In addition to all the other ways in which he has profited from the Minsk Accords over the last year to weaken Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has achieved a “much more serious” victory by causing Ukrainians to fail to make a clear distinction between the actions of the Kremlin ruler and the Russians as a people, according to Andrey Illarionov.
Over the last year, the Russian analyst says that Ukrainians increasingly insist “there are no good Russians” and that “Ukrainians have no friends in Russia,” attitudes that reflect “the defeat of Ukrainian civil society and the victory of Putinism in the minds of Ukrainians.”
“Putinism in Russia,” he points out, “is imperialism” and its specific version – “’Crimea is Ours’-ism” which has “infected a large part of Russian society. Such things include “hostility to neighbors” and stories of how Austrians invented Ukraine, how Ukrainians are fascists and “Judeo-Banderites.”
But there is a variant of Putinism in Ukraine, and it is nationalism, Illarionov says, which involves an unwillingness of a significant portion of the population there to “distinguish the Kremlin and the non-Kremlin, the Russian powers that be and Russian civil society,” including many of that society who speak out in defense of Ukraine.
Just a year ago, he continues, “Ukrainians clearly distinguished the two,” but now such distinctions are largely absent. Today, Ukrainians say that “they do not see any difference. Of course, this is a major victory for the Kremlin and a serious defeat for free Ukraine and for the Russian opposition.”
A major contributing factor in this shift has been the consequences of the Minsk Accords for Ukraine. They have weakened its economy, they have isolated it diplomatically, and they have undermined its legal and constitutional order, leaving many Ukrainians feeling isolated and alone.
Since the Minsk Accords were signed in February 2015, the following took place:
- The Russian GDP fell 3.7 percent; but that of Ukraine fell 12 percent.
- Moreover, if a year ago, “all the criticism of the West was directed at the Kremlin and Putin,” then it was balanced between them,” and now “the main pressure is being applied on Ukraine: ‘You aren’t fulfilling the Minsk Accords.’”
- Thus, while a year ago, “Kyiv beyond dispute had Western allies,” the drawing out of the conflict through the Minsk process has led to “an erosion of the allied front” and to discussions about how Ukraine is failing to do what it must do and how the West should thus consider lifting sanctions on Russia.
- And also over this period and as a result of Minsk, the West has put enormous pressure on Ukraine to modify its constitution and laws in precisely the way Moscow wants.
- Moreover, if a year ago, the West was isolating Putin, now its leaders are rushing to visit Moscow or to talk to him on the telephone. This is justified by the importance of Syria to the West, another conflict that has had the effect of driving off the charts of most Western leaders the issue of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
- And the Minsk process had another negative consequence: It “created the illusion with [Ukrainians] and the West that it is possible to reach agreement with an aggressor. This is evidence of a failure to understand the psychology and motivations behind Putin’s actions,” Illarionov says.
Given all that, Illarionov suggests, Putin, if he didn’t win outright at least stopped losing – and that is a kind of victory.
As far as the shift in Ukrainian attitudes toward Russians as a whole over the past year is concerned, he continues, for Ukrainians to hold Russians “who live under conditions of a harsh authoritarian and semi-totalitarian regime responsible for the actions of the Russian authorities is almost the same as to hold North Koreans responsible for the Kim regime.”
Many Russians “hope that a free and successful Ukraine will help change the situation in Russia above all by its own example, one which will demonstrate to all: look the Ukrainians made a revolution, new people came to power, they changed the system, they built a successful state. Let’s do the same!”
But now, “Russians say: look at Ukraine, again there are the oligarchs, again they are stealing, again there is corruption. Honestly speaking, there is no response to this. [Russian liberals] cannot be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians.”
In a final comment, the Russian commentator is sharply critical of Ukraine’s diplomatic activity. He suggests that it is not only having a minimal impact but that it is significantly less active than it was only a year ago.