Ukraine and danger of Russian imperialism: How to prevent past mistakes

Author : Dmytro Ovchynnykov

Source :

Russian Empire, which collapsed twice during the XX century, has again become a geopolitical reality
16:30, 28 November 2016

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112 Agency

2014, a year of the centenary anniversary of the First World War, was in many ways a landmark. In particular, it showed that the Russian Empire, which collapsed twice during the XX century, has again become a geopolitical reality. It was a logical consequence of the policy of "rising from the knees", which in the last decade was carried out by Vladimir Putin regime. It is obvious that the imperial nature of Russia, which is reflected in its aggressive, expansionist foreign policy, poses a serious danger not only for the European future, but also for the very existence of the adjacent post-Soviet states, including Ukraine.

Time bomb

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 revived many contradictions which before were hidden inside, were in dormant state. Primarily there were territorial disputes between the republics and ethnic, cultural, historical, mental conflict between countries and peoples. All these factors together have made a fairly complex nature of relations with former Soviet republics. In the case of Ukraine the Crimean issue, of course, immediately became the most acute problem, because this territory, populated mainly by ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people, always has a special place in Russian historical memory.

Formally, this issue was resolved by the Budapest Memorandum 1994, and a number of intergovernmental agreements between Russia and Ukraine, including the deployment of Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol. But despite this, the status of Crimea and all related problems in both countries were the subject of political speculation, were the card, different players played actively for their own purposes. It was a time bomb that is waiting for a favorable moment to explode.

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In the 90s Russia experienced a deep systemic crisis - economic, political, social and in other spheres. During this time it actually lost its imperial status and partly refused of global geopolitical ambitions. And two factors played the significant role in this process.

First, its political system had sufficiently competitive nature; the large number of actors with different interests was present in it. Including a pretty strong group of liberal public figures who advocated constructive cooperation with the neighboring states, and refusal of the "suzerain-vassal" model of relations.

Second, in the middle of very difficult financial and economic situation Russia needed Western aid, and therefore actually could not afford to conduct an aggressive foreign policy in the post-Soviet territory. In this context we should note the role and personality of Boris Yeltsin, who came to power on a wave of anti-democratic sentiment, and, in addition, during the "parade of sovereignties" of 1990-1991 years supported the nationalist centrifugal tendencies in other republics, while declaring the absence of any territorial claims to them from Russia.

Revanche of imperialism

But with the presence of Vladimir Putin in Kremlin situation began to change. He quickly built a consolidated authoritarian regime, which in some of its manifestations reminiscent of the worst times of the Stalin era. In particular, trials against opposition leaders, including Alexei Navalny, the level of arbitrariness, lawlessness and absurdity cause some allusions to the process of 30s against the old Bolsheviks, Lenin's former associates.

In addition, due to the high price of oil, gas and other natural resources regime received solid financial support, which allowed it to strengthen its position in the international arena and within the country, to receive the loyalty and support of both elite groups and ordinary people against the backdrop of a raising welfare. During this period begins the gradual curtailment of democratic rights and freedoms, increasing usurpation of power by a narrow ruling stratum, pursuing their own selfish, narrow corporate interests. At the same time there are significant changes in the mentality of the population, its disillusionment with the democracy and return to the old, Soviet-imperial mindset. This laid the basis, on which the Putin’s regime could begin implementation of its aggressive imperial intentions.

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A small victorious war with Georgia in August 2008 demonstrated that Russia is ready, if necessary, to use force against former "fraternal" republics and believes the tough method a completely acceptable way to demonstrate the revival of its imperial greatness. It should be noted that the reaction of the West to the de facto annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was rather sluggish, which could not but encourage the aggressor to repeat such actions in the future. In this sense, the subsequent occupation of the Crimea is absolutely legitimate. But now Russia went further, putting forward an ideological justification for their criminal actions in the form of the concept of so-called "Russian World".

Undoubtedly, in the near future, Russia in any case would pose a threat to its closest neighbors, especially Ukraine. As rightly pointed out one of the most famous Ukrainian political figures of the early XX century Volodymyr Vynnychenko, "Russian democracy ends on Ukrainian question." This is largely due to the "imperial syndrome", which is still typical in Russian society. And any government there somehow will have to respond to this social demand, at least for purposes of self-preservation. Therefore, whoever will lead the country, including leaders of Bolotnaya square of 2011-2012, Ukraine will still be perceived as a vassal territory and its sovereignty in some way be limited by the presence of huge and unpredictable eastern neighbor.

To prevent past mistakes

Russian Empire twice suffered a collapse in the XX century - in 1917 and 1991 respectively. In both cases, Ukraine got a chance to build its integrated and independent nation state, and both attempts failed. The first ended with incorporation into the new imperial project - the USSR, and the substitution of the true statehood by the status of a union republic. The second, at first glance, was more successful - Ukraine are not included again in the composition of Russian Federation (if not to take into account the current annexation of Crimea) and survived as de jure independent state.

But at the same time, no one can say that Ukraine is fully a state, and some experts even take it to the category of failed state. First of all because it failed to form a public consensus on basic issues - language, history, culture, etc., to determine the main direction of historical development. And exactly these 20 years of painful search for identity, doubt and indecision largely provoked those tragic events the country is now experiencing.

The return to past is impossible, but we can influence the future. We should make honest conclusions from past mistakes which is necessary to prevent their recurrence. It is obvious that sooner or later current Putin's edition of the Russian Empire will collapse. This will automatically open a new "window of opportunities" for Ukraine, which can be used also in order to return the annexed Crimea. But first of all – to finally complete the solid foundation of our state, which will allow Ukraine to become a full-fledged European country of the XXI century.

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