A Pessimist’s Delight on the Black Sea

Pessimism always wins” in Russia, writes Julia Ioffe in The New Republic, explaining why she left her post as a correspondent in Moscow. “Unfortunately, all you really need to do to seem clairvoyant about the place is to be an utter pessimist.”

Today, disturbing events are unfolding in Crimea, where Russia has sent 16,000 troops, with the justification that the ethnic Russians of Crimea require protection from Ukrainian ultra-nationalists. In Ioffe’s opinion, the reality is simpler. “Russia was, is and will be an empire with an eternal appetite for expansion,” she writes. The upheaval in Ukraine has presented “an opportunity for Russia not just to take back some land it’s long considered its rightful own, but to settle all scores and to tie up all loose ends.”

Whether Peter Drucker would have agreed with Ioffe’s analysis of Russia’s motivations or not, he certainly would have found the tug of war between Kiev and Moscow to be drearily and ominously familiar. In his 1939 book, The End of Economic Man, he noted that despite Moscow’s grip, “Ukrainians have always resisted Russian domination” and were “acutely nationalist.”

Because of the weakness of the bonds between Moscow and nations under the Soviet umbrella, Drucker came to consider the dissolution of the Russian Empire to be inevitable. But he also considered the situation to be dangerous, in no small part because empire has been historically central to Russia’s conception of itself.

Photo: Dieter Zirnig

The disintegration of the Russian Empire is likely to be far more traumatic for the mother country, that is for European Russia, than the dissolution of their overseas empires was for Spain, Britain, France, the Netherlands or Portugal earlier in this century,” Drucker predicted in The New Realities, published in 1989. He also warned that it would create “totally new realities in international politics—realities for which no one is as yet prepared, least of all the United States.”

Today, the tensions in Ukraine threaten to get much worse, and Drucker would perhaps sympathize with Ioffe’s pessimistic outlook. The world, he observed in a 1985 interview with Inc., had always been in turmoil during his lifetime. “So it’s awfully easy for me to be pessimistic,” he admitted. “But what’s the use of it? Lots of things worry me. On the other hand, we have survived against all odds.”

What do you think? How do you expect the situation in Ukraine to unfold?