While in Moscow it is commonly accepted that Ukraine's separation from Russia was caused by a plot, Dmitri Trenin argues that it was the result of a natural process of nation building. It helps the development of Russia's own statehood, Russia's orientation towards the future instead of the past, he states at the Russian website Russia in Global Affairs.

Yanukovich clanPro-Russian president Yanukovich (second to the left) became president in 2010, seen by Moscow as a revenge for the Orange Revolution. Photo copyright free

by Dmitri Trenin

The Ukrainian crisis resulted in a political confrontation between Russia and the U.S. and Russia’s alienation from EU countries. It brought an end to repeated attempts by the Russian Federation to 'plug itself into' the Euro-Atlantic community and to become part of the 'expanded West'. The consequences of this crisis are of fundamental significance for Russia itself, its national self-consciousness and its geographical self-determination.

The events in Ukraine have concluded the post-imperial period in Russian history, when Russia pinned its hopes on deep reintegration of the former Soviet republics. Those events have also opened up an era where the Russian Federation is establishing itself as a separate and self-sufficient state, seeing the other post-Soviet countries as close neighbors, but not as parts of a unified geopolitical space headed by Moscow.

Lessons learned from Ukraine:

  • Ukraine’s separation from Russia was not caused by an internal conspiracy or external plot but is the result of the political process of forming a Ukrainian nation state. This process need not have taken the form of violent actions, but in any event it would have led to Ukraine’s separation from Russia. Minsk’s slow but real drift away from Moscow illustrates a 'soft' departure of part of the historical core from Russia.

  • The establishment of independent Ukrainian and Belarusian statehood facilitates the development of Russia’s own national project, which is oriented towards the future, rather than towards the restoration of the past. Its key foreign policy feature is real sovereignty and the freedom of geopolitical maneuvering. At the beginning of the 21st century, the Russian Federation is restructuring itself within the emerging Greater Eurasia, making use of its unique geopolitical situation for the benefit of its own development.

  • The 'Russian world' concept has the right to exist, but for the most part in the sphere of language, culture, religion, and other humanitarian issues. Using this concept to justify concrete geopolitical steps, provide cover for interference in the internal affairs of other states and generally as a foreign policy instrument compromises Russia’s policy and is detrimental to the concept itself.

  • The policy of resisting NATO’s eastward expansion requires a serious and careful reevaluation. In those cases where it has been successful, first and foremost in Ukraine, the result whereby a large hostile state appears capable of creating an army as well trained as that of Russia can hardly be regarded as satisfactory. The problem was not, of course, that the Russian Federation resisted attempts to incorporate Ukraine into NATO, but that it always sought to oppose the West, first and foremost the U.S., while relations with Ukraine were reduced to a minimum.

  • The main lesson in Ukraine for Russia, therefore, is the need to attentively observe, deeply analyze and try and understand Ukraine which, even if it is oriented towards the West, will be an important neighbor for Russia. As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is far from being resolved, and Crimea could still become an Eastern European variant of Alsace-Lorraine, the main task of Russia’s Ukraine policy in the foreseeable future will be the prevention of war between the two countries and the gradual development of dialogue. Amidst talk of brotherhood and unity, Russia has paid a high price for ignoring the real Ukraine. It is time to learn to take Ukraine seriously. 

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