Sunday, July 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Reaction to Airliner Downing Even More Dangerous than the Tragedy Itself, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 20 – Russia’s reaction to the Malaysian airliner tragedy represents a more serious threat to the future of the world than does the mistake of shooting it down because it shows that the “’punk’ psychology” which Putin has made the centerpiece of its domestic policy has not become “the core of its foreign policy as well,” Vladimir Pastukhov says.


            By lying about it without any admixture of human emotions,” the Russian analyst says, Moscow has put itself “beyond the borders of the Christian world and theoretically created the conditions for a return by the West to a worldwide policy of ‘crusades’ against the heirs of communism” (


            In fact, he continues, Moscow’s reaction is driving the West not only toward “containment” but beyond that to “rollback,” thus creating a situation the consequences of which for itself, for Russia and for the international community, the Kremlin clearly does not fully understand.


            Because of what Russia’s reaction says about the Putin regime, the world is threatened not by the danger that “the Kremlin will decide to go to war” against it but by the danger that “this war may begin despite the will of the Kremlin.” That is because once Moscow recognizes what is going on, its behavior “could be completely unpredictable.”


            Thus, “what must be feared is not Russian aggression but Russian hysteria,” Pastukhov says, because “the end of a criminal state” of the kind Russia has long been transformed could lead to a lashing out at all those around them.


            As is his custom, Pastukhov bases these conclusions on a broader argument, one that deserves particular attention.  He says that Russia would like to fight the West but “does not have the corresponding potential” to do so and that in this, “Russia now is playing with the West the very same game which Ukraine played with Russia up to now.”


            That is, just like Ukraine with regard to Russia over the last two decades, Moscow is acting on the assumption that whatever it does, the West can and will do nothing because Russia is “a sovereign power.” But in fact as Russia’s actions in Ukraine show, this Russian assumption is false and therefore extremely dangerous.


            To make his point, Pastukhov draws some broader parallels between Ukraine and Russia and Russia and the West.  Ukraine “arose as an independent state not as the result of a national liberation movement but as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Empire” and so the process of national building happened “not before but after Ukraine acquired its statehood.”


            Ukraine’s independence until recently was thus based less on support within Ukrainian society than on the agreement of Russia, Poland, Germany and the United States that there needed to be a “buffer” between Europe and Russia. When Russia withdrew from that “unspoken accord, he continues, “the building of Ukrainian statehood collapsed.”


            (Pastukhov notes that Ukrainian statehood can be revived “anew” either by a restoration of “the old consensus or by a national movement “provoked by war.”  “With each passing day,” he says, the second scenario is becoming more probable than the first.”)


            Despite the shakiness of its foundations, the Russian scholar says, “post-communist Ukraine sought to build its relations with Russia as an equal partner,” thus “ignoring” the real inequality between the two. And it did not simply ignore this difference: Kyiv sought to force Russia to provide subsidies even as it moved away from Moscow.


            Pastukhov suggests that this policy can be captured by the formula: “’profits go to the West, but shortfalls are covered by the East.’”


            Ultimately, as Russian actions this year have shown, the Ukrainian leadership suffered from “a cruel self-deception.” It assumed that it could take its statehood as “a given on which it could engage in a struggle with Russian imperialism.” But what has happened in recent months shows that this is a serious mistake.


            The only comfort Ukrainians can take, Pastukhov suggests, is that Russia is deceiving itself in the same way with regard to the rest of the world.


            “Contemporary ‘Rossiyane’ as Boris Yeltsin would say have no greater a relationship to the Russian Empire than do contemporary Italians to the feats of Ancient Rome or contemporary Egyptians to the glory of the pharaohs.”  That is because “to live on the site where an Empire was located does not mean to be the heirs of this Empire.”


            Russia “in its current form arose approximately as did Ukraine,” Pastukhov says.  One morning its people woke up and found that “they are citizens of an independent and sovereign state.” Thus, the formation of a Russian nation as the basis of contemporary Russian statehood began after 1991 and judging from everything, this process is still far from completion.”


            Nonetheless, “Russia presents the West” with demands for compensation on the basis of all previous empires in Eurasia “from Muscovy and the Golden Horde to the Russian Empire and the USSR” and demands that it be dealt with as a superpower, even though, except for nuclear weapons, it is not one by any measure.


            Russia and its leaders in their relations with the West “seek to ignore the difference of the technological, economic, military and purely political potential [between the two] just as “earlier Ukraine tried to ignore this difference in building its relations with Russia.” But the differences in both cases are real and cannot be ignored forever.


            Unfortunately and despite that reality, Moscow “drunk” on its own patriotic propaganda is acting as if it can. “It wants to force the West to attend” to Russia as Russia imagines itself to be, and “it is convincing itself that it does not fear any Third World War,” believing that it frightens the West more than the West frightens it.


            Thus, Moscow is engaging in a series of what can only be called provocations, Pastukhov suggests. But as Moscow does not yet understand,  “provoking the West will have for Russia just as sad consequences” as Ukraine’s provocations against Russia have had for it.  


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