Saturday, September 28, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine Can Effectively Respond to Moscow ‘Asymmetrically,’ Blogger Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – Russians are taking false comfort with the idea that Ukraine cannot respond symmetrically to economic pressure from Moscow, but while that may be the case, a blogger suggests, Ukraine possesses “an entire arsenal” of ideological resources that will allow it for a potentially very effective but completely “asymmetrical” response.

            In a blogpost on, Pavel Kazarin argues that if Moscow continue to pressure Ukraine economically in order to try to force Kyiv to turn away from Europe, that will not only alienate Ukrainians from Russians but open the way for Ukrainians to hit back at some of the most cherished “symbols of Russia” (

            Such a response could matter far more than many in Moscow seem to think because while economic relations between Russia and Ukraine have long been chilly and as they say “nothing personal, just business,” ideological or better symbolic ties have not been, although they soon could become that way if Russian continues to behave in a clumsy fashion.

            Moscow has long sought to “publically” hold Kyiv within “the sphere of its ‘imperial influence,’” Kazarin says, pointing to the efforts to produce common history textbooks, tours by “icon-bearing [Russian] bikers,” and “regular visits” by the Moscow Patriarch, all things that Kyiv has gone along with but could easily dispense with in the future.

            “In Moscow they sincerely think that Kyiv simply has no way out, that Viktor Yanukovich is a hostage of a pro-Russian southeast, that pro-Westernism for the Ukrainian elites is fraught with the loss of power, [and] that the Kremlin has made the Party of the Regions” indebted to it.

            “But it turns out,” Kazarin says, “that the southeast votes not for Russia but for its ‘Donetsk’ people because they are ‘its own,’” that the Ukrainian oligarchs who have real power find it easier to protect their interests in Europe than in Russia,, and that Moscow itself has been too clever by half and given the Ukrainian authorities a weapon of enormous destructive power.”

            The Russians have miscalculated, he continues, “because all Russian foreign policy over the last decade has been based on calculations for ‘internal use’ and has been thus to a significant degree an imitation” of a genuine foreign policy. But this miscalculation has been concealed by Moscow’s propagandistic successes at home and in the West.

             Many Russians and many in the West have been convinced by the work of Moscow’s propaganda “machine” that “Ukraine is not simply an inalienable part of historical Russia” but that Kyiv is “the cradle of Orthodoxy and the mother of Russian cities.”  But by creating this image, Moscow has handed the Ukrainians a tool they can use against Russia.

            Importantly, this tool does not require Ukraine to be “an economic heavy weight.”  It simply requires clever political steps.  Kyiv could invite the pope to visit. It could canonize Kyivan Prince Askold who accepted Christianity “130 years before Vladimir.” It could have regular exercises with NATO. It could support gay rights. And/or it could “publish the complete works of Pushkin in Ukrainian.”

             This list of Ukraine’s “arsensal of inexpensive but extremely offensive actions as far as official Moscow is concerned could be infinitely extended.”

            Moreover, if Ukrainian elites show some inventiveness, they “can even begin to struggle with the Kremlin over the brand ‘Kievan Rus.’” That state was “’the truly European Rus as opposed to the later Asiatic franchise.”  If Kyiv played its cards right, the world could decie that “yes, Ukraine is the real Russia’” – something that for Moscow would be “serious.”

            All of this is possible, the blogger says, because “the weakness of contemporary Russia consists in the hypertrophic quality of its symbolic presentation.”  Kyiv, having wisely chosen to become part of “pragmatic Europe,” can thus play on this, “depriving” Moscow of its ability to present itself as ‘the historical Russian monopoly.’” 

            In short, Ukraine can now do against Russia what Russia has tried to do against others, invert “the base and the superstructure.” And given where Moscow is now, that is a stronger card for the Ukrainian government than any economic games that the Russian government may try to play.

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