Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center, renowned publicist and author of books on Russian government, has visited The Day’s office for the second time. This time, she accepted our special invitation to the meeting with the participants of the 11th Summer School of Journalism. “It is a great honor for me to read your newspaper and visit you in person,” Shevtsova says.

As a leading expert, she offers an original point of view on the world. Even though Shevtsova works for an international research institute, she places accents as a Russian political scientist. However, her positive attitude towards everything Ukrainian cannot go unnoticed. “You did one great thing, which we haven’t done in Russia yet: you started consolidating the state on the new principles. This is a very rare experiment, when a nation forms a state before becoming a nation,” Shevtsova emphasized.

We highly appreciate the fact that she found time for the Summer School and talked to young students. Shevtsova formulated three sets of relevant questions, which refer not only to relations between Ukraine and Russia, but to diversity of universal structures, human identification, and value reference points. Unlike the majority of professors, Shevtsova easily established contact with the audience and captured everyone’s attention – mostly thanks to her exquisite manners and convincing manner. She started the discussion with a small lecture on the state of global affairs, the “Russian matrix,” and the relations between Ukraine and Russia.

Lilia Shevtsova
Shevtsova chaired the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center, dividing her time between Carnegie’s offices in Washington, DC, and Moscow. She had been with Carnegie since 1995.
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Lilia SHEVTSOVA: “The world is in a deep and long-lasting crisis right now, the crisis of the world order, international relations, and the whole system of international institutions, which has been created after the World War II. It is a mere imitation in many aspects, it does not act and does not reflect the correlation of powers in the world. Look at the UN Security Council, which does not include Germany and Japan as permanent members, an absolute paralysis of the security system, the Security Council, the United Nations, and other international organizations when it comes to the Syrian issue. The system of international relations, the mechanism of solving conflicts, settling wars and disputes does not work.

“The second crisis might be even more important for the Western civilization, which has always been driving global development, innovations, bold thinking, and freedom. It started in 2008, with the crash of America’s financial system. Arnold Toynbee said that a civilization exists if it can respond to an internal or external challenge. Today the Western world (the European Union and America) cannot respond to either internal or external challenges: terrorism, global warming, migration, population ageing in Europe, problems of the population’s dignity, bureaucracy, corruption… There also is the crisis of the United States, which, according to Francis Fukuyama, lies in the dysfunctional and outdated American political system. It does not know what to do with the world order and its role on the global scene – the same way it was in the 1930s. The Western civilization needs some time to think it through and come up with a new ideology.

“When the society and the system are in a crisis, the responsibility for the paralysis and impotence is borne by the society, government, and leaders. We can compare politics to biology. When a person is ill, they need a breath of fresh air. Sometimes it comes naturally, through a crisis. And sometimes a patient needs a doctor. This role might be performed by the paralyzed society, which barely breathes or stops breathing, or by a leader. Just think about such personas as de Gaulle, Churchill, and the wonderful five – they are viewed as the greatest ones. Gorbachev, Reagan, Mitterrand (if you leave out the personal life), Kohl, and Thatcher. After them, there were great leaders, who were able to bring Eastern European velvet revolutions to success. These are Havel, Lennart Meri, and even Walesa. And then we ran out of leaders. There are no such ones capable of providing a recipe of the Western civilization. This means that there are no favorable external conditions for our development, because transition to freedom, democracy, and law-governed state has never taken place when the most advanced, dynamic, and free-thinking civilization lost itself. A crisis is a means of revival, no one ever switched to a new development model without going through a crisis. And the problem of leadership and strategy is a problem of easing the very crisis and of finding a way out. Therefore, the West has been through a crisis twice and twice it was reborn with a new model of economy and culture. It was a striking rebirth in the 1970s: hippies, rock music, and the sexual revolution. They have shaped the spiritual, cultural, and political atmosphere for decades in advance. For the way out of a crisis also implies a new culture, new relations with people.

“The West made its way out of the crisis in a rather curious way, through a denial of pure pragmatism and acceptance of principles of freedom and dignity, through a so-called ‘regulatory dimension.’ There is only one way out of crisis now – the West’s abandonment of technocratic and pragmatic approach. When the next president of the United States and the next leaders of France, United Kingdom, and Germany realize that the way out of the trap is in revising the values and principles of freedom, then will the West overcome the crisis, and then will we be able to breathe freely again.”

