Opinion War in Ukraine and Russia

The Russian counter-revolution at the gates of Europe

After a year of Russia's all-out war, it is crystal clear what Ukrainian resistance has spared the rest of post-Soviet Eastern Europe: gulags, kidnappings, deportations, torture chambers, and mass graves. Ukrainian art curator and political activist Vasyl Cherepanyn believes Russia's war against Ukraine is a military coup against thirty years of European history.

Published on 27 April 2023 at 08:42

When Russian President Vladimir Putin in his televised address justifying the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine issued a warning to other countries not to meddle or they will face “consequences you have never seen in history,” many leaders in the West didn’t just freeze with fear but also breathed a sigh of relief — finally they got a legitimate reason to stay aside, hiding behind a looming nuclear threat.

After a year of Russia’s all-out war, it has become crystal clear, even for those not involved, what Ukraine has so far saved Eastern Europe (foremost its post-Soviet part) from: filtration camps, kidnappings, deportations, torture chambers, mass graves, and other atrocities accompanying alleged annexations.

Receive the best of European journalism straight to your inbox every Thursday

If it wasn't for the Ukrainian military resistance, not only Ukraine itself but neither the European Union nor NATO would exist today in their current forms, and the West would be busy not with the number of tanks to be delivered, but how to deal with the Chișinău People’s Republic, Narva People’s Republic, Białystok People’s Republic…

This war has often been referred to as a war of aggression, a war of attrition, a continental war, sometimes a total war – which are all correct – but there is one specificity of Russia’s war against Ukraine that is usually omitted. Unlike most of the recent military conflicts, this war is not simply a war between two countries, it’s not just between two armies, and it’s not between an army and an insurgency – it is a war of one country’s military with the support and direct involvement of its population against another country’s people, who had been deprived of the right to exist.

The Kremlin’s genocidal self-negating argument goes as follows: you don’t exist, but since you do exist and you shouldn’t, you have to be eliminated. Actually, it’s not some exotic reference for Europe – quite the opposite, it’s historically very recognisable.

If it wasn't for the Ukrainian military resistance, not only Ukraine itself but neither the European Union nor NATO would exist today in their current forms

Since Russia’s war has basically been aimed at disrupting the European political and institutional order, which itself is a main outcome of the defeat of Nazism, it’s not accidentally been conducted by revivifying and invoking some of the respective narratives and practices of World War II.

The Maidan revolution was the last successful European revolution and the ideological nature of Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine and Europe should be seen as fundamentally counter-revolutionary, based on historical resentment, regressing frustration, and political reaction. Whatever social realm or rhetorical wrapping, all the Kremlin’s undertakings have been serving one major purpose – preventing regime change.

Revolution has always been the biggest fear of Putin’s regime, and he’s been so much obsessed with Ukraine’s Maidan that he turned his whole country into anti-Maidan eliminating its even illusionary proximity by all means.

Russian society has become an anti-society as all the civil society institutions and representatives are now labelled ‘foreign agents,’ expelled from the country or imprisoned. Russian citizenship has become anti-citizenship as Russians themselves have been substituted with the pseudo-metaphysical entity of Russkiy mir (Russian world), which needs ‘protection’ wherever one can find a Russian-speaking population. And Russian politics has become anti-politics as it’s been literally turned into a permanent special military operation on all fronts.

Putin famously called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” but that collapse was actually accompanied by a military attempt to reverse the course of history, a putsch that became a defining event for the Kremlin’s ideological framework. Putinism is essentially putschism – the specificity of putinism is that it doesn't have a particular ideological core or a political content per se. The 1991 August Coup was organised not for the sake of saving communist ideology or because the plotters truly believed in socialism, but exactly in order to prevent regime change and annihilate the alternative.

On the whole, Russia’s war against Ukraine is a military putsch against European history of the last thirty years. The putsch failed in 1991 but it took only eight years for it to make its comeback, when Putin was elevated to the presidency in 1999. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and got his first-hand anti-revolutionary experience in GDR during what Germans call the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. His main personal occupation while being a KGB agent was chasing and persecuting dissidents; in short, eliminating the possibility of change and preventing any alternative to emerge.

On the whole, Russia’s war against Ukraine is a military putsch against European history of the last thirty years

First FSB director and then President, it was not by chance that Putin regarded Yuri Andropov, first KGB chief and then General Secretary of the Communist Party

, as his direct spiritual forebear and Cold War predecessor. Andropov served as the Soviet ambassador to Hungary, where he lived to fame as “the Butcher of Budapest” for his ruthless suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. He was also a main advocate of crushing the Prague Spring in 1968 and of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Those military interventions then, as the one now, were justified on the fabricated pretext of an alleged ‘NATO / CIA aggression.’ Andropov was haunted by a “Hungarian complex” like Putin has been by the Ukrainian Maidan, and both firmly stood on the position that only armed force could ensure the regime's survival.

Russia launched its military invasion of Ukraine in 2014 on the very same day, 22 February, the Maidan revolution was victorious. This war has from the very beginning been a counter-revolution at its purest. The main political lesson of Maidan was the one on violence. Due to its harsh nature and immediate danger, political violence still often remains in a zone of reflexive disability. What is usually called pacifism today only marks helplessness and the absence of appropriate conceptual and practical tools to tackle a politically violent situation.

A crucial feature that sets revolutionary violence apart from other types of political violence is that if one doesn’t apply violence at a certain point of the revolutionary process, it would cause much bigger violence afterwards. If the Maidan protesters wouldn't have fought back against the heavily-armed police, the state repressive apparatus would have prevailed, Ukraine would have ceased to be a democracy and would today look more or less like Lukashenko’s Belarus with mass political repressions and extremely violent crackdown on dissent. 

This political approach — the argument for achieving change and defending revolution — is obviously the opposite to the one of non-escalation and non-radicalisation currently prevailing in the West. Ukraine has been paying an unthinkable price not just for the West’s geopolitical revival in the present, boosted by Ukraine’s effective military resistance to the Russian aggression, but for the very emergence of the contemporary West in the past as it is Ukraine that is now bearing the real war cost for the Peaceful Revolution of 1989. And those Western fears are only postponing an obnoxious truth—whom are you ready to sacrifice next? 

If one moves step by step and constantly waits, the ultimate outcome will be far more atrocious than if one violently intervenes at once. That is the revolutionary lesson that must be swiftly learned by the West — simply because it doesn’t actually have any other way out than to win this war together with Ukraine.

Was this article useful? If so we are delighted! It is freely available because we believe that the right to free and independent information is essential for democracy. But this right is not guaranteed forever, and independence comes at a cost. We need your support in order to continue publishing independent, multilingual news for all Europeans. Discover our membership offers and their exclusive benefits and become a member of our community now!

Are you a news organisation, a business, an association or a foundation? Check out our bespoke editorial and translation services.

Support independent European journalism

European democracy needs independent media. Join our community!

On the same topic