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More than 20 years ago, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright observed with some bitterness, “whenever I want to talk about Eastern Europe, everyone wants to change the conversation to Russia.” That attitude continues in many capitals of the old West with many insisting that at best “the countries in between” are a bridge between East and West.
This week, new Latvian president Egils Levits bluntly rejected this notion declaring that we are no bridge: We are the West.” That position is completely correct, commentator Vitaly Portnikov says, and only by agreeing with it can Ukraine and its neighbors protect to have “the fate of any civilized state.”
Unfortunately, the Ukrainian commentator continues, Ukraine has felt the need to “constantly form some kind of bridge between Russia and Europe” and equally often suggests that the Kremlin has not recognized “all the advantages which would open before it and it would gain if it give [Ukraine] the chance to play the role of a bridge.”
But that is “not the logic of a bridge,” Portnikov says. Rather, “it is the logic of a bordello with a readiness to sacrifice principles and the future for ‘a peaceful and rich life.’” That is not the logic of a citizen but of a petty-minded individual concerned only about how much money he has.
Worse, this logic, which has been operative in Ukraine most of the time since 1991 has “transformed Ukraine into one of the poorest countries of Europe, an invalid country with a paternalistic and inert population” – in sharp contrast to those who wanted to be part of the West and have already become members of NATO and the European Union – and a better life to boot.
“By its constant talk about its eternal attempts to become a bridge,” Portnikov continues, “Ukrainians have imposed a sentence on their country, one called into question by periodic uprisings.”
It is important to remember, the commentator continues, that “Russia does not need any bridges. Russia itself borders the EU and now, when it is building new pipelines, it is by so doing preparing to deprive Ukraine of its accustomed function. So much for being a bridge. Russia needs from Ukraine only one thing: that it become East.”
Moscow has no interest in having Ukraine as a bridge to the West.
It wants it to be completely rooted in the East and “still better to be simply Russia because after all we are ‘one people,’” Portnikov says. Consequently, Ukraine must make a choice instead of avoiding it by talking about being a bridge.
“Sooner of later, a Ukrainian president will have to say what the Latvian president has said: ‘we are not a bridge,’” and that he has first made clear that Ukraine is part of the civilized West rather than the authoritarian East.
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