For a quarter of a century, we have been killing our common homeland. The start of a civil war in Ukraine in 2014 marked the end of this process. The Crimean episode might have suggested the authorities of the Russian-speaking Ukrainian provinces the idea that the center of the post-Soviet area was in the Kremlin, but the ruling elite in Russia preferred not to restage the Crimean precedent in the southeast of Ukraine. So, now the window of “post-Soviet” revenge opportunities is closed, and we are entering a new era of the “post-Soviet area” when the very idea of “post-Soviet” is no longer relevant.
We are giving a start to a new series of articles about Russia’s foreign policy given the ongoing war in Ukraine. Let’s begin with the general analysis of the situation.
The parties involved in the conflict, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, are both products of the political fall of the Soviet Union with all of its ensuing economic, social and ethnic problems. These problems are generating expectations that the Russian Federation and Ukraine will in their turn fall apart under the burden of degrading economy and culture. Obviously, the military crisis in Ukraine may be equally a catalyst of further disintegration and a way-out of this vicious circle of decay.
The ongoing degradations in the Russian Federation and Ukraine have similar causes: deindustrialization and outflow of capital. Psychological degradation has a frustrating effect on the post-Soviet people, who hope for some simple solutions or just a “miracle.” The potential “miracle worker” for the Ukrainians after the “revolution of dignity” is the European Union, who is expected to restore the lost capital of Ukraine’s Soviet heritage and to stop the country’s social-economic degradation. The opponents of Ukraine’s association with the European Union warned that it would have bad consequences for the country’s economy. But the reality has exceeded even the worst expectations as the civil war has affected the most industrial regions. In 2013, Donetsk ensured 19.7% of Ukraine’s exports – more than any other region. The same year Donetsk, together with Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia and Lugansk, produced more than a half of the country’s GDP. Triggered by the civil war and the conflict with Gazprom, Ukraine’s industrial and energy deficiency has marked a new stage of local degradation in the post-Soviet area. The ruin of Ukraine’s most productive and energy-intensive region has certain logic – today more and more resources in the world are moving from peripheries to centers. According to this logic, the same must happen in Ukraine. So, this is the key implication of the military conflict.
This process can be called a Smuta (times of trouble) by analogy with a well-known epoch. The civil war in Ukraine is not a purely ethnic conflict or a conflict of two national states. This is a military conflict of times of degradation. So, though looking as an “inter-state conflict,” it is, in fact, a “civil war.” For Ukraine this war is not an internal affair. In fact, it is taking place in the territory of “historical Russia.” That’s why the Russian Federation is showing so much “interest” in it.
Besides internal factors, the war in Ukraine has a specific external cause. In the United States’ strategy to conquer Eurasia, Ukraine has the role of a geopolitical center or a hub of conflicts. This means that by gaining control over this center, the Americans will be able to push their interests in the post-Soviet area. Ukraine’s territory and resources are crucial for Russia’s future and can be used by the Americans for transforming it in the way they like. No coincidence that the conflict in Ukraine was triggered exactly when Russia was trying to consolidate part of the post-Soviet area under the Eurasian Union project. For them in the West Ukraine was an excellent example of how one can change the national identity of a Russian-speaking population – the experience they now can use in some regions in Russia with a view to disintegrate that country. Well aware of the outcomes of the past two world wars, our opponents are now trying to wage an indirect war by dividing and pitting different parts of the “Russian world.”
As a result, of the transformations of 1991-192, the Soviet Union was divided into a dozen of new states, but only Russia proved to be ready for true sovereignty. That was a good chance for the Americans to interfere and ever since they have split up the Eurasian area into relatively small and weak national states and have placed them under their control by means of NATO and the EU. This process is still underway, and its slogans are “improvement,” “fight with corruption,” “democracy building” and “European integration.”
In the meantime, they in Moscow believed that NATO’s eastward expansion was something that America had imposed on Europe, something that was not the EU’s policy. And so, the Russians’ approach to the Ukrainian crisis was that Germany or France would help them to split Europe from the United States or, at least, to put them at odds with each other.
The Ukrainian conflict has helped the Americans to liven up their “transatlantic ties” – the key instrument of their influence in Europe and the post-Soviet area. The Ukrainian crisis has confirmed that some of the EU members are strongly dependent on the Americans and that the “Atlantic community” is based on the medieval suzerain-vassal relationship. The Russians’ hope for Europe’s neutrality in the Ukrainian conflict has proved to be an illusion – mostly because they tried to evade a direct conflict with the Americans. For the time being neither the Germans nor the Frenchmen seem to be ready to sever their contacts with the United States. This requires much stronger factors, like the crush of Euro or the collapse of the European Union. But even if this happens, they will hardly form a geo-strategic union with the Russians. The Ukrainian crisis has made it clear that the “special bilateral agreements” between Russia and Germany have no political basis.
Even more, the Germans were among the authors of the anti-Russian sanctions, while the Russians are still forced to supply them with fuel. The point is that these two nations have different economic weights, which makes real partnership impossible.
