Ukrainians and others increasingly recognize that Russia will change its approach to Ukraine only when Russia itself changes, a conclusion that has led many to consider how Russia might change and reflect on what Ukraine must do until its eastern neighbor has become very different from what it is today.
Unfortunately, the prospects for Russia changing in a positive direction are slight, particularly as far as Ukraine is concerned, and consequently, many have concluded, Ukrainians must face up to the fact that they will have to change themselves and their country to be in a position to counter a Russian threat well into the future.
One of the most useful and comprehensive of these discussions is offered by Valery Pekar, a researcher at Kyiv’s GOSH Strategy Center, in a 2500-word article for the Hvylya.net portal, in which he considers eight different scenarios according to which Russia might develop (hvylya.net/analytics/geopolitics/stsenarii-budushhego-dlya-rossii.html).
On the basis of his analysis of Russian history and the current state of Russian society, he dismisses four of them as impossible or at least extremely improbable. They are “an economic revolt of the masses, an economic revolution of the middle class, an oligarchic revolution, and a military coup,” any of which would represent a complete break with Russian traditions.
But he suggests the other four – “the withdrawal of Russia from Ukraine as a result of a shift of focus to Asia or an internal enemy, an economic and infrastructure collapse and disintegration, a New Horde of passionate movements from the North Caucasus, and a palace coup.”
Elements of the last three of these he suggests “could happen simultaneously,” and that would lead Russia to a ninth scenario, one that he labels “the Black Hole” and suggests could easily prove the most frightening of all not only for Russia and Ukraine but for the rest of the world as well.
“Everything would be fine,” Pekar writes, “if after a palace coup, those in office were able to hold on.” But it is likely that “the system is [so] unbalanced” that this may not prove to be the case. In that event, “the new authorities will turn out to be a Provisional Government,” something with which Russia and the world already have experience.
In that event, he continues, the West might be tempted to intervene and seek to “remove from the Russian leadership all the strong and dangerous figures of the old regime, not understanding that this will lead to a power vacuum as occurred in Iraq.” In that event, all the forces in Russian society would emerge and fight with one another for power.
That would lead to “a bubbling pot” of a civil war in which Russia would either become “an anthropological desert” or split up into “a multitude of pieces” or “give birth to a new monster like Soviet Power or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” And it would put Ukraine and Russia’s other neighbors at risk, however many walls and moats they build.”
Tragically, neither this outcome nor any of the other negative ones can be excluded, Pekar says, and thus “there is not one scenario, in which a strong and aggressive Russia would become a peaceful neighbor for Ukraine” while at the same time, “a weak and disintegrating Russia represents for Ukraine no less a threat.”
Given that, some in Ukraine and far more in the West hope for a deus ex machine in Moscow, “a successful pro-Western palace coup;” but such hopes, Pekar says, are almost certainly misplaced. How stable could the outcome of such a turn of events be? he asks rhetorically.
The answer is not encouraging. While it might be successful as the one in Serbia was, it is more likely that it would end unsuccessfully “as in Iraq.” That is because “there are no new forces [in Russia, just as there weren’t in Iraq] prepared to take responsible for the country” after the old order was overthrown.
Moreover, Pekar says, “present-day Russian foreign policy to the full degree is a reflection of the desires of the Russian people, to such a degree that alternative figures like Navalny and Khodorkovsky would be forced to follow the expectations of their electorates,” something that does not bode well for Russia’s approach to Ukraine.
Given that “in the overwhelming majority of the more probable scenarios, Russia will represent a continuing threat to Ukraine,” Pekar argues that Ukrainians must do ten things:
- They must “develop a strategy for war with Russia” in all its spheres.
- They must “complete the transformation of the army” and make it into “a contemporary armed force capable of repelling Russian aggression.”
- They must gain the support of Western countries by clearly explaining that “only Ukraine stands between them and the chaos coming from the east.”
- They must shift their military industry to the west given the real threats to Ukraine now.
- They must “harshly struggle with Russia’s network of agents in the force structures, politics, and the media.”
- They must oppose Russian propaganda by all possible means, including the establishment of their own counter-propaganda system.
- They must “gradually but unceasingly break economic ties with Russia, especially as concerns energy dependence.”
- They must come up with a new migration policy.
- They must “develop a new Ukrainian culture which will drive out Russian culture from the consciousness of the citizens.”
- And they must offer the world a vision of Ukraine as a subject of international politics” rather than simply that of a former Soviet republic.
In short, Pekar says, Ukrainians must make their country “strong, independent and economically flourishing,” a task for both the government and the people as well. And they can best achieve these goals by dispensing with “myths about fraternal peoples, close economic ties, and closely related cultures.”