “anti-imperialist” authors are very popular among Russophobes in the West. Paul Goble, a notorious Russophobe has quite a gallery of these characters on his blog. Recently he gave an account of an article: “Five years without Ukraine” by Sergey Shelin, a writer for Rosbalt. I will draw upon both to deconstruct the arguments.
The main thesis of Shelin is:
Ukraine has Separated from Russia, but Russia Hasn’t from Ukraine
Really? Has this happened?
“The victory of the Kyiv revolution in February 2014 marked the final divorce of Ukraine and Russia and thus became one of the most important events of the 21st century, Sergey Shelin says; but in the five years since, Ukraine has made use of this new situation in positive ways while Russia has not been able to accept it.
“The official dismantling of the USSR was conceived as far as these two countries are concerned as a formal event,” the Rosbalt commentator says, and for some time, it remained such in both countries. But the events of 2014 made the dismantling real, and Ukraine has acted on that.
The regime which came into power in Ukraine in 2014 did so on anti-Russian rhetoric and attacks on pro-Russian Ukrainians, and was heavily supported by Western powers in this. There has never been a national referendum on which way Ukraine should take internationally. Millions of Ukrainians left the country for Russia, and millions more don’t agree with the politics of the final divorce. We will yet see the normalisation of relations with Russia in the future. And meanwhile. there is no reason why Russia should accept an anti-Russian regime which receives military and diplomatic support from the West.
The babble about Ukraine being somehow part of Russia since 1991 is but a repetition of talking points of the Kiev regime, and I am not certain Shelin realises that. This is actually the favourite saying the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko: “ostatochne proshchevay!” (“once again, goodbye!“) This claim has no merit, Ukraine was completely independent since 1991.
In 2014 it was just a bunch of Ukrainian oligarchs, who thought they could legalise their ill-gotten gains stashed in the West by selling their country’s economy to the EU.
Today’s Ukraine, he writes, “is a poor but viable state, which over the past five years has shown its ability to live without Russia.” Personal ties have weakened, economic dependency has as well, and now Russia is viewed there as another country, hostile rather than part of some larger entity as Russians still continue to view Ukraine.
Ukraine’s economy has “grown for the fourth year in a row, quite slowly but all the same faster” than Russia’s. Its people are no longer going to Russia to find work but rather to Europe. “And the Ukrainian army is not super-strong but is sufficiently capable, and there is not the slightest sign that it will throw down its arms and go home.”
I have to question the merit of Ukrainians having to find work in Russia or Europe to survive. Russian economy may be growing slower than Ukraine’s but at least it is not based on remittances of gastarbeiters.
Most states are viable, even Eritrea is cool, the latter is also a source of thousands of emigrants. The problem here is that Ukraine is at war, as they believe with Russia, without declaring a war on Russia. Shouldn’t Russia keep an eye on Ukraine just because of this? Recent violation of Russia’s territorial waters by Ukrainian ships, and the subsequent declaration of martial law by Kiev was something Russia could hardly ignore.
In short, Shelin says, “Ukrainians have left and are living their own life.” They don’t accept the idea anymore that they are anybody’s including Russia’s “younger brother” or “junior partner.”
Goble actually wrongly paraphrases what Shelin wrote. The latter asked why Russia does not treat Ukraine as other “junior partners” that have left, such as Bulgarians, Lithuanians or Polish? But who says Russia doesn’t treat them the same as Ukraine in fact?
Unfortunately, Russians from top to bottom have not adjusted to this new reality. The Kremlin and the popular masses view Ukrainians as ungrateful traitors; and as it well known, traitors are hated more than enemies of other kinds. At the very least, it is harder to forgive them and move on.
But Russians do not understand that “national independence is not treason. This is the right of a nation if a nation is conscious of itself.” The Russians remain “people of the empire” and expect others to continue to accept that arrangement, one that puts the Russians on top, forever.
Here is a difference in perspective. The Ukrainians have won national independence in 1991, and the Russians weren’t on top in that country since 1917 or 1918. In fact, Russians and Russian speakers began to be treated increasingly as outsiders, and creeping Ukrainisation created numerous instances of conflict. Things only intensified since 1991, and properly came to a head in 2014.
