In this provocative study, Mikhail A. Molchanov analyzes the political and cultural factors that underlie modern national identities in Russia and Ukraine and systematically compares the political cultures of these two historically similar, yet profoundly different nations.
The author argues that domestic and international factors shape national identities, which are not an inherent characteristic of a people, but arise in interaction with the national "other." The "self-other" relationship is therefore a key element of national identity, particularly in newly independent states, of which Ukraine is a prime example.
Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, national identities had to be reconstructed or re-created. Molchanov questions the extent to which Russians have been able to construct an identity apart from that of the Soviet Union, arguing that the system denationalized them in an attempt to create the ideal "Soviet Man."
Molchanov sees Ukraine neither as Russia's victim, nor as its opposite. Unlike those who fear a resurgent Russia and who argue that it should be contained by local nationalisms in the "near abroad, " Molchanov believes this strategy can lead only to estrangement between Russia and its neighbors. In addition, Russia's recent opening and demonstrated support of the United States is too valuable to the world to be sacrificed to a new variant of the containment strategy.
MIKHAIL A. MOLCHANOV currently works as an analyst for Human Resources Development Canada and lectures at Carleton University's Institute of European and Russian Studies. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.