Friday, February 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine Symbolizes Where the World is Now, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Every historical period is symbolized by a specific event in a specific place when and where societies and their rulers demonstrate whether or not they are capable of responding to the challenges they face.  Today, Liliya Shevtsova says, Ukraine is that place and that time not only for the post-Soviet states but more broadly.

            In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” the Moscow Carnegie Center scholar argues that what is taking place in Ukraine not only reflects the situation there and in other post-Soviet states but also that in the broader international community and thus represents in a “concentrated” form the challenges both face (

            Ukraine now, she says, highlights both the efforts of some of the populations of the post-Soviet states to escape “the historical dead end” they find themselves in as well as “the exhaustion” of the recipes which had succeeded earlier, when social protest led to a split of elites, the formation of a coalition between some in the elite and the population, and then change.

            That recipe has not yet worked in Ukraine, Shevtsova continues, forcing both the opposition and the government to look for new ways to move forward and thus making the future far more “unpredictable.”

            At the same time, she suggests, “the international situation around Ukraine is only making its path forward more difficult. The hopelessness of Europe and the indifference of the US are returning” the world to one of “spheres of influence to the world of Yalta.” And no one can have any doubts about which “sphere of influence” Ukraine will find itself.

            In short, the Moscow analyst argues, “Ukrainians are trying to break out of the past even as the West prefers to seek refuge in it.” Russia’s Vladimir Putin “has turned out to be the most successful leader even according to many Western observers.” Germany’s Angela Merkel “is trying to avoid any choice,” and US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders are doing much the same.

            But despite this, the Ukrainians are continuing to meet in the Maidan, something which highlights “the indifference of some and the cynicism of others.”  These others like to say that “the Ukrainians must solve their own problems.”  As Shevtsova points out, “theoretically,” of course, that is true.

            However, Ukrainians could do so only if Moscow were not seeking to control what happens in Ukraine and only if the Western powers insisted that the Russians not be allowed to play that interventionist role.  Unfortunately, the West appears to be failing to understand what is at stake and Russians are taking advantage of that failure.

            As a result, she says, “everything which is taking place in Ukraine, including the radicalization of the Maidan, the inability of the political elite to form a new government, the approaching economic catastrophe, and the loss of control over the country is the result ... of this direct outside influence on Ukrainian processes.”

            If anyone had any doubts of this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statements this week should have laid them to rest, Shevtsova says.  The only “freedom” he wants Ukraine to have is the “freedom” to reject the West.  That of course means nothing other than the inclusion of Ukraine into “’Russia’s geopolitical space.’”

            But Ukraine is teaching the world even more than this, she continues.  First, it is showing the complete “exhaustion of the post-Soviet model of development which is characterize by the existence of a paternalist state and the drawing of leaders to autocracy,” the three Baltic countries being the only “exception.” Ukraine as “the weak link” is where the breakdown has come first.

            Second, Ukraine reflects a new pattern development in the world in which street protests rather than the political opposition take the lead. That has happened before “from Turkey to Brazil and from Bulgaria to Thailand.”  In Ukraine, “the civic Maidan arose without the participation of the opposition” and is developing “practically without its leadership.”

            That is “an unwelcome surprise not only for the authorities but also for the opposition.”

            And third, the course of Ukrainian events has “destroyed the stereotype, popular in Russia, according to which social protests must lead the regime toward collapse.” At least so far, the Maidan has not succeeded in doing that. Instead, there is a situation in which “dual power is beginning to take shape.” That raises issues for those who want change and those who don’t.

                But perhaps the biggest question ahead is this: “all previous successful democratic transformations have occurred with some kind of support from the West.”  But today there seems to be indifference in Europe to what is happening in Ukraine, an indifference that could play a fatal role.

            Perhaps this is only “a temporary paralysis,” Shevtsova writes, “but it is not excluded that this is a more permanent tendency.” Regardless, it suggests the additional conclusion that “Europe without pressure from Washington cannot become an active international actor.” But this situation is certainly is now part of the calculus in Moscow and in other post-Soviet capitals.

            “The history of the Maidan is far from completed,” the Moscow commentator says. “Possibly it is only just beginning.” But how that history will turn out depends, whatever anyone says, not just on the Ukrainians themselves but on the actions of others. And the latter, especially Western leaders, need to see that what they do or don’t do will determine a lot.

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