For Russian diplomats these days, it is challenging to get through the Western media mainstream. But we will give it a try. And maybe someone will read and give it a thought.
Appearing last November in the Power Play talk show on CTV News channel I expressed an opinion that the Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine at some point had become unavoidable. Despite Moscow until the very last day believed that it could have been avoided. But the following discussion (as the previous interactions between my colleagues and the media) indicated that either there was no desire to get to the bottom of the current crisis, or there was not enough knowledge, or both.
Let’s take a history lesson. We all know from studying books about the humankind from ancient Greece and Rome to the modern days that every conflict has its causes. No matter how objective or subjective, imaginary or real they may be, they exist. And Ukraine is no exception.
In the late 1980s, due to various reasons the Soviet Union began to crumble with centrifugal tendencies. The multinational state collapsed with a series of ethnic conflicts (in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, Central Asia, etc.). But, in general, while opinions may differ, everything ended in Belovezhskaya Pushcha with an almost civilized divorce as it seemed then.
Russia took upon itself the burden of international debt of the former USSR and decided to proceed to civilized divorce with other Soviet republics along the borders, as they had been determined by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, somewhere reflecting, but somewhere not, the historic “Russian proper”.
My country set on the path of building a federal multi-ethnic state with a Russian majority, but with respect for the rights, culture, interests of all nationalities that inhabited this land where everyone could enjoy democratic rights – freely learning the language, choosing religion and traditions of family upbringing. So that in all our regions people could speak not only Russian, but also their native tongue, be it in the North Caucasus, Tatarstan, Yakutia or elsewhere. As well as giving the same rights and freedoms to vibrant communities of diasporas (Armenian, Azeri, Georgian, etc.).
We hoped that the same approach would prevail with our neighbors. And here Ukraine comes to the fore. What was happening there during the same period?
Part of Ukraine was historically under Poland, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, another part was populated by Russians. The Bolsheviks played with the lands and their borders, including by adding to what is now called Ukraine, regions such as Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk, Odessa, Crimea and others that historically had been Russian proper but were later incorporated into Ukraine by politicians.
Anyway, independent Ukraine, as we know it now, appeared three decades ago in that composition. We were looking at it as a sister state where half of the population was historically Russian. We hoped it should become the new Switzerland, Canada, or Belgium in terms of adherence to democratic and human rights norms. A democratic state where all peoples, languages and ethnicities peacefully live side by side and build common future. It was 1992.
It’s 2023 now. More than 30 years have passed. Presidents changed in Ukraine. There was former communist leader Kravchuk, Soviet administrator Kuchma, nationalist Yushchenko, and then Yanukovich (who was called pro-Russian, but continued Ukrainization in the same accelerated pace). Despite the difference in their publicly expressed views, they were all disastrous in the internal agenda. Regardless of political affiliation, each leader repeated the same fatal error – they acted from ultranationalist Western Ukrainian positions trying to create a mono-ethnic state.
There were regions that did not want to be separatists, never thought of seceding, but wanted to enjoy dignified democratic equality. To simply watch TV and read newspapers, receive education and public services, etc. in their native language (and we remember that in Ukraine besides Russians there are still those who speak Hungarian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Slovak, Moldavian, Romanian, etc. – and they should all be equal too).
I am now in Canada and observe first-hand how this country managed to find the strength to build a democratic society where the people speaks two official languages and where Indigenous languages are respectfully cherished. An English speaker who comes from Oakville entitled to the same service in Montreal or Quebec City as the French speaker from Papineau or Ahunstic-Cartierville somewhere in Vancouver. Canada, given its strong Ukrainian community and connections, invested heavily in building a new Ukrainian state, but inexplicably failed to share its experience of bilingualism. Had it shared, maybe there would be no current conflict.
But, we got too carried away with the narrative. The next important milestone was the year 2014. As a result of political pressure in the aftermath of the anti-Constitutional rebellion in Kiev, in February there was reached the Agreement on the settlement of the political crisis in Ukraine, initialed by representatives of the three European powers – Germany, France and Poland, witnessed by Russia, with the U.S. present but refusing to put its signature. In few months, the country was to hold snap elections. And everyone knew that incumbent president Yanukovich would not win. Even he himself knew that. But those perspectives that could have allowed Ukraine to survive through the crisis with at least semblance of democratic decency were trampled on at the behest of Washington.
Democratically elected Yanukovich was illegally deprived of power and moved to Kharkov (but did not flee the country as Western politicum forces the public to believe). And here it comes. Please, pay attention. In the past decades there have also been coups in other parts of the world. The U.S., EU and the West in general always say they never accept the overthrow of democratically elected leaders. But it turns out that in this regard Ukraine was treated as a second-rate country. There the democratically elected, congratulated and recognized president (whether he became unpopular or not) was forcefully kicked out of the office with the West dead silent.
But we digress again. There was a coup. Frenzied opposition nationalists, who violated the agreements reached with the mediation of the West, seized power and said that they would ‘take care’ of the Russian Ukrainians. Their first draft legislation was aimed at excluding the Russian language from Ukraine. It didn’t become law, however, the intent of the new authorities was a warning to the half of the population that it would soon be discriminated against in terms of language and culture.
(This opposition, in fact, consisted of fascists glorifying Shukhevich and Bandera, who immediately sent militants to Crimea and tried to seize power in the Autonomous Republic that was ethnically predominantly Russian, but voluntaristically “transferred” by Khrushchev from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to Soviet Ukraine in 1957).