What happened was not about national independence, the Ukrainians had full independence already. The education system was in Ukrainian hands, the media were mostly pro-Western. What happened was about geopolitical realignment. For five years now, Ukraine has existed as a festering wound in the hands of the West that acts to put pressure on Russia. The aforementioned incident in the Kerch Strait is a great recent example of this. The EU brought sanctions against the FSB officers involved in the arrest of Ukrainian violators, showing whose side Brussels is really on. Certainly not on the side of justice and peace.
This encouragement of Ukraine by the West may still lead to war because it gives Kiev the moral and military support to continue with hostile policy.
This is not the first time something like this has happened among Russians. “In the 1990s, the object of a quite strong and long dislike was little Estonia” and the reasons were more or less the same. The existence of that state as an independent one seemed to Russians both unreasonable and incorrect.
This Russian hostility led to a growth of ethnic nationalism which has ebbed with time and to an explosion of “civic energy” which has transformed Estonia into a European country on its own as far as Russia is concerned. Because it is smaller and ethnically more distinct than Ukraine, the Russians have mostly come to terms with its separateness.
This is actually blatant denial of the discrimination against the Russian minority and blatant the Russophobia that was always the object of critique in Russia of the Baltic states, and that quite hasn’t gone anywhere. It just might have been temporarily overshadowed by Ukraine.
With Ukrainians, a nation of rebranded Russians, on a territory which is largely Russian speaking, and intertwined with Russia by common history, it is harder to come to terms with separateness, actually for both sides. But most Russians I bet have come to terms with the reality of the Ukrainian state, and that it is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
What is distressing, Shelin continues, is that in the case of Ukraine, not only the powers that be and the masses are anti-Ukrainian but a large portion of Russia’s intellectual circles are as well. They too display emotions which can only be explained by the continuing power of imperialist ideas among Russians.
Some Russian intellectuals say Ukraine shouldn’t go its separate way because the main vector in international life is toward cooperation and unity, but that isn’t true. And some complain that Ukraine hasn’t shown the way for Russia to change – but that is not Ukraine’s responsibility, the commentator argues.
Shelin considers only progressive, that is liberal pro-Western critics of Russian policy as intellectuals. People, who believe in some naive notions of internationalism, and even better yet people who believe that events in Ukraine should have influenced events in Russia. I guess Russia does not have other intellectuals, or Shelin simply does not meet any like that.
What is funny, is that it was mainly Ukrainians that have had the belief that Maidan in Ukraine will bring about a Maidan in Russia. And I have heard this from Czech Russophobes too, which means this belief had quite a currency. I have heard from American supporters of the Maidan that now that Ukraine has a Western supported “democracy” it should become free, prosperous and completely unlike Putin’s Russia.
I am not surprised some Russian liberals might have been effected by this meme. To their disappointment, New Ukraine turned out objectively much worse that Putin’s Russia, although Shelin attempts to create moral equivalence between the two regimes.
Shelin attempts to link this thinking to imperialism but I don’t see any imperialism other than globalist imperialism to which all Russian liberals subscribe.
The answer is mixed. “One thing has changed for the better: the masses are tired of the hostility. They are fed up with focusing on it and want attention to be paid to their problems at home. And only our most senior people as before are not tired: for them, the empire has no alternative” that to proceed as before.
While some might be a bit tired of the Ukraine topic, particularly in the liberal circles, since Ukraine has been a source of immense black PR to their movement, Ukraine sells! And even if radio, tv, the press move to other topics, sooner or later they will need to return to discussing Ukraine because Kiev wouldn’t let them forget. Take for instance the very recent politically charged exchanges at Kiev’s Eurovision elimination. You can start with this interview of Skrypin with the duo Anna-Maria if you know Ukrainian. I am not quite certain Ukrainians have moved on after what I witnessed.
Currently, normalisation of relations with Russia is a taboo topic in Kiev but eventually Kiev and Moscow will need to negotiate terms. This whole drama is not yet finished.