Staunton, December 14 -- In five key areas, many commentators in the West are holding Ukraine to a very different and much higher standard than Russia, an example of the double standards others regularly complain about but that in this case are being used to suggest that Ukraine should not get the support it deserves as a victim of aggression.
These include the presence of fascism, the realization of federalism, the maintenance of democracy and freedom, treatment of ethnic minorities and the level of corruption. In all five, Russia ranks much worse than does Ukraine, something one would now know from reading the Moscow media or much of commentary in the West.
To say all this is not to say that Ukraine does not have shortcomings in each of these, but it is to insist that those examining the situation should recognize that the sins that they are holding Ukraine responsible for are incomparably smaller and less significant than those of which Russia is guilty.
First of all, Vladimir Putin and his regime have made the presence of what they say is fascism in Ukraine a core part of their propaganda effort in support of Russia’s military activities, but it is clear that for Moscow, “fascism” applies to anyone who resists Russia and has no more content than that.
There are right-wing extremists in Ukraine, and they must be weeded out. But there is no equivalent in Kyiv to the kind of statements in support of Hitler and policies that resemble those of the fascist leaders of the 1930s that are very much on offer in Moscow and at the highest levels. Where are the critics of Ukrainian “fascism” with regard to that Russian reality?
Second, many in Moscow say and many in the West accept the idea that Russia’s call for the federalization of Ukraine is reasonable and proper. After all, they say, Russia is a federal state. But under Putin, it is a federal state only on paper and with constitutional reform looming perhaps soon not even there. Indeed, calls for federalism in Russia are now a criminal offense.
Ukraine is not a federal state, but Moscow is not interested in having it become one. Rather, Moscow is promoting the creation of irridenta it can exploit to ensure that Ukraine will remain weak. And those who ignore this reality also ignore another: federal states inevitably become more centralized when they are faced with an external threat as Ukraine now is.
Third, Ukraine is a democratic state with all the messiness that entails. It has genuinely competitive elections, a parliament with a very real opposition, and the kind of media freedom that make all those things possible. Russia has none of those things: its elections are rigged, its parliament is a shadow of the real thing, and its media is increasingly controlled by the Kremlin.
Despite that, many in Moscow talk about Ukraine as if it were a dictatorship and about Russia as if it were a democracy, and many in the West follow suit – even though some in the Russian Federation are now discussing the tragic reality that under Putin, it is not just authoritarian but moving toward totalitarianism (novayagazeta.ru/comments/66502.html).
Ukrainian democracy is not perfect, but democracies – and Ukraine is one -- by their very nature aren’t: they provide the opportunity for citizens to complain. Authoritarian and totalitarian states don’t provide such opportunities, and thus many are inclined to assume that if there are no complaints, there are no problems.
Fourth, Ukraine does not have a perfect record on treating ethnic minorities, although it is improving, but it already has a better one that does the Russian Federation of Vladimir Putin. Ukraine today supports the language and cultural rights of ethnic groups within its borders far more than Putin’s Russia does those within its.
But for Putin and his regime, ethnic Russians in Ukraine deserve more rights than anyone else, including those of the titular nationality, and if they do not get such treatment, then Moscow is justified in intervening. No one is making a similar argument about any nation currently within the borders of the Russian Federation even though Moscow is mistreating many of them.
And fifth, while there is a great deal of room for economic reform and fighting corruption in Ukraine, the situation in that regard is far worse in the Russian Federation where the fusion of public and private power is now so great that one has to draw on models of the fascist corporate states to begin to understand it.
In one sense, these comparisons are or should be irrelevant, even though Ukraine comes out on top. Ukraine is the victim of aggression, and Russia is the aggressor, the violator of international law and its own much-ballyhooed commitments to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
But because Ukraine comes out on top, it is even more deserving of Western support and assistance, and Russia is even more deserving of Western condemnation and isolation until and unless it not only changes course in Ukraine but changes course at home and broad more generally.