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Reassessing Russian-Ukrainian Relations – Analysis

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When discussing what shapes Russian public opinion, a common theme in US mass media dwells on how the news is covered on the three main Russian national TV channels. The US mass media proponents of this mindset would benefit from taking a more critical look at themselves. As one example, with many to choose from, the September 23, 2015 PBS NewsHour segment with host Margaret Warner and Marvin Kalb, qualifies as propaganda, benefitting a neocon to neolib leaning realist rationale, for not going too all out in confronting Russia over Ukraine.

Kalb and Warner are ironic in the way they depict an unfair world. For them, what has transpired in Kosovo is apparently not illegal, unlike Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Concerning this issue, Kalb and Warner omit the case for Crimea’s changed territorial status, relative to Kosovo and what occurred in Kiev – the latter involving coup like circumstances against a democratically elected president, followed by a series of anti-Russian actions, that offended the pro-Russian community within Ukraine’s Communist drawn boundaries.

Kalb restates Zbigniew Brzezinski’s simplistic claim that Russia is an empire with Ukraine. Is the UK still an empire, given that the Scots and the dominant English aren’t as closely related as Russians and Ukrainians? Yes, the referendum result on Scotland’s status, favors a continued affiliation with Britain. At the same time, there’s no legitimate denying that a clear majority in Crimea prefer being a part of Russia rather than Ukraine – a reality which sees the majority of ethnic Ukrainians in Crimea favoring such as well.

Kalb rehashes the broadly inaccurate depiction of Russian history starting in 10th century Kiev. In 1862, Russia formally honored its 1,000 year existence, with a specific and primary reference to Novgorod, which is in present day Russia.

Shortly after 862 AD, the Rurik prince Oleg of Novgorod, shifted his main base to Kiev. Later on, a Kiev grand prince, Yuri Dolgorukiy, is credited with establishing Moscow. Having a legitimate dynastic claim to the Kiev throne, Dolgorukiy’s son, Andrey Bogolyubsky, played a key role in developing the area of Vladimir, which is relatively close to Moscow. With William Sherman’s attack on Atlanta during the American Civil War coming to mind, Dolgorukiy’s armed spat with rivals in Kiev, is arguably more akin to a civil conflict than a foreign entity attacking. (Somewhat related, the American Revolution had a civil war dynamic, as evidenced by the pro-British colonists opposed to those seeking independence.)

Shortly before the Mongol subjugation period, Kiev was showing signs of decline in influence vis-a-vis the rest of Rus. (“Kievan Rus” is a latter day term, used to describe the entire entity in question.) During and after the Mongol subjugation period, the northern territory of Rus (much of present day European Russia) emerged as the most powerful and independent of Rus land. Throughout history, some nations and empires alike have experienced such regional shifts. (BTW, someone brought to my attention that for a good period of Rus’ existence, its land mass included more of modern day Belarus than contemporary Ukraine.)

The topic of Russian and Ukrainian history brings to mind the June 6, 2015 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty piece “In Moscow, Plans For Statue Of Kyiv Prince Vladimir Face Opposition“. Excerpted from that article:

To some critics, the planned monument looks like a blatant bid to steal some history from Kyiv, and to rope Ukraine to Russia symbolically at a time when many Ukrainians believe their country is under attack from Moscow.”

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The unnamed “critics“, erroneously suggest theft, when an interrelated centuries long experience is the greater reality. Honoring a saint in the Russian Orthodox Church doesn’t constitute stealing. On this matter, the claim of theft is on par with saying that the Russians stole Nikolai Gogol. Revisionist history aside, Gogol positively identified with Russia, while exhibiting pride in his native part of the Russian Empire – the territory in present day Ukraine, which was in the Russian Empire.

So there’s no misunderstanding, these observations aren’t intended to deny the developed popularity of a separate Ukrainian national identity (albeit with some differences) to its current level. It’s also undeniable that a good many ethnic Ukrainians maintain a close fondness for Russia. Many of those associated with pro-Russian sentiment in the former Ukrainian SSR have surnames that suggest a Ukrainian background.

A 2009 poll found that Putin would win the Ukrainian presidency, if he ran against the candidates for that office. This survey noted a greater Ukrainian support for the Russian involved Eurasian Union over the EU. In contemporary Kiev regime controlled Ukraine, Putin’s popularity, Russia and the Eurasian Union appear to have taken a hit. At the same time, Ukraine’s current president and prime minister have noticeably unfavorable ratings, to go along with an:

  • EU and US, showing limits in aiding Ukraine to get out of its socioeconomic misery
  • extreme Ukrainian nationalist wing, considered a minority, while having disproportionate influence.

2009 wasn’t so long ago. Given the past and existing circumstances, pro-Russian sentiment in Kiev regime controlled Ukraine has a chance for a comeback in the future. EuroAtlantic chauvinists are likely to scoff at this notion by emphasizing the greater wealth of the US and EU, when compared to the Eurasian Union. What good is that standing, if it’s not going to be effectively delivered for the overall benefit of Ukraine? It’s paramount for Russia to see a secure and not so downtrodden Ukraine. An extremely impoverished Ukraine has a negative spillover effect for neighboring Russia. The distant neocon to neolib, to flat out anti-Russian advocates in the West aren’t as dramatically affected on this particular.

Related articles:

A closely related version of this article was posted at the Strategic Culture Foundation’s website on September 29.

Michael Averko

Michael Averko

Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic. He has appeared as a guest commentator on the BBC and WABC talk radio, in addition to having been a panelist at the World Russia Forum, Russia Forum New York and US-Russia.org Experts' Panel. Besides Averko's Eurasia Review column - Academia.edu, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Global Research, History News Network, InoSMI.Ru, Johnson's Russia List, Journal of Turkish Weekly, Kyiv Post, Oriental Review, Penza News, Pravda.Ru, Pravoslavie.Ru, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Russia Insider, Sputnik News, Strategic Culture Foundation, The Duran, The Huffington Post, Valdai Discussion Club, Yonkers Tribune and WikiLeaks, are among the numerous venues where his articles have either appeared or been referenced. The American Institute in Ukraine and the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies, have referenced some of Averko's articles, along with academic white papers prepared for NATO Watch, Ohio State University, Problems of Post-Communism and the Royal College of Defence Studies. He has been referenced in the Council on Foreign Relations, Defense One and The New York Times. Averko is source referenced in Richard Sakwa's book "Frontline Ukraine". His Eurasia Review article on Pavlo Skoropadsky, provides the first full online English language transcript of Skoropadsky's edict calling for an "All-Russian Federation", inclusive of Russia and Ukraine. Among other issues, that article explains the relationships among the major combatants in the Russian Civil War. He can be reached via [email protected]

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