The preceding period has clearly confirmed one thing: the assumption that it’s possible to arrange the post-Soviet space in a way which contradicts Russian interests is illusory. This fact may be good or bad, but there is nothing you can do about it.
Vladimir Putin’s article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” evoked a variety of responses, which is quite understandable. The author raised a sensitive issue related to the identification and self-identification of people living within the territory of what was once a unified country. That state no longer exists, but it is naive to believe that the new nations within that vast space have acquired their final form. First, because there has not been a century in history when the borders in Europe and Eurasia have not changed dramatically and repeatedly. It is strange to believe that the 21st century will be an exception. Second, the processes of nation-building in the countries that emerged in the place of the USSR are far from complete. Moreover, right now, judging by the stormy events taking place almost everywhere, they are entering a decisive stage.
Russia, we must admit, is no exception. It is clear that both the foundation of statehood and the total potential of Russia are incomparably more substantial than that of any of the former Soviet republics. This provides far more opportunities, but also imposes a different level of responsibility — not only and not so much for others, but for itself. Well, it is understandable that thirty years of separate existence have not destroyed the multifaceted interconnectedness between these regions at every level, although it now manifests in a different way than it did 10 or 20 years ago. The process of creation of a new reality is in full swing.
At the beginning of the journey, there was an idea that the main essence of this process was how quickly Western institutions would spread their influence (in one form or another) and supplant the Soviet legacy. This is no longer the case for many reasons. The West has lost its former opportunities, and with them much of its ambition. But other players have appeared that have increased their opportunities along with own ambitions (China and Turkey, at least).
This fact may be good or bad, but there is nothing you can do about it. Accordingly, any approach that assumes a gradual rolling back of Russian interests to the east (or in some cases, to the north) is not viable. In general, this is recognised by those who have harboured such approaches in the past. Moreover, they themselves have accumulated more pressing problems with something that does not guarantee quick success, and their desire has diminished.
The new situation has compelled Russia to seek out its own answers, including new ones. These relationships, rooted in the past, do not mean a return to that past. These are prerequisites for a shared future, but it is not clear yet what it has in store. It is unclear primarily because Russia itself is in the process of self-determination with respect to the former periphery. In other words, the continuity of the common space was clearly only called into question when the entity maintaining that continuity (Russia) entered a period of reflection and weighed the benefits of maintaining it. Is it necessary to work on its universal strengthening, or, on the contrary, has the time come for a thoughtful inventory?
Stormy processes are taking place almost everywhere. In some places they are primarily associated with internal evolution (Belarus, Armenia, Moldova), which is superimposed by external influence. In others, however, external circumstances have pushed internal changes (Central Asia, Ukraine). Whatever the origin, it is impossible to fix the status quo now, and this state of affairs is not limited to a short-term period; it will most likely be the case for the foreseeable future. After all, we must not forget that the post-Soviet space is also constantly moving — the world is being rebuilt on the fly.
Vladimir Putin’s article is devoted to Ukraine and the relationship between Russians and Ukrainians, but it should be viewed more broadly — as an element of Russia’s very search for a new place for itself in its border environment. The main message can be interpreted as both a proposal and a warning. The proposal is that Moscow recognises the reality and does not intend to restore what was lost or to dispute what happened, which it was always suspected of. The warning is that the proposal is only valid if the reality is understood by all interested parties, which are not going to abuse it. What the author called “anti-Russia” is an allegory for a certain approach. Namely: attempts to use the proximity of a country close to Russia in order to create an outpost to contain it. This, according to the article, is a path which only leads to a collision, which would prove fatal for such a country. This is precisely because of the aforementioned proximity — Russia will always have more opportunities to discourage such activities.
Putin does not call for fixing a certain status quo. The President of Russia has long been inside international relations and understands that it is impossible to fix anything now. It’s about building a kind of a fuse into turbulent processes — which definitely shouldn’t be done so as not to cause a chain reaction. And if you confirm this, then a lot can be further discussed.
They are invited to think together on new forms of coexistence, because the success of this reflection is vital for them and for Russia. And not for anyone else.