Once again Mark Ames delivers the kind of Russia coverage people need to see with his piece, “Sorry America, Ukraine isn’t all about you.” Why is this article so brilliant? Let me count the ways.
-Ames wields one of the most powerful weapons in Russian political discourse, that is recent history. See memories are really short these days, and the rapidity with which yesterday’s hero becomes today’s villain seems to be speeding up. What’s worse is that every time one of these shifts happens, these people act like they’re totally oblivious to the fact that their previous position was the complete opposite. They don’t want to talk about their past so we’re not supposed to bring it up at all. Look, I realize people change, I’m one of those people and I’ve had to admit I was seriously wrong numerous times. That being said, when you were wrong on an issue, it might help to explain yourself first. It also doesn’t help when the reason you got so upset about Putin’s government is because it no longer benefited you personally. It kind of reminds me of those conservatives in the United States who consistently argue that any government spending which benefits them is beneficial or at worst a necessary evil, while that which does not is wasteful and immoral.
-Unlike most of the Western press during 2011-2012, Ames is one of those few writers who doesn’t present the Russian “liberal” opposition through rose colored glasses. The truth is that this movement largely authored its own destruction by totally disregarding social welfare issues, denigrating working class people outside of Moscow, rallying behind unpopular figures, and failing to come up with coherent solutions to problems everyone was already aware of. The Western press presented Navalny as this “Westernized” liberal when in fact he has always had a right-wing nationalist streak, and it is the anti-Putin nationalists who are far more dangerous to Russian society. Pussy Riot were turned into martyrs and the Western world couldn’t understand why the Russian populace wasn’t up in arms to defend them. The Russian people get chided for not appreciating feminism, while nobody seems aware or concerned that the image of “feminism” they got was in the form of people who carried out an orgy in a museum and organized an event where a woman shoved a frozen chicken into her vagina. In the West that kind of feminism would be rejected, especially given the high probability that most of these stunts were dreamed up by the women’s boyfriends or husbands. But just like Ukrainians are supposed to make do with FEMEN because it gets a seal of approval from Western men, Russian women are supposed to accept this kind of public humiliation as their own national brand of feminism. Who could have predicted that this would be rejected?
I’m sure if you bothered to do a survey, most people around the time of their arrest would have been against the excessively long sentence they received for what would have otherwise garnered the Russian equivalent of a misdemeanor. What they were not prepared to do, was to glorify an act which, even for a non-religious person such as myself, was quite frankly stupid and useless. It seems that Russian liberals and their supporters, however, would have none of this. The West turned them into celebrities; discussion was not allowed, lest one be called a Putin supporter or a dumb provincial.
-I have to take issue with one of Ames’ central points, that Putin lost the Moscow liberal crowd while gaining the “Silent Majority.” I believe that the only explanation for the shift in public opinion is that a large portion of the opposition movement is supporting the government now. I’m sure that is the case for parties like KPRF and LDPR.
Actually even sincere Russian liberals have good reason to be upset at the American and European response to what’s going on in Ukraine. An underlying theme of the whole Maidan mess from the beginning is this idea that the European Union and America were happily gloating about how they were taking this country out of Russia’s orbit. There was no concern for stability or the law so long as it was Yanukovych’s regime. Then suddenly Russia gets involved and they begin screaming, “Hey! Stop destabilizing Ukraine!” Immediately the talk turns to how Russia can be punished. Now the problem with this is that there’s been this idea for years that Russia is supposed to be a partner of Europe and the US, and yet the relationship has in fact been almost entirely one-sided the entire time. Russia is expected to make every concession(and indeed it has made many over the years), while the “club” of rich Western nations does pretty much anything it wants. Russia’s not supposed to be involved in Ukraine on its own borders, but it’s fine for the UK and US to invade and conquer Iraq for some reason. Ignoring the obvious, that this sort of behavior sent a clear message to the Kremlin that it’s perfectly fine to engage in imperialist aggression so long as you can get away with it, the current hypocritical behavior of the West also sends a message that Russia, for no known reason, is not allowed to have any interests. Surely some among the opposition may wonder if this kind of behavior would continue even if Putin had been replaced by a more liberal leader. Would the West ever treat Russia as a partner or not?
Of course the stock answer to the rhetorical question is that the West will treat Russia as a partner once Russia clean’s up it’s human rights record, becomes a democracy, or whatever bullshit they teach political experts to say in public. Of course this dog just doesn’t hunt because not only have Western companies been investing heavily in Russia all throughout this allegedly tyrannical rule of Putin and Medvedev, but they of course routinely invest in all manner of dictatorships or otherwise highly undemocratic states, sometimes literally propping up authoritarian regimes. If the US or EU is happy to take action against Russia over human rights issues while remaining silent on Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, it totally legitimizes the question of whether human rights and democracy are really the issue they have with Russia. Lastly, in a capitalist world large countries with stronger economies are always going to directly influence their weaker neighbors. Therefore even the most liberal Russian regime would exert much control over Ukraine, barring maybe that country’s membership in the EU. No Russian, nor any other citizen of any country, would ever accept the idea that their country shouldn’t have any interests in foreign countries whatsoever, even along their borders, and even when significant portions of that other country’s population are of the same ethnicity.
-Ames dares to do what few will, or what few even known enough to do, which is call out specifically West Ukrainian fascism. Because the truth is that even though they have obviously attracted many Russian-speakers, this is a movement which started and germinated in a particular region of Ukraine. Contrary to what Maidan supporters and Russian nationalists seem to have tacitly agreed upon, the dividing line was not the Dnieper. Unfortunately it seems that Russians these days are beginning to associate anything “Ukrainian” with fascism, which the actual fascists are happy to embrace. If you’re a radical nationalist, you want your people to believe that your views are what define their identity. Sadly, Ames says nothing about this phenomenon, nor does he explore Russia’s responsibility for driving many Ukrainians into the nationalist camp.
-Ames’ conclusions, about the West basically needing to swallow its pride and the fact that Ukraine(or rather its new government) are pretty much fucked may sound cynical, but it is unfortunately entirely logical in a capitalist world. Neither side, Russian or Western, is willing to budge one inch when it comes to the demands of their respective businessmen. The banks need to be repaid and the industrialists need their profit. The flag waving morons on both sides are about to learn a painful lesson about how the world really works and how people are actually divided. Sad but true. That is unless, we as a class pull our heads out of our asses and start considering alternatives to this current system.