Staunton, May 25 – Russia is dangerously ill, infected with Kremlin-promoted “intolerance, aggression, militarism and chauvinism,” a Kyiv commentator suggests, and there is a great danger because of Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, that this “virus” will spread to that country and perhaps others as well.
And if that infection sets in and Ukraine thus becomes increasingly like its very ill northern neighbor, then Ukraine’s survival as a separate and independent state will matter less than it should and Putin will have gained a victory that he should not have achieved, according to Mikhail Dubinyansky.
In an essay in yesterday’s Ukrainskaya Pravda, the Kyiv commentator says that in Russia today, “hatred is again considered a civic responsibility, cruelty a virtue, despotism a good thing, and the seizure of the territories of others the occasion for an all-people’s holiday.” Millions have been infected with this “virus.”
It is spread everywhere, he continues, “on Russian television and in social networks, in drunken conversations and official declarations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. It infects old and young, poor and well-off, the openly lumpen and those who until recently had seemed intelligent and kind.”
This disease justifies any shameful act of the authorities, celebrates the use of force, and leads Russians to take up arms and “hate everyone: America, Europe, NATO, Georgia, Ukraine, the Balts, [the Central Asians], democrats, liberals, gays, the irreligious, and the semi-mythical Banderites.”
Only “an insignificant part of Russian society” seems immune, Dubinyansky says, and they are demonized as “’national traitors.’”
Not surprisingly, this very ill body “represents a serious threat to those around it,” infecting these countries with its own disease as they attempt to combat Russian aggression against them. Dangerously, that is what appears to be happening in at least some segments of the Ukrainian population.
“Until recently, we asserted that Ukraine is not Russia. Our society was much better: softer, more tolerant and more human. They had Chechnya, Daghestan, Nord-Ost and Beslan, [while] we had 20 years of peaceful life. They had a civil war in the center of Moscow,” something that until recently Ukrainians couldn’t imagine happening in their own capital.
“But as it turned out, it was not so difficult to descend to the Russian level,” he continues. “The first symptoms of the neighbor’s disease appeared in Ukraine several years ago and at first touched only the political elite.” Three years ago, Ukraine got “its own Khodorkovsky: the president of Ukraine dispensed with his competitor by throwing the former premier into prison.”
“Ukrainian politics had never known anything like that before,” and many Ukrainians hoped that Europe would intervene to reverse things. But then on November 30, 2013, “the Russian disease burst onto the streets: peaceful meetings in Ukraine had never been dispersed with such cruelty.” That helped spread the Russian disease to the broader Ukrainian population.
To be sure, Putin did everything he could to spread this infection into Ukraine, “and the main carriers of the Russian disease became the pro-Russian forces, Dobinyansky writes, “but patriotic society which opposed the Kremlin” also played a role in the spread of this infection in Ukraine.
As tensions rose, many defenders of Ukraine became more like the opponents of Ukraine. On May 2, he points out, all too many Ukrainians viewed those who died in Odessa not as fellow human beings “but only as enemies,” the clearest indication of how far the spread of the Russian disease has advanced.
Indeed, the Ukrainskaya Pravda commentator argues, “present-day Ukraine is divided” not just between “patriots and traitors” and “separatists and defenders of territorial integrity” but between those “who are gladdened by enemy bodies because they are enemies and those who cannot be gladdened because they are bodies.”
Tragically and unfortunately, “war has its own laws and its own pitiless logic.” If one is to fight as an equal, one often must adopt some of what the enemy is doing: “’Evil gives birth to evil,’ ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ ‘if the enemy does not surrender, he must be destroyed.’” In Ukraine, these have become “our daily life.”
“If the separatists kidnap and torture people … of beat and kill pro-Ukrainian demonstrators, this means” in the minds of those infected with the Russian disease “that one must not stand on ceremony and display humanity,” Dobinyansky writes.
“If Moscow conducts a full-scale information war with the use of Dmitry Kiselyov, then this means [in the minds of those infected] that the Ukrainian media should forget about objectivity, impartiality, and other democratic standards.”
And if Russia forms a united front which tolerates no dissent, then for such people Ukraine should do the same. As a result, “liberalism and tolerance are at risk of defeat while cruelty is given a chance for victory” – a victory not only over Putin but one “over one’s own humanity.”
If Putin succeeds in making Ukraine like Russia by spreading the Russian disease, Dobinyansky suggests, the Kremlin leader will have won no matter how much or how little territory he will have seized. And although the Kyiv commentator does not say so, this may be Putin’s gravest crime of all in Ukraine.