By Vitaly Portnikov
Translated by Ivan Pakhotin and edited by Voices of Ukraine
As Ukraine gained independence, the Russian myth of imminently rebuilding the former Soviet empire got buried.
In Tel Aviv on May 14, 1948 the first head of government of the Jewish nation, David Ben-Gurion, declared the independence of Israel.
Contemporaries remember how enthusiastically the news was received by the new residents of the ancient land: the celebrations began immediately after the speech and continued until dawn. The only one not celebrating was Ben Gurion himself: one of the most prominent politicians of that time, he completely understood that the declaration of the independence of Israel was simultaneously a declaration of war.
The appearance of the Jewish nation radically changed the balance of power in the Middle East. It became a fait accompli for Arab countries that did not want to accept the very possibility of such statehood, and puzzled the world’s leading players. And these players could not not intervene – after Ben Gurion’s speech they were left with no choice other than to try and change the situation by force.
I do not know the mood in which the new authorities in Ukraine spent the night after Yanukovych’s flight from Kyiv; nor whether they understood that the decisions adopted by the Verhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament] were simultaneously a declaration of war. Of course, understanding the consequences of the victory of Maidan and the collapse of the Yanukovych regime was harder than the consequences of Israel’s declaration of independence. Because from a formal point of view, there was simply a change of power in the country. But in fact what really happened was the banal announcement of actual independence – essentially this.
The Ukrainians themselves could take their country to be independent from as early as August 1991. But to neighboring Russia, Ukraine remained simply another allied republic, which sooner or later would return not only to the sphere of influence, but into the common state structures associated with the former metropolis. Most importantly, Ukraine was also perceived in the West to be under the Russian sphere of influence. After all, Ukraine is a country where elections are invariably won by Russian-oriented politicians and forces, with Russian language and post-Soviet rules of the game on the economy. Western hopes that in 2004 [the Orange Revolution] the situation would change (as well as Russian fears that Ukraine was leaving her sphere of influence) turned out to be just a reformatting of the rules of the game of corruption in the presence of the waiting Yanukovych. And just when it seemed that all of Ukraine’s European illusions were finally laid to rest, when it seemed as though only a few steps remained until Russian integration and the Ukrainian president would begin to live in the world of Vladimir Putin’s orders, Maidan happened.
Vladimir Putin’s claims to Ukraine, if we note the two words the Russian president spoke, are – total betrayal! First, betrayal with the fall of the Soviet Union – Moscow sincerely believed that after August 1991 the allied republics were not going anywhere, but would build a new state, only this time with Boris Yeltsin at the helm. Then, betrayal with the Commonwealth of Independent States – for Moscow, it was a means of recreating the new unified nation, but for Kyiv – it was a tool for divorce. After that – betrayal of the Eurasian economic space: the weakened Kuchma was persuaded to sign a joint document, but the “Orange Revolution” put an end to those plans.
And now, this new betrayal, the greatest, indicating that Ukraine could not be used for imperial triumph – Maidan. In this sense Maidan is an even more dangerous betrayal than all that went before it, because it leaves no more hope that Ukrainians can be retained in the Russian sphere of influence. It was so un-Soviet, so effectively demonstrated that society is stronger than politicians; that politics is not at all just about “ripping off suckers.”
The paradox in the perception of Ukraine as complete betrayal for the Russian leadership is that the Kremlin is certain: it is all about the West, or to put it simply, the Americans. All in this world is orchestrated by the White House – from Ukraine leaving the Soviet Union to Maidan of 2013-2014. And the goal is obvious: to weaken Russia. Meanwhile, the United States (in the real world, not in the inflamed imagination of the Kremlin) are more about responding to challenges than about generating situations. This is exactly why Washington, which doesn’t live in the world of conspiracy theories, can look much more slow and cautious than Moscow, which is by definition mobilised for war with “conspirators.”
After Yanukovich fled, the Kremlin came to the conclusion that the worst possible thing happened – formally independent Ukraine finally became actually independent and now can move in any direction. The myth of the imminent rebuilding of the empire, which lived in the Russian political consciousness since August 24, 1991, collapsed, and there are no other options other than military force left for the Kremlin now to recreate, if not the Soviet Union, then at least the myth of it. Just a few days afterwards, Russian aggressors began to operate in Crimea, then began the destabilisation in the south-east, informational provocations and a confrontation with the Western world.
Thus Ukraine became Israel. An Israel on the Dniepr.