By Paul Goble
Russians have been so obsessed with Ukraine for five years to the point of forgetting about their own country’s problems, Liliya Shevtsova says; and Moscow has done what it can to keep Russia at the center of Ukraine’s reality. But as the election of Vladimir Zelensky shows Ukraine has gotten over Russia. The question is: can Russia get over Ukraine?
Russia’s obsession with Ukraine over the last five years says an awful lot about Russia, the political analyst says. It shows that Russia has no idea about how to consolidate itself, and it shows that hostility to Ukraine has become “an instrument for the legitimation of the authorities” (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2412371-echo/).
Moreover, she continues, the excessive focus on Ukraine to the exclusion of Russian realities highlights the cowardice of the Russian elites who would like to attack America but won’t because they fear the consequences and thus attack Ukraine. And it shows that the positions Russians take on Ukraine “has become a criterion of loyalty to the Russian elite.”
The fixation Russians have about Ukraine “cries out about our complexes and inabilities” to cope with the current situation in and around Russia, Shevtsova says. “Having made Ukraine an internal (and in fact the key!) question of Russian politics, we admit that we have not been able to find out own stimuli of development and unity.”
As a result, “Russia has turned out to be unprepared for Ukraine’s flight” from it. And now that Ukraine has made it clear that it intends to continue that flight, Russia suffers from “a phantom pain” just as someone who has lost a leg or arm but continues to feel pain from something that is no longer there.
Russians are constantly trying to come up with something that will force Ukraine to turn back, but all of their ideas – be it giving passports to people in the Donbass or cutting off oil – only have the effect of reinforcing the desire of Ukraine’s to pursue their drive to separate themselves from Russia and join Europe.
Russians don’t understand this in large measure because there has arisen “a class of politicians and experts whose profession is to get angry about Ukraine. Even liberally thinking people speak about Ukraine condescendingly, telling Ukrainians what they need to do because they “aren’t ready to say what Russia must do.”
These people evaluate Ukraine in terms of Russian realities and thus do not understand what is going on. They can’t imagine a country in which “someone can throw challenges at the leader and the leader will respond by arguing with him as an equal.” That is unthinkable in Russia and so Ukraine must be a failure because it isn’t Russia.
“Poroshenko’s defeat is described by Kremlin interpreters as a systemic failure,” Shevtsova says. They cannot understand that the exit of one leader and the entrance of another as a result of elections speaks to the vitality of the system: Ukrainians have won the right to choose leaders, they have the right to make errors and to correct them again through elections.”
These Russian commentators can’t understand “how Ukrainians can live without a harsh ‘vertical’ telling them how to live” – just as Ukrainians can’t understand how Russians are willing to live under its diktat. Nonetheless, Ukraine works: its economy is growing and Europe will take it in.
Despite all its problems, Shevtsova says, “Europe understand that its security requires the incorporation of Ukraine and not leaving it in a dead zone as a failed state and source of tension with Russia.”
Russian experts want to convince everyone that Ukraine is on the world’s “periphery,” but “precisely this ‘periphery’ has called forth the confrontation of the West with Russia.” Ukraine has problems but it would be far more effective to help it solve them than try to exploit and exacerbate them to leave it ever more hostile at Russia.
Today, Russian analysts are obsessed with what kind of president Vladimir Zelensky will be, forgetting that he “will not be the single center of power in Ukraine which has been able to establish a system of checks and balances. It is possible that more important than Zelensky will be the new balance of forces in the Rada and the new prime minister.”
This is something Russians cannot understand, Shevtsova stresses.
One curious aspect of the situation in Ukraine is that Ukrainians are beginning to have more positive feelings toward Russia, but Russians do not understand why this is so. “It isn’t because Ukrainians have suddenly felt sympathy for Russia but because Russia has ceased to be the main problem for them.”
The Ukrainians “want to forget about us and think about their own worthy life. Without us!” Being rejected by someone is insulting, but “encountering indifference is still more offensive. But if Russia wants to return its dignity and vision of the future, it is going to have to get over Ukraine and occupy itself with its own affairs.”