A different Rus: Why the Kremlin hates Ukrainian statehood 

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2014/07/18 • Politics

A view from Georgia: Ukraine is not fighting for European integration but a right to different state project independent from Putin’s Russia.

Ukraine is obviously in the most dangerous position since 1991 at the moment. The country that survived the shock of revolution did not have enough time to recover and begin the necessary reforms in conditions of peace. Immediately after Yanukovich’s flight Ukraine was subject to Russian aggression, first in the shape of Crimean occupation, and then the war in Donbas. This war is so far following the Abkhaz scenario of 1992-1993, with the import of mercenaries from Russia, formation of groups of local mercenaries and individual Russian special ops missions. Meanwhile there is a constant threat of direct military attack on part of Russia.

It is notable that the entire current Ukrainian crisis, since the very beginning, has been constructed by the Kremlin. The formation of the situation at hand began with Yanukovich’s sudden decision to refuse the signing of the Association Agreement. This was a signal of the “Eurasian” U-turn in foreign policy, which was categorically unacceptable for the Ukrainian society. Yanukovich made this decision as a result of harsh pressure from the Kremlin. Accordingly, it is Russia’s action that provoked Maidan. Later, during Maidan, the Kremlin constantly demanded that Yanukovich take a firm position regarding the rebels. The result was bloodshed in Kyiv and Yanukovich’s flight. Russia followed by engaging in completely obvious and audacious actions using the forces of its own army and special services, which create danger not only for Ukraine, but for Russia itself.

Russia, having started aggression against Ukraine, took a big risk. A natural question arises: why are they doing this? The dwellers of the Kremlin should have serious reasons to make the decisions, which, in the end, may lead to the crash of the Russian Federation in its current form. The attempts to explain the events exclusively with Putin and his associates’ evilness or psychological disorders are superficial and imprecise.

Kremlin’s key motive is that the current attempt to turn Russia into one of the world force centres cannot be successful without control over the fate of Ukraine. Russians can only accept two forms of Ukraine’s existence: either in their (and only their) indivisible sphere of influence, or Ukraine has to be divided into parts, some controlled from Moscow, and the rest in a state of complete helplessness and chaos. The Kremlin tried to achieve the first option. The crown jewel of this very attempt was forcing Yanukovich to make a 180 from Europe to Eurasia. However the Ukrainian people demonstrated quite clearly on the streets of Kyiv that the execution of such a scenario is physically impossible. Accordingly, the Kremlin understood that their only chance to retain a living imperial project lies in the second option – dividing Ukraine up into pieces. Which is what they are trying to do now. A great risk, which they are resorting to because of this attempt, is motivated by that, according to their viewpoint, they cannot achieve their strategic goals by any other means.

Control over Ukraine’s fate is considered essential by the Russian government because of a whole number of reasons: geo-strategic and more concrete ones.

Moscow needs Ukraine as a buffer, a geopolitical barrier with Europe, which would allow them to control various forms of influence which may come from the West – from security issues to political ideas. Ukraine is especially important in this case because of its long border with Russia’s central part. Two other key, because of similar reasons, countries are Belarus and Kazakhstan, which are already under Russia’s influence.

Kremlin’s other motive is the prevention of the formation of a new regional geopolitical centre in Kyiv by Russia’s side. Even taking into account its current pitiful state, Ukraine has a great potential, which may be realised should the country develop normally. We have Poland as an example, which in the recent years has become a visible European player. And Ukraine is bigger than Poland in terms of both population and territory. However, as opposed to the latter, Ukraine is very close to the centre of Russia, which makes its empowerment very unacceptable for the dwellers of the Kremlin. Throughout its entire history Moscow constantly tried to cleanse the adjacent territories with the goal of preventing the formation of alternative geopolitical centres. The current events are a continuation of this traditional Moscow strategy.

The Kremlin also has more concrete reasons. They are the desire to use Ukraine’s demographic and economical resources for the development of Russia (or at least half ot it); and the strive to receive firm access to the Black Sea coast with Sevastopol and Odesa; and the great importance military productions located in eastern Ukraine have for Russia; and Ukraine’s shale gas reserves. In sum, the list of reasons motivating Russia to prevent Ukraine for escaping its influence by all means is quite impressive.