Of course, after this first attempt to discriminate against the Russian language and Russians, significant part of the Ukraine’s population realized that the new “government” would bring hardship and, perhaps, even death. That was why Crimea and Donbass rebelled. The West, instead of suppressing the nationalistic sentiment in Kiev, began to play along with them, thereby igniting the conflict.
Crimea unequivocally decided to return to Russia. And I am glad to see that in spite of trying to question the legitimacy of the relevant referendum the West no longer denies that Crimea could not remain in Ukraine in that situation. The population only benefited from returning to Russia. Russian, Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar languages are equally recognized and respected, education guaranteed, and paperwork administered in their language of choice. And speaking of Crimean Tatars, as an ethnic group they gained more after returning to Russia than during the period under Ukraine, including all the rights and freedoms granted by our Constitution (social, cultural, religious, linguistic, educational, labour, property, etc.). The development of the peninsula has proved that all peoples there live in harmony and prosperity. Any Western politician who has been to Crimea can confirm this.
Then came the civil war in Donbass. An inter-Ukrainian conflict between the nationalists and the regions that were ready to stay in Ukraine if their rights were respected. But the Kiev regime (first headed by Poroshenko, and now by Zelenskiy) denied them this. Denied the very same rights of being bilingual enjoyed in Canada, but refused in Ukraine. And Trudeau’s cabinet has been silent about this, as was silent Harper’s government in 2014-2015.
With great effort the civil war in Donbass was halted (at least for the time) by the Minsk agreements. President Vladimir Putin personally was constantly trying to convince the leadership in Kiev that the conflict would be settled once everything that had been signed was implemented.
Though, as it turns out now, the West wanted not a win-win situation, but a zero-sum game, in order to achieve not a consensus, but the defeat of Russia within a broader geopolitical game at the expense of the Russians living in Ukraine. In their recent candid remarks, European politicians, including German ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and previous French President Francois Holland were pretty frank about that, as well as about the real purpose of the Minsk agreements aimed at deceiving Russia and give Kiev time to accumulate forces for striking Donbass and Crimea.
For seven years, Russia had been honestly trying to reach a settlement with Ukraine and the West. At the very end of 2021, we even came up with draft security guarantee agreements, a new deal between the West and Russia that would respect the rights of buffer states and ensure peace in the Euro-Atlantic. But our offers were haughtily rejected.
Some accused Russia of lying that there would not be military operation. Forgetting that at the same time we reminded: there would be no need for employing military if there was no provocation. Only if Kiev did not decide to arrange a blitzkrieg against Donbass. For years we have been telling our partners that any such attempt would be a disaster, primarily for Ukraine and the European security. But no one listened or heard.
Between November 2021 and January 2022, there was a lot of talk in the Western media that Russia was amassing 125,000 troops on the border. Meanwhile, everyone in the West knew, and was silent that Ukraine through 2021 was concentrating close to 300,000 troops for a lightning strike against Donetsk and Lugansk. To take over the republics, reach the borders of Russia, enlist NATO support, and put us before this fact.
That is why our special military operation became inevitable. We recognized the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk republics and after the when we saw that Kiev’s offensive against the Russian population of Donbass was imminent, we could not act otherwise and preemptively applied article 51 of the UN Charter. The tragedy of this situation is that anti-popular regime in Kiev guided by the West has been mobilizing more and more men and women for senseless slaughter in a bluff doomed to failure.
Russia reaffirms the goals of the special military operation. And they all will be achieved. Ukrainians will live in a federal, multilingual, multicultural, democratic, stable, prosperous country free from internal conflict where every citizen feels free and safe. And Russia will provide it.
This is the only finale for the current crisis. Whether it will be achieved by diplomatic or military means largely depends on the West.
And the result will be the same – for Ukraine and the geopolitical balance. The longer the West continues ignoring the will of its constituents and proceeds with its irresponsible policies, the greater the risks to global stability. Until it’s too late, the West and Europe in particular must realize – there is a way out of the crisis. Kiev shall announce that it ceases hostilities, orders its troops and nationalistic units to lay down arms, voluntarily subjects itself to demilitarization and denazification. This is the only way to build a healthy society in Ukraine in accordance with the interests of its people.
This is the future. But right now we are to the south of ending the kinetic conflict. No matter what, it will be definitely settled. Russia will not retreat from ensuring its interests, whether someone likes it or not. We are realists and proceed from the interests of our own citizens, our own security, and economic well-being. So, are our Western counterparts ready to meet the interests of their citizens? This is the question for their governments and voters.
And, a separate, but crucial thought.
Western leaders and thinkers have to pay utmost attention to the ontological differences in how Russia and the West look at the crisis. We comprehend it through spiritual optics, they – in a very materialistic manner. One shall not disregard as mere words President Putin’s October 2018 statement at Valdai Club meeting that “we as martyrs would go to paradise while they will simply perish”. For Russia, the resolution of the crisis will have been based not only on balance of powers and interests, but also with the traditional values-based multiplier in the equation. For the West to believe it is all only about territories, borders, military balance in Europe would be a shortsighted error.
I tried to convey my message as frankly as possible as a diplomat, an analyst, and a Russian citizen who thanks to historical and family ties knows from the inside about the situation in Ukraine both today and yesterday.