The View from Ukraine
This week: conversations about Ukraine with Andrey Kurkov, Gideon Rachman, and Richard Lourie. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.
In our recent show with the policy analyst Anatol Lieven, we heard a case for Ukrainian neutrality as a possible way out of conflict with Russia. This week, we check in with the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov and ask about that scenario. He says:
You know, Vienna, when it was off limits, it became, I would say, the most popular place for spies from all around the world. I would not like Ukraine to become such a place. And of course, neutral Ukraine would mean for Russia that it is Russian Ukraine, or pro-Russian Ukraine . . . It would be close to Russia, and Russia would try to make it anti-Western.
Kurkov describes a Ukrainian insistence on independence:
The word independence means too much for Ukrainians: personal independence and the independence of their country. Because they understand that, actually, they are free and they are independent only while their country is independent. And I should explain that the historical matrix on which the Ukrainian mentality is based is anarchy. I mean, European anarchy was born in Ukraine. The borders were unfixed. They were moving left and right. But at the same time, the legal system was working . . .
This anarchy that I mentioned is part of the reason, if not the main reason, why Ukraine didn’t succeed so well economically. But at the same time: every other family succeeded. Ukrainians are usually building paradise in their families and their houses, not in the country, and only a minority of active political Ukrainians are trying to persuade the rest to do the best for the country. And actually, Ukrainians unite when the danger comes for their country. I mean, they united in 2014-15. They united in 2004 during the Orange Revolution, and I’m sure they will unite also in case of all-out war with Russia.
The writer and translator Richard Lourie considers Putin’s perspective this hour, and describes Putin’s vision of an expansive state:
I don’t believe that Putin is worried about Ukraine joining NATO, because he can keep Ukraine out of NATO, easy as pie. All he has to do is keep stirring up trouble at the border, because NATO doesn’t take countries that have border issues or frozen conflicts. All he has to do is keep that going, as he’s done for the last eight years at relatively low cost. It isn’t a question so much of keeping Ukraine out of NATO; it’s getting Ukraine back into the Russian orbit. And if anybody reads that long essay that Putin wrote, his vision is not of a revived Soviet Union, but a kind of Slavic superstate with Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.
Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator at the Financial Times, joins us, too, and describes a self-defeating element to Russia’s incursions into Ukraine, alienating Ukrainians from such a vision of Russia-Ukraine unity:
I think that for those people who might have been sitting on the fence, the fact that Russia has essentially stoked a war in Ukraine that’s already, we shouldn’t forget, cost 14,000 lives since 2014 has to be something that’s hardly likely to endear the Putin regime to them. Historically, this will eventually be a big rupture between Russia and Ukraine.
“Ukrainian folklore is still the basis of our inspiration,” he allows. “For us, it is very important and relevant and we are happy that the world is discovering Ukraine through our music. Considering that Ukraine has a big neighbour which thinks that even the existence of our country is a historical misunderstanding, a Freemasons project of the Polish or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then every one of our concerts abroad can be regarded as a political act in itself. But we’ve never written political lyrics and hardly ever write lyrics to our songs. Most of them are folk songs written by anonymous authors.”
WATCH: Joel Coen’s Macbeth
If you’re one of the millions snowed in this weekend, and one of the probably-millions who don’t feel like shoveling out of the snow, you might want to stream Joel Coen’s Macbeth adaptation. Here’s David Sims on The Tragedy of Macbeth:
Shakespeare’s tragic Scottish king reveals himself as a perfect Coen protagonist — a relative small-timer with outsize ambitions whose attempt to vault the ladder of success lands him in trouble. Macbeth (played here by Denzel Washington) is not too far removed from Jerry Lundegaard of Fargo or Ed Crane of The Man Who Wasn’t There or nearly everyone in Burn After Reading. He gets sucked up in machinations that put him over his head and spends much of the plot trying to untangle a web of his own weaving. The Coens’ scripts are usually powered by a constant hum of tension, the sense that everything is about to come crashing down on our hero’s head, a not-unfamiliar device in Shakespeare’s tragedies.