The bloody confrontation in Ukraine resulting in the death of numerous people is a major tragedy, which also affects Russia. We share in the concern and pain over these developments. A significant number of problems that led to the current situation are also our shared problems. Some of them are identical in nature — common processes that know no borders. Instead of seeking at the very least to interpret these problems, the Russian media sphere has succumbed to hysteria. The excitable, smooth-talking propaganda merchants have been gloating as they try to convince their Russian audiences and readers that all the developments in Kyiv, Lviv and other cities are a Western conspiracy and represent a geopolitical «tug of war» with Russia. They have also done their utmost to spread fear so that such behaviour doesn’t become a habit. Cheerful conversations among the Russian opposition about the successful Ukrainian revolution and the need to model their actions on the events in Ukraine are primitive, reeking of amateurism, and completely irresponsible … In actual fact, what we have witnessed and are witnessing in Ukraine is not some external distant development, but rather part of our common, extremely difficult situation, complicated by numerous political, economic and social factors that we need to extricate ourselves from together.
1. What happened in Ukraine?
People in Ukraine are very poor in material terms. They are far worse off than your average Russian. As Ukraine has no oil or gas revenues, the country has a large number of chronic economic and social problems and is marked by significant poverty, poor levels of medical care and inadequate education. On top of all that, the country is mired in ubiquitous corruption and extremely unfair rules of life, based on the supremacy of might and pure chance. Business activities are hampered by poor economic policies, instability, the oligarchs, monopolies and crime.
The Yanukovych administration has never been worthy of any respect: they were perceived as an opaque force that would as a rule leverage people «they had something on», individuals who could be kept on a «leash»; it resembled an «inept autocracy», in other words, a form of rule where a leader bereft of any real ability is selected by a paternalistically-mined electorate. This was understood or experienced first hand by virtually the entire population of Ukraine.
The people also understood or could perceive a way out. The examples could be found nearby — such countries as Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania. They were in principle no worse off than Ukraine 20 years ago, but made vast strides towards the European Union and then acceded to the European Union, even though they had to overcome numerous problems at first. Today they also face a considerable number of problems. However, living standards, and in particular the quality of life, is perceptibly higher; above all, they have real prospects.
It should come as no surprise that ever since the emergence of the Ukrainian state all the country’s Presidents have said the same thing — Ukraine should be in Europe. Yanukovych also came to power on the back of such promises. (For some reason the powers-that-be in Moscow believed for a long time that he was merely bluffing).
To all intents and purposes, there was a social contract until the end of last summer: the people were prepared to endure Yanukovych as long as they could perceive some movement towards Europe. Ukrainians believed, firstly, that they would gradually start living better lives under European rules and standards, as has been the case in other similar European countries. Secondly, they were convinced that in Europe you would not find any rulers like Yanukovych and or any such regime. Whether this would have been the case once this hope had been realised — all this is irrelevant now. This aspiration became the major hope and dream for a vast number of people all over Ukraine. Furthermore, on the eve of the signing of the EU Association Agreement, it became clear that choosing Europe was not splitting the country: on the contrary, it was bringing the people together.
Ukrainians consciously perceived that they were faced with a clear choice, between a European future (possibly idealised and strongly embellished) and the present circumstances that nobody wanted.
And then suddenly they were jolted by a major disappointment — Yanukovych stopped the advance into Europe and set a course in the diametrically opposing direction. The people felt deeply deceived and humiliated. The decision not to sign the agreement with the European Union was perceived as an end to all their hopes. It transpired that everything would remain as it was, only now it would be even worse: they had no prospects, and no future, while Yanukovych and his illegal regime would remain forever!
The authorities tore up the social contract, the people rebelled, and the Maidan happened. The acute crisis kicked off following attempts by the authorities to break up the peaceful Maidan on 30 November. After large-scale strong arm clashes in the centre of Kyiv in January and the takeover of power by protesters in dozens of Ukrainian regions, the situation reached the breaking point. On the one hand, you had the extremely dubious figure of Yanukovych and his «family of oligarchs», and on the other a cacophony of different voices: the people demanding change, several weak parliamentary politicians and radicals of all hues …It transpired that the entire opposition, and to a large extent the entire country, were the hostages of the latter. Blood was spilled — both sides demonstrated that they would not be stopped by violence. On 18 February, the boundary between an overtly bad situation and tragedy was crossed.
2. What is happening now?
The Yanukovych regime had and has no backing anywhere. This is a form of power that is not supported by public activity, but rather by silence, real and imaginary horrors, poverty, the habit of «paternalism», acceptance of the status quо for a time, irrespective of whether it is fair or not. When such power starts collapsing, nobody supports it, but rather only eggs on its destruction.
