Thursday, May 21, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Views Ukraine as ‘Failed State,’ Ripe for Seizure, Shcherbak Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 21 – Yuri Shcherbak, Kyiv’s former ambassador in Washington, says that some Russian leaders are actively considering the possibility of seizing all or part of Ukraine and are preparing public opinion in Eurasia and the West for such a move by pushing the notion that Ukraine has become “a failed state.”
In a lengthy article in today’s Kyiv newspaper, “Den’,” Shcherbak says that “aggressive conversations relative to Ukraine and the possible dividing up of its territory are being conducted” now in Moscow by a variety of Russian nationalist politicians and analysts ( and
Among the people he names are the followers of Konstantin Zatulin, the first deputy head of the Duma committee on compatriots and director of the Institute of CIS Countries, Aleksandr Prokhanov, the novelist and “Zavtra” commentator, and Aleksandr Dugin, the leader of the Eurasian Movement.
And while these individuals are notorious for their openly imperialistic views, Shcherbak says that he is convinced that “the idea of the division of Ukraine into parts is completely seriously being worked out at various levels of the powers that be in Russia.” And he reminds that it was not so long ago that Bolshevik “fantasies” informed Moscow’s “bloody reality.”
Moreover, he adds, many Russians took note, even if few in the West did, of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments at the Bucharest summit when he burst out: “Ukraine is not a state! What is Ukraine? One part of it is Eastern Europe, but another – and a very large part – was given by us!”
Such statements, the former Ukrainian diplomat warns, “are called in military language the ideological-propagandistic preparation of a future operation for the seizure of the territory of a sovereign state.” And like most such efforts, they rely on a mix of facts and fictions in order to appear plausible to the greatest number of people.
The idea that Ukraine is a “failed” state, he continues, is simply not true. According to one recent international ranking, neither Ukraine nor Russia falls in the category of a failed or failing state, but Ukraine’s obvious problems combined with Moscow’s vastly more powerful propaganda effort has allowed Russia to put Ukraine in that box.
Indeed, two articles by Russians have appeared in the last 24 hours that appear to provide evidence of the Ukrainian ambassador’s point. In one, Andrey Stavitsky pointedly asks “has the sentence already been returned” on Ukraine in the current economic crisis? And will that entity thus “disappear as a state?” (
And Konstantin Zatulin yesterday wrote that Moscow must view the Russian diaspora in Ukraine and elsewhere as an ally, “in the same rank with the army, the fleet and the Church,” thus making a direct appeal for Russia to act before ethnic Russians in Ukraine disappear through assimilation (
Many in Ukraine, the West and even in Russia will be inclined to dismiss Shcherbak’s article as an overreaction to overheated Russian nationalist commentaries in Moscow. One very much hopes that such a dismissal is appropriate, but unfortunately, there are increasing indications that at least some in the Russian government are actually thinking about partition.
In the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Georgia and the West’s failure to take tough action to punish the Russian government for this breach of international law, more and more people in the Russian Federation are thinking about the possibility of redrawing borders in the post-Soviet space.
An example of that is provided by Mikhail Chernov, the secretary of the Movement for a Single Ossetia which wants that nation to unite under the aegis of the Russian Federation, in an interview he gave to the Israeli journalist Avraam Shmulyevich that was posted online in Russia on Tuesday (
In the course of the wide-ranging interview, Chernov suggested that incautious actions by Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili could again lead to war and to the Russian conquest and dismemberment of that Caucasus republic. Indeed, he suggested that such an event could lead to further redrawing of the borders in the region.
Asked whether Russia might be “playing with fire” if it pushes for further border changes, Chernov replied that “it is impossible to stop this process” and that if Russia wants “to survive,” Moscow must have “its own projects for the redrawing” of the map of the world before others can achieve their goal of “the destruction of the Russian state as a single whole.”

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