Staunton, April 9 – The hysteria about Ukraine now filling the Russian media much as it did on the eve of Moscow’s invasion in 2014 reflects a fundamental problem that often is overlooked: Ukrainians and Russians are remarkably similar with regard to ethnicity but diametrically opposite in terms of worldviews, Vadim Shtepa says.
The editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expertportal says that many Russians follow Vladimir Putin and believe that Russians and Ukrainians are in fact “one people,” forgetting that what makes a people a nation is often less ethnic differences than those of even deeper worldview perspectives (in Estonian at epl.delfi.ee/artikkel/93096171/vadim-stepa-kas-putin-plaanib-toesti-tahistada-21-aprillil-kiievi-hoivamist; in Russian at region.expert/swirl/).
Russia feels itself a self-standing empire, while Ukraine feels itself to be a part of the West, Shtepa continues. And because Russians can’t imagine themselves as an empire if they don’t control Ukraine, they and especially the Kremlin feel “an irrational hatred” to a Ukraine that is not only independent but wants to be fully part of the West.
And such Russian attitudes explain why Leonid Kravchuk, the first president of Ukraine, recently observed that “Russia doesn’t see Ukraine in any other role besides as one of its own gubernias” and that “the alternative is thus the destruction of Ukraine as a state” (gordonua.com/publications/kravchuk-rossija-mozhet-sduru-pojti-v-nastuplenie-na-ukrainu-krysha-mozhet-poehat-dazhe-u-putina-1547017.html).
Putin’s insistence on the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people is “doubly mistaken,” the Russian regionalist writer says. They are “two different peoples but the dividing line between hem is not ethnic but one of worldview: one stands on the side of the Kremlin empire, while the other is against that in principle.”
Of course, Shtepa says, Russia has a variety of more limited goals in mind as it contemplates expanding its invasion of Ukraine. It wants to restore the patriotic upsurge that followed the Crimean Anschluss. It wants to mobilize Russians behind the ruling party in advance of the Duma elections. And it wants to distract attention from Russia’s problems.
But as at least some people in Moscow know, this time around, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine would not be a hybrid one but rather a direct clash between the armies of two states. And that could mean that the Kremlin by launching such a war would be laying the groundwork not for the destruction of Ukraine but for that of itself.
That risk may yet stay Putin’s hand, but his failure to understand the difference in worldview between Russians and Ukrainians means that even if this crisis passes, another will arise unless and until Ukraine is fully integrated into the West and Moscow has no choice but to swallow what for it would be a most bitter pill.