Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine is the Poland of the 21st Century, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 15 – Ukraine, Vladimir Pastukhov writes, “is the Poland of the 21st century,” only slightly further east, and that situation means that it likely faces partition, subordination to Moscow or incorporation in the Russian state unless and until a more adequate Ukrainian national elite emerges.

            In an essay on Polit.ru yesterday, the St. Antony’s scholar argues that that “Ukraine in that form in which we had been accustomed to see it over the last 20 years has ceased to exist” and that it will only be “reborn in another time, in different borders and with new political content” (polit.ru/article/2014/04/14/ukraine/).

            When and how that will happen, he says, remain unclear because certain conditions which do not now exist must be met and are unlikely to be met anytime soon.  That will require the emergence of “elites not connected ideologically or organizationally with those clans which have led the country to economic and political bankruptcy.”

            And it will require “a certain pause” in Kyiv’s foreign policy because “the flourishing of Ukraine in a paradoxical way now depends on the decline of Russia” because “the annexation of Crimea is not a local conflict and does not have a resolution separate from “a reformation of the entire existing international system.”

            With Crimea, Pastukhov says, “the 20th century ended,” and a “second imperialist war” between Russia and Europe or more broadly the West has begun, a war that in the nuclear age  is unlikely to take the form of open fighting but that has already lead to “full mobilization” on both sides and to the belief that the only way out for the one is the destruction of the other.

            “By its nature,” the St. Antony’s scholar says, “this war is closer to the first world (imperialist) war than to the second” because the later was based on “clearly expressed ideological” conflicts among liberalism, fascism and communism.  Today, despite Russia’s rejection of Western values the conflict is one in which “interests dominate over ideas.”

            Moscow appears to understand this, and in the current situation, “Russia has returned to its customary practice of resolving internal problems by exporting them through expansion and seizing new territories.” In this sense, “war is for contemporary Russia not an excess but a universal and absolutely acceptable instrument of resolving conflict situations.”

            What makes this situation almost funny, he continues, is that “Russian in fact is only parodying the political practice of the West which the latter has applied (and is applying) in its relations with Russia itself and with many other countries over the course of the last twenty years.”

            According to Pastukhov, “the ideology of the contemporary West is degenerating into ‘liberal fundamentalism’” which he suggests is a “sublimated” form of “’post-modernist’ Western imperialism.” Its rationalism has been transformed into political correctness, and it has sought to advance its interests “on territories which have been freed from Soviet influence.”

            Driven into a corner by this Western approach, Russia finally has turned to “a tested historical means: it has spat on all international legal norms and advanced naked force as the only basis for the resolution of disputes.” In the case of Ukraine, “it has made [this] secret war public but no more than that.”

            But “by this step, Russia has opened a Pandora’s box, out of which are emerging ‘threats,’ the victim of which it will itself become,” Pastukhov says.  But before that happens, “Ukraine will be the victim,” in much the same way Poland was in the 18th century at the time of partition.

            “Much has been said and written about Russian aggression,” the scholar continues, “but little is being said and written about why this aggression has been so successful.” The reason is to be found in the inadequacy and failures of Ukrainian policies over the last two decades.

            He observes that “if the nationalism of Russia continues to be archaic and the nationalism of the West has acquired ‘post-modern’ characteristics, then Ukrainian nationalism has remained infantile,” one in which Ukrainian leaders have been like people playing with matches while sitting in gasoline.

            Neither Russia nor Ukraine “has been able to create an effective state” after 1991, but Russia could hide this fact by relying on its oil and gas, something Ukraine was not in a position to do. But Ukraine has suffered from another and more serious problem: Its elites have not been able to “constructively” deal with their country’s “national identity.”

            Like many countries which have escaped from imperial rule, the Ukrainians have fallen under “the dangerous illusion that the further they are from Russia, the better,” a natural impulse perhaps but one that fails to take into account “the size of the real dependence of Ukraine on Russia,” especially in the energy sector.

            Because of that failure, Kyiv’s foreign policy over the last 20 years has been “a total adventure,” one based on the hope that something will turn up. Something has but it is not what Ukrainians wanted or hoped for. Instead, Ukraine has become a place where Russia is seeking to address its own “internal problems and satisfy its imperial ambitions.”

            If Russia does not suffer “a rapid and crushing defeat” by the West and the latter seems to have little stomach for that at present, Pastukhov says, “then sooner or later the West will have to seek a temporary compromise with Russia,” and that compromise will involve the partition of Ukraine and possibly its temporary extinction.

            “The first partition of Ukraine has already happened: Crimea has passed to Russia,” Pastukhov says. The second may involve “the unification of the entire south-east of the country” to that country; and as a result of a third participation, Ukraine may in fact cease to exist as an independent state.”

            This “imperialist war,” like World War I, “has become for the intelligentsias of Russia, the West and Ukraine, a complex challenge,” one that requires in the first instance recognizing what is really going on rather than relying on “half-truths.”

            In Russia, “a large part of the national intelligentsia has united under imperial banners, guided in part by instinct and in part by mercantilist ones in the broadest sense of that term.”  A minority does oppose Moscow’s actions in Ukraine but it is as yet unwilling to follow the logic of its position to the end.

            That Russian opposition, he says, “is trying not to notice the imperial subtext of the actions of the West in the struggle for Ukraine and not to touch upon the petty them of ‘victim’ behavior of the Ukrainian authorities in the run up to the crisis.” In an analogous way,” he continues, the West has not been willing to face up to realities either.

            But the situation in Ukraine is “the worst of all,” Pastukhov says. That country almost completely lacks “political and social forces which would have the courage to look harsh reality in the eye and cease to life by economic and political fantasies.”  Those who do understand that problem won’t allow themselves “to speak the truth” because Ukrainian society “is completely unprepared to listen.”

            Ukraine’s recovery will become possible, he argues,, “only when a Ukrainian nationalism appears which in a tolerant way views Russia ‘as an objective reality,’” with which Ukrainians can and must deal.

            Thus, “in a paradoxical way,” Pastukhov concludes, “the intelligentsias of Russia, the West and Ukraine ... [face] similar tasks, involving a struggle with the imperialist policies of their governments in all the multifarious forms of its manifestation – archaic, infantile or post-modernist.”

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