Russia’s “Losses” and “Debts” in Neighbouring Countries

When journalists start to wonder about the specifics of Russia’s policy in neighbouring countries, I immediately remember the anecdote about two Russian tankers drinking wine on the Champs-Elysees and complaining that “we lost the information war”.

Whether a Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Kyrgyz, or even Baltic journalist asks a question, it always sounds the same: “How did it happen that Russia lost Ukraine (including Georgia, Moldova, the Baltic States), and what should be done to avoid losing Belarus (Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan). After journalists, this nonsense is repeated by the population, and even many politicians (including Russian ones) like to say it in an informal setting: ‘And yet we lost Ukraine, and now we are losing Belarus’. At the same time, it is clear that they are proud of their frankness and “independence of thinking”.

I immediately have questions. Is it exactly Russia that has lost and is losing everyone? And not Ukraine that lost Russia? Are Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, etc. not afraid of losing Russia? Precisely Russia is so useless to anyone, and around it is a priceless necklace of former republics that must be persuaded at any cost to “not get lost”?

If you look at the level of economic development, international weight, the level of well-being of the people, the development of state and public institutions, and even the level of personal freedoms of citizens of modern Russia and the surrounding former Soviet republics, you get a diametrically opposite impression. Moreover, each time the latest “lost” one receives from Russia extremely favourable offers of cooperation. Moreover, Moscow openly explains what it sees as a mutual benefit, what integration mechanisms need to be launched for this, how they will work and why it is not going to encroach on someone’s political sovereignty.

Each time, the “lost” one first demands that Russia simply fulfil its wishes to reduce the prices of its goods purchased by the “lost” one, and demand nothing from it in return. Because Moscow must understand that it is dealing with a proud and independent, thoroughly sovereign state, integrating into progressive western structures and only accepting financial and economic assistance from the Kremlin out of its natural kindness, and not scolding Russia too much on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays in return.

Even if Russia meets the most absurd wishes of the “lost” one, at the next stage it “gets lost” anyway, explaining it by the fact that it is not possible for it, so advanced and progressive, to maintain relations with the thoroughly Asian-smelling Russian barbarians, and that in addition Russia didn’t appease it, such a super-valuable one, enough. Finally, when it turns out that the dreams of equal entry into the progressive western family were dashed to dust, that the west brazenly deceived, took everything of value, and threw away the “lost” country of Russia as something unneeded, Russia is again to blame — it did not keep its “brothers”, one might say it shoved them into the mouth of the bloodthirsty west by force. Listen to former regionals who both in the Ukrainian media and on the Russian airwaves say that Russia is to blame for Maidan, as it “worked poorly” with them, and then “did not save” them from the “revolutionaries” they raised themselves.

Pretensions to Russia are divided into three parts. 1st. Limitrophic elites (both former and current) usually tell us that Russia did not fulfil all their wishes to reduce energy prices, uncontrolled access of limitrophic producers to the Russian market, as well as the issuance (and subsequent write-off) of interest-free loans with sufficient joy and speed. Therefore, they say, they simply had to give in to the persuasions of the treacherous west. If they are told that the west has offered them much worse terms of cooperation than Russia, constantly put forward new demands, and initially did not promise any equality, they are startled. How, they say, can you not understand such a simple thing — this is the west, it has the right, because not everyone can have the happiness to even stand in its hallway.

Second. Both the elites and the “pro-Russian” part of the limitrophic population indicate that Russia, unlike the US and the EU, “invested little” in “working with the population”. They are told that the direct and indirect gains of the national economies of the “lost” countries from Russia’s concessions amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, while the US invested at best from several hundred million to ten billion (depending on the country). The answer is “you didn’t give, you worked with the wrong ones, you, they say, financed the elites, but it was necessary to develop ‘pro-Russian forces’.”

