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Does Ukraine hold the key to Russia’s future?

World Policy JournalThe MIT World Policy Journal is celebrating its 25th anniversary by making access to its Fall 2008 journal for free until the end of November.

The 25th anniversary issue looks ahead to the next 25 years and, in Russia’s Rotting Empire, Nina L Khrushcheva (yes – before you ask – she’s Nikita Kruschev’s great-granddaughter) has penned a look at Russia’s next quarter century.

It’s an interesting article overall, but there were two things I found particularly interesting.

First – Khrushcheva’s view that political change in Russia is cyclical:

“…periods of ‘remission’ (a retreat from total dictatorship) or reforms, and periods of ‘oppression’ or stability have alternated consistently in the last century…”

I do agree, but wonder – if we accept that Russia is in the early stages of a period of “oppression”, how deep will it go, and how long will it be before the next about turn that leads towards reform. Are we in for many more years of sliding towards authoritarianism and a strong Russian state, or will the more frantic pace of globalisation speed up the Russian political cycle?

The second point, which I found intriguing given the disdain with which many Russians view Ukraine (and the fact that Khrushchev was a Ukrainian), was Khrushcheva’s argument that Ukraine could hold the key to Russia’s future.

“Russians know that Ukrainians are the same as them, a people similar in their culture and mentality. If they have made their choice, why can’t we do the same? Thus, if Ukraine succeeds over the next 25 years, it may herald the political death of Putinism.

[…]The best way to help Russia today is to help Ukraine over the coming decades support its claim that it belongs within the European fold, among European institutions.”

Ukraine is at a bit of a cross roads at the moment, and seems like it could go either way. It is clearly an ideal target for both European / US and Russian foreign policy, and I’d imagine it’s going to be a hell of a cultural and political battleground in the coming years. But I have no idea what direction Ukraine will take.

What do you think? Who will come out on top in Ukraine? Will the next couple of years in Kiev set the tone for the next couple of decades in Moscow?



    Offhand and without fully checking, if I’m not mistaken, Nikita Khrushchev was an ethnic Russian from Ukraine. In his memoirs, I recall him noting how he was called a Russak by his Ukrainian colleagues. This happened around the time he served as CP General Secretary of Ukraine under Stalin.

    The characterization of how Russians view Ukrainians is IMO not accurate. Anti-Russian Ukrainians from western Ukraine (specifically Galicia) appear extremely more anti-Russian than the overall mood of how Russians view Ukrainians. Overall, Russians and Ukrainians get along just fine.

    Over the course of time, Nina Khrushcheva has said things which many mainstream Russians would consider as not taking into full consideration legitimate mainstream Russian views. Whether rightly or wrongly, people of a given ethnic group have been known to be overly critical of existing trends within their ethnic grouping. If I’m not mistaken, Gordon Hahn recently linked Nina K’s New School (in NYC) employer for having negatively unbalanced commentary about Russia ( ).

    Present day Ukraine has a number of not so democratic trends. Points which some downplay. Putin is more popular in Ukraine than Yushchenko’s popularity in Russia. Yushchenko’s recent timing in investigating Tymoshenko has the aspects attributed to a politically muted society. Yushchenko’s government has been linked to efforts that include muzzling Russian language/Russia friendly venues.

    Along with others, I subscribe to the view that the matter of political reform in the former USSR is an ongoing process of peaks and valleys. At this point, I don’t think it’s accurate to believe that the eventual outcome will be negative. In not so distant memory, Michael McFaul and Zbigniew Brzezinski have expressed the view that Russia will be fine in the long run. They’ve added that their concern relates to what happens in the next 20-50 years.

  • Ukraine is as much a key to Russia’s future, as Canada (for example) a key to the US future. Imagine, that Canada changed its orientation and became “pro-China” country. More specifically, all of Canada’s natural resources, notably its oil are being sold to China instead of the US. How would the US tolerate at its borders an ally of China?

    Dmittry Medvedev´s last blog post..Russian tanks T-80, T-90, and the "Black Eagle".

  • I’ve never understood the efforts of the Ukrainian government, or at least Presidency, to hold hands with the US. It makes no sense. Whilst I have no doubt that more than once since 1991 Moscow has had its sticky fingers meddling with internal Ukrainian politics, aligning themsleves with the Americans does not eliminate that problem, and, as we can see, the Yanks now havent an arse to their trousers. Russia on the other hand supplies Ukraine with energy which keeps the population from freezing and is surely their biggest trade partner and export market. One can understand Ukraine wanting to join the EU, but I cannot for the life of me see what military exercises with the US and threats to join NATO are actually doing for Ukraine as a country.

  • On the issue of outside inteference in Ukraine, Mark MacKinnon noted the Western NGO activity favoring Yushchenko in the last Ukrainian presidential election ( ). To many, the Russian reply didn’t appear as suave.

