“Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished!”

February 19, 2015

Lilia Shevtsova writes the latest addition to our series on the one-year anniversary of the Maidan Revolution in Kiev. “Ukraine has not yet perished” is the first line of the Ukrainian national anthem used prior to 2003. – The Interpreter.

The Ukrainian thunderbolt came as a shock, as all revolutions do, ending the sleepy interregnum of the previous two decades. Ukrainian Maidan and what happened afterwards reflects the dramatic quandary the world is not yet ready to deal with. On the one hand, we see the crisis of the current model of liberal democracy and its loss of trajectory. On the other, the Russian system of personalized power has entered an advanced stage of decay, which prompted Putin to shift to a new survival paradigm — containing the West — and the Kremlin is trying to contain the West in Ukraine. Thus, the Ukrainian drive for dignity and freedom happened at the most unfortunate time: when the West is not ready or able to help and support, and when the neighboring half-frozen empire has chosen Ukraine as the means to re-energize itself and test the readiness of the West to defend its principles.

Ukrainians could be proud: they shook the world and have awoken the liberal democracies, even the snoring Brussels, apparently much to their dissatisfaction. Western leaders first started to deliberate on how not to irritate Putin and save his face, preferring to think that the Russian aggression in Ukraine was a mistake, or temporary inadequacy; but gradually they were forced to conclude that they are dealing with a more serious phenomenon. Many in the West look as if they finally understand that they are dealing with a desperate attempt of the Russian System to prolong its life, and the Russian recklessness has become a challenge to which they have to respond. True, there are forces in the West that are still not ready to part with cozy accommodation and acquiescence, especially if they are handsomely rewarded. There is a bitter irony: the old Soviet Union survived by fighting the West; while Putin’s Russia survives through co-opting, bribing the West and exporting corruption. The newest Minsk-2 agreements to stop the war in Ukraine, brokered by Merkel and Hollande, could be the last attempt on the part of the Western leaders to make a trade off with the Kremlin: limited Ukrainian independence that allows Russia to influence its policy in exchange for stopping the bloodshed. Soon the West will discover that such trade offs are brittle and they will be forced (hopefully) to think about more serious efforts to prevent the illiberal states from kicking over the global chessboard and bullying neighbors.

The undeclared war with Ukraine has helped the Kremlin to achieve patriotic mobilization and amazing popular approval. However, the patriotic-militarist drug has started to wear off and soon we’ll see the nasty agony of the Putin’s regime. True, we don’t know when and how it will go down in flames nor what will replace it. The Russian system has the tradition and skill to reproduce itself by changing the personalizers.

And what about Ukrainians? They are paying a heavy price for both awaking the West and Putin’s mobilization. But at the same time the threat to their statehood has become a powerful mechanism that galvanizes the birth of the new, European national identity and the building of a new Ukrainian nation. In some sense Ukrainians with their longing for dignity are already more Europeans than many old Europeans!

Indeed, it will still be a long way through the valley of tears for Ukrainians. But they have started their journey! And they proved: Ukraine is not Perished Yet!

Ukrainian protesters in Maidan Square, Kiev, sing the national anthem during battles with riot police on February 18, 2014: