Confrontation with West over Ukraine Creating ‘New Russian Society,’ Kashin Says

April 18, 2014
Baptism of Rus by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1896.

Staunton, April 18 – As has happened so often in Russian history, the current confrontation with the West over Ukraine is “forming a new Russian society” and the only question is whether Russia will use the near term to modernize not in order to please the West but to “more effectively defend its interests” against the US, according to Vasily Kashin.

Writing in Vedomosti yesterday before the Geneva accords were announced, Kashin, an expert at the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, notes that “the most successful reform in Russian history, the adoption of Christianity,” was preceded by “a war with Byzantium”.

While most analysts have focused on the ways in which Ukrainian events are affecting Russia’s standing in the world, Kashin argues that it is even more important to understand how they are “changing Russian society,” the risks that what is taking place in Ukraine could become “a tragedy,” and the possibilities that the crisis could give Russia a new “chance.”

He argues that the usual ways of evaluating the situation in Ukraine fail to capture what he suggests is its most important consequence: the conclusion of most Russians that this is a clear case of “us” against “them” and that the “them” in this case is important enough to make them feel important as well.

That was not the case initially, Kashin continues, noting that “many Russians initially supported the Euromaidan,” but with the shift to an “us-them” perspective, that “no longer has any significance.”

The Chechen war was “one of the main factors which formed contemporary Russia,” he says, but the Chechens as a small ethnic group could not serve as an enemy of the kind that the West does. It gave Russians a boost in self-confidence and self-identity but not a sufficient one to transform the country.

NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and Russian opposition to it is the real precedent, he suggests. But the current situation is affecting Russians “an order of magnitude more” because Ukraine has been a battleground throughout much of the history of the country and therefore touches a deeper nerve.

That in turn helps to explain the return of the historically customary “worldview of our peoples” to what it as earlier: That worldview “cannot forgive weakness,” and thus “wealth and comfort do not play a central role in it.” As a result of that, Kashin says, any further sanctions by the West against Russia “will only strengthen the position of the government sitting in Moscow.”

And the Moscow analyst adds that Russia’s “military intervention” in Crimea became inevitable “already in January 2014.” Had Putin not intervened on behalf of “’our people’” against a potential victory of “’their people,’” he would have “instantly been converted into a Boris Yeltsin of 1999, and the Russian political system would have stood at the edge of general destabilization.”