August 27 ILYA PONOMAREV
Why Moscow will not abandon claims to Belarus and Ukraine
Ukraine is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of its independence with anxiety. The Kremlin’s war with Russia, unleashed on both sides, has been going on for more than seven years. In fact, this is not a war for the territory of Crimea or Donbass, but for the very statehood of Ukraine. And Ukraine is not the only one threatened. According to his recent high-profile article, the Russian president denies the very right of the Slavic (at least) peoples living in the territory of the former USSR to a separate existence from Russia. The emergence of the nation-states of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova in Moscow is considered a historical misunderstanding, a tragic mistake made on the wave of emotions during the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of 1991. I will not hide that the author of these lines himself sees the future not only of the post-Soviet but also of the European space as a single union, in which each nation retains its uniqueness, each community has the widest possible rights to self-government, but in which there is at the same time common legislation, common security rules and full freedom of movement, education and work. However, such a bright future can be achieved only when each political nation is free to choose this path within the framework of its own legal procedures.
Lifelong president of the Russian Federation
We have seen many times politicians who tried to force the peoples of Europe to unite. So did Napoleon, Hitler, and many others. They all ended badly. Now Vladimir Putin is moving in the same direction – although, of course, he has a lower chimney and less smoke. Instead, there is a large army with a nuclear club and a Soviet military arsenal. Therefore, the neighbors will not be able to isolate themselves from it, so it is necessary to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, trying not only to predict his actions in the future, but also to form their own counter-strategy to ensure the survival of their countries.
The first thing we should accept as an axiom is that Putin will not relinquish power in the short or medium term (no matter how much he personally wants the opposite – but the risks are too high after Gaddafi’s or Pinochet’s resignation). It is very likely that he will be the lifelong ruler of the Kremlin – and will leave it either naturally (from old age or illness), or by force (due to a coup or revolution). At the same time, in my opinion, it is quite possible that Putin will look for new configurations of the power structure he has created, and it is possible that his future position will not be that of the president of the Russian Federation. Finally, the experiment with the castling of Medvedev in 2008-2012 proved that he could hold full power in any position.
The second thing that is also important to understand is that the probability of an economic collapse of the Russian economy, even under the maximum pressure of sanctions during Putin’s rule, was strikingly small. The basis of its income is a wide range of various raw materials; all this natural wealth smooths out fluctuations in individual positions. Yes, in 20-30 years the demand for hydrocarbons, which provides the maximum income of the Russian Federation, will begin to decline, but this will be a problem for those who will replace Putin, and will be enough for his age.
The third is the motivation of the Russian leader. Many in the West believe that Putin is a staunch imperialist who seeks to revive the Russian Empire. I think this judgment is wrong. The whole story of Putin in power is the story of a confused impostor who gained his power by accident, from the broad shoulder of Yeltsin, so he seeks to stay in the saddle, while earning for himself and his associates. He is not a conqueror, but a convinced kleptocrat; terrible strategist and excellent tactician. We must pay tribute to him: the Russian president is an unsurpassed manipulator, parliamentarian and arbiter, who also feels great about the mood of the “deep people”. Many Russian oppositionists, who describe him as weak, detached from reality and frightened, are certainly wrong – Putin is confidently in the saddle, and although, apparently, the quality of the analysis provided to him by the secret services and his administration is indeed low, but it is compensated by the bestial instinct and courage of the fart bandit who broke an unprecedented jackpot in history. And impudence, as we know, takes cities. Age will sooner or later show, but the Russian leader still has five or even ten years of active life.
“Friendship of peoples” and the image of the enemy
Finally, one cannot ignore the mood of Russian citizens. Another common mistake is to assume that in Russia, as the authorities say, so will the people. In fact, this is the opinion of domestic liberals, who do not know, despise and do not want to know these “ordinary people”. And the Kremlin understands that they can effectively brainwash with their television channels; but for this drug to work, it must resonate with public sentiment, and especially with human phobias and prejudices. Putin’s appeal to the “scrape” is from this series. The actions of the authorities should be clear and popular among citizens (and unpopular decisions should be made by others and preferably “at the numerous requests of the public”). Democracy in Russia is completely imitative, but formally it does not collapse; candidates for the Duma elections are carefully selected from the ruling party to make them attractive to the people; with a small selection of increasingly expensive bread after the annexation of Crimea, the Kremlin will not skimp on propaganda spectacles.
