The irony here is that he may not know it and, certainly, helping Ukraine is not his intention. There is evidence of the “democratic,” “anti-corruption” Alexei Navalny being, in fact, yet another Great Russian chauvinist. His position on the Russian invasion, occupation and annexation of sovereign Ukrainian territory, Crimea, is undisputed.
Thus, he remains within the mold of Russian aggressors and his democratic credentials are certainly suspect since he remains within a history of Russian disregard for international civilized norms. Yet he is an enemy of a rabid international criminal currently wielding power and, while he is hardly an acolyte of international democracy and good behavior, he becomes a reluctant ally.
Great Russians abound. It seems that almost every Russian is a chauvinist. Perceptions, even colors, may change but the inner dark Russian soul remains, so well depicted by Fyodor Dostoevsky as being very dark indeed. I recall my introduction to Sergei Lavrov by Hennadi Udovenko in the early 1990s. Mr. Lavrov was a Soviet and then Russian diplomat. Mr. Udovenko spoke well of him. Frankly I don’t know why Mr. Udovenko, a sincere Ukrainian patriot, held him in high esteem, but he sought me out at a reception for independent Ukraine on East 67th street in New York City to introduce us. Mr. Lavrov was congenial, spoke of his support for Ukraine. That did not turn out very well. Today he is one of Mr. Putin’s international weapons.
Several years later I met Vladimir Zhirinovsky at the “Ukraina” Hotel in Moscow observing Ukrainian independence. We had a few shots together. Mr. Zhirinovsky was not pleasant. In fact, he was offensive. But then so was I. We raised toasts to the demise of each other’s countries. In my case it was to the demise of the empire not so much the country as I was satisfied with that. Mr. Zhirinovsky was never Mr. Putin’s adversary. He was a plant and spokesman. His aggressiveness was blatant because that was what Mr. Putin wanted in order to portray himself as a moderate.
We recently learned from a former KGB agent that Donald Trump was cultivated as an asset by Soviet/Russian intelligence. For the average American the idea of a Manchurian candidate is a myth. Surprisingly today because of the influence of uneducated white men that concept has become anathema to the average American Republican. There were so many signs. Still so many questions remain, but Mr. Trump was Mr. Putin’s alter-ego in America.
Russia, an empire that has never been democratic, is now reminiscent of revolutionary Russia in 1905 and 1917. However, an uprising of the proletariat is not the object. Democracy and “anti-corruption” appear to be. But Russians have never experienced democracy. Nor have they ever fought, much less died for it.
Ukrainians were encouraged by events in Belarus. The quest for democracy and freedom by the people of Belarus was patently legitimate because they have been so oppressed. That ended at least for the moment or for another score of years and was entirely different than what is happening in Russia today.
Hope gets people excited because hope is last to die. Will Mr. Navalny’s temporary incarceration end with his long-term imprisonment and ultimate ouster or even death, and will the popular revolt wither away in time? Is a democratic Russia so far-fetched simply because there has never been one? Does Mr. Navalny as a Russian leader represent the demise of Mr. Putin? Does he represent the demise of Russian authoritarianism? Finally, does he represent the demise of a Russian empire and belligerence?
Frankly, it’s all about the concept of empire. It’s not about Mr. Putin or Mr. Navalny. Are the Russians in Russian streets eager to become democratic and civilized? Are they prepared to recognize the international status quo, including respecting borders internationally established? Are they prepared to commit to international organizations and international jurisdiction? Are they intent on joining in good faith the civilized world community? I believe that no one knows.
Certainly, I am unable to answer these questions, but I do support Alexei Navalny and the people of Russia in their quest, whatever that may be. I do hope, however, that this is not another example of international naivete and wishful thinking prevailing over a basic, albeit primitive, knowledge of Russian history from Alexander Nevsky to Vladimir Putin, and Alexei Navalny and the Russian mindset which has never changed in 800 years since Mr. Nevsky, an imperialist yet a saint by Russian Orthodox standards. Frankly, should Mr. Putin be ousted one way or another and become a martyr he may join the pantheon of Russian Orthodox saints. This is the nature of a little understood psyche, the Russian soul. Even religion is an empire builder. Nevertheless, Russian turmoil and instability is good.
Askold S. Lozynskyj is an attorney at law based in New York City who served as president of the Ukrainian World Congress in 1998-2008.