The author is an FT contributing editor and chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia, and fellow at IWM Vienna
Rumour has it that, requested who’re Vladimir Putin’s most trusted advisers, one in all his interior circle replied drily: “Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great and Peter the Great.”
Last week, Russia’s president brazenly in contrast himself to Peter, and the invasion of Ukraine with the tsar’s expansionist wars of three centuries in the past. To an untrained eye, his actions can simply appear like an effort to revive the Soviet Union, and even the tsarist empire.
In actuality, what’s unfolding is a perverted finish of the final European empire. The so-called russky mir, or “Russian world”, conceived as one thing culturally larger than the Russian Federation, is being sacrificed on the altar of autocracy and Russian ethnicity. This imaginative and prescient is shorn of any enchantment to common values and all attractiveness to Russia’s neighbours. Putin’s determined try to seize Ukrainian lands is a present of power that comes at the price of the collapse of Moscow’s gentle energy. With the assault on Ukraine, he has reduce Russia’s ties to Europe by making Europeans disgusted with the nation.
A brand new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations, based mostly on a pan-European opinion ballot, suggests the break with Russia is irreversible, at the very least within the brief and medium time period. A majority of Europeans have misplaced any illusions about integrating Russia into their world. Many assist slicing financial, cultural and even diplomatic ties with Russia. Western sanctions have failed to alter Russian overseas coverage, however they’ve pressured European governments to half with the concept Moscow can ever be a dependable companion to the west.
In phrases of sentimental energy, the invasion of Ukraine has achieved two issues: a decisive finish to any lingering post-Soviet id, and the degradation of Moscow’s use of the Soviet victory over Hitler as a part of its nationwide mythology and worldwide repute.
Before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many Russian-speakers in Ukraine went about their lives not needing to ask in the event that they have been Russian or Ukrainian. Their passports didn’t outline their id. Now, when Russian troops kill hundreds of individuals for insisting they don’t seem to be Russian however Ukrainian, any semblance of a post-Soviet id is gone without end.
War in Ukraine shouldn’t be Putin’s Soviet second however his anti-Soviet one. On the day he launched it, he spoke like some White common from the Russian civil struggle, not the Red colonel he truly was earlier than the autumn of communism. He declared Russians the true victims of the Soviet regime and Ukraine a fiction, an entity invented by Vladimir Lenin.
In constructing his autocracy, Putin has laid waste to the “Russian world”. This is finest seen within the area of tradition. Empires are most frequently born on the battlefield, however they die within the bookstore.
Only a decade in the past, Russian-language sections have been the densest in lots of Ukrainian bookstores. No longer. After the struggle, there’ll fairly doubtless be no Russian-language sections in any respect. In European cities the place, till this yr, most individuals may hardly distinguish Russians from Ukrainians and Belarusians, they’ve now learnt that distinction. For many Ukrainians on the streets of Warsaw or Berlin, it’s a political assertion to talk Russian. We can make sure that a lot of their youngsters won’t ever need or hassle to be taught the language.
The Russian language’s position in European cultural life might change into one other sufferer of Putin’s invasion. The Bolshevik revolution and the communist regime that adopted killed tens of millions, however they didn’t extinguish foreigners’ curiosity within the Slavic tongue. Many leftists within the west and the worldwide south noticed Russian because the language of the revolution and have been desperate to be taught it.
Putin’s colonial struggle in Ukraine is not going to tempt individuals exterior Russia to begin studying Russian. Quite the opposite. Moscow’s provocative definition of Russian-speakers in neighbouring international locations as ethnically Russian dramatically diminishes the willingness of governments in these international locations to encourage Russian-language training.
Before the struggle, Moscow’s center class and Putin’s oligarchs thought and acted as in the event that they belonged to each the Russian and the western world. Such an “amphibious” life is not doable. Barricaded identities are changing a number of affiliations. In Russia, being “Russian” is now outlined by real or feigned public assist for Putin’s struggle with the west. In the west, being Russian is more and more recognized with not belonging to the west. Many Russians dwelling exterior Russia as we speak really feel like exiles.
Changing the character of the border, and never merely the place of the border, between Russia and the west is the foremost goal of Putin’s struggle. Tragically, he’s attaining that objective.
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