PUTINISM AND THE CRISIS IN UKRAINE: A COMMENT
"As the rivalry between Brussels and Moscow has intensified, the Kremlin has set itself against what it calls “western messianism”. It not only seeks to entrench the principle of a multipolar order, but one in which different value systems are equally legitimate. Over the past 10 years Vladimir Putin has wrapped Russia’s neo-feudal and increasingly predatory system in the mantle of Slavic and Orthodox values. This “civilisational project” has loose bounds. It encompasses compatriots wherever they might live. It applies to all those “whom Russia has influenced”. And it applies most emphatically to Russia’s self-designated sphere of privileged interests. The success of this project abroad is increasingly linked to the legitimacy of the system of governance at home. Ukraine is both the pivot and Achilles heel of this entire construct. If Poles and Balts adopt EU norms and standards, that is their choice. But if Ukraine does so, it raises the possibility that Russia might one day do the same. The logic is not new. Many of Russia’s greatest reformers, from Alexander II to Mikhail Gorbachev, believed Russia would be imperilled if Ukrainians developed a political identity of their own. Mr Putin, so wrongly seen as Soviet by his western critics, has rejuvenated an older imperial mentality. The title of a recent article in Russkoye Obozreniye, a Russian periodical, caught the mood: “Without Ukraine, Russia can remain an empire, but it cannot remain Russia”....In fighting for Ukraine, after all, Mr Putin is fighting for himself.."James Sherr, "Putin’s imperial project threatens European values." The Financial Times. 28 January 2014, in www.ft.com.
“Two objectives must be kept in balance when dealing with Russia: influencing Russian attitudes and affecting Russian calculations. Russia should be welcomed in institutions and agreements that foster cooperation….But Russia’s reform will be impeded, not helped, if the West turns a blind eye to its imperial pretensions. The independence of the republics that broke away from the Soviet Union, including Ukraine, must not tacitly downgraded by the West’s acquiescence to Russia’s desire for hegemony. Ukraine can help Europe and the United States create a viable structure within which Russia can exist securely. Our destiny is to be neither a forgotten borderland nor a bridge between the so-called post-Soviet space of ‘managed democracy’ and the real democracies of the West. By strengthening our independence, we can shape Europe’s peace and unity as we roll back the crony capitalism and lawlessness that are now the norms of the post-Soviet world.”Yulia Tymoshenko, “Containing Russia: the sources of Soviet Conduct.” Foreign Affairs (May / June 2007), p. 81. If as now seems likely (see Jack Stubbs dispatch in Reuters to-day), there is a very good likelihood of the Yanukovich regime being forced from power, the question becomes who has lost out other than the embattled Ukrainian President and his clique? The answer of course is Grazhdanin Putin. The volte-face by Yanukovich last November on signing the customs union with the European Union was one of Putin's widely advertised diplomatic triumphs in anno domini 2013. To have that achievement undermined and lost is of course something akin to a slap in the face for the Russian President diplomatically speaking. However, that is not the least of the costs that Putin will endure if Yanukovich is ousted. The fall of a closely linked 'ally', in not only a neighboring, post-Soviet state, but one which is Slavic and predominately Pravoslavni too boot, to mass demonstrations of 'people power', cannot but ring alarm bells for the Putin regime. As the ex-British Ambassador to Moskva, Sir Roderic Lyne recently noted in a paper published by the Royal Institute of International Affairs: "the bill will be high both in roubles and in reputation" 2. With the cost in terms of lost prestige both domestically and internationally being heightened by the very recently renewed pressure exercised by Moskva in a no doubt futile attempt to prop-up Yanukovich 3. In short, there is a very good likelihood that an example of regime change in Kyiv will not only concentrate the minds of Russian officialdom wonderfully, but hopefully it will add pressure on the more enlighten members of the same (viz ex-Minister of Finance Kudrin) to consider the need for immediate and concrete reforms before the entire edifice of the existing power structure in Russia starts to collapse of its own inefficiencies, corruption and criminality. As the history of Russia has demonstrated many times, Moskva only seriously engages in reform when it has been handed a major defeat in its foreign policy. 1. Jack Stubbs, "First stirrings of dissent in Ukraine's eastern heartlands." Reuters. 31 January 2014, in www.reuters.com. 2. Sir Roderic Lyne, "The Blank Poster: Russia Heading Into 2014." The Royal Institute of International Affairs. (December 2013), p. 6. 3. Roman Olearchyk and Neil Buckley "Moscow puts Ukraine bailout on hold until new cabinet is formed". The Financial Times. 30 January 2014, in www.ft.com.Kathrin Hille, Roman Olearchyk and Geoff Dyer, "Moscow urges Ukraine to suppress insurgency." The Financial Times. 31 January 2014, in www.ft.com. The latter story is of course indicative of the fact that Moskva feels deeply threatened by what is occurring in Ukraine.