Saturday, February 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Must Stop Believing Three ‘Stupid’ Myths about Ukraine, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – Russians must stop putting their faith in three “stupid” myths about Ukraine – that Ukraine is not Europe and never will be, that Ukraine will suffer if it joins Europe, and that Ukraine must stay with Russia because there are so many ethnic Russians in it – if they are to resolve the current situation and their own problems, a Yekaterinburg analyst says.

            In a post on yesterday, Fedor Krasheninnikov, examines and debunks each of these notions in turn, a task that he suggests is especially important because a belief in them, be it in the Russian Federation or the West, blocks progress both at home and abroad (

                The first such myth, that “Ukraine is not Europe and will never be Europe,” is the most obviously wrong, the Russian analyst suggests. “Contemporary Europe” for those who haven’t been paying attention includes Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and even Greece.”

            How can all these countries be “Europe” but Ukraine can’t be?  “What is the difference?” The Reality is that “Europe is not some sort of unbelievable land of miracles but a conglomerate o various countries and territories with very varied conditions of life. In some people life well; in others not so much. “But all this is Europe.”

            It is true that being poor in Europe is better than being somewhat well off elsewhere, Krasheninnikov continues.  That is why it represents aspirations in “a majority of countries of the contemporary world,” be they individual migrants or the entire country. And those countries that have sought to join Europe have done better than those that haven’t.

            “If one considers the countries of Central Europe and the Baltics at the beginning of their paths to the EU at the end of the 1980s, can on say that they were in a better position than contemporary Ukraine is?” In fact, many of them were in “a much worse” place. Of course, they are not at the top of the EU, but they are far, far better than they were.

            Why should anyone assume that Ukraine cannot do the same? he asks. At the very least, this possibility should not be the occasion for “hysteria” in particular among the citizens of Russia.

            The second myth which must be dispelled is that no one needs Ukraine in Europe, that it has nothing to offer Europe, that all its industry will die, and that, impoverished and starving, the Ukrainians after a brief experience with Europe will ask to return to a Russian-led region.  This is nonsense, but it is not surprising people are saying it.

            Exactly the same thing was being said about the Baltic countries at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s, Krasheninnikov continues “Literally the same: they don’t have anything except sprats, they don’t have an agricultural structure, and in Europe people can easily get along without them.

            Twenty years have passed since “the Baltics forever separated from Russia,” and as some might have noted, “no one is asking to be allowed to return” to what they had. It turned out that “it is possible to live a fully European life without Soviet industry.  Yes, the Baltics are not Benelux but [they] are undoubtedly Europe.”

            As for Ukraine, it needs to be asked “why do you think that little and resource-poor Estonia could find its place in Europe, but large and resource-rich Ukraine will not be able to?” Resources are not just oil and gas as many Russians think; they include “people, land, climate and much else besides.” All one needs is time and desire to make them work.

            And the third “stupid” myth is that “there are many [ethnic] Russians in Ukraine, that Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are Russian land from times immemorial, and that therefore Ukraine will fall apart and its units will be linked to Russia.”

            This too is an “old song,” and it isn’t true.  “There are many [ethnic] Russians in Estonia and Latvia.  In Riga now there is even an [ethnic] Russian mayor, and what of it?”  That hasn’t prevented those countries from joining NATO or the EU or doing anything else they want to do.
            In contrast, almost all ethnic Russians have left “fraternal and allied” Tajikistan, while “almost no one has left Estonia.”  Even those without citizen passports aren’t running back to the “stable and flourishing Russia of V.V. Putin,”  the commentator points out.

            Even “in countries with a significant [ethnic] Russian diaspora, Russia does not have any influential allies, he writes. Pro-Russian politicians there are either openly marginal or they are pro-Russian more in words than in actions and only by local measures” rather than those Moscow would like them to be. And even they don’t push for union with Russia.

            The same is true in Ukraine.  “Hardly any of the leaders of Ukrainian regions really wants to suddenly find himself in the status of an average Russian governor who at any moment can be replaced by an outsider sent from Moscow.” And there is no indication that such feelings are going to change.

            The current Kremlin has proved itself incapable of playing “the delicate games with local elites” that it would need to manage things well at home.  The capricious and authoritarian methods it is accustomed to use there simply don’t work on the territories of other countries, Krasheninnikov argues.

            But the main thing here, he suggests, is that “changing border in Europe is not the same as changing borders in the Caucasus. Efforts like those Moscow tried in1994-95 collapsed in Crimea despite the presence of pro-Russian politicians there.  They would collapse again if the views of the local population are taken into account.

            Krasheninnikov concludes: “Let’s not deceive ourseleves and learn to see the world more or less adequately: Russia already for a long time is not an empire. Ukraine is a separate state. And the more quickly we come to terms with this situation, the more rapidly we will find the solution of our own internal problems.”

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