Already, many observers are trying to understand what Ukraine will be like after the liberation of Donbas from Russian commandos and mercenaries. These worries are quite understandable–more than once in history, situations have occurred where a country, having defended its territorial integrity, ended up being a hostage to the territories it managed to keep. And Russia is perhaps the most striking example in recent years. At the time of the separation of Boris Yeltsin’s Russian Federation from the Soviet Union, the most problematic subjects for the young state became Tatarstan and Chechnya-Ingushetia.
Tatarstan did not even conduct the first-ever presidential elections of the RSFSR [Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic] and refused to sign the Federal Treaty–the Republic claimed the status of a union and did not want to be tied to Russia by any obligations of subordination. Russian leadership had to work extremely hard to reconcile with Tatarstan.
But as a result, Russia itself, which in the first years of Yeltsin’s rule was still trying to develop in a democratic direction, started to resemble the nomenclature-comprador Tatarstan–so that today it is rather Kazan’s Kremlin that seems more liberal than does Moscow’s.
But this is not because of Tatarstan. This is because of Chechnya. Russian leadership created the Chechen problem with its own hands, bringing to power the opposition led by General Dzokhar Dudayev, and agreeing to a division of the Chechen-Ingush Republic. Disagreements between Moscow and Grozny soon led to the proclamation of Chechnya’s independence and the beginning of war.
In order to withstand a far more powerful opponent, Dudayev turned Chechnya into a military fortress. This fortress could not resist the blows of the Russian army, which did not stop even at the destruction of Grozny and other cities in the small Caucasian republic. But as a result of this Pyrrhic victory, Russia itself now became a military fortress, which decisively renounced political modernization and economic reforms in favor of establishing an authoritarian regime following the Chechen example. And today, there are already very few differences between Putin and [head of the Chechen Republic] Kadyrov.
Why can’t this happen in Ukraine? It’s because Russia was faced with an internal conflict, to which it could not find an adequate response–except to essentially submit to the civilizational conditions [made by] the preserved territories. Whereas Ukraine is struggling against external aggression. And the purpose of this external aggression, by the way, is precisely the preservation of the past–that is, simply put, the Donetsk rules for nation-building and economic life.
As long ago as during [the presidency of] Leonid Kuchma, Donbas, having turned into a criminal-oligarchic region with a disenfranchised population, was the main problem of a country that was trying to change. But instead of encouraging changes in Donbas itself, Ukrainian elite essentially surrendered to the pressure of mafia, led by Viktor Yanukovych.
The slogan “everything will be Donbas” became the main idea for the preservation of the national unity of the country–[it’s] quite realistic in terms of implementing the Donetsk clan’s plunderous schemes. Yanukovych’s victory in the presidential elections became a symbol of the collapse of the Ukrainian state project and the triumph of “Donbas.” And both times, when the mafia was already triumphing in complete success–in 2004 and in 2013–they were stopped by the Ukrainian people.
The meaning of what is happening today in Donbas runs contrary to the Russian vector of development. At first Russia began to imitate Tatarstan, then–the Caucasus and, as a result, almost disappeared from the map of the civilized world as an independently thinking subject. Only major reforms or the collapse of Russian Federation will be able to remind us of Russia itself, which we have so far lost.
And Ukraine is fighting a war so that it itself does not become Donbas, and so that Donbas gets a chance for civilizational development in a democratic European country, so that its mafioso-criminal clans can no longer determine the future neither of the country itself, nor of the region.
To listen to Donbas doesn’t at all mean to give it a special status. Donbas already had a special status, as a testament of aggressive feudalism. To listen to Donbas means to make it a region like all the others.
This is, of course, not an easy task. For now, Ukraine not only depends on the wishes of its society, but also on the loyalty of its oligarchs–and these oligarchs may have very different ideas about the future of the country than its citizens. But here, again, the success of economic reforms is important, which should be carried out under close supervision by international financial institutions and, of course, by the European Union–Ukraine’s main creditor.
We need Europe to help to change Ukraine, and Ukraine to help to change Donbas. And then on the borders of Russia there will be an impressive example that will allow the population of the neighboring country to think about the development of a state with a human face.