The parliamentary opposition, unable to lead the political process and pressurised by radicals, gradually lost influence and control over the situation. If aggressive nationalists and young hooligans are to personify the European path in Ukraine more and more and continue to set the agenda, forcing opposition politicians to dance to their tune, this will be a dead-end. Radicalism mixed with nationalism and fraught with violence threatens to transform «European» slogans arising from ideas of integration to reasons for secession. We have seen for the time being one small, but telling example: a decision to revoke the regional status accorded to the languages of national minorities as one of the first acts of the «new» Ukrainian parliament, adopted under the pressure of radical forces, turned out to be un-European in nature and repellent for some of the country’s population.
Naturally, Ukrainian policy and street activities are driven by a regional factor — the west of the country: in particular former Galicia and Bukovina. These regions have not been a part of Russia for more than five centuries. It goes without saying that in terms of culture and mentality their populations differ from Eastern and Central Ukraine. The people arriving from these regions to the Maidan are more stubborn and radical than the residents of Kyiv for example. However, these are not the main reasons for the radicalisation of the situation.
The shift of the most radical forces to the forefront of the political stage is the result of protracted suppression by the powers-that-be of natural social development processes, where society is constantly muzzled by the people in power and consequently moves in an unnatural direction. For example, before the crisis the powers-that-be adopted actions from the perspective that society was the enemy, or at the very least the source of all problems. They continued acting in this way during the crisis, exacerbating the situation through their stubborn reluctance to work out the reasons for the crisis, admit to errors, and owing to a desire to perceive the end of the Maidan as the only solution.
If an energetic society capable of moving forward and in need of serious institutional changes is trapped in a straitjacket to prevent its development, a new progeny will still emerge. However, it will be deformed. This was the case with the rule of Nicholas II of Russia: insulated from society and refusing to change, the powers-that-be created a situation where the desire of the Russian elite to take the then-bold step of transforming the autocracy into a constitutional monarchy and thereby create the requisite terms and conditions for the further development of the country ended up spawning the Bolshevik monster.
Incidentally, almost one hundred years later in today’s Russia, a far more self-seeking, paltry, vengeful and far less well-bred and educated ruling group, which perceives the development of society as a threat, is irrationally and absurdly trying to pretend that there can be no development of society. Once again it seeks to impose on society a straitjacket of restrictions, bans, perversions and lawlessness — thereby programming the birth of another socio-political deformity — a stranglehold of blatant barbarians, populists and radicals in politics …
3. The main reason for the crisis in Ukraine
An attentive and impartial analysis of developments in Ukraine shows that in spite of all the serious Ukrainian internal drivers of the crisis, the underlying reason is located territorially outside its borders. This is because it can be found in Russia.
From a cultural and historical perspective, Russia, just like Ukraine and Belarus, belongs to European civilisation. Europe offers the only real opportunity for the future development of these countries. If they want to retain their statehood in the 21st century, this is the only way. Any attempt to move in another direction constitutes a deviation from their natural historical development. This is virtually the same as the Bolshevik experiment of building socialism and communism. Today, however, the results will be more destructive for the states carrying out such experiments.
The Ukrainian crisis is of particular importance, as it represents the first major manifestation of this deviation and is a direct result of the violation of the natural historical development process of the post-Soviet space
Russia has a key role in this crisis. It has been trying persistently for the past 15 years through its own growing Eurasian internal and external policy to create an evident anti-European vector.
Russia’s unnatural refusal to move along the European path implies a rift in the post-Soviet space. The Ukrainian crisis is the result of this rift.
Instead of moving together with Ukraine towards Europe, Russia is trying to draw the country in the diametrically opposing direction.
The Russian political establishment is treating the situation with Ukraine as a zero sum game: if Ukraine signs the association agreement with Europe, this implies Russia’s defeat — if it doesn’t sign the agreement, this implies the West’s defeat. It should come as no surprise that the interests of the people in Ukraine (including Russians and Russian speakers, whom patriotic circles in Russia claim to protect) are irrelevant here.
Russia has created a morbid new context for all its neighbours: it induces in them an acute desire to distance themselves as much as possible from a neighbouring power that is creeping along an anti-European internal political course. Everybody perceives Russia as the direct opposite and as a threat to the European direction, a persistent proponent of «alternative Eurasian values»: a demonstrative disregard for human rights, renunciation of the equality of all citizens before the law, the separation of powers, and the creation of a legal modern state, the cultivation of an oligarch-based property system, the intentional lack of competition.
Through its renunciation of the European vector, Russia is creating a zone of instability, as virtually all its Western and even southern neighbours are in the final analysis striving for Europe. Accordingly, all these countries will have significant forces fighting Russia’s plans to hold them back and not let them go. Sooner or later the instability caused by this erroneous anti-European course will also come to Russia itself.
Giving advice on how to resolve the crisis in Ukraine has for a long time now been one of the favourite pastimes of a number of Russian politicians. It is often the case that such advice has little bearing on the real Ukraine and is, to put it simply, mere rhetoric. It is highly unlikely that they need to do this. The tactical issues on how to extricate the country from a crisis — how to form a provisional government, when and how to hold elections, how to create coalitions, etc. — these are issues that the Ukrainians themselves need to resolve. I suspect that it is also understandable and above all necessary first and foremost to use all possible means to prevent any escalation of the crisis and potential disintegration of the country.
