The conflict in Ukraine strikes at the foundation of the country. Source: Reuters
Ukraine has crossed the line. The tension, which has been heating up since autumn, has resulted in a situation similar to the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993. The authorities and the opposition sorted out their relationship using mass violence on the streets of Moscow a little more than 20 years ago. Until recently, this seemed impossible in Ukraine, with its different political culture, manners and ability to negotiate.
However, there is something worse here. In Russia, October of 1993 was the tragic end of a struggle for power, and it put an end to disputes about the future vector of the country. No end has been put in sight for Ukraine, but on the contrary, not only the direction of development, but also the fate of the state is in question now.
Since the very emergence of the “Euromaidan”, many people drew parallels between the current disasters and the “Orange Revolution”. However, the essence is quite different today. Ten years ago, despite all the chaos and drama of the presidential elections and the things that followed, it was only a matter of updating the policy, economic structure, and state structure. That is, about the future. Today, there is no such category as the “future” in the occurring flow of events.
The sides in the heated confrontation, taking place in Kiev, had no strategic goals from the very beginning. The president and his team are concerned only with holding power. Opponents of the ruling conglomerate are eager to seize it, and it seems they do not think even for a moment what they will do afterwards.
The main task is to find an external patron. Russia’s support is critical for Yanukovych, since it is the only source for plugging budget holes and economic survival. The opposition set their hopes upon the West, which ideally should formulate the tactics and strategy for them. They cannot do it themselves.
Ukraine is a victim of a fatal contradiction. Its problems have an internal nature. The country has not found answers on the purposes and forms of national development during more than 20 years of independence.
It is a difficult task, taking into account the socio-economic and mental heterogeneity. The failure to construct viable state institutions led to the fact that Ukraine has become a country where not the state, but a peculiar civil society is the primary force. That is, the totality of informal or more formal communities, interest groups, and relationship practices. The topics, discussed in Ukrainian politics in 2014, are the same as those discussed in 1992. That is all the progress that has been made in more than two decades.
The “Orange Revolution” showed that the West fell into the specifics of Ukraine, just following their ideological attitudes and laying emphasis on the civil society. Of course, a direct appeal to the public helps to catalyze the necessary processes, but does not guarantee the desired outcome, as it was shown by the previous “Orange Revolution.” Since it is a functioning state that needs to form these processes into a political reality. However, state institutions in Ukraine cannot do this, because they have not crystallized into a decision-making structure.
This situation is very dangerous. The institutional collapse in Ukraine poses a high risk of direct involvement of external players. Germany’s desire to show its newly acquired taste for European leadership, American instinct that requires the close monitoring of the potential strengthening of Russia and Moscow’s desire to prove its pre-emptive right in the post-Soviet space. All this threatens with a steadily worsening spiral, which actually nobody wanted. Taking into account the quality of the potential trophy, and the probable costs, one cannot imagine anything more unnecessary than a struggle for Ukraine.
The ideal scenario would be if Russia and the EU could agree on an informal protectorate, which would guarantee the preservation of Ukraine within its present borders and take on the responsibility, which the failed national elite could not cope with. Unfortunately, another scenario is the most likely – Russia and the West will accuse each other of aggravating the situation in Ukraine and will start doing battle “by proxy”, supporting the opposing sides and deepening the split between them.
In 2008, when the issue of granting Ukraine and Georgia a Membership Action Plan in NATO was raised on the initiative of George Bush’s Administration, the leaked conversation of Vladimir Putin with his interlocutors at the Russia-NATO Summit had a great resonance. The Russian president pointed to the artificiality of Ukraine’s borders and urged not to aggravate the situation so as not to provoke an internal conflict. The West considered this as a threat back then; meanwhile, Putin was conducting a kind of a literacy lesson for his American counterpart. A brief history of Ukraine’s emergence within its present borders was a clear revelation for Bush. The 2013/14 collision shows that no one in the West really realized the seriousness of the situation around Ukraine.
Geopolitical reflexes combined with ideological patterns (“European Choice,”etc.) led to the major crisis, the ripples from which can reach very far.
Fyodor Lukyanov is a political scientist and the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs journal.
First published in Russian in Gazeta.ru
All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.