“Russia is a different matter. I have a point which I called ‘from indeterminacy to the past.’ We wasted our chance in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, which gave the new independent states an opportunity to start building their statehood and form nations. After 1991, Russia made a trap for itself: after abandoning the Soviet Union, it used this fact for prolongation and reproduction of the same model, the same Russian matrix, but without communism. After giving up the model of undisguised empire, Russia preserved the same system, only the rhetoric, posters, and imitation were different. We have been trying to live in this ‘uncertainty zone’ for the past 20 years. On the one hand, we have been trying to prove we are a democracy, and on the other, we have continued the same model of autocracy. At first we were ashamed of it, then we tried to conceal it, and now we don’t anymore. Russia’s government has switched from imitation to selective repressions. And as Toynbee said, if you used repressions once, you will keep on using them again and again. That is why there is no doubt as to the path that was chosen by the Russian Federation. Putin’s regime is in crisis. There are acceptable, adopted, and approved by many criteria of crisis, and even agony of a government. I will name the key ones, and you will check if they are present in the current Ukrainian reality.

“The government is in a crisis when:

  1. It starts implementing selective repressions, persecutions, limitation of freedom of certain groups, institutions, political entities.
  2. It tries to be in power for as long as possible, aiming at endless ruling.
  3. It tries to preserve control over power and property and pass them to children and grandchildren.

“When these three things are present, it can be said that the regime enters the stage of crisis, or even agony. In Russia, the regime is losing its stability, even though it has succeeded at suppressing civil activity, limiting it to kitchen conversations at best. But the fact that Putin’s regime is losing stability is not a bit reassuring, because we have a dramatic situation: despite the fact that the incumbent government is losing popularity, the autocratic system itself has significantly larger chances to survive. This means that Putin is likely to leave, or will be forced to leave, or the elite will not want him to remain in office in a few years. There are many supporters of personal power and state control over the society even among liberals. Therefore, our system may give itself a new life through a change of regime.”

“The third and the most complicated topic is ‘Russia-Ukraine.’ While talking about the Russian standpoint, I will try to distinguish between the official and liberal Russian standpoints, the latter being represented by me here. Before 2008, some changes were made within the official Russian establishment. Disdainful and flippant attitude towards Ukraine prevailed, which seemed to be started by president Putin. It was April of 2009, the meeting in Bucharest. But it started a bit earlier, when, according to American sources, Putin told George Bush: ‘Why would you even need Ukraine? It is not even a proper state, but rather something…’ And the sources hesitate as to which exactly words my president used to describe Ukraine. Something undetermined. It was an opinion that really dominated in Russian official circles at the time.

“A few years have passed, and I would say that the official circles do not think about Ukraine that much anymore, because Ukraine is not our geopolitical priority. The official circles rather approve of two approaches to Ukraine. Some dream of Ukraine becoming a partner within the framework of the Eurasian Union, Customs Union, which would basically make it a satellite. The others think of Ukraine as a buffer zone, a state with the ‘Finlandization’ policy: going neither one way nor the other. New Finland is the best option for Russia. But there is no clear understanding of what sort of processes are going on in Ukraine. There is Volodymyr Myronenko and several people watching Ukraine. There is complete incomprehension and absence of information and knowledge, which always leads to an inadequate policy. As for liberal circles, we have a very weak view on the world. There is a dominating opinion that Ukraine is in the zone of civilizational indeterminacy. That it has not fully taken shape as a state and a nation, which is why it will be in the ‘jelly’ state and hesitate for a while. But I see the preservation of political pluralism and regionalization in Ukraine, and also the unwillingness of Ukraine’s political elite to preserve its power in any way and continue its ruling by being attached to Russia. Ukraine is on the positive side of the zone of civilizational indeterminacy with a potential of movement towards Europe. In comparison with Russia, I evaluate Ukraine more optimistically.”