Many people in Ukraine will smile ironically, but the main dish in these shows is the idea of friendship of peoples (naturally organized by the Russians) and their union (for certain groups it is called the “Russian world”, but this does not change the essence of manipulation). The consciousness of the Russians in general has always been messianic (“we are surrounded by enemies, but we defend and stand up for all the surrounding peoples and are ready to tolerate any disagreements in the name of our Slavic brothers”) – and the Kremlin has learned to play perfectly. Especially since in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus the attitude to the USSR is completely different. If for Ukrainians, for example, the economic troubles of the collapse of the Union were compensated by gaining an independent state, the Russians renamed their “Independence Day” on June 12 three times – and still none of them understands what they are celebrating there. I tell all this in order to to try to predict a corridor of opportunity for Putin in the coming years. I think there is no doubt that the Kremlin will try to restore its sphere of influence in the Slavic states of the former Soviet Union – Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. This will be dictated not only by “Putin’s place in history”, but by the banal struggle for power in Russia itself. There are no preconditions for economic growth, and with it the income of citizens, the level of hopes for the future of Russians is very low, and therefore, the rating falls and fatigue from power increases – and this must be offset by hopes of returning to a fairly quiet Soviet past.
Domestic liberals (particularly opposition ones) like to repeat that the Russian people have never lived so well as in Putin’s time. And if you look at the average temperature in the chamber, in fact – the average per capita income in Russia in the 2000s confidently (about a third) exceeded the highest point of income, which was achieved in Soviet times. However, this figure is provided by the high incomes of 10% of the richest citizens, while more than 50% of the country’s population still live significantly worse than they lived in the USSR, and 18 million people are generally below the poverty line (in addition, this figure has increased significantly since the war with Ukraine). ). One way or another, and for many, Putin’s idea of reviving the Union is economic, not geopolitical. It is the latter reasoning that will set the tone for foreign policy in the countries of the former USSR. I think
A completely different reasoning will deter aggression in the south-western direction: from Ukraine, propaganda will continue to sculpt the image of a failed state; The Kremlin will use Ukraine as an example, as a vaccine against pro-Western sentiment in Russia itself. Maximally promote the topic of a country under foreign rule and immersed in a continuous political – “democratic”, another bogeyman – chaos, will draw parallels with the 1990s in Russia itself, to emphasize: from the West only misery, poverty, corruption, the collapse of the state and even a civil war. If Ukraine continues to stumble on the ground in terms of its socio-economic development, all this will work very effectively for the minds of ordinary Russians. In this sense, any large-scale military operations in this direction are unprofitable, because, first, they will force the Kremlin to take responsibility for what is happening, and secondly, will create risks of criticizing Putin as someone who has decided to take on the “feeding of gluttons.” Especially since there will be casualties among the servicemen whom the Kremlin master has avoided since the Second Chechen War (even then he started fighting with foreign hands and semi-private semi-legal formations, whose lives no one spared). “Protecting the Russian-speaking brothers from fascism coming from the West” is a popular idea in Russia, but to keep them and shed blood for them is not at all. It is no coincidence that Moscow does not want to recognize the “DPR-LPR” – it benefits from the smoldering conflict that slows down the development of Ukraine, and the capture of this territory – not at all. Unfortunately, an escalation of the Kremlin’s economic war with Ukraine is very likely, which is not limited to the construction of bypass pipelines. Putin is interested in torpedoing any economic projects in the neighboring territory. The author of these lines personally felt how well Moscow can play on Ukraine’s internal elite differences and interests when fighting for investment in the development of the Black Sea shelf, which could bring billions of dollars to Ukraine and weaken the gas shroud. We still have a fight ahead over the transit of ammonia, ownership of a number of industrial enterprises, control and development of strategic deposits, and so on.
Another “eternal” president
This is not at all the case with another country of the Kremlin’s strategic interests, Belarus. The Russians see in it a miraculously preserved island of the same Union, in which there is no unemployment, businesses are working, fields are plowed, roads are repaired, and leaders do not buy yachts and villas on the Cote d’Azur for money stolen from fellow citizens. And the more they are told that all this is at the expense of Russian subsidies, the more they respect the economic collective farmer Lukashenko, who with an iron hand and peasant ingenuity was able to “squeeze” from the Kremlin oligarchs at least a penny – happiness, which the Russians themselves are deprived. Reunification with Belarus will be perceived by the “deep people” as a chance to return to the same bright past, which has such a favorable appearance against the background of a bleak present. As is often the case, The chief architect of this historic Russian impasse, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, is going to cynically take advantage of such public sympathies and rejection of the system he has created in his own interests. For many in Russia, the annexation of Crimea has raised vague hopes for the restoration of the USSR. It is no coincidence that many supporters of the left have supported what the left usually opposes (remember – “we are for a world without annexations and contributions”?) – imperialist aggression. The specter of the Union overshadowed their morals, beliefs, and common sense. However, illusions remained dreams, miracles did not happen, instead the standard of living fell, so we even had to raise the retirement age, and the euphoria of 2014 began to evaporate. A new dose of this false social doping lies today in Minsk, in the pocket of Alexander Lukashenko. I am sure that in the name of retaining power, Putin will spare no effort to snatch him from there. In particular – and through the corpse of its current owner.
