Russian repentance has to come before any ‘brotherhood,’ Portnikov says


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In recent days, Moscow has renewed its effort to promote the idea of “Russian-Ukrainian brotherhood” and the notion that the two form a single nation, an effort that has three goals, none of which have anything to do with promoting the genuine restoration of ties between the two peoples.

Instead, this new push is intended to prevent Russians from concluding that their own travails are the result of the Kremlin’s policy in Ukraine, to win points with the West by putting out what to many will seem an anodyne view and then having Ukrainians reject it, and to lay the foundation for expanded Russian pressure on Ukraine to address Russian concerns.

(For a close examination of this campaign and the way it is playing out so far, see Почему кремлевская пропаганда призывает «брататься» с Украиной? and Почему больше не будет российско-украинского «братства».)

Ukrainians overwhelmingly have seen through Moscow’s intentions and rejected this latest “friendship” offensive, something that has prompted those Russians who have participated in it to express their regrets and even anger about the Ukrainians’ failure to accept their outstretched hands.

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

Vitaly Portnikov, Ukrainian political analyst and writer

In a commentary on the Grani portal today, RFE/RL commentator Vitaly Portnikov provides a compelling explanation of why that is so and describes precisely what Russians would have to do if they were ever to have any hope that their offer of friendship with Ukrainians would be credible in the future.

Portnikov says he could deliver a long lecture on history and point out that Russians should not accept the notion that “three centuries of occupation will make the occupiers one people with the occupied. And even centuries of relative equal existence,” he adds, “will not do so either.”

“The English and the Scots are not one people, true?” he asks rhetorically. And the Castilians and the Catalonians are not either. And even the [ethnic] Russians and the Tatars [the second largest ethnicity in Russian Federation — Ed.]” – and he asked “forgiveness” for his “political incorrectness” – are not one people although you still live together in one state.”

But arguing about history is never all that useful, Portnikov says, and so he will explain why Ukrainians now view Russians as they do by making reference to his own experience as a member of a family who lost many of its older generation in the Holocaust and might be expected to hate Germans but does not.

When he became an adult, Portnikov says, he realized that “German Jews hardly felt themselves alien among the Germans and many of them, indeed, almost all, viewed themselves as Germans of the Jewish faith. And I assure you that these people were less prepared to the wholesale destruction of their compatriots than Ukrainians were to Russia’s attack on them.”

The commentator says that he did not come to terms with the Germans because of any collective repentance by them. In general, he says, he doesn’t believe in such collective repentance and especially repentance by those who have been defeated. Instead, he came to terms with the Germans because of “one single man, Willy Brandt.”

When Brandt came to the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he got down on his knees before these victims of the Nazis; and the picture of him doing so, Portnikov says, has reconciled him with the Germans.

“Brandt did not have any relation to the crimes of Hitlerism. None at all. He left Germany immediately after Hitler came to power. He struggled against Nazism all the years of its existence. He became a Norwegian citizen and returned to his motherland in a Norwegian military uniform,” Portnikov continues.

Consequently, “he could calmly and even dispassionately look on a memorial to people with whose murder he had no relation. More than that, he did everything he could that that would not occur … But [Brandt] felt a responsibility because the more your non-involvement, the more your responsibility before the victims of the regime which exists in your own country.”

“It isn’t important whether there is one people or two; it isn’t important what Ukrainians say or write to you – you can’t even imagine what Jews could have written to the federal chancellor of Germany in 1970,” Portnikov say. What is important is that you have the desire to “fall on your knees at the grave of every Ukrainian” who has died in this conflict.

Only a desire is necessary. “Nothing else.” Ukrainians don’t need anything else from the Russians, and “this is the only thing which can perhaps something decades from now reconcile us, your repentance and your understanding of our pain.”

It is possible that Russians can’t understand this and still view the war as something alien to them, especially if they personally opposed it. But they must ultimately recognize that for Ukrainians, this is their war, and they know who caused it and inflicted the pain they feel so intensely now.

Those Russians who have supported Ukraine at this difficult time do themselves honor “whatever [they] think about one or two peoples. But please grow up. Learn at long last to take responsibility for your own state, for its crimes and its mistakes. And understand that the level of your responsibility is 100 percent greater than that of the criminals and fools” who do not understand.

And there is an additional reason, Portnikov says. “On this understanding depends not our future but your own.”

Edited by: A. N.

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  1. Brent says:

    Very well said by Mr. Portnikov Until Russians can learn to accept and come to terms with their state’s historical treatment of Ukraine, they can never understand why many Ukrainians no longer consider them as brothers.

    Also until they can learn to accept and come to terms with the horrific treatment the Russian state has made man of its own people of different ethnicity endure over the centuries, they can never become the “Great Nation” they dream to be.

    1. Dagwood Bumstead says:

      Well said, but Dwarfstanians also need to fully accept that the Ukraine is no longer their colony, but an independent sovereign state which has the right to go its own way.

  2. Evelyn Myketa Livingston says:

    The hypocrisy of the term “brotherhood” makes me feel physically ill. There are too many dead and suffering Ukrainians to remember. As for the future of russia and it’s people, I sincerely couldn’t care less.