“When viewing Ukraine as a civilizational subject, I see no future for the pendulum policy, because it requires different vectors. If Ukraine signs the Association Agreement with the European Union this fall, it must remember about the multilevel criteria system that will force Ukraine to change the principles of behavior in business, elite, and society. It is a very complicated, painful, and long process. It will take you away from Russia. The Customs Union membership would make you accept its rules of the game – the archaic structure of obligations. But Ukraine mostly produces outdated goods which will have no chance of being purchased in case the Association Agreement is signed, because a flow of goods from Europe with appropriate prices will sweep over the Ukrainian market. Of course, markets of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan provide a niche for your industry and agriculture. We can save you, but if we support your economy structure, you will become a shed for Europe forever. This partially happened to Georgia: when Russia stopped buying Georgian wine and some other goods, it affected the country tremendously.

“It is true, we make a landing on the 27th with our priests, Kirill and others. Putin is interested in a meeting with Yanukovych, since there are three matters that require attention. The first one is the preparation of Ukraine to the meeting in Vilnius within the framework of ‘Eastern dimension.’ Moscow and the Kremlin will try to convince Kyiv and Yanukovych to follow the path of tighter connection to the Customs Union. And there are two more issues on the agenda: gas transportation system and its Ukrainian part, and a number of matters that might affect, perhaps even in a negative way, our relations within the next few months. A technical issue, for example: customs duty on cars, which Ukraine intended to raise. This means a lot of problems for our market. And we plan to raise the tariff for Ukrainian pipes. It is known that Ukraine sells pipes to Russia, we are your market. And there are plenty of other opportunities: agricultural goods, minerals, etc. Any raise of customs duty on any side leads to a crisis. And it leads to the stratification of problems.

“Not everything depends solely on Yanukovych. We view him as a person who has to either to withstand Putin or give in to him. There is a huge number of short-term factors, too. How should the preparation to the elections go, and in which way will Yanukovych prepare for the elections? The International Monetary Fund did not promise you money. You need at least five to seven billion dollars. Russia and Putin can deliver this money to you on a silver platter tomorrow. And there is always a temptation: receive easy money and a debt that will ‘freeze’ you to the state of decay, or receive nothing. High oil price – 407 dollars with a discount. Not a single other country pays that much for a thousand cubic meters. And this is a problem. And if Yanukovych wants to win the voters’ favor fast, he has to hold pre-term elections, feed people with Russian money, and then jump into the well. These problems are quite serious for you. At least, you did one great thing that we have not done yet: you started consolidating your country, made a number of very important steps towards the state formation. And this is a very rare experiment, when a nation starts creating a state before becoming a nation.

“You started writing your own history. You did what nobody else did, except for the Baltic countries, not a single other country of the new independent space did that. Thanks to Yushchenko, who did an absolutely phenomenal thing about the Holodomor: he legally proved the Holodomor to be the genocide of the Ukrainian nation. Why is this important? Because he legally fixed a different interpretation of the history of Ukrainian nation, which is not formed yet, and he should receive credit for that. And the last: I have my own problems, my disappointments in Russia and Ukraine. I said about the optimistic view on Ukraine: ‘You have what we lack: pluralism, regionalization, young generation, and an elite which refuses to bend to Russia.’ During the 1990s I used to thing that Ukraine will be the first to join the West, that it will be an experiment and will create law-governed state before Russia. But that is not the way it happened. One thing is clear: we are not joining the West and Europe together. You have a chance to use the half-opened window in order to risk and pay for it. You still have this window. But a prolonged stay in this indeterminacy zone, even with a positive vector, is deadly for a nation. Usually a nation does not leave the stagnation stage if it stays in it for too long. It depends on the young generation whether the country will leave stagnancy or not.”

Ivanna KOSTIUK, the National University “Ostroh Academy”: The freedom of speech is being increasingly suppressed in Russia. Oppositionist journalists, newspapers, NGOs are threatened and intimidated more and more often. Can this affect the functioning of public oppositionist journalism, what can it lead to, and how will it affect the quality of journalism in general?

