Staunton, February 6 – Like many countries, the Russian Federation suffers from many regional and ethnic tensions, any one of which could become a Donbas if an outside power provided it with assistance, a reality that both Moscow and many in the West appear to have forgotten, according to Ukrainian commentator Pavel Kazarin.
In a note for Haqqin.az, Kazarin points out that few regional or ethnic divisions explode into violence unless they have outside sponsorship, such as Vladimir Putin has been providing for small groups in Donetsk and Lugansk and that if such sponsorship ends, these conflicts generally are resolved politically rather than militarily.
Russians “love to say” that the conflict in the Donbas is “only a civil war” and that “various regions” in Ukraine could easily follow in its footsteps. But they are less willing to recognize that “it turns out that exactly such ‘a Donbas’ could be created somewhere around [the Russian regions of] Penza or Novgorod,” if they got the same kind of support Putin is giving to Donbas.
Kazarin begins his analysis by pointing out that “no ‘south east’ exists” in Ukraine. What pro-Moscow groups are referring to are “only several regions of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces,” a small number of urban agglomerations surrounded by agricultural areas which have “not fallen under the influence of the separatists.”
Nor have separatist sentiments and actions spread to other parts of Ukraine, despite the predictions of many in Moscow, the Ukrainian analyst points out. “Kharkiv and Mykolayev, Odessa, Zaparozhe, and Kherson: all these territories continue to peacefully exist within Ukraine.”
The portion of the Donbas that has exploded has done so not so much because of conditions there but because of the introduction of an outside spark and the continuing support of an outside power. Indeed, Kazarin continues, the best evidence of that is to be found in the statements of people like Igor Strelkov.
In an interview to Zavtra, Strelkov, one-time supreme commander of the Donetsk Peoples Republic army, explicitly said that “if it had not been for his interference, then Donbas all in the Donbas would have been peaceful just as in Kharkiv or Odessa.”
Obviously, Strelkov feels that his contribution has not been adequately appreciated, but his words call into question and “de-sacralize” the myth that the Kremlin has promoted throughout the last year, the myth that the Donbas was ready to rise and would have done so regardless of what anyone else did.
After Strelkov’s interview, Kremlin propagandists went into action to try to contain the fallout, Kazarin says. “They began to say that yes, Strelkov and his detachment threw in the match, but there would not have been a fire if the region had not been ready to burn as a result of its [internal] contradictions.”
“This is nonsense,” Kazarin says, “because such ‘contradictions’ exist in the most varied regions of the world but they become military conflicts only if there is some act of pitiless will.” Consider Belgium, or Quebec, or Catalonia. All have regional interests, even secessionist ones, but in none of these have such attitudes led to military actions.
“More than that,” he continues, using the Kremlin’s logic, it would be “possible to organize a war in any Russian region. For example, in Penza. Or in Vladivostok. Or in Saransk.” Using that logic, then it is clear that “any region of the Russian Federation is condemned to war with the federal center.”
More than almost any other country, Russia has multiple and serious inter-regional and inter-ethnic problems. There are conflicts between donor regions and recipient ones, between the rich and the poor, between the corrupt neo-feudal system and the increasingly impoverished population. And using the Kremlin’s logic, all that is needed for a conflagration is a match!
There is even evidence for this: the actions of the Primorsky territory “partisans” who accused the Russian interior ministry of illegality and sought to oppose it. They were eventually caught and imprisoned, but polls showed that almost as many Russians viewed them as battlers against corruption as criminals and more than one in five expressed sympathy with them.
Such figures suggest, Kazarin continues, that “any Russian region could be transformed into a Donbas. It is sufficient,” he suggests, “to choose a region and send to it one’s own ‘Igor strelkov’” and then wait for an explosion.
There are of course some superficial differences between Ukraine and Russia. In Ukraine, these outside forces “exploited the theme of regional and worldview distinctions,” while in Russia, one would need to exploit “protests against the stratification of society, social divisions, and the theme of post-Soviet nostalgia.”
But the point is this: all suggestions by Moscow or others that “’if there hadn’t been Strelkov, there would have been someone else who would have thrown the match’ are false. There are contradictions in any society. But they are less like gasoline than like TNT” and the latter needs a detonator if it is to explode.
And that reality calls attention to what is after all the major difference between Russia and Ukraine: “Ukraine has not exported instability to Russia. But Russia very much has to Ukraine.”