I am surprised that people do not notice that American money was 99% deposited in the pockets of the ruling elite. And the Americans did not agitate anyone for themselves. They only financed those who already took a pro-Western position. Already at the level of “journalists” and “activists” crumbs were received. “Great” Ukrainian journalists/grant-eaters/“eurointerators” Mostovaya, Nayyem, Leshchenko, and others are rich only by Ukrainian standards, but by the standards of Moscow they are beggars. And the latter two more or less “got rich” only after the coup of 2014, when they received lucrative state positions. Before that, their level of well-being was comparable to a more or less successful suburban farmer, and the stability and security of income was lower. If we talk about the cannon fodder of Maidan, about all sorts of heavenly hundredsand “people with kind faces”, they not only received nothing from the US’ largesse, but voluntarily and enthusiastically spent their money and lives on “supporting the revolution”.

At the same time, it should be borne in mind that it was the ruling elites who spoke about how “Russia will lose” or “has already lost” another former “sister republic”, and with a tenacity worthy of better application, drove out Russian business and Russian media from their territories, replacing them with western ones. And they were happy, even though western business was much less reciprocal about the “brotherhood” and worked with them in a completely bandit-like way (Poroshenko and Biden are not the harshest example of transnational financial and political banditry). The “independent media” created with western grants, in contrast to the extremely scrupulous Russian media (or local media, created with Russian money), immediately found themselves in opposition to their ruling regimes and started working to overthrow them. Nevertheless, the regimes groomed and nurtured them, flirted with them, and provided them with the most favourable conditions for working and receiving lucrative advertising orders. Did Russia force them to do this too?

As for working directly with compatriots, I will give just one example. Despite the fact that the “lost” people diligently blocked such work, using all the possibilities of the state, sometimes it was possible to push through a serious project, starting from which one could work further. I’ll tell you about the fate of one such project.

If I am not mistaken, in 2012 Vladimir Kornilov, through me, suggested to Dmitry Tabachnik, at that time the Minister of Education of Ukraine, to open a school with Russian language instruction in the left-Bank districts of Kiev. He motivated the need to open such a school by stating that there were 7 Russian schools left for the whole of Kiev (2,600,000 registered and 4-5 million real population) at that time. There were none of them on the left bank of the Dnieper (where 1-2 million Kievans lived).

Tabachnik caught fire with the idea. He quickly worked out the issue with the Russian Ministry of Education and Science and the Russian Embassy in Kiev. Various structures, from several banks to the Presidential Administration, promised assistance from Russia. Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov did not object. President Yanukovych, too. Firstly, he was then looking for arguments that could convince Russia to make a discount on the price of gas. Secondly, he reasonably believed that one Russian school does not change anything, especially since it is not a problem if you want to later repurpose it into a Ukrainian one.

Relying on the position of the President, the “European integrators” in the parliamentary faction of the Party of Regions were gagged. Even the Galician underground in the “Party of Regions”, led by Hanna Herman, remained silent. Russia was ready to supply this school with the necessary textbooks and equip classes with the latest technology for free. It seemed that there were no obstacles to opening the first Russian school since independence in Kiev (where they had only been converted to Ukrainian schools).

When the now “pro-Russian blogger”, but back then quite pro-European lawyer, Tatiyana Montyan started to collect signatures against the opening of a Russian school in the neighbourhood where it was supposed to open, no one was particularly concerned. Tabachnik conveyed through me to the activists of the “Russian World” in Kiev that it is necessary to collect, at least throughout the city, the number of signatures for a school comparable to that which Montyan would collect against in one micro-district, and this would be enough to prevent the project from being blocked. People took up the task with enthusiasm. And? Montyan in one neighbourhood collected an order of magnitude more signatures than the entire “Russian world” in all of Kiev.

I am far from reproaching Montyan. It doesn’t really matter to me whether she was acting in accordance with her beliefs, under orders, or for some other reason. She did the job she set out to do effectively. I also can’t blame the activists of the “Russian world”. They were really completely disinterested enthusiasts who honestly tried to save the project of the Russian school. It’s just that in all of Kiev (as it is still written, an “80% Russian-speaking city”) there were fewer people willing to sign up for its opening than in one micro-district of people who stood up against it.

