Staunton, April 22 – Vladimir Pastukhov suggests that Ukraine now faces the choice of concluding a humiliating “Brest peace” with Moscow in which it would yield an enormous portion of its territory and population to preserve itself and in the hopes of recovering its losses in the future or risking the possibility that it was disappear altogether.
In an essay on Polit.ru on Sunday, the St. Antony’s Russian scholar argues that just as the Bolsheviks signed the original humiliating treaty with Germany at the start of Soviet times not to betray their country but to save it, so too the Ukrainians may have to go through the same process now (polit.ru/article/2014/04/20/ukraine/).
Many Russians and many Bolsheviks objected to Lenin’s decision to sign the Brest Peace accords, viewing them as a betrayal not only of the country but of the revolution. But Pastukhov argues that Lenin’s decision reflected great intuition and greater political courage than what was being shown by his opponents.
Under the circumstances given the power of the German army and the weakness of the Soviet state, he says, “any peace treaty was a good thing” because it preserved Lenin’s regime and gave it the opportunity to build up its forces, bide its time, and ultimately restore much of the territory it had yielded.
Ukraine today, Pastukhov says, “is experiencing the most difficult times.” In many ways, however, these times are not much more difficult than those Lenin faced at the start of Soviet times. He had to choose between fighting on and losing or making a peace and trying to hold on to something on which to build.
According to the St. Antony’s scholar, as was true in 1918 for the Bolshevik state, so too now “war is death for revolutionary Ukraine.” He says that “everyone understands this but will not say so aloud.” It has “no army, no resources, no state organization, not anything” needed to carry out a war.
Moreover, Pastukhov argues, “it is perfectly obvious that the people does not want to fight.” But some Ukrainian leaders are talking about war not because their country could win it but either because of emotional feelings or because such a conflict represents the only possibility for one or another of them to return to political power.
Yulia Timoshenko is one of these, he says, and if she did not exist in Ukraine, “the Kremlin would have to invent her” because she is contributing to what is for Moscow “the optimal political reality: a situation of unending civil war which will not allow the government to concentrate on overcoming the economic crisis and engaging in state construction.”
“That does not mean,” he hastens to add, that she is working for Moscow as “its agent.” Rather it is that “objectively” she is making it easier for the Kremlin to achieve its goal of transforming Ukraine into a burning buffer between Russia and the West.”
Moscow “least of all” today wants to “’conquer’ Ukraine or unite it with Russia,” except for Crimea. All it needs is to create conditions under which no one else will “’conquer’” that country.” Thus, Moscow’s policies: the introduction of enough force to destabilize Ukraine but not enough to conquer it or provoke a violent reaction.
Timoshenko supports the Ukrainian revolution, Pastukhov says, but she clearly has not mastered “the Leninist lessons, the most important of which is that it is necessary to defend the revolution at any price, even at the price” of such a humiliating accord as a Brest-style peace lest the revolution be destroyed.
Trying to fight on was impossible for the Bolsheviks in 1918 although it was emotionally important to many of Lenin’s comrades, so important that they actively opposed his policy and almost succeeded. Trying to fight on now is impossible for Ukraine on its own, however emotionally satisfying it may be.
The goals Timoshenko has declared cannot be achieved, Pastukhov says. “The maximum she can achieve by her activity is the formation of non-governmental militarized formations consisting of radical nationalists and sending them on targeted punitive operations against the territories that are in revolt.”
“After that,” he continues, “Ukraine will descend into a night of the long knives which will never end,” and “this, of course, will create problems for Russia in the long-term ... but it will not save Ukrainian statehood.”
Unfortunately, he continues, Timoshenko is not alone either in Ukraine or in Russia where many liberals would like Ukraine to act in ways that will lead to “the liberation of Russia from dictatorship.” They too are calling on Ukrainians to resist, something they themselves have proven incapable of doing.
“In order to survive, Ukraine needs peace on any conditions,” Pastukhov says. It will be under those now in place “an unjust and humiliating” one dictated under the guns of others and involve “possibly very significant territorial losses.” But “the main thing is to preserve national statehood and lead the country through default.”
“The best response of Ukraine” to the Anschluss of Crimea, he suggests, should be “the restoration out of the ashes of such a state that the residents of the peninsula ten years of now will seek to get their Ukrainian passports back,” even if that Ukraine for some of the intervening period is smaller in territory than it is today.
“Even the loss of the entire south east would not be fatal if a nucleus around which this new statehood can be built is preserved,” Pastukhov says. And if the Russian Federation does annex them, it will quickly find that they are a burden and a problem rather than a trophy and a triumph.
To that end, Kyiv should allow referenda in these regions. If they vote for independence or to join the Russian Federation, that will ultimately work out better for Ukraine than would an attempt to hold them by force, Pastukhov says. It would be humiliating but it would not extinguish the Ukrainian state. Resisting could have the opposite effect.
“Today, Ukrainian statehood and the Ukrainian revolution are in danger,” he says, and consequently Ukraine faces a terrible choice, but one choice is ultimately less horrific than the other, and unfortunately, there is no third one.