Monday, May 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s ‘Controlled Chaos’ Policy in Southeast Ukraine Could Backfire on Russia, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 19 – Vladimir Putin’s plan to “organize administered chaos” in southeastern Ukraine is proving to be far harder than his promotion of separatism in “religiously and ethnically united enclaves like Abkhazia or South Osetia and consequently he appears likely to be deeply disappointed, according to Vladimir Pastukhov.

            That is to say, the St. Antony’s Russian scholar says, that “with chaos there everything is in order,” but administering it is beyond the capacity of fanatics drawing on the texts of Eurasianist thinker like Lev Gumilyev “even when fortified by specialists in the conduct of partisan wars” (

            There are at least two reasons for this conclusion, Pastukhov says. One is that the Moscow-backed operatives “have encountered the typical problem of peasant armies: [their members] will not fight further than their own huts or for more than the samovar of their neighbors.”

            And the other is the very special nature of this region, one that gave rise to Nestor Makhno and his anarchist movement. Putin and those around him, the Russian scholar suggests, would do well “to reread the biography of Nestor Makhno.” That is because what he did just under a century ago could turn out to be more important than many imagine.”

            In an essay on today, Pastukhov says that “the Donetsk steppes have bad karma.”  Less than 100 miles from Donetsk lies “the undeservedly forgotten” but at one time quite remarkable village of Gulyai-Pole, the motherland of Makhno and the headquarters of his peasant force.

            Makhno, reflecting the values of the peasants around him, confiscated “’bourgeois’” property much earlier than did the Soviets in Petrograd, the Russian scholar continues, noting that “already then Novorossiya set the trend for Great Russia.”

            But that may not be what the Kremlin wants now, because the spirit unleashed there a century ago and again now is “the spirit of anarchy and force,” Pastukhov says. “Just as a body may carry within itself a virus” for a long time and become sick only when the immune system is weakened, so too the same thing can happen to whole societies.

            Putin’s “Novorossiya” idea is “in cultural terms neither Ukraine nor Russia.”  It is a mixture of those cultures and others, and it is one where, as the name of Makhno’s village suggests, people live as they want beyond the usual constraints.  “Instead of tradition, there is the Pugachevshchina; instead of honor, a sense of being without limits; instead of religion, a pathetic grin.

            Thus, the Donbas is not like Sicily, as Yuliya Latynina has suggested, the St. Antony’s scholar says. It is much more like “pre-historic Corsica,” a land populated by pirates or soldiers of fortune who live beyond the law or can even be said to make their own as they go along and who threaten others who place their faith in laws and powers.

            Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine, which arose extemporaneously in the first two months of this year, Pastukhov says, “has taken finally its finished form.”  The Russian plan, “at least in the short term” is to transform southeastern Ukraine into a region where “there is no power except for bandit self-rule supported by the generous hand of its northern neighbor.”

            Moscow doesn’t want to occupy these territories, he argues, because the costs would be extremely high and thus occupation would be “an undesirable result which it is necessary to avoid if one can.” 

            There is a certain logical consistency in what Russia is doing, Pastukhov says.  “Moscow completely consciously is surrounding itself with its own kind of geopolitical ‘shahid’s belt,’ a crescent of terrorist grenades which must link the Caucasus from the Carpathians and iin this way cut of Russia from Europe which is now alien to it.”

            Thus, he concludes, what is happening is “the realization of one of the marginal and mistaken isolationist scenarios of the 1990s,” one where Kremlin’s “interests in a strange way correspond to those of Russian neo-isolationism, which considers the southeast of Ukraine as a testing ground for the realization in practice of its religious-philosophical heresies.”

            But as Pastukhov suggests, the authors of these scenarios want to see what they are working on in Ukraine spread to Russia.  That could happen, as did Makhno’s anarchism.  But if it does, the results will be anything but welcome to those who have been the facilitators of such actions.

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