Wednesday, July 22, 2015

‘Donbas Should Become a Second Belarus,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Vladimir Putin would like to see the Donbas remain part of Ukraine so as to have leverage over Kyiv, but the Western tilt of Ukrainian opinion, Valery Afanasyev says, means that the Donbas should become “a second Belarus,” a Slavic state oriented toward Moscow but separate from the Russian Federation so as to protect Russian national interests.

            In “Voennoye obozreniye” today, the Russian nationalist writer argues that “it isn’t necessary to include eastern Ukraine within Russia.” Instead, it should become “an autocratic state completely dependent on Moscow.” The rest of Ukraine, he says, should be handed over to “the Banderites” (

            Those people, he continues, will then be “happy in their Catholicism and Uniatism,” and “their small ethnically and religiously uniform, newly-minted democracy will quickly be taken into the European Union as were quickly accepted the Baltic countries.” They will then have “the visa regime to European happiness about which impoverished Ukrainians dream.”

            Afanasyev’s article is an archetypical example of the overheated rhetoric now circulating in the Russian capital and seldom picked up by Western outlets precisely for that reason.  But as outrageous as some of his statements are, they deserve attention because they include ideas – like that about “a second Belarus” that may be being discussed within the Putin regime.

            The Moscow writer begins his diatribe by saying that “in Ukraine, Catholics and Uniates under the leadership of the sectarians are killing the Orthodox” and that as a result, “this war must be considered above all as a religious war, and religious wars, as is well known, characteristically don’t end.” Thus, expecting a quick end to this war is “without foundation.”

            In Ukraine as elsewhere, he continues, “faith and religious convictions are more important than nationality because there cannot be any compromises on questions of faith.” Russia must thus focus on the defense of its fellow Orthodox believers rather than on ethnic Russians or supposedly “fraternal” Ukrainians.

            According to Afanasyev, “the further spread of Catholicism and Uniatism to the East is predetermined because the Orthodox do not have that tight organization and discipline which the Catholics do.”  The only hope the Orthodox have is to be found in the Russian state which in defending its co-believers is defending its national security.

Because of the religious component of this conflict, he argues, “it is already impossible to maintain the integrity of the Ukrainian state which has become openly Nazi, Banderite, anti-Russian and anti-Orthodox.” Trying to do so, he says, will only play into the hands of those Ukrainians who “want to make out of Eastern Ukraine a Gaza strip.”

The West, he suggests, is also interested in the integrity of the Ukrainian state because that would allow it to “push its military bases up to the borders of Russia” and thus be in a position to threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation itself. If Moscow doesn’t recognize this threat and respond accordingly, the future for Russia is truly bleak.

“If active measures are not undertaken,” Afanasyev says, “then all Ukraine will be infected with the virus of nationalism which step by step will spread into Russia and there serve as the cause of Russia’s disintegration when Siberia where many Ukrainians live declares its ‘independence’ from Moscow.”

Consequently, he continues, Russia has an interest in partitioning Ukraine but absolutely no interest in absorbing what is now Ukrainian territory. Instead, it needs “a second Belarus” as a buffer against the West, even as it recognizes that the rump Ukraine that will flee into the hands of the West will be hostile “for the next several centuries.”

Moscow’s “passive policy” in regard to these threats, he says, “has led to a situation in which even the Russian-speaking oblasts could ‘go to the West’ and relate to Russia in a negative way.” Kyiv’s propaganda has been effective: “the younger generation already speaks Russian worse than its parents, and it doesn’t like the present regime in Russia.”

“The territory of Ukraine was and will remain a field of battle between Russia and Europe,” Afanasyev says, and Ukrainians probably will suffer “the fate of the German people, which despite a common language was split up into a multitude of states and on which was laid the function of defending Europe from ‘the barbarians.’”

            He concludes: “the current political elite of Russia doesn’t want to divide Ukraine because it still considers it [Russia’s] property. But that train has left the station -- and the EU association agreement remains.” Failure to understand that means that Putin is playing by rules of the game established by the West rather than by those dictated by Russian national interests.

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