Monday, February 10, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Absorbing Ukraine Would Destroy Russia, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 10 – Vladimir Putin would view drawing Ukraine into a single economic and political arrangement with Russia as an enormous geopolitical achievement, but if he were to succeed initially, the Kremlin leader would be setting the stage for the demise of the Russian Federation itself, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In an essay on the portal yesterday, Yevgeny Ikhlov says that “the creation of a Russian-Ukrainian confederation would be the most grandiose foreign policy victory of [post-1991] Russia.”  But “at the same time [it would be] a terrible national defeat of Ukraine” and ultimately for Russia too (

            The Ukrainian economy would be reduced to being a fiefdom of Russian monopolies, Ukrainian politics “to a branch of the Kremlin,” and “Ukrainian culture to be a rudimentary part in an all-Russian mass culture.” It would be left insulted and injured, and it would become a far bigger problem than many in Moscow now realize, Ikhlov suggests.

            He asks his readers to consider for a moment what would happen if Canada were to become part of the United States. All Canadians and not just those in Quebec “would feel themselves to be second-class Americans.” Dissatisfaction among them and among other Americans who would have to bear the costs of absorption would quickly grow.

            Consequently, even though initially such a combination would make the United States “a super-super power” from the outside, it would set in train forces that would undermine that status both inside the country and in its relations with others, the threat of which is clearly enough to restrain anyone from pushing this idea.

            “The inclusion of Ukraine in the Russian financial-economic, political and cultural system would lead to [that system’s] rapid national collapse” as well, Ikhlov continues. A “’confederal’” Ukraine would soon be swept by “a new wave of separatism, the logical outcome of which would be another anti-Russian uprising.”

            That is all the more likely, he continues, because it is precisely “through the territory of Ukraine” where “the civilizational barrier between ‘maternal’ European civilization and Russian civilization passes.”  The latter, Ikhlov says, should be called “Byzantine” rather than “Eurasian” as it typically is now.

            That is why he says he is “categorically against drawing Ukraine into a common political and economic space with Russia” and “categorically for a peaceful and democratic ‘Euro-Maidan’” there.

            Attitudes among Russians toward Ukraine reflect “the conflict of two forms of Russian patriotism,” Ikhlov says.  One is convinced that including the Ukraine “in a Russian megasystem is the highest goal of Russia and opposition to this is a betrayal of national interests.” But the other is certain that doing so threatens the interests of the Russian people.

            Ikhlov says he is firmly in the second camp and believes most Russians should be as well, particularly if they reflect on their history, including the consequences of seeking to absorb Poland and Finland or conquering the Caucasus. Also indicative, he suggests, “is the history of the 40-year-long Soviet control over Eastern Europe.”

            But there is another reason that a Ukrainian-Russian super state would be a disaster for the Russian people.  The United States, he says,  is “categorically” against the expansion of Moscow’s zone of influence “in a Western direction.”  

                In many ways, the US is playing a role in that regard like the one Great Britain played in the 19th century in resisting the expansion of the Russian Empire to the south. “Therefore, the anti-American Russian propaganda [of today] almost exactly repeats its anti-English antecedent.”

                Whether one likes it or not, he continues, “America is the only great power in the world,” and its often “demagogic” policy of giving “priority to human rights(for Europeans) objectively turns out to be the main opponent of Putin’s imperialism.  Therefore, if one puts an equals sign between Russia and empire, the US is the enemy.”

            “But,” Ikhlov says, “if one starts from the proposition that the police despotism and latest imperialism of Moscow are themselves the main enemies of Russia, then America [becomes] the objective ally of anti-Putinism, just as70 years ago it was the objective ally of German democratic anti-fascism.”

            “There is nothing miraculous in this uniqueness of the US,” he continues. It reflects the fact that “the American (democratic) branch of Anglo-Saxon culture won the ‘competition of civilizations,” having defeated all comers, including “the aristocratic Anglo-Saxon (British), the French, the German and the Russian.”

            Russian “enemies of the Euro-Maidan” challenge those who support it by asking: “How can you defend ethnic nationalism?”  One need not cite Lenin’s notion about the difference between the nationalism of the oppressor nation and nationalism of the oppressed to recognize that today “Russians in the Russian Federation are not the oppressor nation,” but rather they are despite their numbers oppressed by “the ruling ‘oprichnik’ nomenklatura.”

            That nomenklatura over the last 20 years has been “powerless” to establish “a super-ethnic civic nation. Therefore, integration with Russia would be condemned to be carried out exclusively in the format of Russification,” something that would exacerbate Ukrainian nationalism and isolate Russia from the rest of the world.

            Only if Russia were able to offer a unity like that which is taking place in Europe under NATO and the European Union, a unity which “does not threaten the identities of European peoples,” could a unification of Russia and Ukraine work. But “the entire experience” of Russia since 1991 and “especially the Putin era” shows that is not what is on offer.

            Instead, Putinism “with its legal and cultural unification, its ‘single textbook,’ its forced imposition of state mythology on the basis of the autocratic and Stalinist imperial traditions and the struggle with the ‘lezginka’ shows that the integration of Ukraine would in fact mean an attempt to deprive it of its national identity.”

            Consequently, Ikhlov says, those concerned about the future of Russia and the Russians must support the aspirations of Ukrainians who want to join Europe rather than Putin’s Eurasia.  Any other approach carries the risk that Russia will have absorbed something that will lead to its own demise.

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