The vestiges of Gorbachev’s glasnost in modern-time Russia spur Russian politicians to a measure of candor which rests on the fact that the Russian leaders have no-one to fear. The West has made itself too dependent on Russia’s oil and gas to be able to offer vigorous criticism. Consequently, the Kremlin rulers can get away with cynicism that verges on brazenness. In Soviet times, things like that were viewed as state secrets and disclosing them could entail imprisonment.
For example, the Soviets hushed the fact that Georgian, Ukrainian, Estonian and other varieties of nationalism were repressed from the position of Russia’s great imperial nationalism. If any member of the Politburo had said a word to this effect, he would have lost his office immediately. In contrast, Vladimir Putin declared with utmost candor as he introduced Dmitry Medvedev, the man whom he personally picked to be the next Russian president four years ago: “Dmitry Medvedev is, just like me, a Russian nationalist in the good sense of the word.” Curiously, the world mass media ignored this revolutionary confession almost without exception. It is revolutionary in that, starting from the second half of the 1930s, the USSR denied in every way that there was such a thing as Russian nationalism. Earlier, the Soviet Union from time to time practiced ritual invectives against great imperial Russian chauvinism as a way to “solve” national issues and make the country more palatable to the world community.
In contrast, today the Russian mass media promote in every possible way hostility and aversion to nationalism as a theory and political agenda. That is, to any nationalism except Russian. Ukrainian, Estonian and Lithuanian nationalism are to be deemed despicable, while Russian nationalism deserves nothing but praise.
Putin’s announcement, ignored by the Western community, legitimized a movement aimed at the expansion, rather than the defense, of Russian values. It is now gaining momentum and becoming increasingly aggressive. Thus, according to Putin, nationalism is a negative thing only when it takes non-Russian forms, while Russian nationalism is permitted, supported and stimulated by the state as an ideological and political foundation of the government system that has taken shape in this country over the past decade.
Another secret of the communist USSR was that it was not in fact “a union of sovereign socialistic republics” (as the Stalin and Brezhnev constitutions claimed). Rather, as Ukrainian, Georgian, Estonian and other nationalists never tired of saying, it was just another version of the Russian empire. Soviet ideologists dismissed such statements as libel and vicious anti-Soviet propaganda. But in October 2011, Putin himself said: “The Soviet Union fell apart. But what is the Soviet Union? It is the same thing as Russia, only with a different name.” Any non-Russian nationalist would subscribe to this same view. Putin may say something similar about the Customs Union and the Eurasian Union several years from now, because they are de facto ways to reintegrate the former Soviet space.
Because Putin equates the Soviet Union and Russia, his reference to the breakup of the USSR as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” acquires a more sinister tone. If what disintegrated was Russia, rather than some kind of a union, then the goal of every Russian official should be its restoration. In this way, the Russian prime minister once again showed unambiguously what will become the idée fixe of his third presidential term. At one point in history, Europe watched with great reserve as a very similar process in Sudetenland, Austria and Memel unfolded, comforting itself with the thought that what was happening merely had to do with restoring traditionally German (in terms of population) lands. However, Germany did not stop there. The end came late in 1945 after colossal losses to Europe.
Nash sovremennik, a Russian nationalist periodical, published a manifesto outlining the geopolitical plans of a nationalistic Russia (Issue 10, 2009): “The 1913 border of the Russian Empire should be recognized as the only legitimate border… This will be, so to speak, the minimum, the starting point for gathering Russian lands.” So this is just a beginning. More will come.
In 1938, European capitals believed that if Austria, Sudetenland and some other lands were granted to the “efficient manager,” he would be content and stop. But on the contrary, his appetite was only whetted by these morsels. History repeats itself, and we again see that no one is learning from it. The Kremlin has never viewed expansion reaching Ukraine’s and Belarus’ western borders as its ultimate goal. This has always been just a beginning. The “efficient manager” in Moscow can hardly offer anything other to Russian society than the traditional “gathering of lands.” Russia will continue along this path until it is stopped.