However, in addition to the listed sources of Russian motivation, there is something else, characteristic of both the Russian government and the vast majority of Russian society – an irrational, subconsciously-formed, pathological hatred towards the Ukrainian state project in itself. After 1991 many former USSR countries experienced the aggressive moods coming from Russia. Georgia in this sense had to take front-row seats. But the ardent hatred the Russian governors have towards Ukrainian sovereignty cannot be compared with anything in terms of its passion, height of emotion and desperation. They hate the very fact of Ukraine’s existence independent from them.

The reason for this hatred lies in Ukraine being an option alternative to Russia for the development of the join historical root named Rus in the Middle Ages. For half a millennium Moscow managed to hold a monopoly in this regard. After the 15th century the only attempt to create a different state centre on the historical space of the former Kyivan Rus was Hetmanate Ukraine in the 16-17th centuries, which was weaker after the first years of its existence, and then suffered defeat and was engulfed by the Russian Empire. The existence of actually sovereign Ukraine within its current borders ruins Russia’s monopoly on the historical heritage of Rus, for the first time since the Moscow Principality. Ukraine is a different, non-Moscow Rus. Few of the imperialistic Russians understand this very clearly, and even fewer admit it in public. However the real reason for the hatred towards Ukraine they are experiencing and loudly expressing is the fear of the competitive state project in the general geographic area with the same historical roots.

This project may turn out to be more successful in many regards. Russia has been the most despotic state in Europe (except for, maybe, the Ottoman Empire) to begin with. Later, only several years after the beginning of democratisation in 1905, it handed itself over to the completely inhumane Bolshevik regime. Now it is a decaying empire with a deep internal systemic crisis and a quite questionable future.

Ukraine, should it withstand now, has chances of a brilliant future. Not the nearest future, no. On the contrary, at the moment it is obvious that even with the most beneficial development of events, Ukrainians will have to face numerous challenges, at least those that have to do with economics However, should Ukraine successfully withstand the current challenges, in the long-term perspective it may become one of the most successful countries in Eastern Europe, and more.

This is what is unacceptable for the Russian government. A successful, strong and democratic state with a centre in Kyiv will serve to discredit the Moscow authoritarian project with the very fact of its existence. In the eyes of the surrounding peoples, as well as the many people living inside the Russian Federation. The combination of Ukraine’s size, its geographical location and the big potential with its joint historical root with Russia births fear among the Russian imperialists. Including the citizens of Crimea, apparently.

At the mount Russia is doing everything possible to eliminate Ukraine’s chances at the initial stage. The Russians have engaged all the mechanisms they have at their disposal to destroy Ukraine, all except a mass military invasion. They will resort to this step as well, should their current “Abkhaz” tactic not bear the expected result.

The Kremlin’s current goal is a complete division of Ukraine in the shape of the cessation of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Kherson, Mykolayiv and Odesa oblasts. The Russians are not going to limit themselves to Donbas. They only need it in order to continue taking Ukraine apart based on its territory. In the end, they intend to create a controllable formation on the annexed Ukrainian lands (besides Crimea) which is most likely to be called “Novorossiya.” It is not too important whether Russia will formally annex this formation, retain it as an ‘unacknowledged republic,’ or come up with something else. This is a matter of technique. The essence will lie in the total control of this territory by Russia.

The rest of Ukraine is to face a sad fate. The Russian may try to put a marionette government in Kyiv, however even if it doesn’t happen, the fate of the unoccupied part will still be quite unfortunate. In case the Kremlin scenario is executed, the rest of Ukraine will become a completely helpless territory – without a sea border, without prospective development and, most likely, with political chaos which will be regularly incensed from Moscow.

Ukraine is standing at a crossroads now. The fight is not for European integration, and not for Donbas or Crimea. The fight is underway for the very future of Ukraine. For whether it will become a free, flourishing and strong state, or a broken toy in the hands of the Kremlin despots. The good news is that the outcome of this fight depends for the most part on the Ukrainian citizens themselves. Despite of what the Kremlin is doing now, and what it will resort to in the future.

