Kremlin has always been seeking to economically integrate Ukraine with Russia. Being divided for centuries between the foreign powers, Ukraine has always been treated by Russia just as a small brother that should be better in Russia’s embracement than being an equal partner. Having been a part of the Russian Empire for several hundred years, Ukraine was proclaimed independent in 1991. However, even 23 years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, neither Russia, nor the majority of Russians accept the fact that Ukraine is independent.
The recent protests in Ukraine resulted in sudden collapse of centralized criminal power in Ukraine accompanied with the deaths of more than hundred people and thousands of people being injured. All these tragic events spoilt not only the triumph of Putin Games in Sochi purported to prove Russia’s resurrection to the whole world but delivered a profound setback to Russia’s strategy to deepen economic and political ties with Ukraine.
It is not a secret that Russia cares much about Ukraine. There are not only cultural affinity, common history and geographic proximity connections between Russia and Ukraine. Kremlin has enormous leverage over Ukraine and close allies, particularly in the Eastern regions (Kharkiv, Donetsk, Lugansk) and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. For instance, a considerable part of the Crimean population is Russians (58,5% of Russians v. 24,4% of Ukrainians). Moreover, Sevastopil, almost pro-Russian city, is a home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet housing around 25,000 Russian troops. In addition, Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas and oil. At the same time, Ukraine is economically and strategically important to Moscow as it is a transit hub for Russian energy exports and significant supplier of food.
Having Ukraine as a real democratic neighbour State threatens oil-fuelled authoritarianism of Putin’s Russia where the power is supported by the administrative hierarchy, the riot police, security forces, corruption and economy dependent on gas and oil export. Mr. Putin is afraid that the recent events in Ukraine could have a domino effect in Russia itself. The victory of the Orange Revolution also caused a lot of disturbance for him, but it did not last long. There are no doubts that he was too inspired when his hopes for gathering all the lands of the former Soviet republics together seemed to be real once a Russian-oriented Yanukovych won the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2010. Kremlin aim here was to support by any means status quo of Ukrainian society as post-Soviet and keeping it more similar to Russian one in which a civil society is shut down, there is no independent mass media (expect opposition TV channel “Dozhd”), independent pollsters are banned and any dissent views are stamped out.
Mr. Putin is afraid now when a short-term epoch of Yanukovych seems to be gone. Russian media has never been objective and fair regarding Ukraine. However, a way in which the latest Ukrainian events were covered in mass media is absolutely outrageous. Russian propaganda regarded all participants of the demonstrations as nationalists, extremists that are controlled, financed and equipped by Americans. Even today Kremlin is still challenging the legitimacy of the new power in Ukraine, even though it is recognized by the EU and the USA. Mr. Putin does not want to evidence its own Russian Maidan. His biggest fear is his people, and hence an example of Ukrainians that won a fight against corrupted and criminal system of state relations could have enormous effect on Russia’s state of mind. To suppress it, further crackdowns against Russian opposition should be effected in the nearest future. The release of Pussy Riot and Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, a former head of Yukos and, until recently, a political prisoner himself, should be regarded not more than an act of good will before the launch of the Olympic Games. On February 21, 2014, several days before the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, eight accused in Bolotnaya Square case, a politically motivated show trial, received prison sentences.
Today, Crimea risks to be influenced by Russia more than any other regions of Ukraine. There is information that Moscow has already deployed marines to Sevastopol. Some Russian MPs suggest fast-tracking Russian citizenship in Crimea and other regions of Ukraine. In addition, it has been confirmed that Moscow put its armed forces on alert in the western parts of Russia just near the border of Ukraine. However, we should not forget about Crimean Tatars that currently make up around 12% of the peninsula’s population. Being forcibly relocated from Crimea, their native land,
Only time can show further developments. Currently, Russia is on the edge of recession. And it is high time to understand that modernization and complete change of the state system should not be neglected. A state restoring its past does not have a future.