Any period of time is interesting with its contradictions which sometimes seem to be insolvable and require a practical choice that determines the behavior of people. Now the hub of world history is, of all places, in Ukraine. And what is going on should be described by identifying this kind of essential and important contradictions.
It seemed just yesterday that Ukraine would continue to surrender in slow motion. It was also obvious that there were forces to suppress separatists in the south-east, as there had been in Crimea. But, by all accounts, the Kyiv leadership was (and still is) busy with squabbles and disputes and viewed the gouged-out eyes of those who serve it (and everything else) as a trifle.
It is the Maidan that catapulted these people to power. This is the statement of a contradiction, not an accusation. This is what direct democracy and revolutionariness may lead to at times. Interference of the street into the government is justifiable when it helps establish viable administrative institutions and updates the national elite. Nothing of the sort can be seen in Ukraine so far.
The Ukrainian ruling elite and society were warned – in word and in deed – about terror. This applies not only to Ukraine. Those in power may well remain intact. Terror will clamp down on more or less ordinary people and will echo in Russia – the Ukraine slaughter is bound to spread to its territory. This is why the Russians have the right to ask the Ukrainian ruling elite if it is adequate enough. Why are the kidnappings, tortures, and murders not prodding it to offer resistance? Does the unrest, now even in Kyiv, not show that it is impossible to appease the Russian aggressor? Will you not be protecting those who brought you to power? They are exposed to mortal danger, as well as you are.
A partial response to this is an antiterrorist operation in the south-east. This action, which stirs up biting criticism from those who favor resolute actions in Ukraine, is viewed entirely differently in Russia, for any attempts of the Ukrainian authorities to take active actions inspire hope.
The destiny of the world and the further course of history depend on the Ukrainian army and security service. Nazism only understands the language of force. Russian Nazism is no exception. If Ukrainians show they are prepared for any actions, the course of events may well change. Ukraine’s military capability is a component, without which no international solidarity or sanctions will be effective. Up to now, the latter have been substituting for, instead of accompanying, the actions of Ukraine itself. This factor was absent, incidentally, in the war against Georgia.
Russian Nazism wants the hybrid-type war to continue and Ukraine not to resist. It will reap no benefit from either the defeat of terrorists or serious blows to them. But a full-scale invasion to support them is not the best option for the Kremlin either. And the main contradiction of today is that the Ukrainian army is defending Russia’s national interests now.
Naturally, this will be followed by accusation of Bolshevism – only Lenin wished his own army to lose. But Putin’s SS men – be it GRU and FSB operatives or Ukrainian collaborationists – are not the Russian army. They are the Kremlin’s private hirelings, even though they are encouraged and inspired not less than their SS predecessors. Russia has turned into a terrorist state which can be stopped by force only. And historical parallels are entirely different. Besides the Bolshevik Lenin, there was also the Social Democrat Willy Brandt who fought against his own country.
This brings on another contradiction. The strong-arm actions of the Ukrainian state and society – it was nothing but society in Odesa – mean that Ukraine is turning from an object into a subject, which pleases far from all. A large number of Western politicians and political scientists did and still do proceed from the fact that Ukraine was, is, and will be just an object of world politics and that Russia, Europe, and the US will go on vying for influence. But this is not the main and most unpleasant thing. What is much worse is that a considerable part of the Russian public, which in general sympathizes with Ukraine, does not perceive Ukraine as a subject and considers it a quasi-state.
To tell the truth, the Russian intelligentsia takes the same attitude to any subjectness because it is itself deprived of any. In the early 1990s, when Boris Yeltsin ceased to be a persecuted oppositionist and launched a series of radical reforms, the progressive public gave him a wide berth. They did not appreciate that he had saved them from a massacre and exile in October 1993. Now the same public is raising an outcry about the Odesa horrors and putting an equal blame on the aggressor – Nazi Russia and Ukrainian collaborationists – and the aggression victim – Ukraine which is assuming national subjectness as part of democratic Europe.
