Sunday, November 20, 2022

Russians would Accept the Ukrainian Re-Absorption of Crimea Just as They have the Ukrainian Re-Conquest of Kherson, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 18 – Because Russian media did not play it up, the Russian people have accepted Ukraine’s victory in Kherson far more readily than many might have excepted, Sergey Shelin says. And the same thing would likely be true in the case of Ukraine, despite the assumptions of the Kremlin and much of the commentariat.

            Polls show that only a very few Russians have reacted with anger and alarm to Ukraine’s victory in Kherson, the Rosbalt commentator says; and that raises the question: “how would they react if the same thing happened in Ukraine?” The answer may surprise the Kremlin and many others besides (

            Some analysts are saying that the Russian public reacted so calmly to the “loss” of Kherson because the media did not talk but about it; but they insist that everyone has heard “a lot about Crimea and would fight to the death to defend it. That is, if Crimea was at risk, the war would immediately become the third fatherland war.”

            But others think just the reverse and say that the population will follow whatever the government propaganda says unless and until they are some how directly involved. If the government accepted the loss Crimea to Ukraine, the Russian population would as well. If TV were silent, “the people would not take notice that Crimea was no longer” part of Russia.

            Both of these positions assume that propaganda is all-powerful, in the first case that it could have made Kherson a turning point for Russians and in the second it could deal easily with the loss of Crimea. However, as the failure of government propaganda in the case of the  pandemic shows, it is not all powerful.

            What matters is how much the people feel directly involved and thus invested in what is going on, Shelin argues. And that argues for those who say the Russians would accept the loss of Crimea more than many now think. Before 2014, Russians weren’t demanding its recovery; and they accepted its recovery as a kind of gift because it came with so little loss.

            What that means, the commentator says, is that “the price of the so-called Crimean consensus is not as high as commonly thought. The public has never made and will never make voluntary sacrifices for the sake of Crimea.” They will accept anything as long as they aren’t directly invested in it.

            Russia’s possession of Crimea or its loss in the absence of that will be viewed as a military issue rather than an all-people one. “And in this sense, Crimea is the same as Kherson.” Moscow could yield it without any fear that there would be a backlash in the population, something Shelin doesn’t say but that Western governments should remember as well.

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