Sunday, August 16, 2009

Russia-Ukraine compared to US-Britain

The above article was posted by Paul Goble on his Website, Window on Eurasia, on 8-15-09. It is entitled “Ukraine is Ukraine;’ for Russians, ‘Russia is Russia Plus Ukraine,’ Radzikhovsky Says.” I’ll quote from the article and comment below.

“. . . 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 (”

“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.”

“Russia is not able to formulate its REAL pretensions toward Ukraine . . . 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.’

“. . . the situation in the Ukraine is very different. . . 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. . . .”

“. . . the 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. . . [T]alk of that kind could have “AN ENORMOUSLY POSITIVE MEANING” if it were directed to dealing with “the various forms of separatism ‘INSIDE RUSSIA’ but if such discussions among Russians remain focused on Ukraine, not only will the Russians further alienate the Ukrainians . . . 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.”


While reading of this Russian angst, I thought of Samuel P. Huntington’s discussions of “core states.” That is, I mentally fit, or tried to fit, the Russia here being described into Huntington’s thesis. Huntington listed the several “civilizations,” and then spoke of their “core states.” Russia is described as the Core State of the “Orthodox Civilization.” The various nations of a civilization will look to its Core State in times of emergency, much as Serbia looked to Russia prior to World War I and again in their more recent conflicts. The Core State has strong ties to the other states in its civilization. Requests for aid in time of trouble are taken seriously.

We have seen the same thing in regard to the Western Civilization. Huntington describes the US as being the Core State for the Western Civilization. We have seen that the US did come to Britain’s aid in both world wars, and without going into all the ramifications of Huntington’s theory (but largely accepting its validity) the comparison of the Russian-Ukrainian relationship (as described by Radzikhovsky) with the US-British relationship is provocative.

Radzikhovsky describes Russia as an unrequited lover. Ukraine dallies with this love, counts on it but doesn’t return it. Russia is jealous of the Ukraine’s interest in the EU, and this jealousy alienates the Ukraine.

The feelings the US has for Britain would not inspire many to use the metaphor of a lover to describe he US. Britain for much of America’s existence was the Western core state. After World War II Britain no longer had the economy or the will to continue in that capacity and consciously handed off that baton to the US. Britain has ever since been looking over America’s shoulder as a grand master in chess might look over the shoulder of his protégé. This is the metaphor I would use for the US-British relationship: a protégé who has grown beyond the abilities of his master; while the master has his doubts.


When I described Huntington’s thesis as having validity, I mean that it is a useful tool for describing the world as it exists today. Huntington himself made no claim to his thesis being valid for all time. He was sure world history would evolve and one day render his thesis obsolete, but for now it has much to recommend it – at least in regard to the Orthodox and Western Civilizations. One of my reservations (in regard to the future) has been about whether distance must remain between the Orthodox and Western Civilizations. I have the same reservation about the Latin American and Western Civilizations.

The Latin American like the Islamic Civilization has no Core State at the present time. Huntington thought Core States would eventually arise. Perhaps Brazil will become the Latin American Core State, but its language may represent a problem. This is true in an even greater degree in regard to the possibility of Iran becoming the Islamic Core State.

We are on firmer ground when we consider just the Orthodox and Western Civilizations, but in both cases we see trends that are directing power away from their cores. In the case of the Western, it isn’t just Britain who thinks it is a Master. France fancies itself even more of a master, and it doesn’t count the US as its protégé. It has been attempting to engineer the EU into an alternative to the US as the Core State. That effort hasn’t gone terribly well. To make the EU entity comparable to the US, it needs to have centralized power. But individual members of the EU aren’t willing to sacrifice their independence to this French dream. Thus the EU may remain a “convenient agreement among independent states” rather than the equivalent of a Core State; which would seem to make it possible for Ukraine to join it without interfering with its relationship with Russia . . . except, referring back to Radzikhovsky’s metaphor, one is inclined to think of Ukraine as “two-timing” its jealous-lover Russia. . . cut to the Hollywood movie where the cold-hearted beauty tells her jealous lover, “I never committed to you. I’ll see whoever I like and you can’t stop me.” If Hollywood intends a romance, then the jealous lover will be downcast and depressed but long-suffering. But the same scene could be played in a murder mystery, in which case the next scene would show a detective coming into the room and finding the murdered beauty lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

While elements of Western Civilization may one day challenge the US as Core State, the situation in the Orthodox Civilization is different. No Orthodox nation is likely to challenge Russia as Core State. Russia has a different problem. It is on the way to impoverishing itself as it strives to retain close relationships with other states in the Orthodox civilization (especially Georgia and Ukraine). And beyond that, it continues to hope for a close relationship with nations that may have been part of the Russian empire and the USSR but aren’t rightly members of the Orthodox Civilization. Radhzikovsky says Russia doesn’t need them to feel whole, but I wonder how many Russians would agree with him. I am thinking here of Muslim nations inside of the Russian Federation or in the Near Abroad nations. If Huntington is right, these Muslim nations will continue to be sources of conflict (and expense) for Russia.

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