Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Russians, Ukrainians ‘Not Simply Fraternal Peoples But a Single People,’ Russian Ambassador in Kyiv Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 15 – Russia’s ambassador in Kyiv says Russians and Ukrainians “are not simply fraternal peoples – [they] are a single people. With their own nuances, with their own special features but a single people,” a statement that reflects both Moscow’s happiness with the new Ukrainian leadership and longstanding Russian views on Slavic ethnogenesis.
In an interview in “Izvestiya v Ukraine” yesterday, Ambassador Mikhail Zurabov said that he has reached that conclusion on the basis of a long study of the demographic problems of Russia and particularly the famine in the early 1930s which resulted in the deaths of so many Russians and Ukrainians (izvestia.com.ua/?/articles/2010/06/14/163217-19).
Asked whether the election of Viktor Yanukovich had put an end to “discussions on historical questions,” Zurabov said that “everything that concerns the assessment of historical events which took place in our recent past is an internal affair of Ukraine.” But Moscow greets Yanukovich’s statement that the famine was “a common tragedy” of Russia and Ukraine.
“I have spent a great deal of time on the demographic problems of Russia and well know that the policy which was conducted in those years of course cannot be called humane,” Zurabov continued. All the transformation measures of that period carried out “in the interests of a particular model of social development” resulted in “enormous human losses.”
Zurabov said that “Russia also suffered terribly from this,” and consequently, he said, he “does not consider that this tragedy was exclusively a Ukrainian one. It is a common tragedy.” “And we always have supported this point of view” because “famine was not a selective policy.” It was directed “not selectively” but at the entire people.
And that conclusion led the Russian representative to Ukraine to say that in his view, Russians and Ukrainians “are not simply fraternal peoples – we are a single people. With their own nuances and with their own special features, but a single people [‘narod’],” one of the strongest statements yet by a Russian official on the links between Ukraine and Russia.
On the one hand, this represents little more than an indication of Moscow’s pleasure with Kyiv’s new approach. But on the other, and despite the fact that Zurabov was careful to use the Russian word “narod” rather than “natsiya,” much as the Soviets did with “Sovetsky narod,” Zurabov’s comments highlight Moscow’s views on the origins of the Slavic nations.
While Western specialists on the ethnogenesis of the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians generally argue that the three emerged at roughly the same time from East Slavic tribes but consolidated differently because of the very different history of statehood in the three, many Russian writers take a different view.
Arguing that Kyiv is “the mother of Russian cities” because it was there that Vladimir accepted Orthodoxy, these Russian writers have argued that there was Russian ethnogenesis was the mainstream and that the Ukrainian and Belarusian nations were byproducts of this development rather than having independent roots.
Even though the available ethnogenetic evidence points in a different direction, that view lies behind the interpretation of many Russian historians and also of many Western specialists who rely on them. More importantly, it helps to explain why so many Russians find it difficult to view Ukrainians and Belarusians as separate nations. Zurabov appears to be one of them.
Meanwhile, a commentary in “Krymskoye vremya” yesterday both reflects and undercuts the argument that Zurabov made because it takes the existence of Russians and Ukrainians as separate nations seriously but then suggests that the way they are intertwined in Crimea particularly will either force the two states to cooperate -- or Ukraine to collapse.
In an essay provocatively entitled “Crimea as a Trojan Horse,” the newspaper’s commentator Aleksandr Mashchenko observes that both “Russian patriots” and “Ukrainian patriots” are wrong about Nikita Khrushchev’s decision to transfer Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 (www.time4news.org/content/troyanskii-krym).
The “Russian” patriots, he points out, regularly denounced the Soviet leader for what they say was “an illegal, voluntarist decision” which since 1991 has left “hundreds of thousands of Crimeans” citizens of Ukraine, “a state which is often hostile to their historical motherland Russia.”
“Ukrainian” patriots,” on the other hand, praise Khrushchev’s action as “a uniquely correct decision which in fact saved Crimea and the Crimeans” from disappearing as distinct entities, a fate that “Ukrainian patriots” are certain would have awaited all the residents of the peninsula.
Both are wrong, Mashchenko argues, because each refuses to recognize some key facts of history and life. The latter do not see that Crimea is part of Ukraine only in the same way that some of its other oblasts are, and the former refuse to recognize that Khrushchev’s gift of Crimea to Ukraine was in fact “a Trojan horse” against the Ukrainians.
“It is no secret for anyone,” he continues, “that Ukrainian independence was the result of a palace coup inside the Soviet political elite and that the contemporary Ukrainian state was created not as a result of an internal spiritual movement but as a result of an historical accident.” Moreover, he says, “its borders were defined by Stalin and regarding Crimea, by Khrushchev.”
If Soviet leaders had not included within Ukraine the heavily Russian eastern district of Ukraine and Crimea, the “Krymskoye vremya” writer notes, “Ukraine would have a different president, a different prime minister, a different minister of education and so on and so forth.” Indeed, without its eastern parts, “Ukraine would have a principally different state policy.”
That has led some commentators, including Igor Radziyevsky in his May 27 article in “Ukrainskaya Pravda,” to argue that the only likely outcomes for Ukrainian development are either fragmentation or continued instability generated by tensions between the two nations along with close ties to the Russian Federation.
According to Radziyevsky, “the crisis [in this regard] will reach its apogee during the 2012 parliamentary elections” because “the opposition will not accept the official result and will accuse the powers that be of massive falsifications.” That will “paralyze” the country and Kyiv will be compelled to use force.
“The only thing that can save Ukraine from a terrible civil war and absolute collapse,” Radziyevsky suggested in his article, is “a division” along national lines, the borders of which will be “the two-color map of the electoral division [of Ukraine] in the presidential elections of 2010.”
If that were to happen, Mashchenko says, “Crimea as a Russian enclave would turn out to be a slow-acting mine placed under Ukrainian statehood by Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev.” Or, he writes, “using the ancient phraseology which is always justified in the Tauride, a Trojan horse, given by Russia to its ambitious south-eastern neighbor.”
But even if Ukraine does not collapse, Khrushchev’s action in 1954 will play a role: “Having given Crimea, Khrushchev ‘tied’ Ukraine to Russia forever – or in any case as along as out peninsula will remain a part of Ukraine,” something he suggests “Russian patriots” should think about before they condemn the Soviet leader.

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