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Ukraine Seeks a Sponsor

Yesterday Oleg Tsarev, a long-time Member of Parliament in Ukraine (2002-2014), and a past candidate for President of Ukraine wrote a thought-provoking essay on what persuaded Ukrainians to fall into a civil war over NATO and association with the EU1 – dreams of a better life. Tsarev’s essay is in reaction to this 2020 video (Russian language only) where a normal Ukrainian citizen explains in an interview how Russia might woo him and other Ukrainians.


Here’s Tsarev’s essay in English (original in Russian).

A slave does not seek freedom. A slave seeks a good master.

This is not said out loud, but what you see in the video is the basis – the foundation of Ukrainian separatism. That’s what 90% of the Ukrainian population thinks.

“When they start building skyscrapers in Russia like in Dubai, when they start giving away 100 million dollars (?!), when Russia starts blossoming and smelling, then we will turn around and ask ourselves: look, they have so much money, nowhere to spend it, in that case we won’t need independence either”.

After perestroika in Ukraine they decided that Russia was no longer their big brother. Then the time passed. Russia has risen from its knees, but the myth has remained: the Ukraine must look for a new master. The best is the USA, but Europe will do. Think about why Ukrainians are being told stories that they will be accepted into the EU and that they will live like Europeans, while Russian soldiers are stealing toilets and washing machines. It’s exactly this which underlies the real ideology of the Ukraine. Bandera and the like are only outward attributes. Truly it is a desire for a better life. They are fighting to live like in Europe, not like in Russia.

You know, I have been writing for eight years about the need to deal with Donbass. If the efforts that are now being made to make life better in the Donbass had been made earlier, the SMO would not have been needed. Donbass has been a grey area for eight years, with all its consequences. In Ukraine, Donbass has been turned into a scarecrow for the Russian-speaking regions: If you want to live like Donbass, support Russia.

Why do I often write about the economy, the Central Bank and corruption? Because if, to repeat after the Ukrainian in the video, if Russia was like Dubai, the SMO would not be needed. All the former republics of the Soviet Union, and possibly some of the former territories of the Russian Empire in Europe, would have voluntarily joined the alliance with Russia. And there were all preconditions to make life better. Russia, unlike the UAE, is not a desert. The biggest territory, the richest in natural resources, populated by intelligent, hard-working people.

Russians deserve to live better. Then there won’t be a need for wars either.

It’s darkly amusing that in Tsarev’s video source, the Ukrainian everyman insists that the Russian State should be handing out $100 million to each citizen. This is typical of the unrealistic expectations of Ukrainians. They seem to have watched The Wizard of Oz way too many times – “Follow the Yellow Brick Road”. Someday, someone will have to break it to them, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There’s hard work (to get you off the ground) and good timing/luck (to carry you higher) in an environment where those attributes are rewarded. Most citizens are not millionaires. To fall into the top 10% richest families in Canada required just an annual income of CAD$200,000 in 2022.

Still Tsarev is on to something here. Grozny was rebuilt as a model city and Tsetchens are among the most patriotic citizens of the Russian Federation.

Grozny City at night from above
Grozny City at night from above

Tsarev exaggerates the difference between life in Russia and life in Europe. Palaces in Spain are in a song, Europe is also vast and varied. But yes, the general standard of living in Northern Europe is quite high. We face huge issues in Europe as well, particularly since the Covid-19 lockdowns and new energy crisis. Small companies are closing their doors, more and more Europeans are dependent on multinationals, economic inequality increases with each year. The rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer. The statistics here don’t lie about the division of income.

In the face of heavy economic headwinds, the last thing the Ukraine needed, or Europe needed or Russia needed was a war in Ukraine. There’s only two beneficiaries to this conflict: the United States and the UK. The USA has the opportunity to ruin its competitors (Europe, Russia) at the cost of a state which is of no value to the USA (Ukraine) or even negative value (if the Ukraine rejoined Russia in a common Russian World). The UK has the opportunity to demonstrate its value to its major trading partner (the USA) and to show off its underused assets (espionage and sabotage), potentially acquiring effective control over part of Europe, despite leaving the EU.

What’s interesting here is that Russia may yet come out ahead in this economic footrace to win Ukraine’s heart via quality of life. With the economic disruption taking place in the EU and the internal boom in Russia from increased economic activity to cover sanctions, Russia may offer more opportunities for economic improvement than any other near neighbour. The EU cannot keep the Ukraine waiting like a bride at the altar forever. The only way the EU could hold Ukraine’s heart would be to break all its own internal rules and admit the Ukraine as a full member, which the EU cannot afford to do. The USA only has money for war, not for rebuilding. What money is spent on rebuilding is spent with US firms and in crooked contracts.

Both China and Russia have invested enormously in infrastructure in the last ten years and both Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin intend to continue on that path.

The Moscow skyline is unrecognisable in the good sense. Very sensibly the skyscrapers are restricted to a single district, just outside the centre of the city as in Paris (La Défense). When the Russian New Territories (that’s what the Russian are calling Kherson, Zaporozhe, Donbass and Luhansk regions collectively) gleam and their citizens live in attractive homes with low unemployment, the path back to Ukraine’s natural economic partner and native cultural space will look a great deal attractive.

Skyscrapers on Moscow skyline in 2017
Skyscrapers on Moscow skyline in 2017

Something similar has already happened in Crimea. Crimea generally and Sevastopol in particular have enjoyed a huge investment in its communal infrastructure since rejoining the Russian Federation in 2014. No one in Crimea would even consider going back to the stagnation which their region suffered under Ukrainian administration.

Russia’s best move is to make the same thing happen in the New Territories. It would suit transplanted Ukrainians like Tsarev just fine. Like any Ukrainian (or anyone else), Oleg Tsarev would love to live surrounded by plenty in a prosperous city.

Photo of Grozny by Timur Agirov via Russia Trek. Photo of Moscow skyline by Deensel.

  1. The Ukrainian people were told that if they rejected Russia, the Ukraine would become part of NATO. Ukrainians were naive enough to believe it. Europe will not vote to accept Ukraine any time soon (I live here). The Ukraine is a bottomless pit. It would bankrupt the EU to accept the Ukraine and bring their infrastructure and institutions up to EU standard. There’s been thirty years of neglect in investment in infrastructure since the end of the Soviet Union. We have trouble enough coping with Romania and Bulgaria. The goal was never to accept Ukraine into the EU but to take the Ukraine away from Russia. Even Russia despite huge annual subsidies to the Ukraine ($13 billion/year at one point) and its own cultural expertise in post-Soviet economic reforms was unable to persuade Ukrainian leadership to invest in their country. The Ukrainian problems with corruption were and are real. It’s bandied about that Russia started to rebuild from the year 2000 when Vladimir Putin became President. To be honest, some rebuilding started even before Putin. Moscow realised by the mid-nineties that excessive corruption was a barrier to an efficient economy and it would make more sense to streamline operations by taking less from each transaction but encourage more transactions. The Ukrainians in Kiev never figured this out. 

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