History does not repeat itself – it rhymes
This means that no two events are, and cannot be, the same. But from their comparisons – where they rhyme and where they don’t – we can draw certain conclusions.
On Dec. 1 we celebrated the anniversary of the referendum on the declaration of Ukraine's independence. I hope that next to the victory in the war against Russia, this date will become the top event in Ukraine's holiday calendar. For on that day, Ukrainians themselves, without pressure, voluntarily chose freedom, and after 31 years of independence, they do not want to give it to anyone.
Dec. 1, 1991 is also a significant date in world history. In terms of its importance, it is comparable with the end of the First and Second World Wars. By their decision to leave the Soviet Union, Ukrainians put an end to the superpower that had emerged after the First World War, strengthened after the Second World War, and threatened to ignite a third world war.
But now, from the perspective of 2022, we see what we experienced in 1991. At that time, there was hope and belief that the withdrawal of Ukraine from the Soviet Union would put an end to the existence of the Russian Empire, because without Ukraine, this empire cannot exist.
Now, in 2022, we clearly see that it can. And not only can it continue to exist, it continues to threaten Ukraine and the whole world.
So we have to place fresh hopes on another collapse of the Russian Empire. I personally have great doubts about the possibility of this scenario. What remained in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union does not resemble the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed along the ready-made lines of the Soviet republics, where in each of them the native nationality had a majority and a national (albeit allegedly communist, because nobody believed in communism anymore) elite was in power. Of all the current autonomous republics and territories, only Dagestan, Ichkeria and Tatarstan resemble the former Soviet republics in this respect. After the collapse of Putin and his regime, they have a chance to leave Russia.
However, I agree with Vitaly Portnikov that the exit of these republics from Russia will not change much. First of all, they were and remain problematic peripheries for the imperial center, and as the Ukrainian saying goes: "When the woman has a cart,it’s easier for the horses."
Secondly, even when they leave Russia – which I really wish they would – it will not completely destroy the Russian Empire. Because the main colony of Russia, the source of oil and gas, as well as the permafrost Gulag, is Siberia. And despite all the sympathy for the independent movements among the local Buryats, Tuvans, Yakutsand other peoples, it is not clear that they are ready for secession. Not because they don't want to, but because they can't, because over the past hundred years, the Kremlin has done everything to extinguish all independence aspirations there with napalm. The example of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu from Tuva is perhaps the best illustration of this.
But I believe that there is a mistake in this argument about Russia in general. It supposes that after the separation of one fetid brown substance, the name of which is not spoken aloud in decent society, it will cease to be so.
In other words, it is not about the empire itself, but about the fact that this empire is Russian – and it is precisely this fact that makes it smelly and brown.
Empires are not necessarily absolute evil. The fact that India is the largest democracy in the world today is due to the fact that it was a British colony. Let's ask ourselves, how many days could Mahatma Gandhi live if he had found himself in Stalin's Soviet Union? It was not for nothing that Ukrainian figures in Kyiv before the First World War quipped: "Why won't the British Empire bring us in? Would we then be ready to declare our independence in ten years!"
Empires were the norm for the organization of power from the time of Mesopotamia until 1918. It was the First World War that put an end to them, and in their place came nation-states as the new geopolitical norm. It is not for nothing that since that time the main international organizations of the world have been called not the League of Empires or the Organization of United Empires, but the League of Nations and the United Nations.
As Benedict Anderson said, historians now study empires the way paleontologists study dinosaurs. In other words, in the modern world, empires are fossil relics. And Russia, apparently, is the last such relic, which no longer knows how to live, but also cannot die.
The problem with Russia is its absolute (autocratic) power. In such a state, the ruler owns everything – not only state power, but also the church, property, opinion, and life, and will even from time to time he will climb into your bed to check what exactly are you doing there. In this regard, there is no significant difference between the Moscow tsar, the Russian emperor, the communist general secretary, and the president of Russia: the names of the rulers change, but the essence remains.
It is precisely this Russia that must be broken. The collapse of Russia does not mean its disintegration. Even if Russia is limited to the ethnic core between Moscow and St. Petersburg, this does not mean that the threat of absolute power and external aggression will disappear.
Therefore, the task of Ukraine is to achieve such a deep political reformation of the Russian government that it will cause the teeth and tail of the dinosaur to disappear.
We are aware that Russia alone will not be able to do this. This can be done only under pressure and under dictation from the outside. It is vitally important that when it comes down to it, Ukrainians will be among those who will pressure and dictate.
And when it happens, it will be the next largest contribution of Ukraine to world history after Dec. 1, 1991.
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