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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Gentle Art of International Divorce

CIS to Be Disbanded in Moscow as Kremlin Decides to Seize Initiative From Kiev and Tbilisi" went a headline from one of Nezavisimaya Gazeta's last issues of 2005. And here's another headline from the same paper: "Security Council Decides to Close Down the CIS" -- the date of this one is Feb. 7, 2000. The article was about a speech given by Sergei Ivanov, then chairman of the council, at a conference on international security in Munich. Many people at the time thought that the president's alter ego was announcing a policy whose time had come.

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Why is it that five years later we are hearing the same speeches and the initiative has yet to be seized?

President Vladimir Putin once called the CIS a divorce procedure for the former Soviet republics. There are different ways of getting divorced, of course. You can go about it so that the court's decisions (about division of communal property, who gets the kids and the other spouse's visiting rights) are worked out in detail; or you can split up and later start worrying about the numerous messy questions that will inevitably arise. This second variant is the way the Soviet Union was dissolved and the CIS created. The rest of the story is one long tale of woe, and one known all too well to those who have divorced in haste.

Russia has played the role of the head of the household who left the family. He both enjoys his new freedom and yet suffers pangs of conscience at the same time. He feels duty bound to help the old family, and likewise feels he has some say in its affairs.

The countries of the CIS, by very rude analogy, are the wife, long ago abandoned by the unfeeling husband. Thank God he helps out some, she says, the more so as he does so with no strings attached. And if it comes to it, I can raise a ruckus and maybe blackmail him about the kid.

Russia's relations with Ukraine, sharpened once again at the end of 2005, are a typical example. Strictly speaking, under all three of independent Ukraine's presidents, Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko, Ukrainian-Russian relations have developed along similar lines: glances at the West, a desire for economic breaks from Russia, playing the anti-Russian card for both domestic and foreign policy reasons, and the denial to the Russian language (despite multiple promises to the contrary) of equal status with Ukrainian.

Russia's current attempts to bring its relations with Ukraine into the realm of logic, including the logic of gas prices, are in this context completely understandable and predictable. Indeed, more and more Ukrainians have been saying "About time, too." Yet, the result has been confrontation. Why?

Most likely because decisions that were wise five and 10 years ago have now begun to be carried out -- in rush order. The feeling arises that Ukraine is being punished for its Orange Revolution. We in Russia, clearly, have not taken into account how many people in eastern and southern Ukraine were alienated at the end of 2004 by the powerful Russian pressure in favor of one of the candidates for president. For many people in those regions, it wasn't Kiev but Moscow that was perceived as the roost of "the bosses." And post-Soviet citizens like to act "against the bosses."

Something similar is going on now. When all of Russia's political figures, from the president to the foreign and defense ministers, along with the news and analytical programs on Russian television, day in and day out, week after week, keep assuring everyone that in the "gas war" there are no political factors, that it's purely an economic disagreement, few people in Ukraine or in Russia or in the rest of the world can doubt that the opposite is the case.

"Russians know how to conquer but not how to win," a very wise man once said. The difference would seem purely stylistic. But in relations between peoples, just as within families, a great deal indeed can depend on style. Including the ability to get what you're after without losing the initiative.

Alexei Pankin is editorial page editor of Izvestia.