MAXIM VIHROV, The Ukrainian Week
Why our allies avoid direct hints of Russia’s potential collapse
The question as such may seem pointless at first. There aren’t any major signs that Ukraine’s allies are prepared to betray us at the moment. The Western elites (let’s generalise it this way for the sake of simplicity) are counting on a Ukrainian victory and have been doing a lot for it to materialise. At the same time, they are wary of a Russian defeat.
There is almost nothing more annoying than the thinking of ‘this is Putin’s war’ that some western leaders push. According to them, the fall of Putin and his servants will automatically give rise to a ‘new Russia’, a peaceful, democratic and open country. The belief in Russia of this type is explained by decades-long corruption and the influence of soft power, which Moscow uses to distort Western political discourse. However, these are not the only reasons as to why the belief of a ‘new’ Russia is still strong.
Russia’s claim on world or even regional leadership are unrealistically comical: a country with a smaller GDP than Italy can never be such a leader. The same can be said about ‘great’ Russian culture. Russian ballet, Tschaikovsky, Dostoyevsky, the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, the colourful domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, languid Russian romances, caviar & vodka may impress someone. However, Russia is not able to fully capture both the Old and New World`s attention when it comes to culture, as Russia’s cultural potential is incomparably low.
The Russians have managed to master the art of corrupting the Western political classes (along other KGB-style methods) with significant success. However, it was the very European interests that have compelled European leaders to ‘understand’ Putin – in particular this was the issue of energy supply. The ‘pipeline’ notion became an important factor of socio-economic comfort and stability, and hence, political comfort as well. The fact that the West was used to this dependency on stability of energy supplies, led its leaders to continuously turn a blind eye on Putin’s atrocities.
The support that the collective West decided to give Ukraine is by no means cheap. Therefore, talks of Putin shooting himself in a bunker while Russia is transformed into a prosperous and peaceful society is not only naive but a sincere expectation to return to the previous state of comfort. In other words, this is the hope that someone else who is more adequate takes over the Kremlin so that business as usual can continue. At least, this is a step forward from what Western leaders envisioned a few months back. The real question is whether we can convince the West that Russia is the problem, not Putin.
Here, is where one will find the root of the problem. It is hard to believe that Western elites are that uninformed and naive not to understand that it is pointless to wait for a domestic democratic turn in Russia. Even if such a turn would occur, what would be its consequences? It is important to keep in mind that the war in Transnistria and the first Chechen war took place during the ‘democratic’ presidency of Boris Yeltsin. And if an elected president refuses to leave, then the start of a new war would be just a matter of time, because there is no better opportunity to curtail democracy. What to do in such a scenario is unclear – should there be a ‘special operation’ in liquidating the dictatorship during its infancy? The problem here is that there is no viable way that one could guarantee that the state would be democratic and not hijacked by fascists who would then prepare for war as soon as they gain power.
So what prompts the West to endorse the vision of a ‘new Russia’? The answer is simple: the fear of Russia’s total collapse, analogous to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
It is important to remember that the collapse of the Soviet Union did not just cause euphoria in the West, but also fear and caution. President George Bush Senior even came to Kyiv in 1991 to warn Ukrainians against ‘suicidal nationalism’. His unsuccessful and poorly timed speech did not necessarily show solidarity with Russia’s imperial ambitions but rather a fear of the unknown processes that could ensue following the collapse of Evil Empire. Three decades have passed but the fears never disappeared. If the collapse of Putin’s regime is truly what Western leaders want, the opposite is true of their view on the Russian Federation as a state. At the very least, there are no preparations or even discussions concerning the latter.
Western elites are aware that the dissolution of Russia will also entail political, economic and perhaps even military consequences, which will require attention and subsequently, effort to manage. The previous ‘comfort zone’ and stability will have to be abandoned by several generations of Western politicians. This prospect is so gloomy that Western elites are more eager to look forward to illusions of a ‘new Russia’, which will not only have a different regime but its imperial anatomy as well.
This is a major problem. Ukraine wants to win, as peace will only ensue after a victory. However, it is for certain that as long as Russia exists in its current form, there will not be long-lasting peace in Ukraine. The West also wants a Ukrainian victory but envisions it differently. Our allies want a convincing yet cautious victory which will destroy Putin’s regime but leave Russia as it is, without its collapse.
Ofcourse, ‘Western elites’ as such, is a generalisation. Therefore, we must address those who are simply ready to listen to us. Even more, we address those who believe that it is possible to pursue a direct and swift solution out of the current state of events. Furthermore, it is often the case that events can change drastically in a matter of a few months.