Wiesława Lewandowska talks with Anna Łabuszewska about European dream, ‘Russian world’ and difficult relations between Ukraine and Russia

WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: – Today we are looking at our Eastern border more anxiously and it is difficult to foresee what will be next…

ANNA ŁABUSZEWSKA: – Even prominent experts are confused in the evaluation of the current situation in Ukraine; dynamics of events exceeds possibility of analyzing them from the beginning to the end.

– Whereas, the word ‘war’ often appears. However, nobody expected such a strong presentation of the Ukrainian matter by Russia…

– Not completely. The scenario that everything is possible, has been binding since May 2012, when Vladimir Putin was sworn in on the next presidential term of office. Since that moment, one can clearly see the trend in the Russian politics – both in the domestic and foreign one. Conservation of the system started, which takes place in many spheres and through various methods. First of all, the society has been taken under stricter control. There is also a clearer conservation of thinking in the foreign policy. The purpose – rebuilding the power of Russia as a super-empire. Russia determined borders in which it wants to have influences, outlining them along the former borders of the Soviet Union, excluding the Baltic countries, which in the beginning of the 90s of the previous century, freed themselves from this control. Now the whole policy of Kremlin is subordinated to the purpose of maintaining only those influences where it is possible. In this scenario, rebellion in Ukraine and European aspirations of the Ukrainian are out of place. As we see today, Russia did not give up its weapon and is ready to make more definite moves. It scares with a war, as if in the defence of interests of Ukrainian Russians.

– What can it mean?

– Every question about the future is doomed to lack of explicit predictable answer here. It is difficult to foresee even this nearest future, when it concerns detailed scenarios written by Putin. One thing is certain – interests of Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine have never been endangered which is strongly being implemented into the minds of the Russians by the propaganda in Kremlin, in order to justify the invasion by its armies.

– Just after the victory of Majdan and establishing new authorities of Ukraine, the main instrument and also the subject of the Russian propaganda and anti-Ukrainian policy were Kremlin and Russians living there.

– Yes. The Russians living in Kremlin are used as a direct tool of the strong anti-Ukrainian propaganda. For a long time I have not heard such strong statements on the Russian TV. Those who are in Majdan, are called fascists, nationalists, Banderas, terrorists and bandits. Whereas much propaganda support of the Russian media is given to those who are protesting in Kremlin and in Eastern Ukraine against the new authority in Kiev, although there are not many of them. Such a strong propaganda usually entails very specific force actions. And it is so now.

– Can the fact that Russia supported the president-runaway Janukowycz (by organizing him a press conference in Rostow at Don) mean that he will still play a role in the Russian version of the Ukrainian scenario?

– However, Russia decided somehow reanimate Janukowycz, although it had already been obvious after his escape from responsibility for the massacre in Majdan, that he was a political corpse. Maybe Russia does not have any hopes about him, because – according to the words of Miedwiediew – ‘he was behaving like a wicked man’, not strictly or definitely enough, but – as the Russian propaganda repeats – he is still a legal president of Ukraine. However, as a political runaway and also creating himself into an Ukrainian patriot and hero, he is a good but temporary tool of the Russian politics. According to its needs, Russia can always find other instruments, other hands, other people.

– It used to be said that Ukraine is organically needed by Russia as well as Russia by Ukraine. Some people still think that it is impossible to liquidate this dependence…

– The very dependence is out of the question, although we cannot understand it because it is impossible to transfer this Ukrainian-Russian relation into Polish conditions. And we are said to be in close relation with the Czechs or the Slovakians, but not in such a close relation!

– So, what are these today’s inseparable Ukrainian-Russian relations based on?

– Today if it was not for the Russian gas or the Russian oil, the Ukrainian economy, so the whole Ukraine, would not exist. The economic advantage of Ukraine is metallurgy engulfing enormous amount of the Russian gas. Ukrainian arms industry – quite modern – is still strictly connected with the Russian one, although in the 90s of the previous century these relations were partly broken. Both Russia and Ukraine would find it convenient to have a closer, peaceful and partner –cooperation just in this sphere. Certainly, every party here has its expectations – impossible to meet in the conditions of the open conflict.

– What is significant, are strong relations in the social and cultural sphere which are revealed in the current conflict in various ways.

– It is obvious. Russian families are spread all over Ukraine, whereas the Ukrainian ones are spread all over Russia, because in the soviet times the authorities were trying mix ‘soviet’ nations in this way. Speaking Russian language by the Ukrainians is not stigmatized at all. We must remember that Ukraine and Russia are strongly connected together with the community of civilization – culture, faith and language. One of the most important programs which Putin acknowledged after his return from Kremlin in 2012 was supporting ‘Russian world’ (‘russkijmir’). Within maintaining the Russian civilization in the former soviet republics, there appeared centres of Russian culture and Russian language. Indeed – Ukraine was one of the most important objects of the Russian attention also in this sphere. However, it must be admitted that this program of Putin was not completely successful… Today’s Kiev mostly speaks Russian. The language act enacted in 2012, giving some preferences to the Russian language in Ukraine, was abolished by the Supreme Council just after the escape of Janukowycz and constituting of the new majority in the parliament. But performing duties president Ołeksandr Turczynow did not sign this decision – so the act is still obliging. Its abolition was an evident political mistake.

– But even Kiev speaks with the voice of Majdan in Russian language: we want to go towards Europe, not Russia.

– This original motto of Majdan was quickly replaced by a more ad hoc call: ‘Go away with the gang of Janukowycz!’ which became a priority sense and purpose of Majdan.

– Although Ukraine has a closer relation with Russia than Europe, there appeared a Ukrainian dream about Europe; a lot has been said about ways of Europeanization of Ukraine…

– And, surely, it must have irritated Russia…Ukraine is still close to Russia. If we excluded the Russian interference, fulfilling this ‘European dream’ of the Ukrainians would depend on whether they will be able to start a difficult economic transformation at all, whether they will be able to transform the ill corruptive system which led the whole economy to bankruptcy, to appearing unfair magnate fortunes. It is not known whether anybody is able to re-plough this ground…. Certainly, everything can be done as much as Russia does not introduce its ideas, especially its military interference. We must rather ask whether this ill paradigm of dictatorships on the post-soviet area will be somehow overcome in Ukraine.

– And cannot we say it despite the victory of Majdan and even if Russia resigned from using violence?

– Today it is really impossible to foresee anything. Ukraine, even if it is left alone – that is, without Russian obstacles – is only at the beginning of an unknown path. And we can rather be sure that, anyway, Russia will not resign from Ukraine…. For Russia it is a very important casus because if Ukraine managed to change the Russian guardianship into the European one, it might be the beginning of the end of the dream about the Russian empire according to today’s political elites of Russia. Whereas if Putin manages to make Ukraine give in, he will succeed in everything. Hence, there is such a swaggering military attitude.

– According to some analytics, Russia is not such a powerful country – also in economy, because of only slight increase of the GDP since the year 1990 and ending formula of development on the basis of raw materials – which might guarantee bankrupt Ukraine suitable support and palpable assistance.

– Indeed the GDP in Russia has been hampered. After a period of stagnation, which has been for some time, a period of recession is foreseen to come. However, apart from any evaluation, Russia still has enormous natural resources. The problem is that the raw pension is unfairly divided; if this pension will still be growing, Putin will manage to maintain peace and social balance. If there is a disruption of the balance, there is an open question whether other resources will be sufficient, especially the political ones, in order to alleviate this situation and have it under control. Saying whatever about Putin, he effectively controls everything what is happening in Russia. However, there is a question here: to what extent is this present stability only the effect of apparent features created by an effective propaganda and to what extent is it reflected by the actual situation?

– There is a question: can the scenario of Kiev reappear in Russia – the so-called Russian ‘Majdan’, for example, on the Red Square?

– I do not think so. Now I do not see such a potential of a protest in Russia.

– Today in Russia of Putin, protests ended, and the steadfast determined leader may, however, be popular with his nation…

– It seems so. After the Olympic Games in Soczi, support for the president increased to 67 per cent. It is really a lot. But, there is a question, at what cost…We can only have a look at what happened with the potential of the protest from 2011-12, on the eve of the inauguration of the presidential term of Putin. Recently heavy verdicts have been given in this matter – 2-4.5 years of oppression, only because people were on the square where there were harmless fights against the police. Participants were punished in a demonstrative way, which the Russian society accepted calmly. So, survivors of anti-Putin activists gave a clear signal that they should not be engaged in protests, because there was nobody…The propaganda action of discrediting protest leaders is being conducted effectively, and it is difficult to say that they are leaders of a declared opposition. Certainly, there is a big group of unpleased people in Russia, but they do not rather reveal themselves.

– For fear or for the sacred peace?

– There was a lot of hot discussions about Majdan in the Russian internet. There were questions why ‘Majdan’ is not possible in Russia. The answer was one: Because we are afraid, and they were not afraid, they stated that they were able to give their life for freedom, but we prefer walking with balloons in a parade and demonstrate the Russian pride. This is emotional reaction of Russian bloggers hostile to Putin but there must be something in it.

– And Władimir Władimirowicz Putin added the excellent Olympic Games to it…

– These Olympic Games were not completely successful because important guests – the leaders of the free world - were absent. The Olympic Games in Soczi were to show a new image of Russia, as the chief of the organizational committee said, and – in my opinion – only the mask of Russia was shown. Apparently beautiful and friendly, and in fact, concealing quite a sad reality. The Russian society, however, accepts this masquerade.

– So far – despite the threat of military intervention and quite severe actions in Kremlin – it may not be certain (or we hope so) that Russia is aiming at the division, annexation of some part of Ukraine?

– It seems that also for the very Kremlin this galloping development of events in Ukraine was a big surprise. Does Russia want federalization of Ukraine? It is one of variants, one of scenarios. Now Russia is trying various scenarios. Russia acknowledges Janukowycz its legal president but it does not acknowledge new authorities in Kiev. According to Moscow, the authority in Kiev was grabbed by force, as a result of military turnover. This is a base on which Kremlin is building its narration and politics.


"Niedziela" 11/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl