KYIV, Ukraine – In his address to the Russian nation on Monday, President Vladimir V.Putin made his case for systematizing the separation of the two rebel territories from Ukraine by arguing that the idea The idea of the Ukrainian state is a fiction.
With a belief in a dictatorship unburdened by historical nuances, Putin has claimed Ukraine is an invention of the Bolshevik revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, whom he believes mistakenly bestowed it on Ukraine. a sense of state by allowing it to be self-governing within the newly formed Soviet state.
“Modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia, more specifically Bolshevik, a communist Russia,” Putin said. “This process practically began immediately after the revolution of 1917, and more than that, Lenin and his associates did it in the worst way in terms of relations with Russia – by dividing, tearing, to pieces its own historic territory”.
Mr. Putin, a former KGB officer who has declared the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, is extremely serious.
The reality of Ukraine’s history is complex, a millennial history of changing religions, borders and ethnicities. The capital Kyiv was founded hundreds of years before Moscow, although both Russians and Ukrainians claim Kyiv as the birthplace of their modern cultures, religions and languages.
The history and culture of Russia and Ukraine are truly intertwined – they share the same orthodox Christian religion, and their national languages, customs and cuisines are related.
But the happy brotherhood of the countries that Mr. Putin loves to paint, with Ukraine embedded in the fabric of a greater Russia, is incredible. Parts of present-day Ukraine were actually inhabited for centuries by the Russian empire. But other parts were administered by the Austro-Hungarian empire, or Poland or Lithuania.
Cliff Kupchan, Chairman of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said: “Putin’s argument today that Ukraine has been historically displaced by Russia is not true. Although the themes of Mr. Putin’s speech are not new to the Russian leader, Mr. Kupchan said, “the breadth and the vigor he has gone through after all the Ukrainian things. is remarkable”.
The newly formed Soviet government under Lenin that drew too much of Putin’s disdain on Monday would eventually crush the nascent independent Ukrainian state. During the Soviet era, Ukrainian was banned from schools and its culture was only allowed to exist as a caricature of dancing Cossacks in trousers.
On Monday, Putin also argued that the myth of Ukraine was reinforced by the crumbling Soviet government of Mikhail Gorbachev, which allowed Ukraine to escape Moscow’s control. It was a weakened Moscow that “gave” Ukraine independence from the Soviet Union “without any terms and conditions.”
“This is just madness,” he said.
It was not Moscow that gave Ukraine independence in 1991, but the Ukrainian people, who successfully voted to leave the Soviet Union in a democratic referendum.
Now, with an estimated 190,000 Russian troops besieging Ukraine like a crescent, Putin’s claim that Ukraine’s existence as a sovereign state is the result of a historic mistake threatens would bring all the lands that were once under Moscow’s dominion. It also elicits expressions of disdain from Ukrainians.
“Over the past few decades, the West has been looking for fascism everywhere, but not where it appears most,” said Maria Tomak, an activist involved in supporting people from Crimea. Ukraine, which Mr. Putin annexed in 2014. “It’s so obvious now that it burns your eyes. Maybe this will eventually make the West start to wake up to Russia.”
It is unclear whether Mr. Putin believes his version of Ukraine’s history or is simply concocting a cynical myth to justify any actions he plans to take next. But his view that Ukraine exists only in the context of Russian history and culture is something he has been working on since at least 2008, when he tried to convince George W. Bush, after the former president presented it. expressed support for Ukraine’s NATO membership, of the country’s non-existence.
Last summer, Mr. Putin published a 5,300-word essay explaining many of the topics he highlighted in his Monday speech, including the idea that nefarious Western nations had somehow corrupting Ukraine, alienating Ukraine from its rightful place in the broader Russian sphere. what he calls “forced identity change”.
Few observers, however, believe that historical accuracy is of great importance to Mr. Putin as he offers justifications for whatever he has planned for Ukraine.
Joshua A. Tucker, a professor of political science at New York University and an expert on Russia, said: “We can be clear that Putin is not trying to engage in a historical debate about history. the interwoven history of the two peoples of Russia and Ukraine. Instead, Professor Tucker said, the Russian leader is laying the groundwork for the argument “that Ukraine does not currently enjoy the kinds of rights that we associate with sovereign states.” .
It is a signal that Putin intends to argue that a military intervention in Ukraine would not violate another country’s sovereignty.
Moscow has vowed to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty on the condition that Ukraine give up its nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But Mr. Putin, analysts say, has made it clear that the commitment is of no importance to him. In 2014, after protesters pushed the Kremlin-backed government to power in Kyiv, he ordered his troops to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and then incite a separatist war that de facto Ukraine. economy lost two rebel territories to the east.
On Monday, Mr. Putin formalized that division by recognizing those territories, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, as independent. Soon after, he sent troops into the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in eastern Ukraine.
But Mr. Putin’s efforts to bring Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit have in many ways backfired. In a country once at odds over NATO, or at worst openly hostile, polls show a majority now favor membership in the US-led military alliance.
In Kyiv, where Ukrainians are anxiously awaiting Putin’s decision, the reaction to his speech has been disgusting and alarming.
Kristina Berdynskykh, a prominent political journalist, gathered with colleagues at a bar called Amigos and sat on her phone watching Putin’s speech, crying and cursing in turn.
It is hatred for all of Ukraine and revenge for the country’s movement towards the EU and NATO and democracy – albeit chaotic, with big problems, slow reforms and corruption. – but where people vote and change power in elections or revolutions,” said Ms. Berdynskykh. “The worst dream for an old lunatic is both scenarios: fair elections and revolutions.”
Michael Schwirtz reports from Odessa, Ukraine, Maria Varenikova from Kyiv and Rick Gladstone from New York.
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