Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Russian Myths


Ukraine and Belarus: Russian Myths

by Lilia Shevtsova

(my tr.)

“The Russian ruling class and its entourage of experts, attempting to react to the events in Ukraine and in Belarus, have created a number of absorbing cliches which may possibly have a reassuring effect on them, and perhaps bolster up their self-confidence, but which in reality cause doubts about the adequacy of their ideas about the world. I will list the most popular arguments to which our ruling elite resorts, interpreting the development of the two states mentioned above," writes political analyst Lilia Shevtsova in Vedomosti, RF.

"The West is destabilizing Ukraine and Belarus"

On the contrary, this is precisely what western governments fear, preferring calm on their eastern borders, even if it is ensured in a not entirely democratic manner. Fearing destabilization in Belarus, the European structures have not risked rendering to the Belarusian opposition the assistance they promised. During the course of the Ukrainian elections the West, and in particular Europe, have attempted to abstain from any actions which could be perceived as interference in Ukrainian affairs. Everything indicates that for the West relations with Russia are more important than support for the pro-Western vector of its Slav neighbours – for the present, at any rate.

"Lukashenko won a victory"

In reality the recent Belarus elections can be considered the beginning of the end of the Lukashenko regime: it no longer causes the same degree of fear among discontented Belarusians as it used to, and the proof of that is the mass demonstrations by many thousands of people in Minsk. But the absence of fear leads to the erosion of personified authority. The Russian elite must realize that the longer it supports the regime of the Belarusian outcast, the more a future Belarusian regime will reject Russia – the regime which will legitimize itself through the overthrow of Lukashenko.

"Russia will stick up for Lukashenko"

This is really a masochistic promise, taking into account the caddish and exploitative attitude of the bat’ka (“father” Lukashenko) not only towards Russia, but also towards Russian authority. America also has "sons of bitches" which it supports, but it forces them to work in its national interests. However, the Kremlin supports Lukashenko’s regime not even for geopolitical reasons, but rather for the sake of a background which helps the Russian political class to appear civilized and to maintain self-reliance in power. But at any moment, when the West demands that it cease financing Lukashenko, the Russian elite will agree, if only not to put at risk its own personal integration into the West.

"The Orange Revolution has been defeated"

Quite the opposite. This revolution has strengthened political pluralism, also among the Orange forces, and it has created a situation in which the governing power was forced to share power with the opposition – if not now, then in the future. This revolution was able to create limits which Ukraine will not cross, whoever is in power, the country will not return to Kuchmism, its political class will not start resorting to violence in the power contest, and it will not want to be the vassal of its large neighbour. Even the failures of the Orange forces have an effect on the Orange Revolution, forcing them at once to consolidate themselves and to negotiate with yesterday's enemies.

“The division of Ukraine is deepening”

Nothing of the kind. The fact that the political class of Ukraine is learning coalition politics indicates that it is possible not to fear the division of this country, much to the disappointment of the Russian observers who are so actively working to divide Ukraine. Even the Eastern Ukrainian elite is today attempting to achieve its interests through Ukraine’s sovereignty, and not through its ties to Russia.

"The weakening of the President’s role will not give Ukraine the chance to carry out a policy of modernization"

Well, has the Russian super-presidency ensured reforms in Russia? Ukraine’s transition to a parliamentary- presidential system compels it to conduct a policy which takes into account a variety of interests, and thus guarantees a more successful development. In any case, the experience of all transitional societies shows that parliamentary and mixed political systems, in outwardly reducing the speed of reforms, make them with steadier and more socially oriented.

"Yanukovych is the guarantee of Ukraine’s Russian choice"

An absolute failure to comprehend political logic and an underestimation of the instincts of Yanukovych himself. Let’s be clear: it was Kuchma, the last guarantee of "Russian choice", who began Ukraine’s move towards NATO. The Donetsk oligarchy, represented by Yanukovych and the interests protected by a Kremlin which is not so loving of its oligarchs, is in reality interested in incorporation into the West, where it has strategic interests and where it places its capital. But it also skilfully uses Russia in order to maintain the Soviet model of the economy which it preserves in the southeast.

"Ukraine is faced with the alternative: to the West or to the East?"

The Ukrainian political class has already outgrown the framework of that kind of choice, which is characteristic of the Russian political class, accustomed to think in linear terms. The Ukrainian elite does not satisfy the Kuchma version of multi-vector politics, which consists in making simultaneous zigzags towards the West and towards Russia. Ukraine is searching for the kind of formula that would facilitate its political movement towards the West, but would also enable it to use relations with Moscow in order to make its integration into Europe less painful. Whoever becomes the new Ukrainian prime minister will follow that trajectory. It cannot be excluded that it is precisely Ukraine that is to play the role of bridge between civilizations which Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov proposes for Russia.

"If Ukraine and Belarus leave Russia’s orbit, they will be threatened by crisis"

Actually, it will be difficult for Belarus without Russian subsidies and for both countries without access to the Russian market to preserve their archaic models of economics. But the whole point is that the Russian orbit only puts off the inevitable collapse of those models – the longer, the more agonizing. But taking into account the fact that Russia itself cannot find its bearings with its civilizational choice and the Russian economy is losing its drive, the call for modernization and integration into the West may together prove to an invitation to become collective marginals.

The way in which the Russian ruling class is reacting to the events in Ukraine and Belarus shows how hard it is finding it to solve the problems of its own survival. There is also the post-imperial syndrome, by means of which the tendency of the Russian elite to retain adjacent states in their embrace is usually explained. The fact is that Ukraine and Belarus are perceived in Moscow as a continuation of Russian domestic policy, and struggle going on there is treated as a factor in the strengthening or undermining of the Russian state. Our ruling elite understands that the successful transition to liberal-democratic principles by Slavic nations which are close in mentality and traditions will mean a blow to the Russian system of absolute rule, since it will prove that the Russians, too, are ready for democracy. It will be harder for this elite to retain power if the Belarusians and Ukrainians who are working today in Russia as guest workers live in future as the Poles do, who 15 years ago arrived in in search of matches and salt.

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