    In more recent times, Cheney visited Ukraine shortly after the Russian counterattack against last summer’s Georgian government strike on South Ossetia. In this instance, if Putin or Medvedev were substituted for Cheney, some would (no doubt) be commenting about aggressive Russian behavior.

    The thought that Ukraine can lead Russia in a positive direction is arguably not as likely as the reverse.

  • Michael–

    The characterization of how Ukrainians view Russians is IMO not accurate. Anti-Ukrainian Russians from southern Ukraine (specifically Crimea) appear extremely more anti-Ukrainian than the overall mood of how Ukrainians view Russians. Overall, Russians and Ukrainians get along just fine.

    Present day Russia has a number of not so democratic trends. Points which some downplay. Putin’s government has been linked to efforts that include muzzling Ukrainian language/Ukrainian friendly venues.

  • ”The thought that Ukraine can lead Russia in a positive direction is arguably not as likely as the reverse.”

    This is true actually. The opposite is like saying Ireland can lead Britain places. Total nonsense. It is a great pity that the two countries dont get on so well now though, much like Ireland and Britain did for years after 1921. I suppose newly independent countries feel like they need to find their own way, but of course long term Ukraine has to return to Russia’s side, much like Ireland did with Britain. The problem is Yushenko’s determination to do as he likes costs ordinary Ukrainians dear, in terms of higher heating bills which adds to the poverty factor.

    “Overall, Russians and Ukrainians get along just fine.”

    They certainly seem to, although Russians do make a lot of jokes about them. For example whenever I have asked Russians what the Ukrainian language is like, they say its like ”Russian with bad grammar”. I think much of the banter is good natured though.

  • Yushchenko’s popularity is well below that of his two many rivals. The latter two have expressed different approaches to Russian issues.

    If Ukraine truly reflects the democratic will of the people, than there’s reason to believe that some of Yushchenko’s stances will (in the long run) lose out.

    Overall, Russians and Ukrainians are more closely related than the British and Irish.

    There’s good natured trash talking among Russians and Ukrainians. There’re also some vulgar aspects. This includes a view expressing the thought of drowning the Muscovites in the blood of the Jews. Fortunately, vulgar thoughts like the last one are in the minority.

  • ”Overall, Russians and Ukrainians are more closely related than the British and Irish. ”

    This is true but not really important. Both Ukraine and Ireland were for many years dominated by what the majority of both populations consider a foreign power, and a much bigger power at that. I suppose if one considers things like race then certainly they are closer, but I think the minute one mentions blood everything becomes blurred and very messy. The majority of people in Ukraine want to remain independent of Russia, is it not true? It is simply in Ukraine’s economic interest to remain tfriends with Russia. A less belligerent Ukraine would probably not now be facing court action for a 2.5 billion dollar debt to Gazprom.. Yushenko has been pretty dumb in his dealings with Russia.

  • Russia and Ukraine recognize each other as independent states.

    In both countries there’s sympathy to bring the two closer together.

    Ukraine has a noticeable regional division on this matter. If I’m not mistaken, a similar regional differentiation is evident in Scotland vis-a-vis English dominated Britain.

    I know my share of Ukrainians who don’t look at Russia in the same way that a good number of Irish seem to view English dominated Britain or how many Poles see Russia.

    In this sense, I think that the Scot-English relationship is a closer comparison to Russia-Ukraine than Ireland-English dominated Britian.

    The ethnic/linguistic/religious aspect was mentioned because it can serve as a way of making people feel closer to each other. After the Russian Revolution, many Russian refugees felt comfortable migrating to Bulgaria and Serbia. On the other hand, a good number of others went to a more culturally different France.

  • To further elaborate from the prior post, the Scots appear to be generally closer to the English than the Irish.

    I see the Irish-British relationship more akin to Russia-Poland with a noticeable exception. Ireland never came close to doing to Britain what Poland did to the descendants of Kievan Rus (the latter included such areas as Novgorod and Muscovy (Prince Oleg moved the capital from Novgorod to Kiev in the late 9th century).

    In the US, it’s not uncommon to see people with origins in Ukraine (and ko and uk ending surnames) observing the Orthodox faith in ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) churches.

    All this is mentioned because often there ssems to be an emphasis to downplay the centuries of common togetherness among the Russians and Ukrainians. BTW, the recognized head (recently deceased) of the ROCOR was a Carpatho-Rusyn.

  • “but I cannot for the life of me see what military exercises with the US and threats to join NATO are actually doing for Ukraine as a country.”

    It brings in support from the Ukrainian Diaspora in the US and Canada, almost all of whom are from extreme Western Ukraine.

  • “Present day Russia has a number of not so democratic trends. Points which some downplay. Putin’s government has been linked to efforts that include muzzling Ukrainian language/Ukrainian friendly venues.”


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    Michael Bulgakov. «The dog heart»

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