On September 6, 2021, the Carnegie Moscow Center website published an article by Dmitry Trenin, Director, Head of the Foreign Policy and Security Program of the Center, entitled «Reassessing Proximity. How can Russia build relations with Ukraine». Dmitry Trenin, who is associated with one of the «Kremlin Towers» and the former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) Sergei Naryshkin, belongs to the moderate wing of Vladimir Putin's entourage. However, the published article arises the question, if the views of the so-called Russian liberals are really moderate and do they actually differ from the views of current Kremlin leadership?
Dmitry Trenin's publication aims to find the optimal strategy of the Russian Federation for further interaction with Ukraine and is based on the thesis that Ukraine's importance is overestimated in the minds of domestic elites. The author points out the beliefs of these elites that Ukraine with its capital in Kyiv is the historical core of the Russian state, that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, part of one Orthodox civilization, and the territory of modern Ukraine has a strategic geographical position. «Ukraine has a powerful demographic, economic, scientific and cultural potential, which, after the unification with Russia, can help Russia to become a world center of power». Most of these theses were used by Vladimir Putin in his article «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians», which was published on July 12. In this article, Vladimir Putin is trying to prove that Ukrainians and Russians are one people. Trenin, in turn, although he puts forward false and propagandistic theses regarding the historical aspects of Kyivan Rus and the absence of a single Ukrainian nation, just like Putin, nevertheless Russian expert enters into a discussion with the head of the Kremlin.
In the near future, the Russian expert suggests not to expect possible «integration» and normalization of relations with Ukraine, unless a «pragmatic» government appears in Ukraine. Although Volodymyr Zelenskyy has done substantial work since his election to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the Kremlin continues to put pressure on the current Ukrainian government through aggravation in the East. The eastern part of Ukraine is called «Russian» in the article, while the persecution of the Ukrainian intelligentsia in the last century is called «an attempt to re-educate Ukrainian nationalists». «The experience of the last three decades leaves no doubt that having received a large-scale Russian aid after a hypothetical reunification, instead of gratitude, Ukraine will turn against Russia», Trenin concludes. The rhetoric of the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center testifies to the fact that there is no place for an independent Ukraine in the worldview of leading experts of Russian political thought, even in its liberal part. But what does the Russian expert actually suggest?
According to Dmitry Trenin, hard power against Ukraine has not yet yielded the expected results. Therefore, Moscow should pay attention to the gathering of people. «It makes sense for Moscow to act strategically, making immigration to Russia for employment and living purposes attractive for Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine and other countries of the former USSR, especially specialists. This is a real way of forming one nation - on the territory of Russia. Instead of forming groups of people with Russian citizenship on the outskirts of the former empire who would become the backbone of local pro-Russian political forces, the demographic and professional potential of Russia itself should be strengthened. Then relations with neighbors can develop more satisfactorily from the standpoint of the Russian Federation». In fact, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center suggests using soft power to continue the aggression against Ukraine, however, through non-military methods.
Since the 1990s, Russia has used its passports to support pro-Russian sentiment in Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. In the long run, the Kremlin will be able to use its citizens to destabilize Ukraine from within. In fact, this article is not something new, much less revolutionary. It is a logical continuation of the ideological basis of Russia's policy towards Ukraine. The Russian Federation has become particularly active in this dimension this year: in January, the Integration Forum was held in the occupied Donbas, at which the doctrine of the Russian Donbas was presented. This document was developed by the Kremlin as a doctrine of further ideological brainwashing of the occupied Donbas population. After that, the mass issuance of Russian passports intensified in ORDLO. The next step was the submission to the State Duma of a bill on the repatriation of citizens of Belarus and Ukraine. This bill simplifies the process of acquiring Russian citizenship by Ukrainians and Belarusians. Dmitry Trenin's article was published at the moment when it was reported that the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation proposed to allow residents of the occupied territories of the Ukrainian Donbas to participate in the program of «compatriots resettlement». Such people can be provided with land in the sparsely populated regions of Russia. At the beginning of September, 2,000 miners with their families were transported from Donbas to Yakutia, and all persons were given Russian passports. The next step is the participation of citizens of the occupied territories in the elections to the State Duma. To date, the fact of coercion of employees of institutions in ORDLO to participate in the Russian vote has been repeatedly recorded.
The Russian Federation's passport intervention is also the result of demographic changes within the state According to the expert of the Center for Countering Information Aggression Alexander Kurban, the territories beyond the Urals are rapidly emptying, people move to more comfortable regions of the European part of the Russian Federation or abroad. «The territories abandoned by the Russian population are being actively inhabited by migrants: immigrants from the countries of Central Asia, China and North Korea», the expert says. Whereas previously this was a completely acceptable solution to the problem of the demographic crisis, today it looks like a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation. «People from the countries of Central Asia and the Far East are carriers of a foreign culture and traditions. They do not assimilate on the territory of the Russian Federation, but, on the contrary, create national enclaves, which are an ideal environment for separatist movements». In this context, Ukrainians and Belarusians are desirable migrants, since the Kremlin considers these nations to be part of a single Russian people.
In his article, Trenin tries to prove that Russia can be a liberal state that has abandoned territorial expansion: «First of all, the Russian Federation is a full-fledged Russia, a self-sufficient state that does not need further territorial expansion, especially towards Ukraine». However, the policy of passport intervention actually creates the basis for further armed aggression. The possibility of military protection of its citizens outside the Russian Federation is enshrined in the strategic documents of the Russian Federation, and the Russian leadership, on behalf of Dmitry Kozak and Dmitry Surkov, has repeatedly stated about potential full-scale military intervention in Ukraine to protect Russian citizens. Therefore, a change in the policy of the Russian Federation cannot be expected. Even in the case of a facade change in Russia's behavior in the international arena and an attempt to move to a constructive coexistence with Ukraine, the propensity towards expansionism will not disappear, but will only take other forms of non-military methods. As former United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote, «Expansion has become Russia's national idea». The only thing that seems strange is that the sponsors of such ideological Russian sabotages against Ukraine are diplomatic missions of a countries of stable European democracies, such as the Danish Embassy in Moscow, which made great efforts to publish this interventionist propaganda written by Kremlin regime servant Dmitry Trenin.
In the current situation, Ukraine must develop its own information strategy to resist Russian passport and information aggression. It is necessary to create an effective control mechanism over the existence of Russian citizenship among Ukrainian citizens, as this is a matter of national security. The battle for people's minds continues, and the result of this confrontation will determine not only the affiliation of citizens, but also ownership over the territories.