Staunton, July 24 – Neither Ukraine nor Russia has it easy as a result of their Soviet pasts and the collapse of Western moral leadership, but nevertheless, Ukraine by virtue of its pluralism, regionalism and more honest dealing with the past offers far more reasons for optimism than does the Russian Federation, according to Liliya Shevtsova.
Speaking to a group of journalism students in Kyiv, Shevtsova, an associate of the Moscow Carnegie Center and a prominent Russian commentator, offered praise for what Ukraine has achieved but only concern about what is happening in the West and in Russia (day.kiev.ua/ru/article/mirovye-diskussii/zakat-zapada-i-rossiyskaya-matrica).
The Moscow analyst began by noting that Ukraine and Russia share many problems, not just the familiar ones of their common Soviet past but the especially critical ones caused by “the deep and prolonged crisis” of the internatonal system and especially of the absence of leaders and leadership from Western civilization.
These latter two problems are especially great both because “Western civilization was the motor of world development, innovation, brave thinking and freedom” and because no country will find it easy to make the transition from an authoritarian or totalitarian past without the existence of such leadership.
The West has lost its way, and it does not have leader like de Gaulle, Churchill, Reagan, Mitterand, Kohl or Thatcher who inspired those in Eastern Europe like Havel, Lennart Meri, or Walensa. After them, there were no leaders. Everything “ended.” And because the West has “lost itself,” “there were for favorable external contitions” for Ukraine or Russia.
The West can get out of this crisis as it has gotten out of earlier ones, she suggested, with the appearance of a new generation of leaders who will turn away from “pure pragmatism” at home and abroad and be guided once againin their approach by “the restoration of the valus and principles of freedom.”
Once that happens, Shevtsova says,”it will beeasier for us to breathe” and to make progress toward those goals we share with the West.
The situation in this regard with respect to Russia is especially unfortunate, she continued. Russi “missed its chance in 1991” when there was a chance for the new independent states to begin to construct their statehood and to form their nations.” Instead of doing so, Russia remained in an indeterminate status and then turned to the past.
Having ceased to be the Soviet Union, she argued, Russia all the same used the very same “Russian matrix only without communism,” a situation which has meant that “for the last 20 years, we have attempted to livein this ‘indeterminate one’ trying to show on the one hand that we are a democracy and on the other w are continuing all of the old model of autocracy.”
Initially, Shevtsova continued, Russians were ashamed of this, then “they concealed it, but now,” they are quite open about it. Instead of an imitation, the Russian authorities have moved to selective repression,” repression reflecting the weakness of the regime rather than its strength and pointing to the final agony of these arrangements.
“But there is no joy in that the Putin system is losing its staility because a dramatic situation is arising [in Russia]: despite the fact that the current authorities are losing their popularity, the system of autocracy itself has many more bases for survival” and can do so for a long time to come, all the more so because even many of its opponents want to use the same kind of personal and autocratic power.
The Putin regime in Russia is a new kind one based on “total and absolute loyalty.” Any deviation will be punished. But this requirement of the system “means that there is no independent game in politics.” That is sometime obscured by the ability of the opposition to express their views on the Internet and in certain Moscow newspapers.
“But the overwhelming part of [Russian] society gets its information from television,” which is controlled by the state. And as a result, “the opposition and the critics of the regime … cannot exert decisive influenc on the formation of public opinioin.” It can, however, frighten the regime by mass actions.
That is what happened after the Bolotnoye protests. But the Kremlin reacted by deciding that it “woud no longer allow the smallest chance for ‘orange outburts’ in Moscow. The authorities understand that they have lost Moscow nd the major citieis and decided to tighten the screws.”
That has meant “the formation of a new pretorian regime, one more cruel than its predecessor.” The Kemlin doesn’t particularly want that development, Shevtsova argued, “but the logic of survival is driving it to the use of force” and to a reliance on the most traditional strata of society, on the search for enemies and Soviet-style mobilization.
The active part of Russian society is still reflecting what to do. The last wave ofcivic protest has died away, and “the next one must be more organied, politically structured and have a different agenda if it wants to be successful,” onedirected not at making the autocracy better but at “transforming the autocracy into a legal state.”
Turning to the situation of Ukraine, Shevtsova said she was “more optimistic” at least in comparison with her assessment of Russia. “You have done one big thing which we in Russia up to now have not done: you have begun to strengthen the state but on new principles … a very rare experiment when a nation not yet having become a nation forms a state.”
Moreover, she continued, in Ukraine, there has been “a preservation of political pluralism, regionalization, and also a lack of desire on the part of the Ukrainian political elite to presereve its power” by any means and by subordinating itself to Russia. Instead, Ukraine has begun the difficult but necessary changes needed to become part of the European Union.
And finally and perhaps most important,Ukrainians “have begun to write your own history. You have done what no one other than the Baltic states have done. I praise Yushchenko who did an absolutely phenomena thing relative to the Terror Famine: he legally defined the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
“Why is this important? Because it legally strengthenes a different treatment of the history of the Ukrainian nation which has still not been formed,” Shevtsova said.
That does not mean there are not problems and disappointments with Ukraine, however. Shevtsova said that in the 1990s she had thought “Ukraine would go to the West first, that it would be an experiment and create a legal state earlier than Russia. But that did not happen.”
Russia’s approach to Ukraine has not helped. Vladimir Putin doesn’t view Ukraine as a state at all, and his view is shared by most of the ruling elite. They don’t think much about Ukraine or consider it a priority. “There is a complete lack of understanding and absence of information and knowledge which always leads to an inadequate policy.”
At the same time, Shevtsova said, Russia’s liberal opposition does not have a clearly developed position about Ukraine. Most of its members have the opinion that “Ukraine is in a aone of civiiaitonal indeterminancy” but with “a plus sign” that means it has “the potential of movement to Europe.”
But “one thing is clear: we will not go to the West and to Europe together. You hav a chance to use a half opened window” to do so. But it is a chance that must be used and used quickly because remaining in a state of indeterminacy for long will ultimately lead back to the past as it has in Russia.