Today’s Ukraine, he writes, “is a poor but viable state, which over the past five years has shown its ability to live without Russia.” Personal ties have weakened, economic dependency has as well, and now Russia is viewed there as another country, hostile rather than part of some larger entity as Russians still continue to view Ukraine.
Ukraine’s economy has “grown for the fourth year in a row, quite slowly but all the same faster” than Russia’s. Its people are no longer going to Russia to find work but rather to Europe. “And the Ukrainian army is not super-strong but is sufficiently capable, and there is not the slightest sign that it will throw down its arms and go home.”
In short, Shelin says, “Ukrainians have left and are living their own life.” They don’t accept the idea anymore that they are anybody’s including Russia’s “younger brother” or “junior partner.”
Unfortunately, Russians from top to bottom have not adjusted to this new reality. The Kremlin and the popular masses view Ukrainians as ungrateful traitors; and as it well known, traitors are hated more than enemies of other kinds. At the very least, it is harder to forgive them and move on.
But Russians do not understand that “national independence is not treason. This is the right of a nation if a nation is conscious of itself.” The Russians remain “people of the empire” and expect others to continue to accept that arrangement, one that puts the Russians on top, forever.
This is not the first time something like this has happened among Russians. “In the 1990s, the object of a quite strong and long dislike was little Estonia” and the reasons were more or less the same. The existence of that state as an independent one seemed to Russians both unreasonable and incorrect.
This Russian hostility led to a growth of ethnic nationalism which has ebbed with time and to an explosion of “civic energy” which has transformed Estonia into a European country on its own as far as Russia is concerned. Because it is smaller and ethnically more distinct than Ukraine, the Russians have mostly come to terms with its separateness.
What is distressing, Shelin continues, is that in the case of Ukraine, not only the powers that be and the masses are anti-Ukrainian but a large portion of Russia’s intellectual circles are as well. They too display emotions which can only be explained by the continuing power of imperialist ideas among Russians.
Some Russian intellectuals say Ukraine shouldn’t go its separate way because the main vector in international life is toward cooperation and unity, but that isn’t true. And some complain that Ukraine hasn’t shown the way for Russia to change – but that is not Ukraine’s responsibility, the commentator argues.
“Good or bad, Ukraine does not owe use anything,” Shelin says. “This is another country. It lives by its brains and for itself, not for us. I do not think that five years of life without Russia has passed for it in vain, but this is for its citizens to decide.” But can Russians say that they have changed in the five years they have lived without Ukraine?
The answer is mixed. “One thing has changed for the better: the masses are tired of the hostility. They are fed up with focusing on it and want attention to be paid to their problems at home. And only our most senior people as before are not tired: for them, the empire has no alternative” that to proceed as before.
That is their tragedy and Russia’s. Ukraine is moving on and ahead.