By Paul Goble
However much Vladimir Putin insists otherwise, Aleksandr Tsipko says, Russians and Ukrainians “are not a divided nation.” They are instead two different Slavic peoples who over the course of many centuries have lived separately, who have not only different languages and who have different spiritual worlds and geopolitical preferences.”
The Russian philosopher and commentator devotes an essay in Nezavisimaya gazeta to dispelling this myth which he argues is not only destructive of any possibility of good relations between Russians and Ukrainians but also of any chance for Russia itself to develop in a positive way (ng.ru/ideas/2018-10-15/9_7332_myth.html).
However “insane” it seemed in the early 1990s, Tsipko begins, the Russian Federation and Ukraine developed separate lives “completely and finally.” It turned out to be the case that “there was no spiritual unity of Russians and Ukrainians just as there was no faith of Soviet people in the ideals of communism.”
Russia did not develop a system of division of powers. Instead, it returned to “traditional Russian autocracy.” But it did manage to completely separate the Russian Federation from Ukraine. “It turned out to be easy to destroy even that which had been established over the course of centuries.” The events of 2014 made that division absolutely permanent.
Since that time, the Ukrainian authorities have done “everything possible and impossible” to ensure that outcome in part because “anti-communism in Ukraine was more consistent than it is in Russia” but also because Ukrainians have come to see that all their misfortunes are the result of Russia as a whole.
To ignore this reality, Tsipko says, and to accept as true Putin’s claim that Russians and Ukrainians are a divide people, inflicts “the greatest harm” on both peoples and countries. Moreover, it was clear in the early 1990s that “relations between the new Russia and independent Ukraine would have nothing in common with relations between the US and Canada.”
When Ukraine gained its independence in1918, this was clear because “an independent Ukraine could not but be a colony of the main enemy of Russia.” For the same reasons, Tsipko continues, there exists “the inviolable friendship of independent Ukraine and the United States of America.”
“It is difficult to say,” Tsipko suggests, “how many residents of Ukraine really view present-day Russia as a mortally dangerous enemy. But it is beyond doubt that today in Ukraine both in politics and in ideology, the initiative belongs to those Ukrainians who hate the Crimea-is-Ours Russia.”
Russians do not want to understand that Ukrainian attitudes toward Russia are not new but centuries’ old and that Russian behavior has made them worse, convincing ever more Ukrainians to view themselves as “victims of the colonial policy of the Russian Empire,” Tsipko says.
“Even to the unaided eye,” he continues, “it was always obvious that by itself unity of faith and belonging to one and the same church doesn’t produce spiritual unity or attachment to one another.” Each side views the other in slighting terms even if they go to the same church. And differences in their national language reinforce that.
Tsipko says he is genuinely disturbed by “the inability of our present-day leaders to dispense with the Soviet myths about the inviolable brotherhood of Russians and Ukrainians.” One has to see that this was not true, is not true and will not be true. But still worse, the current Russian leadership understands this reality much less well that did the tsarist regime.
“The question arises,” he says: “why does the new Russian administration in the form of its leader Vladimir Putin not want to take into consideration the real history of the interrelationships of Ukrainians and Russians” and to recognize that “the imperial project is dead and that it cannot be revived?”
“If our leaders were to see the truth about the Russian Empire, then they would understand that we Russians can be attractive for other peoples only when we can offer them models of a more well-off and free life,” the Moscow commentator says. Instead, they pursue a policy of expanding the territory of present-day Russia.
“We are thus sacrificing not only the well-being of the population of the country but our own future. We for some reason can never understand that it is impossible in the present-day globalized world to force former Slavic people of Russia to be friends with us, with a country which at present not only doesn’t project anything attractive but in fact alienates others.”
According to Tsipko, “we must recognize that present-day Russia is pushing present-day Ukraine and thinking Belarusians away not only by its reborn autocracy and the all-powerful nature of Putin but by its poverty, its unpredictability, and its readiness to fight everywhere and with everyone.”
“It is time to recognize,” he concludes, “that all these imperial projects are only making the ring of enemies around Russia ever tighter and that the situation will end with ‘the cry of empty shelves’” in Russia itself.