Staunton, August 11 – The notion that the West has a strategy for Ukraine is “a myth of Kremlin propaganda,” Vladimir Pastukhov says. “What is happening in Ukraine is the result not so much of the application of a mistaken strategy by the West as much as it is the sad consequence of the absence of any strategy altogether.”
In an interview published today on Polit.ru on the occasion of the publication of his book, “The Ukrainian Revolution and the Russian Counter-Revolution” (in Russian, Moscow: OGI), the St. Antony’s scholar says that as a result Western leaders are treating the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself (polit.ru/article/2014/08/11/pastukhov/).
This is a more general problem, he suggests, as can be seen in the West’s approach to the Middle East, one that reflects an absolute lack of understanding among Western leaders of what is going on but their sense that in every case, they “must take some sort of position” in order to suggest to themselves and their publics that they are adequate.
On the one hand, Pastukhov says, the West “wants to strengthen its position in the region, especially given that Russia is becoming ever more hostile to the West. [But] on the other hand, it does not particularly want to get into an argument with Russia since no one needs a major war.”
And because Western leaders feel that “a revolution is going on” in Ukraine and that it is “necessary to stand on someone’s side,” they have simplified the situation, declared that what is going on in Ukraine is all about democracy and what is going on in Russia is all about reaction, and “under this fiction,” they are employing “algorithms” from the past.
Moreover, he continues, because Western leaders do not understand the complexities of what is happening, they often respond in what is more a “hysterical” way than the result of considered policy, something that is obscured only because Moscow is behaving in an even worse way in that regard.
Sanctions, Pastukhov says, are “to a large extent” a reflection of this, although he hastens to add that he “is not an opponent of sanctions in general. If there is an aggressor and a violator of the international order, then he must be punished.” But what has happened so far is “more an attempt to comfort oneself and show that one is doing something.”
Strategically, however, such things are not worth a lot because if there is going to be a new cold war, then the West must “restore the instruments of long-term impact.” It needs to focus not on sanctions but on investments in “systems of political influence,” something that requires the careful “study of one’s opponent.”
Unfortunately, the Russian scholar says, in the West today, “almost all the sovietological schools in practice were long ago disbanded.” Were that not the case, people in the West might see that “what is taking place now is not the story of the last 10-15 years” but rather one “of approximately three hundred.”
Pastukhov says that he views “everything which is going on not in the context of a conflict of Russia and Ukraineas some kind of independent entities but in the context of the continuing and rapidly accelerating collapse of an empire, which both present-day Ukraine and present-day Russia were part of for a long time.”
An ethnic Russian himself who was born in Ukraine, the St. Antony’s scholar says that he “never had any doubt that Russian and Ukrainian cultures are two completely self-standing cultures with completely different accents” even if there are “family ties” between the two.
“One of the key problems,” he says, in this relationship is that “Russia needs not ‘fraternal’ (in quotation marks) relations with Ukraine but normal ones.” Those are two very different things, with the first stressing a patron-client relationship and the second one of two independent entities. Russians find it hard to shift from the first to the second, and Ukrainians are offended that they haven’t.
That means that Russia bears much of the responsibility for the current crisis, Pastukhov says, but Ukraine bears some of it as well. The crisis arose “not only as a result of the efforts of Russia to preserve patron relations and keep Ukraine in its imperial clutches.” It also arose because of Ukraine’s “childish disease of nationalism” and its unwillingness to focus on the realities of its situation, preferring instead to “speculate on its weakness.”
Ukraine now, he argues, “is not to any degree a more democratic and more liberal state than Russia is. This is a war in the saddest sense of equal parts of an empire on the periphery of European civilization.” That is harsh, “but it is closer to reality” than many of the attempts to describe it otherwise.
“Naturally, Ukraine is a victim of obvious and shameful aggression. There is no doubt that an undeclared war is being conducted against it. It is indisputable that part of its territory is now occupied by Russia. But this does not mean that it is possible to say only good things about Ukraine or nothing at all.”
There is another “simple and indisputable fact” that must be taken into consideration, the St. Antony’s analyst says. “The Ukrainian economy in the form in which it has evolved to this day in the immediate and mid-term cannot exist completely apart from the Russian economy and without financial subsidies from third countries.”
“This is an objective reality,” albeit for Ukrainians an unpleasant one. But what can you do, the world is an unjust place.” Unfortunately, since 2004, Ukraine has attempted to “ignore this reality, but to ignore a problem is not the best way of resolving it.”
Ukrainians assumed that they would get support from the West and that Russia would unilaterally support them as well lest it get involved in a conflict with the West. But that was a serious miscalculation. On the one hand, the West provided less help than Kyiv expected; and on the other, Russia decided to act unilaterally in another way.
In doing so, of course, Pastukhov says, “Russia underestimated the strength of the national movement” and unintentionally provoked a dramatic rise in “self-consciousness of the Ukrainian people.” Moscow thought resistance to it would be “weak, but the resistance has turned out to be enormous.”
And that in turn has set in motion something that may be very different than any of the participants want. “Little children play little games; their elders need bigger ones. But then a moment comes when the play begins to develop not according to those rules which those engaged in the game assumed but by those which arise in the course of the game itself.”