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The Russomaidan


A tale of two cities. Which is Moscow and which is Kyiv?

A tale of two cities. Which is Moscow and which is Kyiv?

Aleksei Navalny has Ukraine on his mind.

The anticorruption blogger and opposition leader has been plugging the Euromaidan protests on his blog and promoting them relentlessly on his Twitter feed.

Over the weekend, he approvingly retweeted an image posted by a Ukrainian activist -- a mock-up of a video-game screen. "If you were born in Ukraine or Russia, then you have chosen the most difficult level of play. But Russians are still at the first stage, while we are already wiping out the last big boss," the screen read.

"Ha ha! Excellent!" Navalny wrote.

Navalny's interest in the events in Ukraine and his support for the Euromaidan is hardly surprising. His ongoing battle with the Kremlin and the intensifying upheaval in Ukraine are, in many ways, part and parcel of the same process.

"What is happening in Kyiv is not even strictly a Ukrainian revolution, nor is it simply a continuation of the events of 2004. It is a continuation of the events of the late 1980s, a still ongoing perestroika," political commentator Aleksei Kolesnikov wrote recently in Gazeta.ru.

"The empire is still disintegrating -- it is a long, multistep, multistage process."

It's also a slow process, a tortoise revolution, if you will.

"The process has not ended," Kolesnikov wrote. "It was not exhausted by the 1990s or by the events of 2011-12, and may not be completed by the centenary of the Great October Socialist Revolution" in 2017.

And one of the things driving the process at this stage is the coming of age of a generation, in both Russia and Ukraine, which was born after the Soviet collapse. The Ukrainian activists use of a video-game metaphor on Twitter and Navalny's positive reaction to it are apropos; this is very much a revolution of the young.

In both Russia and Ukraine, the post-Soviet generation that is fueling the respective protest movements appears more liberal than that of their parents, aspiring to a more pluralistic, less corrupt, and less authoritarian political system. But, at the same time, they appear, by and large, to be simultaneously more nationalistic as well.

This is evident in the antimigrant sentiment prevalent in Russia, particularly among the young and well-educated and in Navalny's attempts to carve out a political niche as a "liberal nationalist."

In Ukraine, it is evident in the prominent role nationalist youth groups from the country's west have played in the protests.

This politically active youth has no memories of -- and certainly no nostalgia for -- the multiethnic Soviet Union. In Russia, this manifests itself in the antimigrant slogan "Russia for Russians" as well as in opposition to what nationalists call Vladimir Putin's "Chekist regime." In Ukraine, it manifests itself in a yearning to be free of Moscow's influence and meddling -- which all too often veers into overt Russophobia.

The marriage of liberalism and nationalism has a historical precedent in 19th century Europe, when national liberation from empires went hand in hand with calls for political liberalization.

But, in a multiethnic Russian Federation and in a Ukraine with a large Russophone population, nationalism and liberalism inevitably come into conflict -- unless, that is, ethnic nationalism evolves into an inclusive form of civic patriotism.

"To ignore the alienation of Russophone Ukraine is to fundamentally misunderstand the prospects of the current protests," Leonid Ragozin wrote in a particularly thoughtful piece this week in "The New Republic."

"Russophone Ukraine has a decisive say when it comes to the country’s future. Ukraine is not and will never be a classic monocultural eastern European nation state."

But if the Euromaidan movement successfully reached out to the Russophone population, he adds, they could become valuable allies.

"There is no reason why Ukraine's Russophone inhabitants should not support the protests. Euromaidan protesters want their country to join the European Union, and the EU has many qualities that should make it attractive to the Russophones," Ragozin writes, noting Brussels' protection of regional languages and minorities and its social welfare guarantees.

The Twitter image of the mock video-game screen that got Navalny's attention also pointed to another truth about the respective Ukrainian and Russian protest movements: the process is much farther along in Ukraine than in Russia.

Compared to its southern neighbor, Russia's political system is more tightly controlled, its economic elite is more obedient and housebroken, and the security services have much more political clout, as Julia Ioffe pointed out in a recent article.

It will take time and not a small amount of skill to turn Bolotnaya into a Maidan.

But success for Ukraine's Euromaidan protesters could deal a significant -- if not mortal -- blow to the corrupt political and economic model Putin has fine-tuned in Russia and is working to export to the rest of the former Soviet space.

"The Putin epoch has been called a stage of post-revolutionary stabilization, but it hasn't turned out that way," Kolesnikov wrote in Gazeta.ru.

"It is merely a period of the ongoing perestroika revolution and the half-dissolution of the Soviet imperial essence."

-- Brian Whitmore

NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to tune in to the Power Vertical Podcast on January 31 when I will discuss and debate the issues raised in this post with co-host Mark Galeotti and guest Sean Guillory.

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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