Objectively, however, the successful resolution of the strategic problems facing Ukraine’s future depends to a significant degree on Russia. Given Russia’s unconditional and categorical opposition and the EU’s current policy, Ukraine will not make any progress in its bid to join closer to the European Union in the foreseeable future, regardless of developments in Kyiv.
Russia has serious potential to generate instability in Ukraine through the economy (dependence on Russian markets and Russian energy), by fanning the flames of separatism, using financial levers, and implementing a media propaganda campaign, and to all intents and purposes by pushing it to collapse … It is hard to imagine that a government could be formed in Kyiv with sufficient political will, popular support and professionalism to overcome such a vast array of difficulties and virtually insuperable obstacles.
This is why the fate of Russia’s European future is also one of the key issues for Ukraine.
In Russia the issue of whether the country needs to move closer to Europe is de facto blocked by the political classes, while it is fairly irrelevant for the public at large by virtue of the general situation and aggressive anti-European propaganda. Many people are focusing exclusively on their private lives, abandoning all hopes of any improvement in the state and cooperation with the state. In the Russian environment, this is the most radical behaviour in the short term. (At the same time, everybody knows that the individuals, who are part of the Russian «elite», at a personal level have far more opportunities to enjoy European benefits than any members of the general public and more than individuals who actively advocate fundamental European values.)
Russia has been deprived of any reasonable dream about prospects: instead it has been force-fed European phantoms and ignorant fantasies that are intimidating for anyone with common sense. The powers-that-be intentionally mix the issue of Russia’s selection of the European way with the direction of trade flows and pipelines. However, the European way and lifestyle is not an alternative to trade with China, Asian countries or the whole world. The European way is first and foremost a path based on domestic policy and a focus on developing society. If there is no realignment of the state on European terms to interact with society and individuals, no economic, political and geopolitical strategy will work. The main obstacle for the European course has nothing to do with the current problems in Europe and the growth of the Asian economy, but is instead due to the fundamental incompatibility of such a path with the interests of the Russian ruling class, who want to preserve for themselves the current Russian system of intertwined power, property and business. Talks about Eurasian virtues are part of demagogic efforts to conceal this incompatibility.
The Russian post-modernist political circles tell society: the existing Eurasian power model has its shortcomings, but there is no alternative. This conviction is only bolstered by calls from all sides to perceive an alternative in the Ukrainian developments. The opposition dreams about removing the President and replacing him with themselves. However, this is categorically insufficient to extricate the country from the current dead end. This has nothing to do with whether Putin is good or bad. A critical mass of crises has been created in Russia: identity, legitimacy and the basic incompatibility of the existing constitution and economic system established in the country … There has been virtually no shift in power. Fundamental reforms are required for the construction of a modern state.
In the case of Russia — this means overcoming Bolshevism, Stalinism and a realisation by society that the return to a historic Russia and the natural development of our country requires a return to the European path, which had been interrupted by the Bolshevik catastrophe and is now again being undermined by a home-brewed Eurasianism.
This means restoring dreams, prospects and hopes to the people.
As Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, «… Without ideals, we can never expect good reality. It might even be said that nothing positive will follow, other than even more abhorrent abomination».
The ideal or prospect commensurate with Russia, which could be used to attract our people, and not to scare them off, can only be a common ideal, a common European perspective. It goes without saying that the concept of a Greater Europe, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, is one such realistic prospective. And these are not simply fine words or figures of speech. This is the one substantial, valid and practical alternative, firstly to the dead end of stable decay, where society is being driven by its custodians, and secondly to the new-old myth about nationalism as the only possible driving force of the liberal revolution.
In the case of Europe (both for Russia and Ukraine as integral components), such self-identification and consistent economic, political and military-strategic embodiment is the sole form of survival open to Europe, which will also assume new and far higher quality in global policies and economic competition with North America and South-East Asia in the 21st century.
Neither Europe, and all the more so a Eurasian Russia, in rejecting the West and considering it a source of danger, will be able to do this on its own.
Europe in general can only be strong and offer promise if the European lifestyle is constantly expanded into the world and spreads beyond today’s borders. As soon as it stops on the pretext that political Europe is limited after the incorporation of the Baltic countries to the former Soviet border, then Europe, deprived of the power of movement and a key component, will become more and more bureaucratised, congeal and decay.
Furthermore, with their cultural and historical experience, traditions and the creative potential of the people that despite everything have been retained, Russia and Ukraine could exert a positive impact on the resolution of many European problems.
It is understandable that it is hard to believe that this is possible in the current situation. However, if Russian politics were adequate to the challenges of the modern world, it would be possible not only to talk about this — it would become a key component of its foreign policy.
However, in order to become adequate to the modern world, Russia needs a European vector of development, starting with the European dream. A Great European Dream.