Internal comments: This is a comment. The commentary expresses the writer’s attitude.
The frames are the worst imaginable. More than 100,000 Russian soldiers are marching on the border with Ukraine, and the United States says an invasion could come at any time. Russia has given the West a deadline to respond to its demands for security guarantees, which means that Ukraine will not join NATO, and that NATO will withdraw troops near their border. Tomorrow, there is another meeting between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva. The intention is to give diplomacy another chance, before any war becomes a continuation of politics, by other means, as the war historian Clausewitz wrote. How could it go like that?
When Ukraine was born as a state 30 years ago, there was hardly anyone who would acknowledge the child’s existence. Its mother, the Soviet Union, had just died, the last thing she did was bring a number of new countries – including Ukraine – into the world. No paternity case was relevant – there were no real candidates. And the child – well – it was confused about both its own existence and justification for existence, and not least about where it belonged. Ukraine was a state, with all the international law rights and obligations it entails. But there was no nation with a unanimous idea of what it meant to be Ukrainian.
Russian was a lot more widespread language than Ukrainian, and while in the eastern counties of Donetsk and Lugansk there were as many people who defined themselves as ethnic Russians as those who defined themselves as Ukrainians, there were far more who defined themselves as Russians than as Ukrainians in Crimea. peninsula. In the east, people leaned against Russia for historical, cultural, religious, economic and political reasons.
In the west, people connected their future hopes for Europe. The historically strong Ukrainian nationalism was a western Ukrainian phenomenon. And in the west, Poland and the EU were gradually set as their role models. When Ukraine was born, it was about as poor as neighboring Poland. But while Poland in the EU experienced an adventurous economic growth, the opposite was the case for Ukraine, where the economy sank like a rock for many years. In 1990, Poland’s GDP was 33 percent of the EU average. Now it is around 70 percent. That is why – among other things – the Ukrainians in the west look to Poland.
Ukraine was and is a deeply divided country. Election of leaders revealed the systematic schizophrenia. The presidents were elected in largely regular elections. But either the presidents had very strong support in the west, and correspondingly weak in the east, or vice versa. And in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, with the support of the East, unleashed the first modern revolution in falsifying the election. But only six years later, the electoral cheater was back, this time winning a fair election. So consistent were the Ukrainians in their political preferences, so far removed from a unifying national idea was the Ukrainian nation-building process. So great was the distance between the state and the nation Ukraine.
The distance was so great that but with a certain right can say that Ukraine’s foremost modern nation-builder is the Russian President Vladimir Putin. His annexation of Crimea, and support for the war in eastern Ukraine have more than anything else united the Ukrainians around at least one national identity, the defense of the fatherland.
Now Putin is a matter of course also a Russian nation-builder. But only to a certain extent. He consolidated the state in the 2000s, when it was in danger of disintegrating. But since then he has built a state on rigid clay feet, where as much political control as possible is more important than economic growth and flexibility. The need for the brutal repression of the opposition tells of a nation that is far from in harmony with itself. Putin is a nation-builder where whips and cops have become more important than the economic carrots he could previously tempt with. There is no recipe for the stability he seeks. But in the long run a threat to the system he is building.
Ever since Katarina the great conquest of “New Russia” – Crimea and Ukraine east of the Dnieper River – at the end of the 18th century, control of Ukraine defined Russia as a great power. Without this control, Russia would have been a European province. But there is more than geopolitics here. For Ukraine, it is the culturally close neighbors – yes, the fraternal people – who can choose a path other than Putin’s constantly autocratic path. Yes, Ukraine has chosen, and chosen away Russia, helped by Putin himself. It is also a threat to Putin, who has a democratic dimension, while letting the tide of war sweep across Europe.