Book highlight from “Understanding Contemporary Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism: The Post-Soviet Cossack Revival and Ukraine’s National Security” by Dr Olexander Hryb.
British-Ukrainian Aid launched a new programme of webinars dedicated to Professor Umland’s book series – “Ukrainian Voices”. You can watch an online presentation of the first volume of the series – Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War by Mychailo Wynnytsky here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuhM8mlQcDE&t=2s
Dr Olexander Hryb published the second volume in the series: “Understanding Contemporary Ukrainian and Russian Nationalism: The Post-Soviet Cossack Revival and Ukraine’s National Security”
and we offer you a highlight from his book.
The first part is an introduction of the concept of Eurasianism. If you continue visiting our Blog Page you’ll be able to read further five parts of the highlight.
4.2 Ethnogeopolitics of Putin’s Eurasianism
Russian military affairs analyst Dmitry Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a Member of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, concluded in 2018 that president Putin have chosen to rely on ‘the ideology of patriotism and Eurasianism. Putin sees his long presidency as a mission given by God’ (Trenin, 2018). Russian president quoted a number of Eurasian thinkers in his public speaches, so the link to Eurasianism is well documented. “Who will take the lead and who will remain on the periphery and inevitably lose their independence will depend not only on the economic potential but primarily on the will of each nation, on its inner energy, which Lev Gumilev called passionarnost: the ability to move forward and embrace change”. (President Vladimir Putin, December 2012 (Quote from http://government.ru/docs/17248).
Western ability to understand future projection of Russian power has been challenged when Moscow invaded Georgia in 2008 and annexed Crimea in 2014. The Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency allegedly briefed US congress that concentration of Russian troops around Ukraine is a bluff only few weeks before the invasion in 2014. No mainstream Western politicians predicted that Russia will challenge existing security framework in Europe despite the fact that Moscow warned about its ‘red lines’ in Eastern Europe on numerous occasions, including such extreme actions as rehearsals of nuclear strikes against a major Central European capital. The only politicians who predicted invasion of Crimea were such mavericks, right of the mainstream centre, as ex-Alaska governor Sarah Palin and President of Poland Lech Kaczynski. Palin explicitly predicted invasion of Crimea as a follow up of Russia’s war in Georgia (2008), thus showing a better insight into Moscow’s intent than the US’ intelligence services with their formidable funding. Lech Kaczynski warned that invasion of Georgia will be followed with invasion of Ukraine and then Poland. Neither statement was taken seriously at the time and Putin’s foreign policy is often characterised as unpredictable. Understanding Putin’s Eurasianism, which is semi-officially accepted by the Kremlin as a state ideology since 2011, could help making sense of what seems like unpredictable foreign policy and gain a better future insight. As general Dmitry Trenin observed: “Ukraine occupied a key position in the Eurasian Union concept that became the foundation of the foreign policy section in the Vladimir Putin’s presidential program in 2011. The success of the entire Eurasian integration project, in essence, was dependent on Kyiv’s economic and political orientation” (Trenin 2017).
4.2.1 What is Putin’s Eurasianism?
Kremlin’s interpretation of various Eurasian ideas became known as Putin’s Eurasianism. It is often assumed that Putin’s regime lacks any national ideology and some analysts even claim that corruption is the only modus operandi that binds modern Russian elites. Indeed, unlike Lenin, Stalin and other Soviet leaders, Putin produced a modest PhD thesis dedicated to political economy of natural resources in Russia with no grand design for Russia or the world. Putin’s public speeches are the only official source of his publicly declared views but not necessarily expression of his inner beliefs. Qualitative content (operational code) analysis of all Putin’s public speeches available on the Kremlin’s website (over 1 mln. words) performed by a group of American scholars produced little insight, except that Vladimir Putin values personal and state control slightly more than an average international leader (Dyson 2017). However, who would expect a former KGB officer to tell the public what he really thinks as oppose to what he wants the public to believe? In this sense it might be just as important to understand what Putin does not say in public but likely to believe as it can uncover his real intent more than a million words published online. This is not to say that there are no public pronouncements that express views shared by both President Putin and the Russian public. So what is safe to believe and what is relevant to the outside world?
When Putin claimed in public that he is ‘the biggest nationalist in Russia’ it could be interpreted on a number of levels. First, that the President of Russia is an ultimate national leader and nobody is allowed to position himself as a bigger patriot (nationalist). Second, that Putin is the right kind of nationalist i.e. patriot but not a kind of xenophobic thug denying the rights of minorities to be part of the Russian nation (Rossiyskiy narod). Third, that Putin is indeed the greatest Russian nationalist but publicly admits only the politically correct interpretation of the term. If we apply Gellner’s definition of nationalism (Gellner 1983) as a political principle that one culture should coincide with its own state then understanding of Putin’s nationalism would enlighten us with his vision where Russian state borders should end. In other words, establishing geography of Putin’s nationalism will inform us where he sees the ideal existential space for Putin’s Russia vs Europe and Asia i.e. Putin’s ‘Lebensraum’ as mentioned by a leading Russian expert in Germany and Eurasianist himself Alexander Rarh (Lau 2013). The key similarity between the discredited concept of Lebensraum and Eurasianism is that both share a common belief in the natural ‘biological habitat’ for nations whether it is an Aryan race (German nation) or the Russian super-ethnos (people) / ‘Russian civilization’.
Coming up next on our Blog: 4.2.2 Putin’s nationalism: Known knowns
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr Olexander Hryb is a London based writer with over 20 years experience in research, analysis, media and PR. He studied history, politics and the sociology of culture in Lviv, Prague and Warsaw. Olexander worked as a broadcaster and online journalist for the BBC World Service, Polish Radio (Overseas Service) and as analyst for DCD Intelligence. He is currently an associated member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology as well as a Cultural Adviser in the British Army. His articles appeared in the Ukrainian Review (London), Border and Territorial Disputes of the World Series (John Harper), and the British Army Review.
ABOUT “UKRAINIAN VOICES” BOOK SERIES
The “Ukrainian Voices” book series includes English- and German-language monographs, edited volumes, document collections and anthologies of articles authored and composed by Ukrainian politicians, intellectuals, activists, officials, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and diplomats.
The series aims to introduce Western and broader audiences to Ukrainian explorations and interpretations of historic and current domestic as well as international affairs.
The purpose of these books is to familiarise non-Ukrainian readers with how some prominent Ukrainians approach, research and assess their country’s development and position in the world. The series was founded in 2019, and the volumes are collected by Andreas Umland.