The Russian Question

Russian perception and support for Ukraine’s Protests:

Of course, the Atlantic isn’t completely biased. They’re going to support the US government and portray the Putin regime as illegitimate. I agree the Putin regime is a kleptocracy, but they do enjoy majority support among Russians.


The dangerous fantasy is the Russian idea that Ukraine is not really a different country, but rather a kind of slavic younger brother. This is a legacy of the late Soviet Union and the russification policies of the 1970s. It has no actual historical basis: east slavic statehood arose in what is now Ukraine and was copied in Moscow, and the early Russian Empire was itself highly dependent upon educated inhabitants of Ukraine.

The politics of memory of course have little to do with the facts of history. Putin unsurprisingly finds it convenient to ignore Russia’s actual regional rival, China, and play upon a Russian sense of superiority in eastern Europe by linking Kiev to Moscow. . . . If Ukraine can be a democracy, then why can’t Russia? If Ukraine can have mass protests, then why can’t Russia? If Ukraine can be European, then why can’t Russia?

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Russian television is informing those who still watch it that the Ukrainian protests are the work of operators paid by Sweden, Poland, and Lithuania. The worrying thing about this sort of claim is that it establishes a pretext for “further” intervention. If the West is already “present,” then there’s every reason for Russia to be as well. If Yanukovych decides to declare martial law he will almost certainly fail to control the country. The riot police of Berkut can be counted on to beat protesters a few more times, but the behavior of the regular police, and the Ukrainian army, is far less predictable. Some reports have already indicated that policemen have supported the protesters, at least in the western part of the country. If Yanukovych tries force and fails, then Putin might claim that Russian military intervention is needed to restore order.

This would be the worst of all possible outcomes—for Ukraine of course, but perhaps above all for Russia. The absorption of Ukrainian lands by the USSR involved almost unbelievable levels of violence over the course of decades. Another Russian armed adventure in Ukraine now would likely fail, for all kinds of reasons. Russian soldiers cannot have much stomach for invading a land whose people speak their mother tongue and who, they are told, are brother slavs. Ukraine, for all of its visible political divisions, is a single country with a big army whose people generally believe in sovereignty.”