Staunton, November 25 – The Russian-Ukrainian war now going on could have begun in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. The fact that it didn’t says a great deal about the attitudes of Russian political leaders then and how much they have changed in the intervening period, according to Yevgeny Ikhlov.
In a post on Kasparov.ru, the Moscow commentator says that when the USSR disintegrated, Russia’s “democratic movement of liberal cosmopolitans” had the upper hand over Russian “anti-communist nationalists,” which opened the way for the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR to “’split’ along republic borders.”
Had the balance of forces in Russia been different, he argues, there likely would have been battled between ethnic Russian and ethnic Ukrainian groups in Crimea and the Donbas of much the same kind that took place at that time in Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transnistria.
And had that been the case, “there would not have been any liberal anti-war movement in Russia because who would protest against the striving of ethnic Russians of the southeastern oblasts of the former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to enter the Russia of Yeltsin and Gaidar?!”
Instead, in that event, it would have been more likely that “a Ukrainian liberal anti-war movement” would have emerged, a movement like Russian ones against the war in Chechnya and with the same ideas: “stop trying to force Russians to live in the same country” because “too much blood is being spilled.”
According to Ikhlov, “a Russian-Ukrainian war” after the end of the Soviet Union “was inevitable, either in 1991–1992 or 22–23 years later.” But had it appeared earlier, there would have emerged “a powerful liberal-nationalist pan-Russian movement” in Russia and “a pacifist-cosmopolitan movement” opposed to fighting would have emerged in Ukraine.
And had that been the case, this “liberal-nationalist” Russian movement would have viewed with equanimity the independence of the Chechens, seeing that as a logical sorting out of the consequences of Soviet ethno-territorial arrangements that would be part of the same pattern that allowed Crimea and Novorossiya “(up to Odessa)” to become part of Russia.
Of course, that is not what happened, but it raises the interesting question as to why in the Russia of 1991 “the liberal cosmopolitans” dominated the “national liberals,” in contrast to what occurred in Serbia, to give just one example. According to Ikhlov, it happened because Russians lacked “a clearly expressed national self-consciousness” and thus relied on an imperial one.
Within that imperial self-consciousness was a liberal trend which held that “all the peoples of the former USSR” were in a similar position and that in order to avoid conflicts, “it would be simpler to break apart along existing borders.” Given that Russian liberals are “statists to the core,” he argues, they accepted this version of a Westphalian world in which the faith or in this case the ethnicity of the ruler was accepted as properly that of the people on his territory.