I am now going to contradict my previous publications. Not all of them, of course, and not in everything. But, as far as distinctions between Ukraine and Russia are concerned, some corrections must perhaps be made about the Ukrainian ruling elite.
This text is, to a large extent, the result of reading the Western press as well as communicating online with people living in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries. I thank them all for contact, for they are really trying to look into the essence of what is going on. I do not rule out that some viewpoints expressed during this communication will stir up objections on the part of the Ukrainian, and not only the Ukrainian, reader. But I am sure that even in the most critical situations, when it seems that only the language of slogans can be spoken, it is possible and necessary to take an unbiased look at the events.
Moreover, I am in no way embarrassed to write about what is going on in a foreign state. Caused by a problem that is important to the entire Europe, the Ukrainian events have turned into a most serious civilization crisis. In such moments, you are keenly aware of the value of every nation that is part of what is known as Judeo-Christian civilization. The experience of a national choice, which runs counter to that of the ruling elite, is very important for the Russians who have refused to form a nation and to be in unity with this civilization.
Drawing a comparison between Ukraine and Russia is inevitable in discussions about what is going on. From what has been said in the past few days, the voice of Zbigniew Brzezinski sounds the most important and sober, for he thinks in terms of decades, not days. For this reason, he does not attach too much importance to the question of power at the moment – he considers the current Kyiv protests as the most important stage in the making of a new Ukrainian identity. This is one view and one scale. The other is the opinion of Andrei Illarionov that the main point now is not how to achieve integration but how to avert repressions. What is more, both of them keep a low profile on the future of Russia which is supposed to catch up with Ukraine.
But, to “catch up,” Russia needs to take a national development leap, which Brzezinski thinks the Ukrainians have done in the past 25-30 years. Ukraine is not Russia, above all, for the same reason why Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic are not Russia as well because in their case liberation from Russian patronage and the sociopolitical system imposed by the Russians was the main factor in nation formation. This is the central point, even though we should also consider the main differences. All the rest depends on and is secondary to this – a nation cannot be formed without being liberated from Russia.
However, this also generated fundamental contradictions through which Ukraine is going through. My Ukrainian, and not only Ukrainian, interlocutors focus now mainly on differences between the two countries. The differences are really very serious and embrace all the sides of societal life, including the forms of oligarchy and intra-elite relations. For instance, real multipartyism and parliamentarianism exists in Ukraine because the elites are consolidated by means of an inter-clan consensus rather than by means of the overall domination of one clan, as is the case in Russia.
Nevertheless, there is a danger that Ukrainian quasi-democracy may be Russified. Ukrainian experts are saying on quite ample grounds that various oligarchs maintain ties with Moscow. But there can also be a different viewpoint: what really matters is not so much economic interests as the priority of their political or, to be more exact, governmental support. This is the way the successful putschist and Bolshevik mafia boss Lenin regarded the relationship of politics and economics. His byword “politics is a concentrated expression of economics” can be further developed: “politics cannot but reign supreme over economics.”
The film Godfather somewhat lost what was clearly spelled out in the novel: only one who can organize protection on the part of legal governmental institutions will become the “capo dei capi.” Yanukovych has transferred the source of his legitimacy to the Kremlin and become a mediator between Putin, who is bursting to “protect” Ukraine, and the Ukrainian oligarchs. In any case, he is laying claim to this role. And, naturally, speaking all the time about gas pipelines, one forgets that the onslaught of the military-industrial complex is also part of Russian expansion. Press reports on the Azarov-Rogozin negotiations have got completely lost against the backdrop of Kyiv street protests.
No, Ukraine is not Russia, with the Maidan confirms. But here is a list of measures Yanukovych has taken in the past few years. Let us quote David Satter (“Kiev Diary,” National Review Online):
“In 2010, when Yanukovych was elected president, there was a democratic majority in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament. This, however, was to prove short-lived. Yanukovych began a process of buying off deputies or intimidating them, eventually creating a new majority that was under his control. Once this process was complete, he turned his attention to the Constitutional Court, firing a third of the 18 judges. The new court now had a controllable majority and it acted to strip the Supreme Court of its ability to review appeals, giving that authority to lower courts. At the same time, the rules of Ukraine’s judicial congress, which is responsible for the self-regulation of the judiciary, were changed in order to give disproportionate power to judges in the administrative and economic courts, who are the most corrupt. The result: the entire judicial system passed into Yanukovych’s control.
