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6 October, 2013

The Russia That is Losing Us

“We are surrounded by enemies” is the national idea of today’s Russia, and even Putin will hardly be able to change it. Even if he wanted to

My Ukrainian-born grandfather is visiting from Russia. “Kyiv is developing nicely,” he says as we tour the city. “Beautiful. But if you listen to our, Russian, TV stations, you get the impression that everyone here is starving to death – especially lately. They just hate the idea of Ukraine joining Europe!”

“You’re all going crazy about this association,” a friend from Russia wonders in a Facebook chat. “I get it: that’s all you write about because that’s your job, but what about all other Ukrainian users! And it’s always Putin who is making life difficult for you. But here, no one is interested in your association or in Ukraine.”

The people I talk to live in two different worlds. My grandfather gets his information about the world from the TV and Rossiyskaya Gazeta (Russian Newspaper); my friend – from social networks and serious weeklies if he wants to know something specific on geopolitics.

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A quick look at the Russian mass media shows that on the public level, it’s not so much a war against Ukraine becoming closer to Europe, but the formation of a blackened image for both Ukraine and the EU. How else would you explain the fact that state and government-controlled TV channels buzz of the inevitable troubles for Ukrainians from EU association, the cunning Yanukovych and so on, while serious publications hardly mention this?

This means that Ukraine-EU association does not pose any serious threats to Russia – only phantom ones. They are provoking hysterical statements from Putin’s adviser Sergei Glazyev, Russian MPs and others. In turn, this hysteria fuels the phantom threats.

Indeed, not everything is smooth in the Association Agreement, and Polish apples could actually, in theory, sneak onto the Russian market as Ukrainian fruit. But is that a reason to restrict the imports of Ukrainian crushed stone and rolled steel, not to mention locomotives or helicopter engines?!

The last time something like this happened was with the notorious law prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens. Indeed, Russian diplomats should probably take better care of the rights of adopted children. Instead, one Russian MP laments that adoption should be banned, because Russian children are being made into zombie-like soldiers, who will subsequently fight against Russia!

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People buy it. For Russia, the “we are surrounded by enemies” concept has long been the general propaganda line, a major railway track. The problem is that it’s impossible to come off a railway track. The hate campaign against Georgia did not begin on August 8, 2008. It started immediately after Saakashvili insisted on the removal of Russian military bases from his country’s territory. 2006 was the highest pre-war peak of this campaign, with the mass deportation of Georgians from Russia under the pretext of the battle against illegal immigration. At least three people died then as a result of detention conditions and the overcrowding of special detention centres. It is almost sure that shortly after the end of Saakashvili’s term in office Georgia will turn out “not friendly enough”. This will happen soon, so keep an eye on this.

There is a law in economics, that when the share of a country’s military industry goes beyond a certain level, war becomes inevitable. Otherwise, profitability falls and an economic crisis ensues. The same applies to propaganda. When profoundly designed to fuel hatred, it is hard to switch to a different track.

Therefore, it is futile for Mykola Azarov to publicly expect that Russia will calm down after association between Ukraine and the EU becomes a fact. There is also no purpose for some top Ukrainian and Russian journalists to express the hope that closer ties between Ukraine and the EU will turn out an ideological benefit for Russia – and eye-opener to the fact that there is nothing bad in the association with the EU, and Ukraine itself will be viewed as a “bridge between East and West”.

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The opposite will happen. The supporters of association should be aware of this. “We are surrounded by enemies” is the national idea of today’s Russia, and even Putin will hardly be able to change it. Even if he wanted to.

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