L.Sh.: “My answer will be subjective, because I view myself as a journalist and publicist as well. The freedom of thoughts expression in Russia is limited to Internet and a few Russian papers, Novaya Gazeta in the first place. But the majority of the population receives information through the television. The fact that the opposition and critics do not possess any television resources means that we, publicists and journalists, cannot make a determining influence on the forming of public opinion. How does this affect the quality of our profession? We are forced to split in two groups: members of the first one hide their dignity, professionalism, and conscience, they would work for any organization and provide any information according to an order; while members of the other go to the ‘shadow sphere,’ to Internet, which starts getting suppressed by the government too. We have a limited number of possibilities for the necessary implementation of our profession. A lot of people, those journalists who worked for independent channel NTV and for former independent newspapers, those, to whom the feeling of dignity and professionalism are more important than willingness to serve, they remain unemployed in their field. The problem of journalist community degrading in general in the situation of the absence of freedom of press is obvious.”

Roman HRYVYNSKY, Kyiv Mohyla Academy: Recently the so-called law on foreign agents was passed in Russia. How has that affected the work of Carnegie Moscow Center? Do you think civic society in Russia could be created without foreign financial aid?

L.Sh.: “Carnegie Moscow Center is primarily financed from foreign Western sources, but these are non-governmental Western foundations. So far we have not experienced any interference from state. But we are not engaged in political activities, and we do not work with society. We only do research.

“As far as the possibility of creating civic society in Russia without external help, I will honestly say that I do not know any country – from South Africa, the Philippines, Brazil and India to Spain, Portugal, Greece to Eastern Europe and the Baltic states – which would follow the democratic path without Western assistance. The West has helped them all, in one way or another, by including the new democracies in its trade area or through capital infusions. I don’t believe in the forming of democracies in absolute isolation from the developed world.

“Meanwhile, the old policy of democracy promotion (through pumping the Western money into non-governmental organizations and political parties), which was successful in transition countries until the 1960s-1970s, is non-productive in today’s Russia. The West will obviously have to review the former forms of influence and assistance in the process of democratic transformation. Our civic society should look for the means in our very own country.”

Tetiana MATSKEVYCH, Ivan Franko National University (Lviv): In one of your speeches you said that we are experiencing one of the greatest civilization disasters: the failure of Russian transformation. Which factors do you think have contributed to this failure, and what consequences can be expected after the possible breakdown of Putin’s system?

L.Sh.: “We have not come any closer to the real, non-illusory transformation, despite having tried to find our vector for 20 years now. The source of the trouble? First of all, it is the wrong starting point. We took the collapse of the USSR as the start of democratization. Meanwhile, this collapse turned out to be nothing more than a form of surviving for the empire, a means of reproducing autocracy. The fact that Russia’s liberals and democrats failed to offer an alternative which would guarantee the liquidation of autocratic rule, has also played a role. Conversely, the liberals and democrats staked on Boris Yeltsin’s autocratic regime.

“We should also keep in mind that Russia is a nuclear state with an unbounded lust for statehood. Russia is member of the UN Security Council and still remains one of the pillars of the world order which has existed since the Second World War. Not all existing democratization models are suitable for transforming a nuclear state. Maybe we will have to find our own model.

“Another barrier keeping us in a historical cul-de-sac is the old militarization tradition. The Kremlin resorts to it every time it begins to feel insecure. What should be done to create new foundations or preconditions for change? We, in Russia, must come to an understanding that the country and society cannot survive and develop in a normal way under autocracy, this legacy from the past centuries. In no civilized country can society and person be fully subordinated to the government. Both our society and its elites should realize this simple fact of contemporary life. And it is only crisis that can stimulate such realization. Only crisis can make us ponder over the country’s future. And only crisis can force us to create a real alternative to autocracy, not by searching for a new Leader-Savior, but by creating a law-governed state. Of course, crisis is a heavy condition and can cause the patient’s death.”

Iryna LAZURKEVYCH, Ivan Franko National University (Lviv): In his article “Russia to Become a Different Europe” Alexander Rahr defines Russia as a successor to Byzantium, thus usurping the place which historically belongs to Ukraine. Why do you think Russia continues “stealing” Ukraine’s historical past?

L.Sh.: “To clearly formulate my answer I must use my friend Larysa Ivshyna’s book from The Day’s Library. I mean Dvi Rusi, with compelling speculations on the subject. Now I am going to play a Salieri variation on Mozart’s theme. Speaking of Alexander Rahr, I cannot say that I am a supporter of his conceptions. He will find much more fans among the Kremlin propagandists. As far as his thesis about Russia as a successor to Byzantium goes, it is very popular in Russia, and has even become a propagandist cliche used for a multitude of goals, from giving scholarly airs to a debate to substantiating Russia’s claim on Ukraine, albeit illusory.

