Putin’s obsession with Ukraine – D1SoftballNews.com
The reasons why Russian President Vladimir Putin is threatening the second invasion of Ukraine in less than ten years are above all military strategy and geopolitics: among other things, Putin wants to prevent NATO’s expansion into Ukraine ( expansion which, incidentally, NATO does not intend to implement) and to limit the political and military presence of the West near the Russian borders (which, on the contrary, has expanded in the last twenty years ). Another reason often cited by Putin himself, and used mostly in domestic propaganda, concerns history.
For several years, Putin has publicly affirmed that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. He said it in 2014 on the occasion of the annexation of Crimea, he repeated it frequently in interviews and in public speeches and he explained it at length in a wordy essay published in July 2021 and entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. in which Putin writes that he “firmly believes” that the two peoples form “a single unit”.
The belief that Russians and Ukrainians are one people is also expressed in its most obvious consequence: one people does not need two states, and anyone who tries to divide them goes against history. For this, Putin believes that the end of the Soviet Union, which among other things involved the separation of Russia and Ukraine, resulted in the disastrous “disintegration of historical Russia”, which means that the historically planned borders of Russia should also include Ukraine. territory (and that of Belarus).
Taking this reasoning to the extreme, Putin and his political allies have repeatedly argued that Ukraine “isn’t even a state.” In an interview some time ago, Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s adviser on the Ukrainian question, who later fell into disgrace, said that Ukraine is not a nation but “an astonishing enthusiasm for ethnography, driven to the extreme”.
According to various experts, Putin has a kind of obsession with Ukraine, and this obsession is shared with the rest of the Russian establishment which, as the Russian recently wrote.Economist, “never accepted the independence” of the country. The obsession feeds on partial interpretations of history and theories about the ethnic formation of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, as well as imperialist claims that date back to the Soviet period, and in some cases even earlier, to the Tsarist period. .
But the main problem, as we see in these months of military tension, and as we have seen for a decade now, is that the Russian obsession with Ukraine is not reciprocated.
In his essay, Putin wrote that the main reason why Russians and Ukrainians (and even Belarusians) would be the same today is that they are all “descendants” of the so-called Kievan Rus’. i.e. a collection of Slavic, Baltic languages. and Finnish tribes. which in the 9th century created a loose monarchical entity that stretched from the White Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, and which therefore included part of the current Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian territory. The unity of Kievan Russia, consecrated by the conversion to Orthodox Christianity, is for Putin the foundation of the Russian culture which still binds the three peoples today. All this even before the founding of Moscow.
Many historians today argue that this interpretation of Kievan Rus should be considered a myth. Not so much because Kievan Rus did not play a role in the various formations that followed, but because drawing political conclusions from historical events that took place more than a millennium ago is rather unreasonable.
Moreover, Kievan Rus soon broke up. Simplifying a lot, it was invaded by the Mongols, who maintained control from the Russian side for a few centuries, while the territories of present-day Ukraine were dominated in various ways by Lithuanians, Poles, Swedes and partly also by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. . The Ukrainian language developed separately from the Russian language, and for centuries the Ukrainian aristocracy, especially in the western part of the country, remained tied to continental Europe.
Even when the Tsarist Empire conquered much of present-day Ukrainian territory in the 18th century, the cultural and linguistic integration programs of “Little Russia” (as part of Ukrainian territory was called under the Russian Empire) did not never had full success. .
Attempts at integration continued even after the Russian Revolution, with mixed results. It did not help the Russian cause that local farmers were among the main victims of Stalin’s disastrous agricultural policies, which, combined with repression in the early 1930s, resulted in the deaths of millions of Ukrainians (the estimates range from three to five million people) and which are now considered genocide by many Ukrainians.
This does not mean that the historical, cultural and linguistic ties between Russia and Ukraine are not very strong: today, most Ukrainians are bilingual, especially in the eastern part of the country (the one occupied by the pro-Russian separatist forces, not to mention Crimea, which was annexed) most of the inhabitants are of Russian origin and speak Russian as their main language. This also applies to Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s president, who comes from the eastern regions and, although he is bilingual, is more fluent in Russian than Ukrainian.
But, like theEconomistwhile for the majority of Ukrainians these links and these neighborhoods are part of an important historical heritage, for Russians they are an element of identity: “For centuries, Ukraine has determined Russian identity. […] The idea that Kiev could only be the capital of a neighboring state was unthinkable for the Russians. But it was not for the Ukrainians. ‘
Ukraine has always been at the center of Russian imperial projects, and losing dominance over the country meant, in effect, giving up the possibility of an empire.
We saw it with the collapse of the Soviet Union, whose dissolution as a political entity was definitively decided on the night of December 8, 1991 in the dacha of Belaveža, in Belarus, after a very long meeting between Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Belarusian Stanislav Shushkevich. At this time, the Russian economy was collapsing and it was Yeltsin who promoted, albeit reluctantly, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, with the aim of focusing solely on Russia, taking the deadweights off the other republics and the weight of Soviet imperial ambitions.
The decision to dissolve the Soviet Union and relinquish any form of official control over Ukraine and Belarus was extremely complex, not only because Ukraine was the Union’s second largest economy and had enough nuclear warheads on its territory to be the third power. in this sector (the issue was later resolved with the Budapest agreement of 1994). When Mikhail Gorbachev, still President of the Soviet Union, learned of Yeltsin’s decision, he was furious, among other things because his mother was Ukrainian and he himself had spent his childhood immersed in Ukrainian culture: giving up to Ukraine, it meant giving up an identity document.
At that time, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the most influential Russian intellectuals of the 20th century, had recently published an essay entitled How to rebuild our Russia in which, among other things, he urged the Soviet Union to grant independence to the non-Slavic Soviet republics (i.e. those in Central Asia) and to build a large Slavic state comprising Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus and part of Kazakhstan.
And if this were not possible, in any case the ties between the Slavic and Russified peoples would have to be maintained at all costs. Solzhenitsyn, like Putin and others, cited Kiev Russia and the Orthodox religion, among others, among the reasons for this union.
In recent years, Putin’s Russia has intervened in all the countries mentioned by Solzhenitsyn, either through military actions or by sending aid to local dictators. But the main problem with this Russian obsession with Ukraine is that it is not reciprocated.
For decades, Ukraine and its society have looked to Europe and the West. With the Budapest Agreement of 1994, Ukraine agreed to hand over all of its nuclear weapons in exchange for a guarantee that Russia would respect its borders (a promise that was reneged on two decades later). In 2004, the “orange revolution”, in defense of the electoral victory of the pro-European candidate Viktor Yushchenko, was for Putin the first alarm that he risked losing his influence on Ukraine, confirmed later by the demonstrations in Kyiv in 2014, which resulted in the current tense situation.
Today, 90% of Ukrainians want the country to remain independent and 75% would like to join the European Union. Even in the eastern part of the country, where a large part of the population is of Russian origin, almost 60% of the inhabitants would like to join the Union.
And as the Ukrainian journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk al New Yorker, for the regime of Vladimir Putin, not only the independence of Ukraine is a threat, but also its freedom and its democracy, although imperfect: “Putin feels offended and betrayed by Ukraine and the Ukrainians, not only by the Ukrainian government. And I think it is quite important for him to prove that no, democracy in Ukraine is not really genuine, which was imposed by the West. Because to admit that societies can be autonomously democratic is to admit that change is possible in Belarus, in Georgia and even in Russia”.