Thursday, March 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Hostility to Ukrainians Dooms Russia to Isolation and Degeneration, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 13 – By denigrating all things Ukrainian and casting itself as the defender of ethnic Russians rather than of their rights and freedoms, Moscow dooms itself to increasing isolation and the Russian people to degeneration into its various component parts, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In an article prepared at the request of one Moscow outlet but rejected because of its content, Maksim Shevchenko says that since 1991 has often asked the question why Russians view Ukrainians the way they do and argues that these perceptions underlie Moscow’s approach to Crimea now (

            According to Shevchenko, Russian attitudes toward Ukrainians are based on the following propositions: “Such a people as the Ukrainians does not exist; it is [only] a filed subset of ethnic Russians.”  “The Ukrainian language is a certain Little Russian dialect of Russian.” “Ukraine is an accidental country” that outsiders have created rather than a real one.

Further, he says, this view includes the notion that “Ukrainian history is a strange collection of Banderite-Petlurevite propaganda, the goal of which is the denigration of the great imperial history of Russia and the establishment of a certain variant of the historical Russophobic anecdote.”

            The current crisis raises two related questions, the commentator continues.  “Why in contemporary Russia does part of the political, economic and information elite feel the need to insult everything Ukrainian?” And why does Moscow, in justifying intervention, speak about “the defense of the rights of [ethnic]Russians and Russian speakers,” and say nothing about those of the Ukrainians, as if the latter did not exist and whose rights were unimportant to Russia?

            “Great countries, who aspire to their own historical project by defending ethnic and religious groups declare that they are defending the principles of freedom, justice, law and order,” Shevchenko says.  Those who speak only about defending “ethnic or linguistic groups” condemn themselves to be little more than that.

             But of course all these things are symptoms of a deeper problem among Russians today, Shevchenko says.  They arise from the paralysis of Russian political thought and its inability to ask serious questions about who the Russians are and what Russia is, a shortcoming that requires denigrating anything or anyone which gets in the way of the new mythology.

            Among these myths is the notion of “Russian speakers” as an ethno-national community. Many people speak more than one language, but to focus on Russian speakers alone not only ignores that reality but also raises a question that many in Moscow prefer not to ask: what does Moscow plan to include under the designation “[ethnic] Russians” in the future?

            “Having cut off the ethnic Russians from the Slavs of Ukraine (the largest number of inter-ethnic marriages in the USSR were precisely between Russians and Ukrainians), and having oppressed and destroyed the Russian North and Non-Chernozem which is Finno-Ugric in its roots, what will the enemies [of Russia] convert the Russian people?”

            This focus on “Russian speakers” rather than Russians or other nations, Shevchenko argues, “cuts Russians off” from the cultural, economic and political influence of other peoples of Europe and Eurasia. And as such, it represents “a new Russian nationalism” in which there is little Russian and a lot of “oligarchic bureaucracy and international financial speculation.”

            Slogans about “’saving Russians from Ukrainians’” and putting the two peoples at odds are “only a terrible and large step along the path of the realization of this project,” a path that is especially appalling because the Ukrainians until recently weren’t interested in this separation and Russians knew that without Ukraine they would be thrown further into Asia.

            Having spent the last several days in Crimea, Shevchenko says, he can testify that “the hysterical concern about the defense of ethnic Russians in Ukraine appears not simply strange but bestial.” In Crimea, “Russians and Ukrainians are one people who call themselves ‘Slavs.’” The only other group is the 300,000 Crimean Tatars.

            Not surprisingly, he says, some Crimean Tatars are now asking themselves whom Moscow is defending Russians against and concluding that they are the only possible target, especially given the tragic history of their deportation. They are very much aware that there simply aren’t enough anti-Russian Ukrainians there to matter.

            Consequently, the Crimean Tatars are not going to view Moscow as a savior, whatever Vladimir Putin says or promises, and will continue to support Ukraine and Ukrainians.  Combined with Moscow’s Ukrainophobia, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars will come together not with but against the Russians, exactly the reverse of what Putin says he wants.


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