But these are the people who, so to speak, err sincerely. On the other hand, the Kremlin’s agitprop began to show something new during and immediately after a strange Ukrainian-Russian congress in Kyiv. Here is a person-to-person analysis of these novelties.
Above all, it is a false thesis about a civil war in Ukraine which is resisting the Russian aggression. The first to excel was Ilya Ponomaryov who laid down a plan of mutual disarmament of the sides which he calls forces of eastern and western Ukraine, although, in reality, there is a regular army and Russia-supported separatist terrorists. This detailed plan lacks one indispensable clause – status of the peacekeeping forces. Naturally, the underlying idea is that it should be Russia. As for the general impression, I’d like to ask: why the hell are you butting in with your plan? Did the Ukrainians ask you to do so? Why should they listen to you?
Perhaps only because they are Ukrainians and Ponomaryov is Russian. And it is the logic of many representatives of the progressive public.
Quite active is the staff of Novaya gazeta. They are for peace. But if you read Aleksei Miller, you will remain perplexed: is the socioeconomic situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorating only as a result of Kyiv’s policy? Is Russia inactive there? Yes, it is, according to political scientist Igor Yakovenko and Novaya gazeta’s editor-in-chief Andrei Kolesnikov. Their duet is singing a marvelous aria: those who hold sway in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Donetsk are field commanders Russia has lost control of. Putin depends on them, not the other way round. They must be saying: ‘Putin, please give us man-portable air defense systems.’ And he meekly agrees.
It is also clear now why Marat Gelman visited Ukraine. He sang very smoothly. Gelman is lying about those who fight in Ukraine, positioning the Kremlin SS men as romanticists and victims of propaganda, although the entire world has already seen that the fighters are professional killers from the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and other secret services.
And one more thesis... Although false, it is not always of agitprop origin: Putin’s actions are spontaneous and impulsive, he bears a personal grudge, and he has nothing to do with the Russian people’s hopes and expectations.
Unfortunately, this is wrong. To correctly appraise what is going on, one must understand once and for all that Putin is the leader the Russians have been awaiting for ages. He is fully adequate to Russia and Russians. He is the most suitable and not dangerous. He has no superfluous features which would separate him from the people or cause him to incite and force these people to do something, to insult them with mistrust, to rob and kill them. Putin is Russia, Putin is the people. Putin is the most Russian of all Russian rulers.
Whether or not you agree to this, there are also some facts that make one regard the aggression against Ukraine in the context of other actions of the authorities.
The Beslan tragedy, which occurred almost ten years ago, was used as an excuse for electoral reform aimed at non-replacement of people in power and alienation of society from the authorities. The quality of those documents made it possible to conclude that they had been draw up well before the proper occasion arose. The punitive law was considerably updated very recently during the unrest on Bolotnaya Square and some other public places. The progressive public was proud that all this was done out of fear. However, this in fact showed the Kremlin’s firmness and confidence. As in the case of Beslan, it was clear that these documents had been prepared thoroughly, consistently, and systemically.
It is obvious that the autarchic and punitive laws, now being passed and debated upon in Russia, were not drawn up in a week’s time, for they are in fact a plan of systemic changes aimed at ensuring the country’s economic and informational security and banning the discussion of its history and governmental decisions. And, before this, it became obvious that the seizure of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine had been thoroughly thought out.
From the very outset, the Russian Federation viewed the post-Soviet space as a hostile territory which was so far impossible to seize, so it had to confine itself to constantly encouraging troubles and internecine fighting, This was clear to all, but attempts were made to turn a blind eye to and not to make heavy weather about it. This was a key attitude in Russian politics.
The history of Russia’s past 30, and not only 30, years should be studied anew by changing research proprieties. For example, it is already obvious that the history of the October Revolution and wars on the territory of what once was the Russian Empire must be studied in a new style – not from the angle of a face-off between the Whites and the Reds but from the angle of the national renaissance of the empire’s peoples against which the Russians fought under the red and other flags.
An unexpected conclusion? Not at al. For that’s not past history as yet.
Dmitry Shusharin is a Moscow-based historian and political journalist