    1. Dagwood Bumstead says:

      Ukrainians have a strong society and a weak state….. for now, and the Dwarfstanians a weak society and a strong state…… for now. But while Ukrainians have every chance of creating a strong state to match the strong society, the weak Dwarfstanian society won’t be able to prevent the strong state from crumbling. Tsar Vladimir the not-so-Great’s insane policies are ensuring the bankruptcy of Dwarfstan, financial and moral. Dwarfstan is heading for a Time of Troubles, and nobody will help.

      1. Petrolkoks says:

        Unfortunately, I think russia will actually receive help, like 1991 with morons in charge like Steinmeier. Unlike Ukraine who was denied the modest support in fighting off the aggressor

        1. Dagwood Bumstead says:

          The question is, who will help? China? Peking has its own problems at the moment. Furthermore, a strong Dwarfstan isn’t in Peking’s interests- it wants a weak Dwarfstan, and the weaker the better, not least because Peking wants the territories back that Tsar Aleksandr II stole in 1856 and 1860. IF Peking helps, it will do so on its terms- and they won’t be mate’s rates.
          The EU? Poland and the Baltics plus possibly Rumania will veto any EU help so it will be up to individual EU countries to do so. But Germany is already struggling with a migrant invasion and with many more migrants on their way it will have a huge distraction. Plus, the EU also has lots of other problems, the Euro and Greece for example.

          Canada won’t help either given its large Ukrainian community. Helping Dwarfstan after its aggression would be political suicide for any politician to even suggest it.
          Japan? Dai-Nippon will probably demand the Kuriles back in exchange for its Yen, perhaps Sakhalin too. Will Moscow be willing to pay that price?
          Whether the US will be willing to help and to what extent will depend on who succeeds Obama in the White House.

          1. Petrolkoks says:

            Germany, France, Austria in spite it all.

  3. Titterling Langs says:

    Ah, but the Germans paid reparations. Big ones. Let Russia return Crimea, rebuild Donbass and then pay big reparations to all the families and then will talk.

    1. Greg says:

      I agree repentance without action is not repentance. Russia needs to apologize clearly for the deaths and crimes they have committed over the years against Ukraine and its peoples. Russia needs to pay reparations, for damages inflicted.

      However I cannot see how any Russian leader would ever submit to healing their relationship with Ukraine. I am afraid Ukraine will never view Russia as a brother, ever. Putin has made sure this will not happen.

      In early 2014 many Ukrainians did view Russia as a brother, though I cannot understand why since Russia at that time had already committed so many crimes against Ukraine. Some Ukrainians thought Putin was a great leader. I warned some about the evil of Putin many weeks before he invaded Crimea. When Putin invaded Crimea this brotherhood was exposed as a lie. Russia’s actions since has made the situation far worst and guarantees the brotherhood of Russia/Ukraine is dead, forever!!!

      1. Dagwood Bumstead says:

        Dwarfstan can forget about any kind of brotherhood. As Anastasia Dmitruk expresses so well in her poem, “Никогда мы не будем братямы”, “We will never be brothers”. The demented dwarf and his Dwarfstanian supporters- over 85% of the population- have made sure of this.
        And the longer Moscow occupies the Crimea and part of the Donbas and continues its aggression, the deeper and wider the canyon between Moscow and Kyiv will be.

  4. Nowhere Girl says:

    As Boris Sevastyanov’s song about “Russcism” said, “if we are brothers, then we are like Cain and Abel”. Indeed – since when do you treat your “brother” like that? Another quote, someone’s comment from “Russians love Ukrainians and will continue killing them until their love is reciprocated”.

  5. Dirk Smith says:

    This is simply lame delusional Bolshevik propaganda. Putin’s kleptocracy is much like fascist Italy; smoke and mirrors militarily in conjunction with being overextended while their economy shrivels up. Deeper sanctions and lethal aid to Ukraine will end Milosevic Jr’s mid-life crisis.

  6. canuke says:

    “Only a desire is necessary. “Nothing else.” Ukrainians don’t need anything else from the Russians, and “this is the only thing which can perhaps something decades from now reconcile us, your repentance and your understanding of our pain.” …..these are the words that were sired into my mind reading this poignant commentary. Well said, Mr. Portnikov!

  7. canuke says:

    “What is important is that you have the desire to “fall on your knees at the grave of every Ukrainian” who has died in this conflict. Only a desire is necessary. “Nothing else.” Ukrainians don’t need anything else from the Russians, and “this is the only thing which can perhaps something decades from now reconcile us, your repentance and your understanding of our pain.” …..this paragraph sired into my mind. Mr. Portnikov eloquently states how most Ukrainians feel towards Russians today.

  8. Vlad Pufagtinenko says:

    Russians are rabid dogs. They have so enjoyed killing Ukrainians for over 360 years that they have lost any right to be in the same room with any Ukrainians. In fact, if a Ukrainian finds himself in a room with a Russian, he/she should be prepared for a fight to the death. A Ukrainian should always approach this vermin with absolute disdain. They have to rise to the level of “human” before any thought of brotherhood can even be entertained.

    1. Scradje says:

      Indeed there was a time when Ukrainians outnumbered Russians. Russian solution: genocide.

  9. Murf says:

    When was the last time Russia apologized for anything?
    And that whole “Brotherhood” crap went out the window the second Streklovs boots hit the ground in Crimea.

  10. Terry Washington says:

    To quote Karl Marx, any nation that enslaves another nation can NEVER itself be free! In order for true Russo-Ukrainian brotherhood to occur, Russians must accept that Ukrainian independence is irrevocable( just the UK accepted that of the US and Ireland, amongst others)!