Thursday, December 31, 2015

When Crises Become Permanent – Russia vs. Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 31 – Man is not a pig, Dostoyevsky observed; he can get used to anything.  But the process of adapting to something new changes him in ways he may not even be aware of. That is what has happened in Russia and Ukraine, albeit in different ways, as each nation has adapted itself to the idea that the crises it faces are not temporary but permanent.

            Two commentators, Vyacheslav Inozemtsev and Kseniya Kirillova, explore what this adaptation to the sense of a permanent crisis means for Russia and Ukraine respectively ( and

            In a “Gazeta” column, the Moscow economist argues that the Kremlin has succeeded in accustoming itself and the Russian people as well to “live in a permanent crisis.”  A year ago, everything was different. Both the regime and the population feared that unless something was done and quickly, there would be disaster. But such feelings have largely disappeared.

            Any crisis, Inozemtsev points out, may be viewed as logic or unprovoked, but in both cases, “it looks temporary and a passing phenomenon.”  But after a time and with the effort of the authorities, people get used to it and conclude that “nothing extraordinary will occur in our lives.”

            The opposition continues to point to the disasters all around, but the population doesn’t respond. “Citizens who during recent years could allow themselves vacations in Turkey and Egypt joyously greet the president’s decision about Russian participation in the operation in Syria and the government’s ban on flights to the same Egypt and Turkey.”

            “Nothing from this,” the economist continues, “elicits not only a reaction but I would even say much interest among the majority of Russians.” And the same is true of other things as well, including bans on imports, rising prices, emptying shelves, the falling ruble, and all the other features of Russian life today.

            “This means only one thing: in contrast to 1998 2008 or 2014, the crisis is viewed in Russia as something ordinary.”  And that represents “an enormous success of the Russian authorities: “the people have been finally transformed into a silent mass” and the powers that be are thus free to act as they want.

            The Russian population has ceased to pay much attention even to things it focused on in the past, and “the authorities are acting in exactly the same key: for a long time already, they haven’t been struggling with the crisis. They have accustomed themselves and taught the people to live in the conditions of crisis” and to accept that this situaiton will last for some time.

            It may very well be, he suggests, that “all this is part of a genial ‘Putin plan’ carried out by United Russia,” something suggested by the symbol of the party, the Russian bear, “the only major animal in our country which when it encounters unfavorable climatic conditions and a shortage of food simply goes into hibernation.”

            In 2014, Inozemtsev says, “Russia passed through two mobilizations, an imaginary one and a real one.”  The imaginary one involved Crimea and Ukraine, conflicts which affected few people directly but gave the population the sense that something great would have “in the nearest future.”

            “The second occurred at the end of [that] year” when Russian founds that there was less in stores and when foreign currency cost more, a situation which “touched the majority of the population of the country and was much more ‘real’ than the first.”  But in 2015, “there wasn’t any mobilization at all.”

            Instead, almost all Russians have become accustomed to the crisis and do not expect it to end or the situation to change fundamentally anytime soon.

            In a commentary for Novy Region-2, Kirillova, a US-based commentator, considers the way in which 2015 differed from its predecessor and why what has occurred casts a potentially dark shadow on the future of Ukraine.

            Most of the problems of 2015 began the year before and were not solved during the last 12 months, she writes.  As a result, Ukraine shifted from a heroic period in which it had to face immediate threats into a more dangerous one in which “our main enemy” became “not so much Russia as indifference and weariness.”

            Ukrainians are “beginning to avoid beautiful words and to be ashamed of their former naivete. [They] are tired of hopes and disappointments … and have suddenly discovered that [they] must not trust anyone.”  Moreover, they are increasingly weighed down by the sense that their “struggle will be eternal and lonely.”

            Ukrainians are “ceasing to believe those who live in neighboring countries and even in apartments next door,” Kirillova writes. And those who had displayed enthusiasm for the task ahead now display disappointment and anger and “in place of unity a lack of faith and loneliness, in place of faith in victory, weariness.”

            Kirillova says she would like to be contradicted and believes that consideration of Ukraine’s achievements, especially on the international front, over the past year provides a basis for greater optimism.  But many Ukrainians feel otherwise and “the year just passed shows that no external enemy can bring as much evil” as a despairing population can bring itself.

            There should not be any basis for panic. Ukraine has held out against enormous odds.  “But our task today,” she writes, “is to help hold up those around us who do not have the strength to continue the struggle and those who do not have the faith” needed to do so successfully.

            And thus, Kirillova concludes, “our most horrible enemy besides weariness and disappointment is inattentiveness and indifference. In order to survive as a nation, we must constantly look at those who are fighting and suffer alongside them and especially at those who already cannot fight.”

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