On March 6th, an ‘open podium’ debate was held in Russia on the situation in Ukraine. Speakers discussed how Russia could “help Ukraine survive these tragic times” and set the country onto the “path to a peaceful settlement”. This is a translation from the Russian government daily newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta. For reasons unknown, RG removed the article, so we have linked to its cached version. — Ed.
There are many explanations for why the situation in Ukraine has remained the chef topic of discussion in Russia for the last few months. Not only in the areas near the border where refugees from Ukraine continue to arrive, and not only in the city that was once our common capital, but far from Moscow. In Russia, there are regions where the most common surnames are Ukrainian, and the locals, whose native tongue is Russian, speak a distinctive dialect that proves hard to correct, even for experienced teachers. So, for us the “brotherly nation” is not just a figure of speech. It’s kindred blood.
And this is one of the reasons why, with every day, Ukraine, which is going through difficult times, increasingly becomes the center of everybody’s attention. According to Valery Fyodorov, the director of WCIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center), citing a recent survey, 80 percent of Russians are watching the events in Ukraine, 35 percent of them very closely. These data were presented by Fedorov at the “Open podium” in the State Duma, where panelists were once again going over the circumstances that led to the situation in Ukraine that some called a revolution, while others classified it as coup d’état, or a “forced takeover of power.” They were trying to understand whether Russia had made any mistakes in it’s relations with Ukraine. And most importantly – what do we do next?
“Not so long ago one of the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities said that Ukraine needs a new partnership, not a paternalistic relationship with Russia”, said Vassily Nebenzia, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, speaking at the ‘Open podium.’ “I am also strongly against a paternalistic relationship with Ukraine. But I want to say that in reality, that has never been the case. We’ve always been partners. And there’s never been any arrogance on our side towards our partners.” According to the diplomat, we want to see in Ukraine a “friendly country with friendly leadership.” “I think,” said Nebenzia, “that Ukraine is also interested in this.”
A similar desire was expressed by the Speaker of the State Duma Sergei Naryshkin, (incidentally, in their speeches the panelists repeatedly referred to an article by Naryshkin, published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta on Thursday). “We want our fellow citizens and all citizens of Ukraine to feel safe,” avowed the Speaker, wishing for the people of Ukraine to find the way out of the situation as soon as possible. “The situation in Ukraine is developing quite rapidly, not to mention the fact that political life in Ukraine has always been quite diverse. At times this diversity has acquired tragic overtones,” said Naryshkin. According to him, “both the Russian society, and the Russian state” could help overcome the political crisis and chaos now prevailing in Ukraine.
However, the panelists had doubts as to whether the real intentions of Russia towards Ukraine would become known to Ukrainian people, since a real information war is on. Therefore, as suggested by the first deputy general director of ITAR-TASS, Mikhail Gusman, you need to figure out how to bring the truth to the Ukrainians. At the same time, Guzman warns colleagues that in this situation of informational confrontation we cannot allow millions of people in Ukraine who love Russia and the Russian people to feel any anti-Ukrainian bias. Anti-Ukrainian sentiment must not be a response to the Russophobe sentiment that is deliberately cultivated over there. “Ukraine is a great country, a brotherly people,” said Guzman, “and it’s not just criminals from Maidan”.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of head Rossotrudnichestvo, also spoke about possible errors and lessons that we will have to learn from the situation in Ukraine. He thinks that in principle, the strategic policy of Russia towards Ukraine is right: we have tried to help economically, we haven’t questioned their territorial integrity. But “we failed to guard against errors by third forces, something that is called ‘foolproofing’ in engineering,” Kosachev said. As a result, we are faced with the fact that “a radical misunderstanding by our Western partners of the reality in Ukraine led to this radicalization of Ukrainian society.” The “foolproofing” should mean to create a margin of safety in our relations with Ukraine not only at the political elite’s level, but also at the civil society level,” concluded the head of Rossotrudnichestvo.