“At the end of 2010, the Constitutional Court canceled the changes to the Constitution that were introduced in 2004 that had turned the country from a presidential to a presidential/parliamentary system.
“With the country under his complete control, Yanukovych introduced his proposals for 21 ‘reforms,’ including changes in tax collection, medicine, the judiciary, education and other areas.
“While the country was distracted with the reforms, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions began a massive campaign of ‘raiding’ in which party officials appropriated the businesses and property of others on the basis of false court decisions. The abuses were so flagrant that some businessmen were presented with a court decision of whose existence they had had no previous knowledge, which informed them that they were now ex-owners of their business.
“The raiding affected large and small enterprises, and Ukraine was completely deprived of any mechanism for the defense of the rights of the individual.
“The system that Yanukovych has created is totally incompatible with the legal and economic demands of the European Union. Yanukovych’s reluctance to associate with Europe is backed by businessmen who would find it easier to work with Russia producing low-quality goods and avoiding serious investment.”
The quotation shows that a parallel can be drawn with Putin’s Russia in each of the points, especially in what concerns the subjugation of courts. Or is it perhaps the same team that mapped out the plans that Putin and Yanukovych have carried out? But Yanukovych has everything but one thing: he does not have the imperial resource which Putin is tapping to quell the Russian nation formation. Unlike Putin, Yanukovych is unlucky to have “wrong” people.
But I will not finish my article on a bright optimistic note. Thanks to the Maidan, we came to know better the world we are living in. This must be understood. I do not say “accept” for a sole reason – a world like this never asks anybody about this. It does not care whether or not it is being accepted.
So what did we come to know?
One and a half million people supported by tens of millions in their own countries can take to the streets. But the authorities will turn a deaf ear to their demands.
The rest of the world can show solidarity with these millions. They can illuminate the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty in the colors of the flag of the people who throng the streets. But, to hold out and launch an offensive, the authorities will only have to oppose this multimillion-strong solidarity with a few hundred riot policemen.
The authorities may easily transfer the source of its legitimacy to a neighboring capital, where nobody knows about the principle of people’s sovereignty. This will only reinforce their position.
Let me say it again: the Maidan is still to produce results – maybe, tomorrow, maybe, in the next generation. But if all this comes to naught, there will inevitably be a period of disillusionment and apathy not only among the Ukrainians – a blow will be dealt to European values and the hopes to revive and spread them. Like never before, Europe needs to be rejuvenated right now, at this moment. But the one in the Kremlin is not Gorbachev. We tend to forget that velvet revolutions were occurring in velvet conditions – Moscow did not intervene. Conversely, since 2004 the Ukrainians have been defending their sovereignty under a very strong pressure of the Kremlin which is bent on a new expansion. They are doing this, while the ruling elite is betraying.
And the last point. In Russia, naive and passive dreamers are convinced for some reason that an oil price fall will automatically bring on democracy. It’s all rubbish. As far as the consequences of price changes are concerned, the economy is not as primitive as it seems to armchair online dreamers. As far as political consequences are concerned, the regimes such as Putin’s, which are an ideal for Yanukovych, do not depend on the state of affairs in their countries. The ultimate goal of their governments is power, and being in power corrupts the government. The experience of Zimbabwe, which Robert Mugabe has reduced to a hell on earth, shows that one can also rule an impoverished and ruined country for a long time. And Mugabe is not alone.
What I mean is that one should not make simplistic political forecasts on the basis of economic outlooks or seek a direct link between economic stability and stability of the Yanukovych regime. This kind of politicians very often think: the worse the situation is, the better it is for them.
Dmitry Shusharin is a Moscow-based historian and political journalist