I will say it immediately, to avoid beating about the bush. The past month’s developments, including the absence of significant events (speaking of warfare in Ukraine), show the Kremlin’s strengthening and success of its strategy. Now it is not a “hybrid war,” but a “hybrid peace.” A reformatting of relations between the EU and Russia is under way. The resignation of Russia’s old lobbyist Tagliavini does not mean a thing in comparison with Putin’s visit to Milan to EXPO 2015. Sometimes an unofficial visit proves to be more effective than pompous receptions.
Experts agree that Italy wants closer relations with Russia, since it is Russia’s fourth largest partner after China, the Netherlands, and Germany. However, bilateral trade decreased in the first months of this year by 25 percent in comparison with the same period of the previous year. And even though friend Berlusconi, while in opposition, will hardly be able to secure the lifting of sanctions by Italy for friend Vladimir, he can still put pressurize the establishment.
Experts talk about another thing. Trivialization of the confrontation, and transformation of the conflict into a routine phenomenon should be considered as the Kremlin’s achievement. Putin succeeded in the main thing: Europe de facto recognizes his special rights in Ukraine and the latter’s limited legal capacity. This has always been an aspiration of Russia’s rulers, but various countries were targeted. It is not a doctrine by Brezhnev or Nikolas I. It is a doctrine by Pushkin, which he put into words after the Polish rebellion, in which he saw
A domestic, old quarrel, already weighed by the fate,
A question that you cannot resolve.
Poland back then, Czechoslovakia during Brezhnev’s rule, now Georgia and Ukraine. Europe concedes, the US is contradictory, but in general, it does not interfere either. Ukrainian politics is important not by itself, but as an object of bargaining between the president and the Congress.
Meanwhile, the war has not ceased for a moment, and is unlikely to cease. Everyone sees it, but... they don’t. Just like they don’t see Russia’s army in Ukraine. We are suffering trade losses, and you come with some captured intelligence agents. Moscow explained it: they are retired, but we need to live and trade with Moscow. While Ukraine, just like Greece, brings nothing but losses and trouble.
The international law as it used to be does not exist anymore – this is Putin’s achievement, who established the rule of the gun. The logic of a Cheka bully turned out to be quite applicable to the whole world. The future of Ukraine is one big question. There is no such subject for the Kremlin and the EU. Of course, no one says yet that Ukraine is a geographical notion, but a lot of effort must be applied for Ukraine’s opinion to gain value. And the question is: should such efforts be expected. Influential groups in political and business elite, as well as a considerable part of the population might be interested in the existing configuration. The standpoint of the nationally active and responsible part of the society should not be viewed as the standpoint of the whole population.
Wasn’t the situation similar in Poland during the time of its division? A part of the elite rebelled against autocracy, while another part integrated into imperial hierarchy. And it applied not only to elite, integration took place in the urban middle class. But in general, the nation remained indifferent to the ongoing events.
The object of Ukrainians’ greatest pride is the most disturbing. It is the volunteer movement, which compensates the institutional impotence. In Ukraine and in Russia a lot of people live with illusions of a civic society, a grassroots movement, independently from the state, that this is how nations are formed. I recently wrote about the role of charitable and other public organizations in Nazi Germany and contemporary Russia. The history of all European nations shows that civil society is formed only simultaneously with the forming of a competent national state. The process, if you will, should start from above, not from below. And experiments with self-organization turn into self-convoy, the quest for direct democracy leads to totalitarianism.
No volunteers can create and arm an army capable of resisting the strongest military force in Europe as of today. For this, a national rush is needed, which is not seen in Ukraine, if observations are not limited to volunteers and those helping them.
However, military escalation might be needed for the Kremlin for purely domestic reasons: to consolidate and unite the population even more. The political regime in Russia is increasingly acquiring more and more obvious totalitarian features. Obviously, the parliament is meant to go on rotation: elections to the Duma are most likely to be held on September 20. What will apparently follow is reshuffling in government and institutional changes. Ukrainophobia and the non-stop war in Ukraine are a constant factor of governance in Russia. This governance has already grown into a routine. Maybe, an aggravation of the situation in Ukraine will be needed for serious changes.
Meanwhile, those social groups (scanty and isolated as it is) which fall out with the general sentiment have been constantly eroded. Just follow the statements of media figures who are pretending to be having a special standpoint without engaging in a conflict with the regime. Aleksandr Gelman was followed by Aleksandr Gorodnitsky. Just like Gelman, Gorodnitsky believes that Crimea and Sevastopol should by all means belong to Russia, but they ought not to be taken away in such a brutal manner. Something of this sort had been previously written by Andrey Desnitsky, columnist for Gazeta.ru. Typically, such coincidences mean a centralized launch of an agitprop cliche. But it might be much worse, in fact: they could really consider this their civil standpoint.
Most surprisingly, a certain “oppositionism” was seen in Aleksandr Sokurov’s reptile speech at the reception of his next state prize (former Stalin Prize) from Putin’s hands. The renowned film director asked Tsar Putin to spill as little blood as possible in the war, to spare the poor soldiers and officers. Ah, what an endearing enlightenment.
When it comes to the probability of military escalation in Ukraine, with a view to degrade and destroy the nation, the Kremlin has a strategy it tried in Georgia, which combines military assaults with extensive interference in the election process. So, we can quite expect to see the rise of a party like some “Ukrainian Dream.” And I would not mock the new Symonenko-Vitrenko bloc. It is apparently a trial balloon. What will probably follow is the reformatting of the party configuration in Ukraine, an alliance of a part of the elite with the Kremlin, and appearance of populist slogans.
The prevention of such developments would also mean the progress of new Ukrainian state institutes.