July 02, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Mikhail Malyutin


The issue of Ukraine's entry to NATO should be viewed by Ukrainians and Russians through the eyes of each other

Faulty political performances have got a vicious implication: they affect lives of ordinary people when their bosses undertake flight-forward moves. By now, nobody in Russia seriously fears NATO, as well as Ukraine's presence in this alliance. We certainly have got – as satirist Mikhail Shchedrin wrote yet in 1880s Ц a Department of Misgivings and Warnings, but the attitude of normal Russians to its officers is the same as the attitude of the Ukrainian people to "professional Ukrainians".

However, myths don't comply with sane logic. When President Viktor Yushchenko, after the NATO summit, finds himself in the mire, with a perspective to dwell there until December 2008 or even until the next elections in 2009, he looks funny. When he trumpets from this position, like Old Major, the boar from Orwell's Animal Farm: "Be happy Ukrainians: you've achieved a great victory!", both East Slavonic peoples hold their side with laughter over the miserable politician. However, this does not mean that the NATO issue is going to vanish away on its own accord. In fact, it is unlikely to stay for a long time in the present transitional status of "not living and not dying". After Yushchenko's promise to launch a referendum on the NATO issue, made public on June 16, the issue should be discussed soberly and seriously.

In Russian and Ukrainian folklore, a soldier was not supposed to boast while riding to the battle. Today, when the die is really thrown, we have to realize that the view of Ukraine as an unviable "half-state", typical both for the Moscow elite and the Russian population generally, is presently outdated. Though the style of the 2004 events on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) reminds of Paris-1968, the driving forces of this revolt remind of the Great French Revolution. Despite forecasts of imminent partition into two or more parts, Ukraine has since been more distant from the "brink of disintegration" than earlier, though the economic and social situation has not improved. Moreover, despite the overall corruption and thievery surviving from the times of Leoniud Kuchma, today's Ukraine demonstrates an array of features of a self-sufficient country, in certain aspects more mature than the contemporary Poland with its provincial and irrational nationalistic ambitions.

At the same time, a serious attempt to steer Ukraine into NATO may return the country to the times of confrontation in which "the winner takes all". The presently dominating trend of unification may be thus reversed to the opposite. The split of Ukraine in this situation is the domestic affair of Ukraine: after all, Russia has enough problems of his own. What I am really concerned of, as a Russian, is the inevitably ensuing confrontation of the Kiev establishment with my nation Ц not only with Kremlin but with Russia and the Russian people.

The fact of Ukraine's independent existence is actually admitted by most of the Russians. However, Ukraine's entry into NATO is likely to be perceived in Russia as a conscious hostile choice of not only the establishment but the people of Ukraine.

It is true that Russian leaders don't often look back at the population's view. Still, according to Alexander Pushkin's remark, when Kremlin is really strong, this strength is provided with "approval from the people".

Some circles in Moscow may hope for further coexistence with Ukraine Ц outside or inside NATO Ц in the old manner of sharing gas kickbacks; probably, that is what Viktor Yushchenko is now relying upon. However, things have gone too far: the Kiev authorities have crossed the "red line" probably not quite apprehending the degree of profundity of national mythology they have affected.

Returning from mythology to political reality, we assume that the Kiev provocateurs are beginning to reap what they had sown. A friendly, neutral independent Ukraine and a member of a hostile alliance are "two big differences", as they say in Odessa. This difference in approach reflects in fact not an imperialistic reaction but a natural concern of national interests.

The neighboring state has a sovereign right for a public choice, hostile to our interests. This suggests a necessity to respond Ц the earlier the better, and with a reasoned political moves instead of stupid phraseology. It is our qualification of Ukraine as a self-sufficient nation, and not an unviable by-product of the game of history, that urges us to discuss an adequate and serious response.

Well-known thinktanks, specializing in Ukraine, are very likely to reiterate the scenario of revolt, using the pretext of the referendum on NATO. We are going to face not an easy battle but a heavy warfare, as Russian-Ukrainian writer Arkady Gaidar once wrote in his "Military Secret": the "bad boys" we are going to confront are already recruited by the "Chief Bourgeois".

