Both in the course of the Ukrainian elections and following the victory of Viktor Yanukovich, Russian commentators have discussed what kind of a Ukraine Russia needs, commentaries that have not only implied that only Ukraine needs to change but also have defined how many analysts elsewhere see the issue.
But in an essay posted online yesterday, Olesya Yakhno, a commentator for the Ukrainian portal Glavred, argues that this is the wrong or at least not the only question. And she insists that an equally or even more important issue for Ukrainians and Russians alike is “what kind of Russia does Ukraine need?”.
Her answer is that both need Russia to become for Ukraine a country like any other rather than revisionist state which seeks to dominate or even absorb its neighbors, thus threatening not only more conflicts in the future but rendering it almost impossible for Russia itself to make the transition to a modern, free and democratic country.
Since Yanukovich’s victory, she notes, “Russia has hurried to make a number of acts of obeisance of a public character toward the new Ukrainian leadership” in order to show that “the period of Russian-Ukrainian alienation is in the past,” that these past difficulties were the fault of President Viktor Yushchenko, and that “life is becoming better, life is becoming happier.”
At the same time, she notes, Russian commentators have hurried to specify “what kind of a Ukraine Russia needs,” arguing that Moscow needs a Ukraine which is “predictable” both at home and abroad, “semi-authoritarian” for whom “’stability’ is a euphemism for reform, and which makes Russian the second state language and the Moscow Patriarchate the main church.
Moreover, these Russian commentators have said, Russia needs a Ukraine which will not join NATO but will allow Russia’s fleet to remain in Crimea after 2017 and will meet the “business needs” of the Russian political elite, needs, which remain largely “outside of the framework of public discussions.”
And at the most general level, the Glavred commentator says, Russians “consider (or give the impression they do) that for effective cooperation and the conduct of a friendly policy between Russia and Ukraine, the preeminent factor is the level of loyalty of the Ukrainian president to Moscow.”
But in all these discussion, Yakhno continues, one question is missing: “what kind of Russia does Ukraine need?” And behind that question, for which Russian commentators have failed to provide any answer, is “another question,” one that if anything is more fateful: “What kind of Russia does Russia itself need?”
It is clear, the Glavred writer says, that “the format of bilateral Russian-Ukrainian relations depends more on Russia than it does on Ukraine,” something that is not a source for optimism because “even with friendly countries” like Belarus and Kazakhstan, Russia has difficulties maintaining close ties.
The situation with Ukraine in this regard is especially important, she says. While relations between Russia and Ukraine under Yushchenko were not especially good, “however paradoxical it may sound, his presidency despite all the anti-Yushchenko rhetoric of Russian politicians, had its benefits for the ruling Russian tandem.”
Ukraine, second only to Georgia, played the chief “anti-hero in the Russian public space.” And the existence of that image obviated the need for “real policy” and even “allowed the Russian powers that be to hide Russia’s lack of a serious strategy relative to the CIS countries in general and Ukraine in particular.”
In fact, Yakhno continues, it allowed Moscow the chance to “project Russia on a blank screen as a giant of geopolitics.”
There is no doubt that relations between Moscow and Kiev will improve now that Yanukovich is president. But “in order that cooperation bear a real and not exclusively declarative character, it is obvious that there will have to developed an integral and internally consistent philosophy of these relations,” a challenge above all for Russia.
That is because, Yakhno suggests, “the position of Ukraine through the period of independence was and is unchanged.” Yanukovich has “reaffirmed that the strategic goal of the foreign policy of Ukraine is European integration, alongside effective cooperation with Russia and the US.”
Given that “multi-vector approach,” she writes, “where Europe is conceived of as a political partner and model of the future, and Russia as above all an economic counter-agent and ‘reliable rear,’ inherited from the past,” Kiev’s choice will remain with the future, and “therefore, there will not be a cardinal turn of Ukraine toward the Russian Federation.”
And what that means, Yakhno says, is that “the real test for Russian-Ukrainian relations did not end with the departure of Yushchenko but only began with the installation of Yanukovich in office” because Moscow can no longer avoid facing the need to develop a real policy toward Kiev rather than hide behind denunciations of the Orange Revolution.
Whether Moscow is up to that task is unclear, she writes. Not only does Russia face a broad range of economic and political problems at home, but the regime itself is divided about what it wants and will do next. President Dmitry Medvedev clearly wants to see some kind of modernization, although “today few people in modernization Kremlin-style.”
As for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yakhno continues, he has talked about three “possible variants of the development of the political system on the post-Soviet space:” Ukrainianization, which Russians understand to mean “political instability and a lack of control,” “harsh authoritarianism” (Turkmenistan), and semi-authoritarian Putinism as in Russia.
Putin clearly wants the third to continue in Russia, “even if this directly contradicts modernization,” as it almost certainly does. That is because, Yakhno insists, “modernization is possible only under conditions of ‘Ukrainianization’ or ‘authoritarianism,” the one allowing messy competition and the other marching forward under tight control.
The tension between the requirements of modernization and the needs of the members of the current set of powers that be in Moscow to remain in office, the Ukrainian analyst continues, are creating conditions for the rise of “subjectivism in politics,” a term taken from the Khrushchev period.
It refers, Yakhno says, to an approach which rejects “institutional forms of control” and thus opens the way for actions “which do not take into account the objective patterns of history and the real circumstances of the contemporary development of the country.” In short, it leads to decisions “based on faith in the all powerful nature of administrative and force decisions.”
Such an approach, now very much in evidence in Moscow, does not create the kind of Russia that Ukraine needs, Yakhno says. She then gives a list of six qualities that she argues Russia needs to develop if it is to have good relations with its neighbors and to develop and modernize at home.
First, she writes, Ukraine needs a Russia “which clearly understands its place in the contemporary world: a major, economically powerful and rich country with enormous natural resources and human potential but not a global or even a regional power.”
Second, Ukraine needs a Russia which “is not an empire but a contemporary nation state.” Third, it needs a Russia which “at least approximately believes in what it officially proclaims.” Fourth, it needs a Russia “which thinks in the categories of politics and not business camouflaged as politics.
Fifth, it needs a Russia which “decides above all its state tasks and not the tasks of big business.” And sixth, it needs a Russia “which can once and for all formulate an exhaustive list of its expectations from Ukraine,” thus allowing Kyiv to respond positively to those it agrees with and negatively to those it does not.
In sum, Yakhno says, “Ukraine needs a Russia will simply be another country, important and strong to be sure, but one of the other countries and not the boss, not the elder brother, and what is the most important thing, not an eternal factor in Ukrainian domestic politics.”
That will benefit both countries because “when the policy of Ukraine in the Russian direction finally becomes a foreign and not a domestic manner, then will take place the psychological liberation of Ukraine and its elite from Russia, and Ukraine finally will acquire its independence.”