Staunton, October 13 – Many people in Ukraine and the West have convinced themselves that if Vladimir Putin were to leave the scene, Russian aggressiveness would also end. But that view, Russian writer Viktor Yerofeyev says, is dangerously “naïve” because it ignores present-day Russian realities.
In an interview to Ukrainian outlets that has been reposted by Szona.org, Yerofeyev says that it is important to understand that “the cause of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict is not in Putin” alone but rather is to be found in “the archaic consciousness which is not prepared to accept Western values or a European Ukraine.”
Yerofeyev, son of Stalin’s translator and author of The Encyclopedia of the Russian Soul, argues it is also wrong to think that these attitudes are the product of Kremlin propaganda. Instead, they reflect what the population of Russia firmly believes: “All Maidans are organized by the Americans,” a view that allows them to avoid confronting their failure to organize one.
Moreover, he points out, Putin has “practically unlimited power” and thus is in a position to prepare his successors. Consequently, he will choose them only from among those who “absolutely share his views on Ukraine.” No one is going to come immediately after him and accept Ukraine’s European choice and not seek its partial or full inclusion in a Russian empire.
Like an x-ray, Yerofeyev continues, the events of 2014 have shown that “the overwhelming part of the [Russian] population has absolutely anti-Western, anti-democratic and anti-liberal values” and that it views the regime’s acceptance of those values now as an indication that the Kremlin has finally said to the Russian people: “’You are absolutely right.’”
Up until this year, the Russian leadership had been “more liberal” than the Russian people. Putin wanted a partnership with the West, but feeling himself betrayed in two ways, he turned on the West and aligned himself with the Russian population, the Russian writer continues.
On the one hand, Putin was infuriated by the role of “his Western friends” because of their support of “the protest movement in Russia in 2011-2012,” a movement that was not just a general protest one but “a specifically anti-Putin” action. And on the other, he viewed what happened in the Maidan as a betrayal by Ukrainians of his plans for a new empire.
According to Yerofeyev, “Putin considers that it was the West that imposed its values on Ukraine,” rather than those values being something that are an “organic” part of Ukrainian values. “This is a serious mistake by Putin,” but it is not one he can acknowledge and so is trying to make reality correspond to what he believes.
Not only the Russian people generally but many Russian intellectuals support share Putin’s view, some out of a sense that they must be loyal to a regime that supports them and others because they really believe in exactly the same things. No one should be surprised by divisions within the Russian intelligentsia.
What is surprising is that “the Maidan [in Ukraine] withstood the severe winter of 2013-2014 and won. This was unbelievable heroism,” Yerofeyev says. That does not mean Kyiv has not made any mistakes since, but what has happened is impressive. Unfortunately, its actions are not something Russia can come to terms with.
The Russian writer says that he does not see any way in which Russians as they are today will be prepared to “leave Ukraine in peace” and allow it to integrate with Europe. Thus, Ukraine faces a long period of Russian efforts to disorder and undermine it so that Ukrainians cannot pursue their dream.
In this situation, Yerofeyev says, “Ukraine must in a complex and deep fashion analyze the archaic nature of Russian consciousness.” Simply dismissing it as “insane” will not help. What is involved is “not Putin but precisely the archaic consciousness of the Russian population. Without understanding this, Ukraine is condemned like Don Quixote to tilt at windmills.”
Despite the more than 20 years since the end of the USSR, only about 15 percent of Russians share democratic values, and that number is not increasing rapidly because no one is promoting them. Ukrainian society is also not being trained in that way, but “part of [its] territory is historically connected with Europe.”
As a result, “a minimum of 50 percent” of Ukrainians share Western values, but they are having to deal with a Russia in which 85 percent of the population does not, something Russian liberals and democrats are unwilling or unable to understand and that many outside of Russia do not understand either.
Yerofeyev says that he “does not understand how it is possible in the 21st century not to welcome normal human values including the ideas that the individual is more important than the state, that the state should serve the people rather than the reverse, and that the state should not be treated as a sacred thing.”
Ukrainians are on the right side of history, and Russians are not, but unfortunately, the price that the Ukrainians will have to pay for that is going to be high, although no one yet knows just how high a price the Russians plan to impose.