Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian Liberals Can’t Compromise with Putinist Patriotism, Kunadze Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 16 --  It has become fashionable as Russia’s latest attempt to build a state in which people live in freedom and sufficiency and one which enjoys the respect of the surrounding world has failed to call for liberals and patriots to compromise, to agree to “call the naked king ‘half-dressed,’” Georgy Kunadze says.

            But the former Russian deputy foreign minister (1991-1993) and deputy ombudsman 2004-2014) says, no compromise between the genuine versions of either. Rather what is needed is for “the government to stop setting one group against the other,” to live according to the law, and “in general to know its place (

            In a comment in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Kunadze defines “genuine patriotism as above all the striving to help one’s own country become better,” including via “honest and direct criticism of the shortcomings of the state, intolerance toward its mistakes and an unwillingness to come to terms with crimes.”

            Genuine liberalism, in turn, he says, is “faithfulness to the principles of democracy, human right, the equality of all before the law, principles without which no country in the contemporary world can survive.” And he concludes that “in this sense, liberals are also patriots.”

             But that is not how the Kremlin or even many Russians see the situation, especially given “the almost complete international isolation of Russia and even more the coming out from under the rocks of the most repellant types of the Soviet past – chauvinists, Stalinists, and semi-fascists,” both of which are the result of Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

            “Russia did not have and does not have a legal basis for this or the slightest chance to convince the world in the nobility of its goals and the purity of its intentions,” Kunadze says.  Instead, it has to whip up “a ‘patriotic’ psychosis,” blame the West for everything, and demonize “Russia liberal-Russophobes with their ‘anti-state’ ideas” as “’agents of influence.’”

            And in that context, Kunadze says, some like Aleksandr Lukin in a recent article in “Nezavisimaya” ( are prepared to urge liberals to sacrifice their principles and to find common ground with the patriots in the name of a “third way” much beloved by Russians.

            The “starting” point in this argument is that “Russia took the path of democracy not because this corresponded to its new national interests but only as a form of concession to the West.” Consequently, such people say, Kunade continues, Moscow “continued to formulate its national interests all these years in a purely Soviet way.”

            That is, “through the prism of opposition to the United States.”

            The West extended NATO to the east despite a “gentleman’s promise” not to do so, those who hold this view say, but they forget that this promise was “given to the Soviet Union, that is, its strategic competitor and not to Russia which it began to consider its potential ally,” Kunadze points out.

            Such people talk about Russia’s “’traditional allies,’” he says, ignoring the fact that “Russia did not have and does not have any ‘traditional allies: the Soviet satellites dispersed and it did not acquire any new allies.”

                Moscow has “tried to convince the West to acknowledge its ‘special rights’ on the post-Soviet space,” rights that would require “the limitation of the sovereignty of the post-Soviet countries.”  But the West has not accepted this Russian “’voice of wisdom,’” and in the current case, it has not accepted the Russian ultimatum to Ukraine.

            The Kremlin is demanding that Ukraine federalize, become a neutral county and give the Russian language state status. But the West “asserts that Ukraine is a sovereign state and has the right to decide these questions itself.”  How could Russia not be infuriated by such “naked demagogy?” such people ask.

            And how has the West protested Russia’s “reunification of Crimea”? By suggestions of “’humanitarian intervention’” and by denying that “nothing threatened the residents of Crimea,” Kunadze continues.  But in the view of Moscow, “Russian saved them” and has acted with “the natural right of a strong state to take land from a weak state,” even if that “pushes Russia into the embrace of China.”

            Still worse, defenders of what Moscow has done in Ukraine say, the West has “cynically” declared that Russia is not a “normal” democracy lie its members are. But of course, “Russian democracy ... is so special that it isn’t understood by every Russian.”

            And the partners of Western efforts to contain and denigrate Russia, in this view, are “Russian liberals [whose crime consists of] forever demanding that the state follow the Constitution and laws, secure the independence of the judiciary,” and other such un-Russian things. Giving in to them would “weaken” the state.

              Thus, it turns out that in the current understanding of the Kremlin and its allies, “all Russian liberals are enemies of their own country” whereas “the current authorities are honest, incorruptible,” and with only other good qualities.  Thus, Russians should love the authorities and hate the liberals and the West.

            In this context, calls for “moderate” liberals and “moderate” patriots to find a compromise are not only deceptive but dangerous. A true liberal is a patriot, Kunadze says, not because he or she supports anything his government does but because he wants what is best for his country, and a true patriot is a liberal because he or she knows that liberal values are the best prescription for that.

            If the Kremlin would get out of the way, liberals and patriots could find a common language, the former deputy foreign minister says, but neither should sacrifice that common understanding to do so.

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