Staunton, April 11 – Vladimir Putin routinely speaks about Russia’s special responsibility for Russian speakers in Ukraine, but he would have had far more influence on those people and the regions in which they live had he not turned his back on European integration and transformed Ukraine from a partner into an enemy to be dismantled, Vadim Sidorov says.
Few today remember that 30 years ago, Russia and Ukraine were committed to a common European vector, including the membership of both in the EU and NATO and the creation of Euro-Regions that would have joined the border regions of both more closely to each other, the Prague-based regionalist says (region.expert/euregs/).
Had Putin not rejected that and sought instead to promote a special “Russian way,” Russians and Ukrainians could still be two “’fraternal peoples.’” Instead, when Putin insisted on their being “’a single people’” under Moscow and opposed to Europe, these possibilities were lost – even more by Russia than by Ukraine, which is still on a European course.
When the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus disbanded the USSR, they recognized that this was not some single action because the three remained deeply interconnected; and they created the Commonwealth of Independent Staes to promote “the free movement of people, goods and services” among them.
The CIS remains, but “few know that already in 1993, the active cooperation of the border regions of Russia and Ukraine began” under the umbrella of Euro-regions which sought to bridge state borders, something that has worked wonders in the EU but was killed by Putin in Russia.
Because of Putin’s hostility to Ukraine and his insistence that Russia not Europe is the proper goal of Ukrainians, he forced the Ukrainians to view such trans-border structures not as something useful to both that was entirely part of the European experience and instead to think of them as what they have become, Moscow’s Trojan horses against Ukraine.
Not surprisingly, Ukrainians rejected them almost as quickly as Russians did but for this very different reason. Ukrainians did so because they wanted to remain on a European course, while the Russians did so because they didn’t and didn’t want Ukraine to have the right to make that choice.
The two nations began moving in different directions, Sidorov says. “If Ukraine from the time of the Orange Revolution of 2004 entered the second phase of an anti-Soviet national-democratic revolution … then in Putin’s Russia as a reaction to it developed neo-Soviet revanchism, joined together with nostalgia for the Russian Empire.”
But Putin’s choice played an evil joke on Russians with that nation becoming “one of the chief victims of [his] imperial policy” because it not only meant that they were increasing surrounded by enemies of Moscow’s making but also created a situation in which natural cross-border cooperation became difficult if not unthinkable.
It will be difficult to repair the damage Putin has inflicted on both Russians and Ukrainians, but after he leaves the scene, Sidorov says, there is at least a chance that Russia could again join Ukraine on the path to Europe and that Euro-regions could be reformed that would reflect the cultural similarities and links that had existed for so long.
That would be fully consistent with the EU’s vision of itself as a Europe of the regions, and both Russia and Ukraine could benefit from moving in that direction, once of course, Russians again look to Europe and turn their back on the self-isolating concept of Putin’s “Russian world.”