Solzhenitsyn on Russia, America, and Ukraine

Here are some thoughts from Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Russia, America, and Ukraine from a 1994 interview in Forbes. They are very relevant to the contemporary crisis. The whole interview is worth reading, but I have excerpted the portion that deals most directly with the current situation.

Forbes: Tension is mounting between Russia and the now independent Ukraine, with the West strongly backing Ukrainian territorial integrity. Henry Kissinger argues that Russia will always threaten the interests of the West, no matter what kind of government it has.

Solzhenitsyn: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, [historian] Richard Pipes and many other American politicians and publicists are frozen in a mode of thought they developed a long time ago. With unchanging blindness and stubbornness they keep repeating and repeating this theory about the supposed age-old aggressiveness of Russia, without taking into consideration today’s reality.

Well, what about Ukraine? Hasn’t Russia made threats toward several of the former U.S.S.R. member states?Imagine that one not very fine day two or three of your states in the Southwest, in the space of 24 hours, declare themselves independent of the U.S. They declare themselves a fully sovereign nation, decreeing that Spanish will be the only language. All English-speaking residents, even if their ancestors have lived there for 200 years, have to take a test in the Spanish language within one or two years and swear allegiance to the new nation. Otherwise they will not receive citizenship and be deprived of civic, property and employment rights.What would be the reaction of the United States? I have no doubt that it would be immediate military intervention.But today Russia faces precisely this scenario. In 24 hours she lost eight to 10 purely Russian provinces, 25 million ethnic Russians who have ended up in this very way–as “undesirable aliens.” In places where their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers have lived since way back–even from the 17th century–they face persecution in their jobs and the suppression of their culture, education and language.

Meanwhile, in Central Asia, those wishing to leave are not permitted to take even their personal property. The authorities tell them, “There is no such concept as ‘personal property’!”And in this situation “imperialist Russia” has not made a single forceful move to rectify this monstrous mess. Without a murmur she has given away 25 million of her compatriots–the largest diaspora in the world!You see Russia as the victim of aggression, not as the aggressor.Who can find in world history another such example of peaceful conduct? And if Russia keeps the peace in the single most vital question that concerns her, why should one expect her to be aggressive in secondary issues?With Russia in chaos, it does sound a bit far-fetched to see her as an aggressor.Russia today is terribly sick. Her people are sick to the point of total exhaustion. But even so, have a conscience and don’t demand that–just to please America–Russia throw away the last vestiges of her concern for her security and her unprecedented collapse. After all, this concern in no way threatens the United States.Former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski disagrees. He argues that the U.S. must defend the independence of Ukraine.In 1919, when he imposed his regime on Ukraine, Lenin gave her several Russian provinces to assuage her feelings. These provinces have never historically belonged to Ukraine. I am talking about the eastern and southern territories of today’s Ukraine.Then, in 1954, Khrushchev, with the arbitrary capriciousness of a satrap, made a “gift” of the Crimea to Ukraine. But even he did not manage to make Ukraine a “gift” of Sevastopol, which remained a separate city under the jurisdiction of the U.S.S.R. central government. This was accomplished by the American State Department, first verbally through Ambassador Popadiuk in Kiev and later in a more official manner.Why does the State Department decide who should get Sevastopol? If one recalls the tactless declaration of President Bush about supporting Ukrainian sovereignty even before the referendum on that matter, one must conclude that all this stems from a common aim: to use all means possible, no matter what the consequences, to weaken Russia.Why does independence for Ukraine weaken Russia?As a result of the sudden and crude fragmentation of the intermingled Slavic peoples, the borders have torn apart millions of ties of family and friendship. Is this acceptable? The recent elections in Ukraine, for instance, clearly show the [Russian] sympathies of the Crimean and Donets populations. And a democracy must respect this.I myself am nearly half Ukrainian. I grew up with the sounds of Ukrainian speech. I love her culture and genuinely wish all kinds of success for Ukraine–but only within her real ethnic boundaries, without grabbing Russian provinces. And not in the form of a “great power,” the concept on which Ukrainian nationalists have placed their bets. They are acting out and trumpeting a cult of force, persistently inflating Russia into the image of an “enemy.” Militant slogans are proclaimed. And the Ukrainian army is being indoctrinated with the propaganda that war with Russia is inevitable.

For every country, great power status deforms and harms the national character. I have never wished great power status for Russia, and do not wish it for the United States. I don’t wish it for Ukraine. She would not be able to perform even the cultural task required to achieve great power status: In her current borders, 63% of the population consider Russian to be their native language, a number three times larger than the number of ethnic Russians. And all these people will have to be re-educated in the Ukrainian language, while the language itself will have to be raised to international standards and usage. This is a task that would require over 100 years.At the heart of all this is a central question: What about Russia and the U.S.? Are we historic rivals?Before the [Russian] revolution, they were natural allies. You know that during the American Civil War, Russia supported Lincoln and the North [in contrast to Britain and France, which supported the Confederacy]. Then, we were effectively allies in the First World War. But beginning with communism, Russia ceased to exist. What is there to talk about? The confrontation was not at all with Russia but with the communist U.S.S.R.