I have been reading news on Ukraine in English, Russian and Ukrainian. In one of the latest articles written by Friedman “From Putin a Blessing in Disguise” (He also wrote “The World Is Flat”) it states that “there are a lot of people who seem intent on restarting the Cold War — in both Moscow and Washington.” If you read American media, Putin is a bully and America is standing up for Ukraine. That makes sense, until you read Russian media where “Putin is standing up for the Russians living in Ukraine who are being oppressed by the new bully of a Ukrainian government which incidentally is being paid by Americans.” Since most of you probably don’t read news in Russian or Ukrainian, let me give you their perspective.
So what’s REALLY going on?
The truth of the matter really depends on your perspective. I have been involved in foreign policy development in Washington from 1993 to 2004 (the beginning of the second Bush administration) and throughout all of those years I had, what I call “acute double personality disorder”. At that time I was mediating US-Russian relations in strategic missile defense and very often felt that I had two people inside of me: one was Russian and the other American. Today I write from the perspective of a Russian/Ukrainian who is spends hours during the weekends talking to my Ukrainian family and my Russian relatives.
Putin didn’t “make” Crimea vote pro-Russia
Even before the referendum I knew very well that Crimea would be voting to leave Ukraine. Not because they would be forced to do so by Putin but because Russians wanted to join other Russians. I really don’t think voting was rigged and the referendum did reflect the opinion of the majority. Putin’s approval rating rose given his decision with Crimea (and they cheer him on when he tells U.S. and Europe off) and many Ukrainians feel the same way.
So…what does America has to do with any of this?
America is seen as using the situation to further its own interests. For example many Russian media sources say that current Ukrainian government is a puppet of America and America pays a lot of money to this government to “further their secret geopolitical gains” et cetera et cetera… And this “evil”(new Ukrainian) government, fattened by the money from this “opportunistic and dangerous America” will use the situation for their own purposes to establish an ultra nationalistic atmosphere where not one Russian word would be allowed in the street and Russian TV channels prohibited. “What other reason would there be for such a vilification of Russia and Putin in the media?”
Why do Ukrainians care about relations with Russia if they are supported by U.S. and Europe?
So what does this is “support by the international community” do for Ukrainian people? People are in a hurry to get their passports so that they could take off from Ukraine while the border between Ukraine and Russia is still open. Otherwise “ we will have to leave to Russia in a roundabout way, through Moldova maybe?”—I am quoting my niece here, who is, in fact, also getting her passport in case she needs to “make a run for it.” In the meantime this border is becoming an almost impenetrable Iron curtain. It is becoming very difficult for a Ukrainian citizen to get a visa to travel to Russia. This means my father might never be able to see any of his relatives (all of whom are from Russia). It also means that many businesses in Ukraine are going underwater as we speak (since Russia is an important customer and supplier) and inflation already started. Sugar and flour prices went up by 30%. (I know this because my parents bought food for their emergency pantry). Due to the upcoming sanctions (“U.S. and Russia Swap Sanctions Tit for Tat Over Crimean Crisis”) traveling between America and Russia will be a nightmare (so much for my brother being able to visit me in America!) As my Russian and Ukrainian friends say “with international community and U.S. as friends, who needs enemies?”
One day at a time
Your average Ukrainian does not think that much about such abstract subjects as “future destiny of Ukraine”. They are just trying to figure out which type of government would give them enough stability today not to lose their jobs tomorrow. They could care less about some mythical “freedom”, they think about how to survive today. Russia is close and is much more stable…while America is far away and out of reach for a “normal Ukrainian” who very often can’t even tell the difference between himself and another Russian.
People are more important than geopolitics
There is a saying in Russian and also in Ukrainian that says that “even a devil would break his leg in this mess”. Why polarize people even more by all these heated speeches from Washington? Do we care about Ukraine’s well being or do we care about one-upmanship? What do we want to do: to help, or to assert our own ego and rub it in Russia’s face?