Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Window on Eurasia: ‘Ukraine is Not Russia and Russia is Not the USSR,’ Lukyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – Ukraine has more in common with the other non-Russian countries who achieved or recovered their independence with the breakup of the Soviet Union than it does with the Russian Federation, and that gives Russia a chance to “throw up its horde-soviet shackles,” according to Aleksandr Lukyanov.

                In a commentary on the liberal opposition portal yesterday, the Moscow analyst argues that “the victory of the Ukrainians will bring Russia closer to the day when it can throw off” the shackles it continues to wear and become a genuinely post-Soviet state as well (

                Ukraine and Russia have developed along different lines for a millennium, Lukyanov points out.  Ukraine by accepting Christianity joined itself to Western civilization while the Vladimir-Suzdal state out of which Moscow emerged began as a vassal of the Golden Horde and was therefore “cut off from Europe.” It followed the Horde’s model of power: Asiatic despotism.

            Although Kyiv was force initially to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Horde as well, he continues, many of its lands passed into the Grand Principality of Lithuania and “as a result of this, the ancestors of contemporary Ukrainians although they were deprived of their own statehood remained part of the European cultural-civilizational space.”

            Since that time, there has been a struggle within Russia between “two traditions,” one flowing from the Horde and the other from Europe.  The former was never completely defeated even when the Horde suffered defeats, and the latter despite many attempts up through the 19th century, never completely succeeded although there appeared to be hope in the early 20th.

            But that hope was extinguished by World War I and the ensuing Bolshevik revolution.  That event “was not only a change of power ... but le to the destruction of a genuinely Russian statehood with its conflict between the European and Horde traditions and broke off the process of the step by step return of Russia to its lawful place in the European family of peoples.”

            The Soviet system was “based on a symbiosis of the Horde traditions with totalitarian communist ideology,” and “it is not surprising that out of this symbiosis arose one of the bloodiest and most despotic regimes known to human history,” Lukyanov says.

            When the Soviet system weakened and collapsed, he continues, “in the republics, the anti-Soviet movement developed not only under the flag of anti-communism but also under that of the national-liberation struggle.” The Baltic countries were the most thorough-going in this regard, but the other non-Russian states were similar in this regard.

            But the situation in Russia was different: “the majority of citizens of Russia considered (and up to now consider) Soviet statehood not as something alien but as their own, as one of the historical forms of genuinely Russian statehood.”  That is a misconception because both the components of the Soviet system – the Horde and Communism – were imported and imposed on the Russians as well.

            “Soviet statehood was never a continuation of Russian statehood,” Lukyanov says, noting that the Bolsheviks “never considered Soviet Russia the historical and political successor of pre-revolutionary Russia.” They saw it only as a place des armes “for the creation of a future worldwide communist state.”

            In this regard, he argues, “Soviet power was just as much an occupation regime in Russia as it was in Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine or Georgia.” But the leadership of the Russian Federation did not understand that and declared their country to be “the legal successor of the Soviet Union,” a declaration that has fed “nostalgia for the USSR” over the last two decades.

            Vladimir Putin, who has declared that the collapse of the USSR was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” is in fact “a direct continuation of the Soviet regime.  More than that, all of Putin’s foreign policy justifies suggesting that he is seeking to create a ‘neo-USSR’ under the guise of a Eurasian Union.”

            But that project will fail if it does not include Ukraine, Lukyanov argues. And Putin has failed to recognize that “the Ukrainian people does not want a return to the Soviet past but wants to build its own national state in the European civilizational space.”

            “What is taking place today in Ukraine,” Lukyanov says, “is more than simply mass protests against an unpopular and corrupt regime. It is even more than a revolution.  This is a national-liberation Ukrainian-Soviet struggle.” If the Maidan loses, it will be a defeat not just for the Ukrainian opposition but for the Ukrainian nation.

            But if the Maidn and the Ukrainian people win, that will represent a defeat of “the Soviet mythology on which the Putin regime operates and on Putin’s neo-Soviet project as a whole.”  Consequently, those who want to see the European element defeat the Horde one in Russia have an interest in a Maidan victory because that will be a victory for Russian democracy as well.

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