Among the high profile of former Soviet based English language media, the Kyiv Post (KP) is better at promoting nationalist anti-Russian leaning views, when compared to The Moscow Times’ (TMT) approach to patriotically reasonable Russian perspectives. TMT and KP can each show instances of offering other opinions opposing the ones they show an overall preference for. This kind of editorial stance serves as cover to any claims of having a more extreme bias.
Picked up by the KP, Alexander Motyl’s October 28 World Affairs commentary “A Russian Threat to Ukraine?”, is in line with his previously stated commentary. Another telling example is his March 11, 2010 Moscow Times article “Difficult Task Defining Bandera’s Historic Role”, which was also carried by the KP. (My extended reply to that article was picked up by Eurasian Home, Strategic Culture Foundation, Eurasia Review and American Chronicle.)
In Motyl’s October 28 piece, Harvard University history professor emeritus Richard Pipes and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace director Dmitri Trenin are referenced. Pipes is highlighted as advocating the notion of an aggressive Russian tendency towards its neighboring states. On that particular, Trenin is summarized as not seeing so much of that behavior.
In seeking a change in Russia, Motyl positively writes of Pipes being put in the position of Russian prime minister and suggests that former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko is not so anti-Russian. Pipes typically supports whoever is at odds with Russia. As Ukrainian president, Yushchenko carried on in the same manner. Motyl’s characterization of Russia as a “beast” (stated towards the end of his article), is another indicator of his slant.
He mentions former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s book “Ukraine Is Not Russia” in an incomplete way, that omits how Kuchma has also indicated the preference to have closer Russian-Ukrainian ties, since his book’s release. Regarding the title of Kuchma’s book, every post-Soviet Russian government has recognized Ukraine’s independence and Soviet drawn boundaries. This stance has not created a great uproar in Russia, thereby contradicting the notion of that country being greatly pressed by extreme nationalists. Conversely, most of Ukraine’s population does not appear to share Motyl’s and Pipes’ negativity towards Russia.
Running counter to what Motyl and Pipes stress is a thought which considers a hypothetically unnecessary Russia-West conflict, ignited by faulty nationalist anti-Russian advocacy. It is erroneous to suggest that an ultra-nationalist element and the possibility of future misguided provocations is exclusive to Russia. Relative to these points is the observation that geopolitical differences are not often simple circumstances of virtue opposing evil.
The 2008 war in the former Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic saw contrasting commentary, ranging from Russia as an aggressive provocateur, Georgia as a primary instigator and a view which is comparatively more nuanced. This latter perspective has varied forms, that do not necessarily disagree with the core Russian position. Specifically, Russia’s military action:
- was in reply to the Georgian government’s strike on South Ossetia
- not implemented to overthrow Georgia’s government
- took out a good number of Georgian military assets.
Concerning the suggestion of Russia as a predominating negative factor, note that the Abkhaz and Ossetians seem to generally prefer Russia over Georgia. The same mindset is evident in the disputed former Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic territory of Pridnestrovie (also known as Transnistria and closely related spellings). Moreover, the thinking among Moldovans in Moldova includes some seeking closer ties with Russia.
In contrast to Motyl, Matthew Rojansky’s October 21, National Interest piece “Engaging the Post-Soviet Generation in Russia“, emphasizes the belief that Russia’s current situation reveals a growing number of relatively objective Russians, who want to see their country treated in an even-handed manner. A large multiethnic country with socioeconomic challenges is bound to have some faults that can be inaccurately or more accurately depicted. As is, post-Soviet Russia is not currently governed by impractical extremists.
Putting aside the subject of how Russians view themselves and the world, there is another facet to consider in relation to what Motyl and Rojansky said. Over the course of time, numerous people left their native lands in central and eastern Europe, with a displeasure, which was not always motivated by anti-Russian views. This grouping includes people with a fondness for Russia (some ethnic non-ethnic Russians included), whose departure was influenced by political and/or economic reasons. The more objective of central and eastern Europe’s non-Russian diaspora recognize the fault-lines within their respective communities. Soviet supported actions were by no means the sole result of ethnic Russians. (Somewhat similarly, the Nazis had the support of a considerable number of non-Germans.)
For historical and cultural reasons, the Montenegrin, Serb and Bulgarian communities are not prone to anti-Russian sentiment. Czechs like president Vaclav Klaus and ice hockey legend Jaromir Jagr do not discriminate against Russia for what happened to Czechoslovakia in 1948 and 1968. Elsewhere in the former Communist bloc, such a non-discriminating attitude towards Russia is evident in varying degrees among some other non-Russians.
It stands to reason that a stable peace is better maintained when the more pragmatic elements have an upper hand over those tilting towards a chauvinist line. For accuracy sake, reasoned patriotism should not be confused with chauvinism.
The post-Soviet Russia-West relationship has a basis for cautious optimism, on the premise that it is not in the best interests of either Russia or the West to be at great odds with each other. (An October 31 Center for the National Interest panel discussion dealing with American-Russian relations, elaborated on that belief.) This perspective stands to gain greater influence with improved English language public relations and media efforts, at the more high profile of venues. Unchallenged or inadequately challenged misperceptions have an opposite effect.
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.
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