Radzikhovsky: Moscow Acts As If Ukraine Is Russia's Internal Affair

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Underlying the current escalation of tensions between Moscow and Kiev is a fundamental difference in the way the two nations define themselves, a leading Moscow commentator says. For Ukrainians, “Ukraine is Ukraine,” but for Russians, “Russia is Russia plus Ukraine.”

Moscow commentator Leonid Radzikhovsky.

In his Ekho Moskvy blog, Leonid Radzikhovsky argues that this difference in national self-conceptions is more important than any other factor in explaining why Moscow “again and again” acts as if Ukraine is Russia’s “internal affair,” something Ukrainians quite naturally view as outside inference in their own.

Obviously, President Dmitry Medvedev hopes to win support at home by his attacks on Ukraine and Ukrainian officials, the Moscow commentator continues, but that is “secondary” as an explanation for what is going on. The “primary” factor is “the demand of society.”

And that demand, Radzikhovsky continues, is not so much about rebuilding the empire or supporting Yanukovich whom, the Moscow writer suggests, “80 percent of the population of the Russian Federation” haven’t heard of, but rather about the feeling among most Russians that “without Ukraine, Russia is incomplete!”

To feel itself whole, he says, “Russian society doesn’t need alien Central Asia. And it doesn’t need the alien Baltic. And it does not need the unloved Transcaucasus” – although the North Caucasus, Radzikhovsky continues, is “an anything but simple” matter. “But [Russian society] needs Ukraine! Even more than it does Belarus.”

Given their interwoven history as Slavs, given Russia’s self-definition of its history as beginning with Kievan Rus’, and given their religion, Russians are inclined to see Ukraine and Ukrainians as part of themselves, failing to acknowledge to anyone including themselves that Ukrainians do not see the Russians in the same way.

Because Ukraine means so much more for Russians than Moscow means for Ukrainians, he continues, Russians feel that their love is “unrequited,” and consequently, their feelings have shifted toward “a cruel jealousy” in which Russians are demanding something that the Ukrainians are not in a position to give.

“Note,” Radzikhovsky continues, “Russia is not able to formulate its real pretensions toward Ukraine … The transit of gas, NATO, the Black Sea fleet, and the terror famine are just details. With whom are there no such details?” But Russia’s obsession with them is because it cannot say in full voice “Love me!”

And because this cannot be said openly, there is all the continuing blather about “fraternal peoples" or even about "a divided people.” What makes this so disturbing is that it is not just a question of Kremlin PR. This is how millions, even tens of millions of people in Russia feel.”

But the situation in Ukraine is very different. Despite frequent Russian suggestions that Ukraine will fall into pieces, that has not happened. And while “the Russian and Russian- speaking population of Ukraine does not want to join NATO, [those same people] do not want to join Russia either.” Instead, they like others in Ukraine "want to join Europe.”

“Many Ukrainians do business in Russia, and all want to travel there without visas, but with this, the ‘list of their desires’ is exhausted.” They do not want more from Russia, but Russia very much wants more from them, Radzikhovsky says.

“Russia and the Russian people need Ukraine for their own self=identification. Russia equals great Russia equals Russia plus Ukraine,” the Moscow analyst suggests. “They are consumed with an unsatisfied feeling of great powerness. Given Russian history, it could not be otherwise.”

But “Ukraine and its people including both ethnic Russians and ‘Russian Ukrainians’ for their self-identification need … only Ukraine.” For them, “Ukraine equals Ukraine. They do not have a Great Power sense of themselves. They are satisfied with the sense of being a ‘middle size power.’”

As a result, Ukrainians will ‘never unify with anyone else into a single whole.” (Joining the EU is an entirely different thing, Radzikhovsky says.) “Russia in general understands this. But it cannot accept it,” and consequently, Moscow will continue to talk about a “divided” nation when Russia should be talking about two.

Radzikhovsky says that talk of that kind could have “an enormously positive meaning” if it were directed to dealing with “the various forms of separatism inside Russia because then it would promote a sense of the “solidity of the nation” and the “value of each individual.”

But if such discussions among Russians remain focused on Ukraine, not only will the Russians further alienate Ukrainians, Radzikhovsky suggests, but they will fail to address the very problems within their own borders that a more adequate understanding of themselves and of Ukrainians would permit.

Source: Window on Eurasia