The Ukrainian crisis has shown that Germany has a zone of special interests in Central and Eastern Europe and that it coincides with the territory culturally influenced by the Germans in the middle and new ages, i.e. the territory populated by German colonizers. The conflict has drawn Ukraine into some special French-German-Polish relations. Ideologically, in late 2014, the “post-Maidan” Ukraine declared itself as a country of Central Europe.
Since the very first days of Ukraine’s independence, its nationalists have been opposing any of Russia’s initiatives for deeper integration with the CIS. Ideologically, they are against the idea of “Slavonic unity” with Russia and Belarus and the Eurasian Union project. This policy was one of the factors that curbed the Byelorussians’ wish to integrate with Russia and generated certain nationalist moods in Belarus. It has even affected Russian national identity inside Russia.
Ukraine’s firm resolution to stay independent and distant from Russia was actively supported from outside. Since the mid-1990s, the US Department of State has termed American-Ukrainian relations as “strategic partnership.”
For Russia and its Eurasian Union project, the loss of Ukraine means the loss of an industrial and agricultural economy and a 45,000,000-strong market. Ukraine’s independence deprived Russia of its dominance in the Black and Mediterranean seas and strengthened the positions of Turkey and Romania. That’s why the real - or imaginary - threat of the loss of the naval base in Crimea posed by the last year’s Ukrainian revolution forced the Russians to annex that region. And this has produced a whole knot of unsolvable problems with the United States and Germany.
The United States had the upper hand from the very first day of the Maidan, so, it was able to strike the enemy everywhere. Chronologically, the Ukrainian conflict followed the Syrian crisis. In late August 2013 the Americans came very close to a direct military aggression against Syria and were openly threatening the Syrians with bombings. Then Russian President Vladimir Putin managed to prevent this. But a year later, when the Americans claimed they had to fight the ISIL and started throwing bombs wherever they liked, Russia was already forced to neglect this. The key cause was the crisis in Ukraine. Such was the price we paid for giving up the initiative.
As a result, Russia was involved in an exhausting conflict with the United States and its western allies. This conflict may end quickly but it may well drag for years. The sanctions will hardly be lifted even if the Russians agree to certain concessions – just because they are too eager to see the sanctions lifted. In 2014 Russia opted for hybrid warfare in Ukraine. It would be a success provided that it was short and effective. Otherwise, it is turning against Russia – for since officially there is no war, the society is not mobilized.
The Ukrainian crisis has shown that the Russian Federation is too weak for being the United States’ equal partner or worthy rival but is too strong for being its satellite. The Americans’ strategic position is that imperial Russia cannot be “democratic.” For them “democracy” in the post-Soviet area is a political status legitimated from outside rather than an internal state. Consequently, for them the post-revolution civil war-ridden Ukraine is “democracy” while Russia is not.
With Russia the way it is, the United States will hardly be able to merge the Transatlantic and Eurasian security systems. So, Russia must be transformed. The Americans give the Russians the following choice: either to become Europe’s outskirt and their vassal or to turn into a Eurasian outlaw and to face an endless series of conflicts all along their CIS borders.
The geopolitical situation the United States has created in the post-Soviet area requires transforming Russia and allowing no more integration that can make it stronger.
Presently the United States are considering the following terms of surrender for Russia:
- transformed Russia should turn into the United States’ “junior partner” and should recognize the exclusive security interests of the US and Europe in Eurasia, this implying that the Russians should be disarmed and deprived of the international statuses they inherited from the USSR. More and more media in the West claim that a crisis state like Russia must not have nuclear weapons;
- Russia should no longer seek any special role in the post-Soviet area and should recognize that this is a zone of geopolitical pluralism, that is, it should allow the United States and its European allies to domineer there;
- Russia should give back all territories “conquered by Stalin”;
- Russian state corporations should be dissolved and their assets should be given to the US- and Europe-oriented transnational corporations;
- in ideology and culture Russia should give up on its imperial past and should repent for the sins of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Lenin, Stalin and Putin.
These general requirements must be preceded by specific ones concerning Ukraine. Here the US will require that Russia should:
- recognize the expansion of the EU and NATO into Ukraine and their exclusive right to it;
- recognize that the fate of Ukraine is no longer organically bound to its fate;
- recognize Ukraine’s separate existence, its borders and its right to national identity, this including freedom in turning its ethnic Russian, that is, “Russian-speaking” citizens into Ukrainians;
- go away from Crimea and take away all disloyal residents, including retired military men.
Russia cannot afford protracting the conflict in Ukraine as it has a weak economy. What the Americans want here is not to win a military victory but to exhaust Russia. It was a pretext for them and their allies to impose economic sanctions and to further weaken Russia’s economy. What they expect is either a coup sponsored by comprador oligarchs or the Russian President’s voluntary resignation. The key factor here is that a big part of Russia’s urban “educated” community is ready to neglect national security principles and to cede control over basic resources to the Americans for the sake of the ghostly prospect of becoming part of the consuming half of humanity. But the Americans’ further attempts to ruin Russia may be different: from slow destruction to chaos. In the latter case, Russia’s resources will stay in their natural pantry - for the United States is hardly willing to see them used now by Russia’s neighbors, the European Union and China.
Alexander Berg for EAD