Staunton, February 24 — The war in Ukraine must be seen as a direct “continuation” of the decay and disintegration of the Soviet Union and the failure of Russia and many other of the countries which emerged from it to develop the kind of political institutions necessary for stability, according to Moscow commentator Ivan Sukhov.
“The war in the east of Ukraine is not the first and unfortunately is unlikely to be the last war in the former post-Soviet space,” he argues, because there are many territories with disputed borders, valuable resources and groups who believe that “war is the cheapest means of gaining access to these resources”.
Such violent conflicts are all the more likely because these are “comparatively young states and parts of a country which existed within living memory.” And there is yet another reason which few have focused on: the failure of many of these countries to develop political institutions in which leaders can have confidence.
In far too many of them, there is “no reliable system” which could “guarantee that this or that leader having left his post would not be brought up on charges in court [or] driven into exile.” No leader wants that to happen, but at present, “there remain many countries and presidents from the USSR but few functioning institutions have grown up.”
When a president is “not too certain” that he will not lose more than office when he leaves it and when there are all the other factors listed upon, it should not surprise anyone that he or she will choose war as a way of keeping in power and avoiding disasters. And that more than anything else explains what is going on, Sukhov says.
In that critical sense, he continues, “the war in Ukraine is a continuation of the decay of the USSR, a decay which no one in the world expected or predicted and which for a decade and a half were pleased with because unlike the decay of Yugoslavia, it occurred relatively peacefully,” all this “’relatively’” nonetheless involved “several tens of thousands of dead in the Fergana, Sumgait, South Osetia, Abkhazia, North Osetia, Transdniestria, and Chechnya.”
Along with Georgia in August 2008, Ukraine now is part of “a second wave” in this disintegration “when the new states test both their relative strengths and the limits of the permissible.” It might have been avoided if after the events of the early 1990s, the governments involved had developed institutions rather than stolen resources and build mansions “in various picturesque locations.”
“1991 could have become a democratic revolution which would have allowed” Russia and all the other countries to catch up with what they had missed as a result of tsarist backwardness and the Soviet system. But instead, Sukhov says, it brought to power the very same people responsible for the earlier disasters, something others reacted to with indifference.
It would have been impossible for Ukraine or Russia to change in the course of one year what they could not change in 25, he continues. “But the events of the Maidan, the death of people, the overthrow of Yanukovch, the loss of Crimea, and the war in the east over the course of the year have created in Ukraine a situation which at the very least is provoking an attempt at normal government construction.”
Whether it will succeed is another matter. “Many in Kyiv talk about European values, but they do not all know very well what those are.” Moreover the country is very much divided. But Russians should not take any pleasure in this because in Russia there are many of the same problems but much less of an impulse to address them.
“Wars on post-imperial spaces sometimes begin as local conflicts and sometimes as a tst of strength or a diversionary political maneuver,” Sukhov says. “From a theoretical point of view, country A can be the source of support for irredentists on the territory of country B or the irredentists in B can declare A their main hope.”
“For the authorities of B, victory alone becomes the single basis for political survival, but A at the same time doesn’t want to retreat.” In this situation, Sukhov adds, “both foregt that sometimes when an empire falls apart, everything begins with a dream about harmonious and mutual cooperation. But in the end it can involve the collapse of either of them.”
Indeed, he writes, “it is not excluded” that it can lead to the collapse of both.