Staunton, November 21 – On the first anniversary of the beginning of the Maidan demonstrations, Vitaly Portnikov says, it is important to understand that “Putin lost Ukraine even before the Maidan, before the dispersal of the students, before the bloodshed, before the occupation or Crimea and before the war in the Donbass.”
He lost it, the commentator says, when he “demonstrated to its citizens that they were living in a cardboard state, that their president was not a president but a governor carrying out the will of his master, and that they must … simply wait for the fate” the Dugins and Prokhanovs sketched out for them.
In the months that followed, Ukrainians had more than one opportunity to be convinced that with Yanukovich in office, their country would be a “cardboard” one, “the that the police could defend [him] from the demonstrators but not the citizenry from bandits, and that the army could not stop even a handful of diversionists sent from Russia.”
“But with each new disappointment,” Portnikov says, “the desire [of Ukrainians] to build a state intensified.” People formed voluntary battalions to defend against the invaders, and they acted in other ways to lay the foundation of “a genuine state, a state of citizens” rather than a territory of slaves.
“Like any authoritarian ruler, Putin, who has unlimited access to financial flows …is convinced that people are goods” and that he can dispose of them as he chooses. Moreover, he believes that “all the revolutions in the world are arranged by the Americans because they supposedly pay their participants.”
(Putin demonstrated that those are his deeply held beliefs in his remarks to the Russian Security Council on Thursday, remarks that show he does not believe that people can make history but only the top elites of one or another country, an attitude not limited to him but perhaps more in evidence in the Kremlin leader’s thinking than in almost anyone else.)
The Kremlin leader is wrong because he does not understand that real people can make history and that the world he wants, a world of “dead souls,” may still be true in some places but it is no longer true in Ukraine. Ukrainian souls “have turned out to be very much alive,” and Ukrainians have turned out to be “not the serfs” Putin assumed they were.
But over the last year, Putin has lost something more: He has lost Ukraine and Ukrainians for Russia as a whole, he has lost the faith of Ukrainians that they will ever live better under his rule, and he has lost his standing internationally as more and more of the world’s leaders recognize what he is about.
That is no small defeat for him and no small victory for Ukraine, and both of these things should be remembered on this the first anniversary of the Maidan which gave birth to these two largely unexpected developments.