David Batashvili, publicist (Georgia)

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina

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  • evanlarkspur

    Putins vicious and irresponsible desperation to keep Ukraine under his thumb when it’s people want to be free of him has led us here; his out of control and power-drunk terrorists feel empowered to shoot at anything that moves. And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t this why he gave them hi-tech weapons in the first place? To make Ukraine into a failed state that no-one in the west will touch because its embroiled in perpetual war? The warnings about Putins regime have been growing in the last 5 years, and everyone has turned a blind eye, desperate to keep making money off trade with Russia. ‘Cause, after all, “destabiization of the global peace” just meant a bunch of third-world people were gettin killed somewhere, right? Sad, but only in an abstract way. Or not. Perhaps global destabilization means advanced weapons systems have been placed in the hands of people who do not subscribe to the values and obligations of the modern world. So, next time you get on a plane, wonder if you are flying near any areas that Putin has armed because he wants to interfere with that nation. Or wait; sorry, you may not have any plane to get on, because the whole system of global air travel depends on a global understanding that civilian airlines are sacrosanct, and (more importantly) a trust by paying customers that this is so. Without that trust, there aren’t enough paying customers to make airlines viable, so hopping on a plane to anywhere becomes a memory from the time before Putin. THIS, and other effects like it, are what those experts meant by globally-destabilizing, and yes, it does affect you there in your swivel chair, 4500 miles from eastern Ukraine.
    It is long past time to utterly isolate Putin from the civilized world, in every way. It is his access to us that allows him to destroy the things we rely on in a modern civilized, mostly peaceful world. And he should not be allowed to twist our trust against us.

    • sandy miller

      I put the finger on Germany and France. Germany certainly could have stopped him. Western Europe will also become Putin’s victim and they will deserve it for sitting back and letting him take Ukraine. Reminds me of WW2.

  • sandy miller

    We all the the potential problems…and we know the above scenarios…The question is how do they keep these territories without the help of other countries? They need strategies not more understanding of what Putin wants to do. that’s a forgone conclusion. question is how to stop it?

  • Cristian Muñoz

    I congratulate Mr. David Batashvili, because he have expressed an amazing opinion that goes in the same line of what my brother and I were discussing about the real roots of this renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine:
    The destruction of Ukraine to prevent the emergence of a new economic power in Eastern Europe.
    I told my brother (here in Santiago, Chile), after having realized that Russian defense industry heavily rely on strategic manufacturing plants in Ukraine, that Ukraine have the potential to become a nation in competition with Russia, something that happens between Japan and China. Japan was until 10th Century a Chinese vassal state, then Japan stop paying tribute to China and isolated itself from Asia, only maintaining limited trade relations with China and Korea, and since 1641 with Netherlands. BUT, after the arrival of the Commodore Perry in 1852 to Tokyo Bay to force Japan to open its ports to international trade, Japan realized that, in fact was a weak and backward nation, and decided to reform itself since the Meiji Restoration in 1866, that marked the beginning of the Modern-Industrial Japan that we can see even in our present days. Just as Russia, China was another authoritarian and tyrannical empire that ruled the East and South-East Asian world like Russia do in Europe since Tsarism. It was the emergence of Japan, a nation WITHOUT mineral resources or hidrocarbon reserves (unlike Ukraine) that stopped a long-standing Chinese imperialism over Asia since the First Sino-Japan War of 1895. Japan even defeated Russia in 1905 to prevent Russia to annex Korean Peninsula. Japan, the disciple of China, eventually overtook China in the beginning of 20th Century, and again in 1960s after the Second World War. Russia know very well that the “Japan scenario” can repeat itself in Europe, with Ukraine successfully developing and eventually overtaking Russia in the future. There´s another scenario that Russia is desperate to prevent, even by aggression, and I mean the real probability that if Ukraine success in developing, then, Poland and Ukraine could establish an alliance that resembles French-German relationship. This new scenario will undermine Russian imperialism in Europe. By the same way that the formerly disputed lands between France and Germany is what NOW unite both nations, the same will happen between Poland and Ukraine, remembering that western Ukraine was part of Poland before 1939: Western Ukraine is what is uniting Poland and Ukraine. That’s why Russia is so aggressive toward Poland too, because Moscow want to prevent the emergence of a new kind of French-German Relationship, that I mean Polish-Ukrainian Relationship that could reshape the dynamics of East Europe politics. That´s why Poland support to Ukraine is vital in the resolution of Ukrainian crisis. The History speaks by ITSELF. By the same way Japan broke with China and becomes the most developed nation in Asia and the biggest economy in Asia before WW2 and between 1985 (overtook USSR) and 2010, in Europe, Ukraine will have to break with Moscow if Ukrainian people want to achieve their deserved prosperity and respect. Also, by the same way that post-WW2 French-German relationship evolved into the core of modern Europe, the same could happen betwen Polish-Ukrainian relationship: The core of East Europe. Poland-Ukraine-Baltic States could become the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 21st Century.

    Putin Huylo!!.

  • Reformedviking

    Well written and true. Only the Ukrainians themselves can stop this scenario, and have to do all heavy lifting themselves.