The commentator is saying no more than what others have, but his observation raises bigger questions: what would happen in a Russia without a Ukraine? Could any other country serve the same functions? Could this be the greatest contribution the existence of Ukraine as the subject of media attention? And could any other country serve the same functions?
That Vladimir Putin’s regime has used its aggression in Ukraine to build up Russian patriotism and build up support for itself is widely recognized; but less often admitted is that those results may have been more important to the regime than any tangible benefits it obtained from illegally annexing Crimea or conducting its aggression in the Donbass.
Because Ukraine is superficially similar to Russia in some regards, Moscow gained the additional benefit of being able to point to problems Ukrainians now face as an object lesson of what Russians must avoid doing – even if most of the problems Ukrainians now encounter were created by the Russian state itself.
No other country in the post-Soviet space offers such a rich opportunity for the Kremlin relative to its own people. The Caucasus and Central Asia are too exotically different. Belarus and Moldova are ultimately too small. And the Baltic countries are so firmly part of the West as members of the EU and NATO.
That doesn’t mean that one or more of these countries won’t be the object of Russian aggression: it has already invaded Georgia, subverted the territorial integrity of that country and Moldova, and engaged in subversion elsewhere. But no other country could serve the multiple functions Ukraine does.
Consequently, one can only agree with Makarevich that if Ukraine didn’t exist, the Kremlin would have to create one. But its ability to do so is far more limited than many imagine. And as a result, that has another consequence even more important for the future: Ukraine may prove to be not the beginning of the imperial reassembly Putin hopes for, but its end as well.