Staunton, May 5 – Commentators have long celebrated the fact that the USSR broke up with little violence in 1991 – the conflicts in Abkhazia, Tajikistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestria and Chechnya typically have been treated as exceptions that prove the rule. But now, many of the unresolved issues from 23 years ago are leading to violence as in Ukraine.
In an editorial article in today’s Vedomosti, Nikolay Epple and Maksim Trudolyubov argue that for two decades, Russia and Ukraine sought to avoid the outcome that had occurred in Serbia and Croatia, but that did not mean that “the revolutionary processes” in the two were “overcome but only “put off”.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine shows more sharply than ever before that Ukrainians cannot avoid facing some critical issues any longer, including “the geopolitical choice between Europe and Russia, real sovereignty or dependence on ‘the elder brother,’ the unification of the country on the basis of a new national self-consciousness or its split via ‘federalization.’”
And “the development of the postponed revolution in Ukraine will inevitably have an impact on Russia as well” because “the exit of Ukraine from the post-Soviet space will confront Russia with the need to reformat its own historical matrix.”
“For a long time it has been considered,” the two editorial writers say, that “no other basis besides the Soviet exists for Russians.” That appears to be changing with Vladimir Putin’s talk about “a Russian world,” about “the largest divided people in the world,” and about Crimea “as part of pre-revolutionary Russia” that was “lost in Soviet times.”
It is thus “not excluded” that Putin views the annexation of Crimea “as the restoration of a symbolic link with imperial Russia.”
Putin’s choice for the citizens of Russia of a new identification combining ethnic and political ones (russky and rossiysky) points toward the basis of “something larger than a nation state” because “the ‘Russian world’ spreads across borders.”
And that in turn means, Vedomosti says, that “an internal issue – the development of the [ethnic] Russian nation – is entering into a contradiction with the logic of the development of neighboring nations which possibly do not intend to voluntarily sacrifice territory and population to Russia.”
When Yugoslavia fell apart, the Serbs refused to accept the borders of the other countries that emerged, a failure that sparked “the most destructive armed conflict in Europe after World War II,” the editorial writers say. That war resulted in thousands of dead and millions of refugees. Is it possible, they imply, that the Russians may now be heading down the same road?