There is a very contradictory situation with Belarus in general, when the only obstacle to the Anschluss is the figure of Lukashenko, “Europe’s last dictator” (I think at least the penultimate one, although the European Union now lacks quite colorful personalities). The Kremlin cynically allowed him to make all sorts of mistakes, quarrel with a large part of his own people (although he still has a fairly large support base of 30-40%), and provoke new mistakes – and thus tighten the noose. neck. Putin is absolutely not happy to be in the same state with the current politician Lukashenko – at most with a retired Lukashenko; so he does his best to remove a dangerous competitor from the scene. The task is to initiate the process of final unification (by which the Russian president means a very simple thing – the creation of a full-fledged leader of the united union state) by 2024, when Putin’s presidential term ends. However, if you do not manage to cope by then, it is not scary, because last year there was a “zero”, and these powers can be extended for another 12 years. And there, for goodness sake, the Belarusian chief himself will sail on the Svisloch River through Berezina to the Dnieper. They haven’t seen that in Ukraine… the Belarusian chief himself will sail on the river Svisloch through Berezina to the Dnieper. They haven’t seen that in Ukraine… the Belarusian chief himself will sail on the river Svisloch through Berezina to the Dnieper. They haven’t seen that in Ukraine…
The truth wins
And what about the West, you ask? I deliberately hardly mentioned him in this article. I think, at least for the next few years, as long as the Democratic Party is in power in the United States, Western policy will, without exception, disappoint everyone. On the one hand, pro-Western forces will constantly resent the passivity of busy Atlanticists, who will be much more concerned about China than Russia, and the lack of a history of success in Ukraine will force them to smile politely and prefer to spend money on other forms of charity, such as vaccines for poor Africans. countries. On the other hand, there are “pragmatists” who will call for forgetting human rights and approaching Russia with the same measure as China, and addressing business issues in the light of “originally Russian interests” in the post-Soviet space. will also be dissatisfied – hawks in the parliaments of the United States and European countries will be enough to block the easing of sanctions and the overall improvement of relations with the Kremlin. This is a completely stalemate that will indefinitely hold back Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO and the EU, while at the same time contributing to the arms race and economic losses for all parties and peoples without exception. What can Ukraine do to celebrate its anniversary in such a situation?
First, to prevent the annexation of Belarus by any possible means. To do this, it is necessary to restore relations with Lukashenko and, if possible, to take the role of mediator between the West and Belarus. This is what everyone needs now and what can bring real dividends and strengthen the security of Ukraine’s northern borders. Even if Anschluss is inevitable, at least you can buy yourself the extra time needed to strengthen the army and defense lines.
Second, remember that all dictators are afraid of the truth. Putin is particularly frightened by the violation of his television monopoly. Ukraine is constantly only defending itself in a hybrid war, trying to prevent the penetration of Russian dope into the territory of its country, but doing nothing to go on the offensive and become the voice of truth for the Russians. This is especially strange, because the media environment in Ukraine is of high quality and developed, and the head of state is a former media producer. Shoemaker, therefore, without boots! This needs to be corrected – to help Russian citizens get a different view of their leaders and their actions, to dispel the poison of propaganda.
Third, to become a country of economic success. Improving living standards, raising salaries, pensions, and developing Ukraine’s social sphere is Kosciuszko’s real needle for Putin. Given the number of kinship ties between Ukrainians and Russians, the positive outcome of the transformation will not be hidden. Even now, everyone who comes is paying attention to the scale of road construction (although Ukrainians themselves are much more skeptical about it). However, the main thing is jobs, production facilities inside the country, reversal of the flow of people abroad. It is much better to use the same international economic assistance, for example, for state guarantees for foreign investments in the establishment of enterprises in Ukraine. I have been living in Kyiv for over five years and I can say with confidence: despite all the difficulties, we will succeed – because justice always wins! Happy holiday!