Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow at Risk of Believing Its Own Propaganda about Ukraine, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 26 – For most of the last decade, Vladimir Putin has pursued a sophisticated policy toward Ukraine, but now in the midst of a revolution there, he and his advisors are at risk of becoming “the first victims” of their own propaganda about Ukraine and to make serious miscalculations and mistakes as a result, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

            In an article in “Novaya gazeta” yesterday, the St. Antony’s scholar argues that Putin’s regime has promoted Russia’s economic interests in Ukraine in entirely rational manner but that, blinded by its own propaganda directed others, it has not done an equally good job in preventing what it sees as “the orange plague” (

            If as seems to be the case just now, “the Kremlin seriously believes” it can use a small clutch of Ukrainians who back Russia above everything else as the basis of its policies, Pastukhov says, “then this means only one thing: those who are forming the Kremlin’s foreign policy course have not been able to avoid” falling victim to propaganda about Ukraine.

             And if Moscow is to get Ukraine right, it needs to understand that what it faces is a genuine revolution and not just a change in government in Kyiv, he continues.  “With the second Maidan, Ukraine has become the first of the three former Slavic republics of the USSR to cut out the Soviet past.”

            Many are struck by the “kaleidoscopic” speed with which events are taking place in Ukraine, but “not all agree that this is a revolution,” Pastukhov says. And yet recognizing the extent to which what is happening in Ukraine as a revolution is the key to understanding both the possibilities and the risks there.

            “A revolution,” he writes, “is an arrhythmia of power, a fall off of the normal functioning of state institutions and linked to that an inevitable falling out of the legal field.” That is what is occurring today in Ukraine.

            “An arrhythmia of power, like a heart arrhythmia, must be quickly controlled lest it lead a political thrombosis and a heart attack of statehood,” he says. “Today in Kyiv the first actof the revolution under the title ‘Delegitimation of the Old Power’ has been completed. Now, before our eyes the second act is beginning, ‘The Legitimation of the New Power.’”.

            As the situation plays out, Pastukhov argues, “Ukaine has a real chance of acquiring at least its very own Putin:” Yuliya Timoshenko, who shares much in common with the Kremlin leader in her ability to reach out to the masses while maintaining control over the elites and who could prevent the Ukrainian revolution from spinning out of control into chaos.

            To a large extent, Pastukhov argues, Timoshenko owes her status in this regard to ousted president Viktor Yanukovich who not only “preserved” her in jail but allowedher to return as “’the third force’” in Ukrainian politics so many have been talking about. As a result, she is “the only heavyweight of Ukrainian politics” capable of keeping Ukraine together.

            Her problem and that of her country is what will Timoshenko do with the footsoldiers of the revolution after she comes to power.  “One way or another, Ukraine in the future awaits a ‘second’ crisis of power, because anarchy is a serious chronic disease” which will require longterm “treatment” or even “surgery.”

            Pastukhov says that he “hopes that this cure will not be converted into ‘a night of the long knives’ for Ukraine. But as a real politician, Timoshenko is capable of not reflecting today over things that won’t have to be decided until tomorrow.”

            Timoshenko’s correct reading of the revolutionary situation is clear if one compares her with Vitaly Klichko, the scholar says.  The latter was trying to negotiate a compromise when seeking a compromise was the last thing the Maidan revolutionaries wanted. Timoshenko recognized that no compromise with Yanukovich was possible, however much some in Ukraine or the West wanted it.

            “The only political logic which works” in such a situation is “the logic of revolution. Everything else recedes into the background,” Pastukhov says. “The Maidan did not forgive vacillation and therefore as long as the Maidan remains, Klichko has practically no chances to become president.” That might be possible only after the revolution is over.

            A major reason that Ukraine has advanced to a revolution has been the incompetence of Yanukovich, who as a very last measure was even prepared to bet on separatism and the splitting up of his own country.  At “a purely theoretical level,” Ukraine is divided culturally and “just as for Russia,” this is “the greatest danger.” 

            No one who is serious can “exclude the possibility of such a scenario,” Pastukhov says, “but at the same time there are several factors which work in the opposite direction and hold [Ukraine] in its current borders.”

            First of all, “the Ukrainian oligarchs are not burning with a desire to become the yunger brothers of the Avens, Friedmans or Wekselbergs, from whom they have separated themselves with such difficulty even on their own sovereign territory.”

            Second, Pastukhov continues, “the basic part of the population which wants to live in peace with Russia and which demands respect for the particular features of its regional sub-culture” – itself including “a unique mix of Russian and Ukrainian languages” – “has not expressed a clear drive to re-unite with Russia and to live ‘under Putin.’”

            And third – “and this is possibly the most important,” Pastukhov says – “the population of these territories hates its corrupt local authorities no less than it does the corrupt central ones.”  If the new powers in Ukraine play on this and launch “a propagandist anti-corruption campaign,” the probability that people in eastern Ukraine will back their local rulers “is not very high.”

            Of course, there is the risk that the new rulers in Kyiv will try to consolidate their power by making alliances with precisely the corrupt holdovers from the ancient regime.  But if they do, that will open the way to defeat or at the very least give Moscow a chance to fish in these muddy waters.

            At the same time, the new authorities must avoid taking steps that provoke the east unnecessarily, and they must recognize, as some of them appear not to, that “a real revolution” will require not just the reformatting of the Ukrainian government but “the reformation of Ukrainian society.”

            Pastukhov concludes his article by expressing the hope that the new Ukrainian “house” that the revolution is building won’t be destroyed by a settling of scores among the various participants in the process. If that were to happen, he says, then “the arrhythmia of the Ukrainian authorities” could become “a chronic disease.”

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