In Soviet times, it was sometimes said that the best illustration of the meaning of “friendship of the peoples” was when a Russian, a Ukrainian, and an Armenian would get together to beat up a Central Asian, an anecdote that reflected the feeling Moscow would always be able to identify a target and get representatives of other nations to rally around.
But that story also reflected a deeper if invariably unspoken fear among the Soviet leadership that their worst fears could be realized and that all the victims of the empire might rally around to attack their “elder brothers,” the Russians, something that by itself could destroy the Soviet system.
Now, almost a quarter of a century after the end of the USSR, a real event in Almaaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, clearly appears to be an echo of that possibility and is likely to spark similar fears. There, on Friday, four Russians decided to beat up a Ukrainian but were prevented from doing so by a group of Kazakhs.
This case, one that has implications far beyond those for its immediate participants, was first reported by Leonid Shvets on his Facebook page and has now been reposted on Onpress.info.
The Ukrainian writer recounts what happened: Four Russians from Novosibirsk approached his son. When they found out that he was from Ukraine, the quartet “began an unequal battle with Ukrainian fascism” by attacking the young man, someone they apparently thought they could beat with impunity.
It was the misfortune of the Russians and the good fortune of the Ukrainian that “a group of lads from Shymkent” [a city in Kazakhstan – Ed.] intervened and got involved “in a battle of the peoples against Russian fascism without the slightest chance for the latter” to be victorious. Indeed, Shvets says, the end came when the Kazakhstan police “scraped the remains of the Russian world off the asphalt and took them away for further questioning.”
The young Ukrainian was only slightly injured, and his father said he was “proud of his son and the wonderful Kazakh lads who after a victorious struggle of the peoples” took the boy to where he wanted to go.
Such ugly attacks on Ukrainians are unfortunately an increasingly common feature of Vladimir Putin’s “Russian world.” When they happen in the Russian Federation, the attackers usually get the best of it and the Ukrainians are the ones who suffer. Indeed, the attackers are sometimes even celebrated for their viciousness.
And there have been periodic reports of ethnic Russians attacking individual Ukrainians outside of Russia as well. But what occurred in Almaaty Friday night suggests that this together with Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine may be producing a new kind of “friendship of the peoples,” one that the Russian government in Moscow always has had good reason to fear.