Is kindness weakness? Shortcomings of Russian policy in Post-Soviet space

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In one of the interviews to the Kiev publication “Glavkom. Ua” in 2013, I drew attention to the following pattern for characterizing American and Russian politics in the post-Soviet space. The United States controls the so-called elite, this term means not only the ruling establishment, but broader circles related to the middle and even lower layers of the ruling party and counter-elite circles. Example? The organization of training programs for the functionaries of the Party of Regions (which came to power under pro-Russian slogans and relying on the Russian-cultural electorate of the Southeast of Ukraine of that time), the organization of programs by the trip of party functionaries in the United States etc.

In parallel, major centers of international security and Euro-Atlantic cooperation continued to operate in large cities, created with the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, commonly referred to as the NATO Centers. In 2005, immediately after the victory of the “Orange Revolution”, three such centers were created in the regions of the South-East of Ukraine – in Kharkov, Odessa and Donetsk.

The NATO Center in Donetsk National University continued its work after the victory of Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential elections in Ukraine (2010) and the Party of Regions in the parliamentary elections (2012). Despite the fact that the programs of the presidential candidate and the party emphasize the non-aligned status of Ukraine – the activities of the “NATO centers” made it possible not only to popularize the largest military-political alliance in history, which was responsible for the destruction of entire countries (Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, etc.), but also to attract supporters among talented youth, the future ruling elite of the country. “NATO Centers” is just one of many tools for the work of the United States and the EU in the post-Soviet space.

And what did Russia do? In the interview with Glavkom “I said: the West is feeding the elite, Russia is helping the people. The example of Ukraine (and Armenia too) confirms this statement. Russia provided energy at reduced prices, opened its markets for Ukrainian (and Armenian) exports. Finally, Russia provided an opportunity for labor migration from these countries. According to some approximate data, a third of Armenia’s 3 million population works in Russia. Ukraine and Armenia are not the only ones. The total direct and indirect assistance of Russia to the Belarusian economy is estimated by independent experts at about $ 200 billion. Is this not the explanation of the “Belarusian economic miracle” that the president of Belarus, A. Lukashenko, so likes to flaunt, “forgetting” to mention Russia’s help?

In the interview, I expressed the opinion that the methodology of Russia is more humane and honest, the US methodology is more effective. Ultimately, the opinions of the elites win. Manipulation of the public consciousness turn the feeling of gratitude into dust. For example, in the pre-revolutionary (that is, before the victory of the “revolution of dignity”) in Ukraine, a significant part of the population of the country experienced a complex range of negative feelings – from rejection to irrational hatred – of Russia. Despite the fact that it was Russia that supported a relatively high level of social and economic development of Ukraine. To a lesser extent, this can be attributed to Belarus, first of all, to the ruling establishment of the country.

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The USA and the EU, which did not render any assistance to Ukraine, on the contrary, were perceived by elite circles and broad masses (especially in the western regions of the country, in the capital and large cities) as sincere friends of Ukraine. The results of the purposeful and systematic work of Western nongovernmental centers among elite circles (politicians, editors and journalists of the media, students, etc.) are evident on the psychology of the masses. Russia at that time did not create an attractive image and was perceived in the world (and perceived itself!) as a junior partner and even a branch of the West. Alas, it was so. Russia wasted a lot of money in vain: helping the people (Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia …), it received no thanks of the elites. It was even on the contrary, met with contempt on their part. Most clearly this was reflected in the “multi-vector policy” of the second president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma: lean to the West, receiving help from the East (Russia). Now this formula is successfully implemented by the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.

The events in Ukraine in 2013-2014 for the first time made the Russian elite seriously think about the conceptual mistakes of Russia’s policy in the post-Soviet space. (However, these errors were also suffered by the Russian Empire: after entering the bloody war with the Turks to save the Bulgarians, we allowed the accession of the king from the German house of Battenberg to the throne of Bulgaria. As a result: in both world wars, Bulgaria fought against Russia on the side of Germany. The allied behavior of President Lukashenko further strengthened them in the fallacy of the course. Obviously, it is necessary to “monetize” Russian aid to the people, in some part of a healthy national egoism.

Russian national character is disgusted by the formula voiced by British Prime Minister Palmerston: “Britain has no permanent allies, it has permanent interests.” But still a serious adjustment towards pragmatism is necessary. Perhaps the events in Armenia will serve as a tool of correcting the model of Russian foreign policy.

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort  Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 

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