Friday, August 26, 2016

The Power Vertical

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 

"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 

"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.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Idrian from: Surrey, BC
January 30, 2014 20:34
Where should Ukraine align with? Putin? The EU? Or itself? What kind of ideology should prevail in Ukraine? Ethnic nationalism? Western-style liberalism? Or a left-wing option that protects Ukrainian political and economic sovereignty and classifies Ukrainians as "Ukrainians" on the basis of loyalty to a specific geographic entity and not on skin or blood?

by: Demetrius M from: My House
January 30, 2014 20:36
Thoroughly enjoyed the article, thanks.
In Response

by: Brian Whitmore from: Prague
January 31, 2014 15:09
My pleasure. If you found the topic interesting, we'll be discussing it on the next Power Vertical Podcast -- so tune in :))

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
January 31, 2014 09:43
Guys, what's the deal with Victor Yanoukowitsch? As the "spontaneous protests" started on the Euromaidan two months ago, I thought that he was going to lose his sleep and run to Frau Merkel to sign the "Association Agreement" with the Germans.
And instead of that, he signed a US $ 15 billion deal with Putin and does not appear to be giving any signs of moving in the direction of Germany.
In the meantime, the German-paid LGTB activists who occupy the central Square of Kiev appear to be getting ever more despised by the population of the Ukrainian capital, which is reflected in the fact that ever more cars with registration numbers from Western Ukraine (where most of the Euro-hoodlums come from) are getting BURNED on the streets of Kiev.
And at the same time, the leadership of the Ukrainian Army appears to have just issued an appeal to the Pres. calling him to put an end to this entertaining Euro-party. So, I am just wondering: are the freedom-loving peaceful opposition activists - who like beating the Ukr. police with metallic chains and stones - going to end up the same way as their friends in Syria?
In Response

by: Anonymous
January 31, 2014 14:48
these "democrats"
whenever they lose
go on the squares and do revolutions
Strange way to be democratic !
Europe yes europe no
this isn't the real problem

the real problem is that the western part of the country
the one part strongly influenced by other democrats as the Poles
part of Democratic EU
(attention , irony)
want to divide the country and gain independence .

This is the truth
In Response

by: Nikolay from: Minnesota-USA
February 06, 2014 03:37
I know to you Russians it does not make any sense. But the elites in Ukraine don't have a petroleum to steal unlike Russia. Most epode who despise the protestors have something invested in the government. For example they are burnning car of the automaidan because they actually go to homes of corrupt officials and protest. You must be aware of the fact that most in the attendance of the maidan in Kiev do not support gays and that police in Ukraine work for the mafia offering protection rackets. I have visited Ukraine many times and seen it myself.

by: Anonymous
January 31, 2014 14:55
never will happen in russia
what happen in Euromaidan
because Russians have understood very well and since a long time
that should not be left to act with freedom
to pseudo Western humanitarian organizations

(Unless you want to see , one day , the Mc Cain's face in your house)

by: Jack from: US
January 31, 2014 14:55
the protesters on the Ukraine as getting their instructions from US government crooks and financing from the pockets of US taxpayers

by: Marko from: USA
February 01, 2014 11:51
Lot of points here that I don't agree with. The EU actually didn't protect the rights of Russophone minorities at all in the Baltics. Endorsed highly discriminatory language laws and so on... just not true. Secondly, comparing Yanukovich to Putin is absurd. The latter has had few accomplishments the latter many important ones. Most recent milestone was Russia's birthrate starting to exceed the death rate. Can't tell you how many talks I attended at academic conferences (given by people much in line with RFE/RL's ideological leanings) about how that could NEVER happen. I think that we can file the oft-repeated predictions about a popular anti-Putin revolution in Russia in the same place with those and others such as Russia being unable to increase energy-production w/o Khodorkovsky and so on...
Besides, Navalny isn't a nationalist. He's anti-migrant but not nationalist in a single other way. He is a pro-American liberal period.

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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