Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko (Image: Christopher Jones/AFP)
The last 25 years show that Russia and Ukraine will never have normal state-to-state relations because neither the Russian government nor the Russian people can accept Ukraine as an independent country with a different past, present and future than their own, according to Taras Berezovets.
“A quarter of a century,” the head of Kyiv’s National Strategies Foundation says, “is a sufficient period of time to draw conclusions” not only about the lives of individuals but also about relations between countries like Ukraine and the Russian Federation.
Russia’s relations with its neighbors over the last 25 years are “extremely instructive,” Berezovets says, suggesting that he would describe them in the following way: “the parents divorced long ago, but the children from the marriage … feel themselves and their responsibilities each in their own ways.”
Russia, which always felt itself to be “the older child” remains accustomed to “feeling a certain special status.” If all the others have gone their own way, the Ukrainian analyst says, “the odd older brother (in this case – Russia) continues to live with its parents, feels itself their successor, and believes that it can live on the money its ancestors earned and put by.”
The others refuse to accept either Russia’s claimed status or its approach. And that raises the question: “Will Russia be able to cure itself from this complex and cease to feel itself to have a special status after five or 25 years?” Unfortunately, Berezovets says, the answer is “no” because it will continue to view itself as special and insist on dominating Ukraine and the others.
No one should think that Russia is not and will not remain prepared to “pay an enormous price” including in terms of human lives in order to get Ukraine back. Russia, Berezovets continues, “has always been prepared to pay the highest price for the chance to dominate its neighbors.”
“If we look at Russian history, then we note that the periods of peace are connected exclusively with those where Russia is weak.” Once the state recovers, then Russia will engage in aggression because “it is pathologically incapable of living in a state of peace” however much some hope for that.
“Even the Soviet Union when not formally fighting wars, always took part in conflicts by sponsoring wars or terrorism throughout the entire world,” the Ukrainian analyst says.
And that means something else: “with the death of Putin nothing will be changed.” He “a product of Russia and the Russian people,” or perhaps “even their victim.”
The current Kremlin ruler is forced to follow the attitudes which predominate in Russian society, and on this issue at least, “any ruler of Russia is condemned to follow the very same imperial complexes: such is the will of the Russian people.”
As a result, Berezovets says, “relations between Russia and Ukraine will never become normal. Even the representatives of the mysterious Russian counter-elite who should be helping Russia escape from the complexes of chauvinism and imperialism – Grigory Yavlinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Irina Khakamada – do not have the necessary qualities for this.”
As for Aleksey Navalny, he is even more nationalistic in his public remarks than Putin allows himself to be, Berezovets says.
“The only potential Russian leader who could have arranged normal relations with Ukraine was Boris Nemtsov. And for that reason, they killed him. It is hardly likely that such a person will appear again in the coming decades.”
According to Berezovets, “Ukraine would be able to have normal relations with Russia only if the latter ceased to exist in its current borders and was reduced to an axis from Kaliningrad to the Urals. With such a relatively European and relatively small Russia, Ukraine certainly could have more or less normal ties.”
But is this going to happen? And if it is, when? Berezovsky asks rhetorically. Ukrainians must make plans for Russia holding together for a long time to come because “Russia is united by an idea expressed already by the First International: rule on the basis of ideology.” And that ideology now calls for it to dominate its neighbors.
Ukraine must organize its relations with Russia “not only as an equal state but also as a hostile state.”
There need to be introduced such “defensive mechanisms” as visas because it is “completely illogical” that Russian agents can enter Ukraine without even having to get official clearance. Such a step is “vital” even though it will hurt Ukrainians working in Russia.
Ukraine must build up its armed forces and make its border with Russia as defensible as possible. And it must recognize that this is something it will have to do for a long time because Russia’s attitudes and actions have not only destroyed the economic and political ties between Russia and Ukraine: they have destroyed the human ones as well.
“More than 60 percent of Ukrainians,” Berezovets concludes, “consider Russia a hostile state. In order to cure this split, far more time will be needed than for the restoration of diplomatic or economic ties.”
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