The NATO referendum has become a convenient trump card, played by each of the rivaling Ukrainian politicians: Yanukovich, Yushchenko, Timoshenko. We are facing a really serious campaign. As a sociologist with 20 years of practice, I don't share the dominating belief that the referendum on NATO entry is going to turn a scathing defeat of the "Atlanticists". Great confrontation, as well a great hysteria, has got an irrational logic of its own. In 1996, Zyuganov and associates believed that Boris Yeltsin is unviable and ineligible.

By today, all kinds of developments are possible, including military confrontation of two peoples over the NATO issue. In fact, some influential Kiev clans are highly interested in this outcome. Enraged with the revenge of the East Ukrainian team, they realize Ц quite correctly Ц that their current positions are very fragile. At the same time, they are realistic enough to admit that the European Union is reluctant to integrate Ukraine even in case it immediately transforms into a "normal" East European nation.

Therefore, they rely upon a scandal, and expect support from professed Russophobes from the US Republican Party and from Baltic and Polish circles. Though the Kiev elite, as well as regional authorities, like any political establishment, are dominated by moderates and blase persons, the die is thrown, and after Yushchenko delivers a challenge to Moscow, Timoshenko cannot perform less resolutely.

Meanwhile, the potential confrontation of Russia and Ukraine is likely to affect not only a small array of "problematic regions" but a broad expanse. Though the pragmatic majority of Ukrainians is not going to sacrifice itself for the sake of "NATO and European choice", Moscow's incorrect behavior may arouse irrational but natural and strong sentiment of protest. Therefore, the real danger in any "anti-NATO" campaign is not even the unwelcome result of the referendum but the risk of a repeated awkward, selfish, and silly performance.

Attempts to spread fears over the referendum in the Ukrainian population are stupid. This tactics has to be avoided, as well as other stupidities, though in the Russian anti-NATO campaign they are in fact inevitable. To minimize stupidity, one should recall the thesis of Vladimir Lenin that defense is the doom of a political campaign. It is necessary to attack.

Sun Tzu warned that in case the strategy is correct but the tactic is faulty, the war will be won but with great sacrifice Ц in fact, that was typical for all wars Russia has waged. In case, on the contrary, tactics is sane but the choice of strategy is erroneous, the battle will be lost Ц as typical for informational wars in which the USSR and Russia have been equally vulnerable.

Starting the battle, it is necessary to realize that the referendum is not a universal means of blackmail but a self-sufficient value. Before this referendum is accomplished, the ascent of a Russia-friendly president of Ukraine is impossible, and any friendly agreement signed with Moscow is unreliable, as the game may be replayed again at any moment.

At the same time, the referendum is also a means of re-establishing normal relations between the Ukrainian and Russian peoples. Even in case of failure, the opponents of entry in NATO will become a real political force, and an effective stronghold for further fight.

In case Russia changes its political language from the current fleemarket slang to a normal dialogue of nation-states, the debate over Ukraine's entry in NATO is likely to result in a clear and convincing victory.

The Ukrainian people should be calmly and patiently explained that the attitude towards NATO in Russia is currently highly mythologized, and a fraternal nation, rushing into a hostile embrace, is perceived as a traitor. Similarly, the behavior of Medvedev and Putin should be understood accordingly, as any Kremlin leader tends to prove that he is a good Russian patriot and has not therefore "lost" Ukraine. A really good Ukrainian leader may emerge from the debate in the triangle of Russia, NATO, and Ukraine, though this fact is today not yet obvious.

In case Viktor Yushchenko, with his current lack of popularity, will continue following the confrontation line, he is unlikely to win the battle Ц on any date, and in any weather. On the contrary, the "collective Viktor Yanukovich" has an opportunity to win if he acts resolutely. In case his associates collect the sufficient "sociological majority" against NATO yet before the referendum, the result will be of great political significance, predetermining the outcome of the referendum itself.

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