Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Russian Bear (Somewhat) Demystified

I would like to begin this post with a deep apology about continuing to ramble on about Ukraine even after I made a few posts explicitly denouncing the violent and immoral divisiveness the very idea of politics inherently contains.

But -in a contradiction typical of my people- I found this article by a Russian ultra-nationalist that I though I should share.

The one thing that the average Western observer of the crisis in Ukraine doesn't want to deal with is history. History is messy and boring and tedious. But to people in the old world, especially in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse, history is EVERYTHING.

History defines each country, defines the views of its people, it brings them closer to "democracy" or yanks them away from its cherished ideals. History is not dead in Ukraine, it bleeds, it convulses and -if history is neglected- it can even plead for innocent blood to scribble down new tumultuous chapters.

One actor in the history of Ukraine and in the current events there is my ancestral home, the country of my birth- Russia. I carry a Russian's stereotypical name, I believe I still have Russian soul after now living most of my life in America. I have an ambivalent (if tender) relationship to the motherland that I won't get into now.

What I want to do for you is to demystify the importance of Ukraine to Russians and especially Russian nationalists whose voices are rising in Moscow as Vladimir Putin continues his reign.

The letter below was written by Alexander Dugin a radical Russian nationalist.

As liberal who voted for Barack Obama and even waited to hear him speak inside a huge barn in Ohio, I don't agree with everything in this letter and I don't and CANNOT agree with Dugin's mystical and bitter view of the world, but his letter's first part (after he explains his unique anti-Americanism) is one of the best explanations of the crisis in Ukraine from the Russian historical perspective that I have ever seen in my internet wanderings.

I don't sing off on this letter, I don't endorse it, I don't worship or even agree with Dugin.

But I do believe that it is much more useful in understanding Russia and her current actions than some body-language analysis of Putin you might see on CNN or another pundit who couldn't find Ukraine on a map talking about what the "loss of Crimea" means to America and EU.

Letter to the American People on Ukraine


  1. As I'm sure you are well aware, the average American has no interest in reading such a long article, especially when it is full of minutiae of what they would consider ancient history (9th century, in Roman numerals no less!). To use your favorite word again, it is trite to say that pretty much all wars are fought over history, so nothing novel here. I claim this is my father's land, you claim it is your father's. Wash, rinse, repeat.

    So for me, I've learned that quick sound bites about Putin this and Putin that must be taken with a grain of salt. Is he a bad dude? I don't know. Is the US government acting inappropriately? Not sure. I think that article is just one piece of the puzzle. Clearly, a carefully balanced analysis is in order. But until that analysis takes place, it is not prudent for our government to get involved militarily, that's for sure. And even economic sanctions may not be called for. I'm hoping our department of State is staffed by some pretty smart dudes, and are providing insight to Sec Kerry.

    On the face of it, this does not appear to affect US interests. This is an internal battle between Russia and one of its former satellites. War brings instability, which is exactly why we should be working towards de-escalation, and not firing up any rhetoric about red lines and the like. If I was Putin, I would think the US is trying to prevent me from 'taking power', as opposed to 'encouraging stability'. Who knows, maybe Putin really is 'protecting Russians in Crimea'. Open dialog is in order.

  2. Just to make it clear, I don't believe Putin is protecting Russians in Crimea. its just that -I believe- Crimea should have never been a part of Ukraine at all. Russians in Crimea always had only a limited attachment to the idea of being part of Ukraine and with a new revolutionary government in Kiev, most of them lost the little attachment they had. Basically, Russian GDP per capita is more than 2X that of Ukraine. A while back Ukraine stripped Crimea of any real autonomy it had when USSR fell apart, and now the governor of Crimea and even the mayor of the largest city there had been appointed by Kiev because when they were elected by the people, the masses kept electing pro-secession candidates. One of the first things the new govt in Kiev done was to threaten the official status of the Russian language (the new pres vetoed the bill but it was too late) then the new govt appointed oligarchs to become governors of Russia friendly regions. So these Crimeans really felt completely detached from their country. Putin took advantage of the chaos and moved in to correct -what most Russians believe- was a historical mistake of making Crimea a part of Ukraine. Its really an emotional time for most Crimeans and Russians to be reunited but it didn't happen in the nicest way relative to EU and American understanding of international law and "how nations behave in the 21st century."

    No, I don't think this means that Putin will go to Poland next or even Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania. He is unlikely to even go to Eastern Ukraine - though that remains a possibility (one I hope not to see).

    Crimea really was special to Russia, for example I left Russia when I was 13 and to be honest don't know the names of most Russian regions (there are 83, 84 now with Crimea) but I always knew about Crimea and I have been there as a child.

    Yeah, you are right. Most Americans wouldn't be interested in reading a cerebral essay by a Russian ultra-nationalism. But for those who want to understand Russia its a decent thing to read. People can decide to view Russia as a sinister enigma or a crude wannabe empire but they have to acknowledged that they are making the choice to view it that way. That essay presented a window into a mind of a Russian nationalist- something people are unlikely to see in mainstream media or even read in New York Times.

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