“Russia has indeed been influenced by Byzantium when it comes to the Orthodox Church. But the impact of the Golden Horde is much stronger and it has not expired, not even now. This influence permeates everything, from the state model to state and society relations to the tradition of subordination in our society. From Byzantium Russia inherited the glamour, the purple, the lobby, and the impotent bureaucracy.

“When it comes to why the Russian political class will never accept the loss of Kyiv, a question arises: why did Serbians claim (until recently) Kosovo Polje to be the source of their national spirit? Here we tread not only the sphere of the irrational, but also the sphere of myths. I believe this to be something more than just a problem of a decaying empire’s phantom pains, and more than a problem of really existing connections and affinity between the two nations. The matter is far more complex. The equating of Kyivan Rus’ with the Tsardom of Muscovy extends Russia’s contemporary history, makes it richer and links it to Europe’s history. For how could we preserve the myth of ‘the Third Rome’ without Kyivan Rus’, and without Kyiv?”

Larysa IVSHYNA: “That is the source of this blind-end model of the contemporary autocracy and attempts to re-write Ukraine’s history, dissolving it between the successors which became the prototypes of the modern states. As if there had never been anything in between. Muscovy appeared out of nowhere. But where is everything that had existed before that moment? The concept of Kyivan Rus’ as ‘the cradle of three brotherly nations’ was for some time dumped. It was immediately superseded by a new theory: first there was Byzantium, then Muscovy appeared. So this question remains a painful one. But for Ukraine historical self-education is a natural need for every citizen to strengthen their own identity and thus smash all the attempts to usurp it, because we are all perfectly aware of our origins.

“Muscovy killed the only chance for spiritual kinship, when Novgorod was destroyed by Ivan III. One of the reasons was that Martha Boretska and the ruler of Novgorod wanted to receive a blessing from Kyiv. So our Patriarch Filaret was right to say that we in Kyiv celebrate the baptism of Kyivan Rus’. Moscow has very, very little to do with it. However, everything is subordinated to politics and geopolitics.”

Kostiantyn HONCHAROV, Kyiv: This fall Ukraine has a chance to sign the Association Agreement. Given Russia’s efforts in opposing Ukraine’s Membership Association Plan of 2008, what kind of sentiments prevail among the Russian elite today, in the run-up to the Vilnius summit?

L.Sh.: “I am monitoring the movements and sentiments among the Russian elite. But I cannot say that Vilnius, Ukraine, and the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement are now on the Russian agenda. The Russian political elite is now preoccupied with Putin, with itself, its personal enrichment and summer vacations. Meanwhile, the opposition is busy trying to figure out what happened to it recently and what it has to do tomorrow. That is why other problems, related to the world outside Russia, are of little or no consequence to Russia’s political class and opposition. To a degree, we are a rather provincial, self-oriented nation.

“Maybe it is for the better, if neither the government nor the opposition has any constructive conception of how Russia is supposed to treat Ukraine. Maybe it is better that this problem is marginal for the political class, which is not prepared to think strategically. It would be worse if, at the absence of such a conception, there would be a lively interest. That would result in a disaster! However, I believe that today Ukraine is a hard nut for the Kremlin to crack, and it’s always on the Kremlin’s mind. Obviously, the Kremlin would do anything to keep Ukraine in Russia’s bear-hug, or at least in its shadow.

“However, it is hard to track down clear strategic plans for Ukraine in Russia. There are sentiments and dispositions. Thus, the liberals are sure that both for Russia and Ukraine would be better if Ukraine followed the Euro integration path decidedly.

“But I believe that neither the liberals nor the political class as a whole realize the full extent of signing the Association Agreement for Yanukovych and Ukraine, as well for our mutual relations.”

L.I.: “Let them read Den/The Day then.”

L.Sh.: “Yes, I promote Den in Moscow, the more so that there is a Russian version of the paper.”

This interview originally appeared in Day. (Part 1, part 2)