Please note that there were no Banderist members on the streets of Kiev at that time, beating and killing for “pro-Russian sentiments”. The SBU did not throw into prison “for treason” those who called to join the Customs Union. There was a unique situation when almost the entire Russian vertical (from the Embassy to the Presidential Administration) supported the project, the Ministry of Education of Ukraine pushed it through, the government and the President of Ukraine did not favourably hinder it. What other conditions were needed for the active participation of the “Russian population” in supporting the Russian school project? It was necessary to just spend 10 minutes appending signatures.

I can be told that this happened by chance, that people did not have time to find out, did not orient themselves, etc. Okay. As soon as he became a minister in 2010, Tabachnik demanded that school administrations strictly comply with the law on opening a parallel class with the Russian language of instruction if there are at least 11 statements from parents indicating that such a desire exists. Before that, schools tried to ignore this provision of the law, fighting it off by saying that they, allegedly, do not have enough Russian-speaking teachers. To make it easier for parents, a direct line was opened with the minister’s office, and local education authorities were warned that each case of refusal would not only trigger administrative and disciplinary measures, but would also be referred by the Ministry to the Prosecutor’s Office. I would like to draw your attention to the fact that according to his status, the minister would not turn to the District Prosecutor, but to the Prosecutor-General or his deputy. I.e., by the time the case got to the district, it would already be under control in the Prosecutor General’s office of Ukraine and the Regional Prosecutor. It would be difficult to wrap it up.

In these hothouse conditions in Ukraine in 2010-2013, less than 100 classes with Russian language of instruction were opened. By the way, at the same time, a sociological study of the Donetsk National University, showed that even in the Donetsk region the number of people identifying themselves as Ukrainians exceeded the number of those who considered themselves Russian, although the majority (99%) indicated Russian language as bring native to them.

I have a question: did Russia not help them enough to sign the application for the opening of a Russian school, or to write a statement on the opening of a Russian class? Was it Putin who personally recorded them as Ukrainians? Maybe Russia should have paid them for the desire to remain Russian?

I specifically chose an example of an ideal combination of circumstances, when both the Russian government actively helped, and the Ukrainian government did not hinder, but at the level of the relevant Ministry in every possible way promoted the project. This case fundamentally refutes the deliberate lies of some and the conscientious delusion of others who claim that if Russia “fought for Ukraine” and did it “correctly”, they would move mountains.

As I wrote, there is a third part of the pretensions to Russia. They are usually put forward by honest people who have exhausted the opportunity to prove their position on any of the first two options discussed above. When they are convinced during the discussion that Russia really did what it could and even more to keep the unreasonable “brothers” from making fatal mistakes, the last argument is used: “So it was necessary to send troops”. “And conquer you”? I ask. “We would have surrendered on our own,” they say. “And if they didn’t surrender? You were completely sovereign, you wanted to go to Europe, Russia had to please you, not conquer you, or you would immediately be offended,” I tell them.

“It’s not us, it’s the authorities. Russia should have saved us.”

“To save you from the government you voluntarily chose, the course of which you generally supported?” I ask.

“Yes, because we are Russian, and Russia needs to save the Russians,” they say.

And I don’t know if I should continue this conversation with a blind-deaf-mute person. But to the question of who betrayed whom and who lost whom, they answered me. If they still associate all their troubles and joys exclusively with the actions of Russia, if they are still waiting for Russia to finally come to its senses, come, and make them happy by force, if they are offended that it’s been a long time and it hasn’t come, then it is they who have lost Russia, and not visa versa. And they should think about how to get Russia back. Because the option “living without Russia” has already been tested — nothing came of it. While Russia did not even notice the “loss of a fighter”.

Rostislav Ishchenko

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