Staunton, July 21 – Russia is now surrounded by “a ring of enemies” because it has failed to make itself attractive and has in fact driven others away by its ultimatums and its inability to achieve something on its own after the demise of the USSR, Sergey Medvedev, a political analyst at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says.
“Over the course of the last 30 years,” he continues, “Russia hasn’t produced anything attractive except a model of authoritarianism.” There is no reason for the former Soviet republics to love it as “all the achievements remain those of the past, space, Soviet science, schools and cinematography” (rfi.fr/ru/россия/20210721-кто-не-с-нами-тот-против-нас-почему-бывшие-республики-ссср-отдаляются-от-россии).
The new Russia has very little soft force at its disposal, and it makes things worse by viewing the neighbors solely as part of a zero-sum game in which “they either remain with us or they go to the West,” an approach that perverts the national interests of both sides even though it continues to guide those in the Kremlin.
“The former Soviet republics today are separate and independent countries, a large portion of whom are oriented toward Europe, including Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine with similar tendencies already notable in Belarus,” Medvedev says. “And the more Russia tries to keep them tied to itself, the more they will seek to separate themselves from it.”
That is very much on view both in Belarus and Ukraine. In Belarus, Vladimir Putin supports Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s dictatorship mostly to show Russians that the streets can’t win against anyone in power. But in doing so, analysts say, he is driving ever more Belarusians away from Russia.
Sasha Filippenko, a Russian-Belarusian journalist, says that in his opinion, Belarusians are divided into three roughly equal camps, one third wants to become part of Europe, one third wants to join Russia, and one third wants to try to extract benefits from both. Those who back what Putin wants are in a clear minority making the Kremlin’s bet on it problematic at best.
With regard to Ukraine, Medvedev says that the opposition to Moscow is far greater because the Kremlin has consistently acted as if Ukraine and Ukrainians don’t exist and don’t have the right to an independent existence, a view that no one wants to hear anyone else have of oneself.
And because Moscow believes this nonsense, every one of its actions toward Ukraine has produced exactly the opposite result that the Kremlin sought and that would have been in Russia’s national interest. Consequently, Russia must recognize that at least for a long time, it “has lost Ukraine” and is very far along the road to losing Belarus.
Maybe in some future world after Putin is long gone and a different and more thoughtful Russian government comes to power, all three countries can come together on the basis of common interests and mutual respect. But because there is little or nothing of the latter now, there is no possibility for the realization of the former anytime soon.