22 October 2016

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OpinionBanishing illusions

Russia really loves talking about how the vile State Department has spent $5 billion on messing with the minds of Ukrainians and, as a result, organized the Maidan uprising with more “carrot” from Victoria Nuland. Masterminds of Russian TV panel shows and internet fairytales, as well as their army of trolls, seem distressed: Where was Russia all this time?! They go on to subject to merciless criticism the former Russian ambassadors to Ukraine – (the late) Viktor Chernomyrdin and Mikhail Zurabov, the one who completed his diplomatic mission. They say, the ambassadors "slept through" what was happening in Ukraine. But have any diplomats or foreign ministries ever determined the essence of Russian-Ukrainian relations?! This issue has always been and remains the prerogative of presidents and their administrations. So, it was personally the Russian president who has always determined and now determines Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine, while the ambassador is just a senior courier.

The Russian leadership began to push Ukraine away, toward the West, long before the revolutionary events of 2013-2014

If we look closely, the Russian leadership began to push Ukraine away, toward the West, long before the revolutionary events of 2013-2014 – which actually were the result of the Russian policies – economic policies, in the first place.

After all, the majority of Ukrainians, many of whom had watched freely the Russian TV channels and even went on seasonal work to Russia, started nesting negative attitudes toward Russia not because of the issues of national identity and cultural expansion but rather because of the so-called gas wars of 2005, which have grown into a decade of trade wars, migration wars...

While France and Germany, along with several other states, decided at the time to create the European Coal and Steel Union (later to become the European Union) because maximum production cooperation would help secure the continent from wars, the Russian principle of the Union is “pressing and conquering”.

It is only at first glance was global cooperation between Russia and Ukraine folded just two years ago, after the seizure of Crimea. In fact, over the last 15 years, Moscow has steadily been moving toward excluding Ukraine from all cooperative ties. The reasons are different, including the competition on the world markets. Joint projects have always been aligned with some sort of political concessions. Moscow would always tell Kyiv: first goes the Customs Union, and then – everything else. Or: first sell your strategic companies to us, and then, maybe, someday, we will place Russian orders there.

It is not surprising that over the four years of the rule of the "pro-Russian" Viktor Yanukovych, not a single large joint Ukrainian-Russian project was launched: neither in ship construction, nor in the production of aircraft, nor in the completion of power units at NPPs... There were only ritual dances around the “pipe” and the gas price. And there was also a lot of empty talk about all these joint projects. Remember, there was that Putin's proposal to create a holding for joint work in the nuclear field? It has long been forgotten. And the list of unfulfilled plans is too long. But what do we have in practice? For example, the Ukrainian port and shipyard city of Mykolayiv was the "zone of Russian interests" and "our land" in Moscow dialogues. In practice, the Russians gave their ship construction contracts to the French companies (by the way, Russia never saw its Mistrals). And this is just one of the many stories about how the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine were offered to love Russia unconditionally, and most importantly – for free. But when it came to working together – “we’re making money separately”...

Partly, this trade-economic policy of Russia encouraged Yanukovych to actively promote the idea of European integration – as a means of survival for the Ukrainian business. Then, when the Kremlin realized that it might have gone too far and decided to put pressure on Yanukovych, it was already too late. Ukrainians have by that time believed in the European dream.

Another issue worth mentioning causes cognitive dissonance. Russian authorities have publicly declared their intention to help all residents of the former Soviet republics, nostalgic for the USSR, reintegrate and shelter them across its vast lands. Resettlement programs even offered to all adepts of the Russian world from the non-Russian countries to improve the demographic situation in sparsely-populated regions of Russia like Mordovia and Yakutia. But what actually happened was that Russia in recent years, starting from 2010, was steadily introducing tougher immigration rules, multiplying obstacles for migrant workers, including those from Ukraine. Today, these restrictions are still applied to the Ukrainian citizens, while the only exceptions are made for the occupied Donbas and Crimea. Needless to say that many Ukrainian guest workers, who have experienced the exile from "Center of the Russian world", chose to lay their hopes on the specter of a visa-free regime with the EU.

The level of economic cooperation between Russia and Ukraine is nearing zero. Ukrainians have already paid their price for breaking up with the Russian market

Today, the level of economic cooperation between Russia and Ukraine is nearing zero. Ukrainians have already paid their price for breaking up with the Russian market. Can you imagine, how strong a pro-Russian lobby could be, say, in Mykolayiv, had its shipyards won a EUR 1 bln contract?

These are some of the obvious things Russia prefers to ignore. In the best case, Russia appeals to the fact that "we will at least have promised something nicely, while the EU isn’t actually promising anything." At the same time, the pan-Russian spiritual dignity prevents Russia from assuming that it is not an example to follow by its neighbors, in terms of living standards, social comfort, and rights and freedoms. It is contrary to the popular concept of "getting up off their knees".

From this whole story with the Russian-Ukrainian “friendship”, based on the mix of corruption of senior officials of the two states, imperialist phantom pain of the "big brother" and Ukraine-centrism (after all, we must admit - many of us were happy being friends with Russia, while in return they got a relatively cheap gas and an opportunity to travel to Moscow to work on construction sites) one very important conclusion should be made, which the Ukrainians seem not to have grasped yet.

By the 25th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence, having lost (temporarily, of course), 7% of its territory, the Ukrainians are finally starting to realize that in a modern world, there are no friends and, especially, "brothers", while international law operates in favor of the strong, those who can stand up for themselves. And it is very important not to feed on illusions about Western partners - their interests will not always coincide with those of Ukraine, and, ultimately, no one will take care of us but ourselves.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

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