Staunton, September 8 – All too many people in Moscow view Ukraine as a fraternal republic that NATO is using against Russia, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says. In fact, Ukraine is Russia’s mortal enemy and will continue to constitute a serious threat unless and until it is reabsorbed by Russia or broken up into a number of less-threatening mini-states.
In a major article in Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye, the deputy head of the Moscow Institute for Political and Military Analysis argues that most Russians don’t view Ukraine as a credible enemy except to the extent that it works with the Western alliance. But that perspective is completely wrong (nvo.ng.ru/concepts/2018-09-07/1_1012_ukraine.html).
On the one hand, NATO which hasn’t fought a war against a major country for decades is gaining far more information about how to do so from Ukrainians who have than it is providing to the Ukrainians. And on the other – and this is even more important, Khramchikhin says, Ukraine really is a threat to Russia.
While many Russians laugh when Kyiv says that its army is the strongest in Europe, the Moscow analyst says, if one allows for the fact that Ukrainian officials mean this in the American sense of land forces, that many Russian units aren’t in Europe, and Turkey isn’t a play, then “the Ukrainian army really is the strongest in Europe.” And Russia needs to recognize this.
And while many Russians also laugh at Ukrainian propaganda, in fact, Khramchikhin says, that effort has been remarkably successful in convincing Ukrainians that despite the shortcomings of their own government, Russia is the enemy and that no one should take part in any new Maidan because it would only work to Putin’s benefit.
One consequence both of this propaganda and of Russian actions is that “the Ukrainian idea is anti-Russian by definition. Therefore,” the Moscow analyst says, “Russia and Ukraine can be either one country or enemies. No third possibility is possible.” And thus all talk in Moscow about a single united Ukraine is dangerous nonsense.
Indeed, Khramchikhin says, “any supporter of a single independent Ukraine already automatically cannot be considered a pro-Russian politician. He can only exploit the theme of ‘brotherhood’ in order to drink our ‘blood’ (money, oil, and gas0 without getting anything back in exchange.”
But many Russians forget this. Not only do Russian firms continue to cooperate with Ukrainian ones, but Russia today is the largest investor in a country that is from the outset Russia’s enemy. The US wouldn’t tolerate this from its companies; Russia shouldn’t either, the analyst says.
“The final goal of Russia must be the territorial disintegration of Ukraine, something which must be achieved by non-military means.” Moscow has long made it clear that it isn’t about to launch a full-scale invasion: it doesn’t have the resources to carry one out at present, Khramchikhin says.
But it must be ready for a Ukrainian provocation and be ready to act in ways so that it is not caught in a trap. The Moscow analyst says that the way the Russian side should proceed is to apply to Ukraine “the Georgian variant of a decade ago.”
“This means,” he says, “the restoration of the territorial integrity of the DNR and LNR … their diplomatic recognition, the over deployment of Russian troops on their territories … and the complete destruction of the Ukrainian armed forces … but without the occupation of even a small part of Ukrainian territory.” That is, Russia should inflict a defeat and then leave.
After that, Khramchikhin says, Moscow must promote outmigration from Ukraine so as to weaken that country and strengthen Russia without having to rely on culturally dissimilar people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Right now, the Russian government is doing exactly the reverse, limiting immigration from Ukraine and sponsoring it from elsewhere.
That raises the question Pavel Milyukov asked of the tsar’s government in 1916: “is this stupidity or is this treason?”
In this new reality, Russians must stop talking about any NATO advance or about NATO as the enemy in Ukraine. “Our enemy is Ukraine itself, an extraordinarily dangerous one despite its weaknesses,” and consequently, Moscow must do what is necessary to “transform it into several small states.”
“Some of these will really be pro-Russian and in the future can be taken into the Russian Federation. Others, even while remaining anti-Russia will lose any real potential for inflicting any harm on us. And the ideological bases of Ukrainian Russophobia in this situation will to a large extent lose any meaning.”
Moscow must also stop obsessing about the inviolability of international borders, Khramchikhin says. They’ve been violated enough over recent decades, including most prominently with the disintegration of the USSR. And Russians would do well to remember that it was Ukraine that destroyed the Soviet Union, not anyone else.
“Without the Baltics and the Trans-Caucasus,” he continues, “the country could have lived peaceably but without Ukraine it lost any meaning … Moreover, one should not forget how thousands of militants from Ukraine fought on the side of Chechen separatists in the 1990s … for an ‘independent Ichkeria.’”
There is a real danger that some in Moscow will overlook all this in the pursuit of some illusory “strategic partnership” with the West, but it is critically important, Khramchikhin says, that Russia begin to “think realistically” and act accordingly with regard to Ukraine – and do this as soon as possible.
First and foremost, it must shore up the DNR and the LNR. “Russia’s behavior toward them now has become openly sadistic,” with Moscow blocking outmigration from them and thus creating a situation in them that serves to mobilize the rest of Ukraine against not just the DNR and the LNR but against Russia as a whole.
In that way, Moscow’s current approach to these two republics is undermining its broader interests and helping the country that cannot and will not ever be anything but Russia’s enemy, he concludes.