[Anders Aslund] Vladimir Putin’s dangerous Ukrainian story
Putin begins his story in ancient Rus, where Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians were united by one language and – after the “baptism of Russia” into the Orthodox religion – only one faith until the 15th century. Even in the midst of fragmentation, Putin writes, people saw Russia as their common homeland.
According to this account, the Polish-Russian war of 1605-18 was, for the people, “liberating”. The Ukrainians were “reunited” with the rest of the Russian Orthodox people, forming “little Russia”, and the word “Ukraine” was used to mean something like “on the border”.
In Putin’s story, the creation of Novorossiya in 1764 and the expansion of the Russian Empire also reflected the will of the people. “The integration of the lands of Western Russia into the Common State was not only the result of political and diplomatic decisions; it took place on the basis of a common faith and cultural traditions ”and“ linguistic affinities ”.
General Alexander Suvorov, who overcame enormous resistance to secure Russia’s expanded borders, would certainly disagree. But Putin suggests that the shared language – separated only by “regional linguistic features and dialects” – virtually nullifies the possibility that Ukraine may have developed its own culture. For example, while Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian national poet, wrote poems in Ukrainian, he mainly wrote prose in Russian.
Likewise, Nikolai Gogol – born in Poltava governorate in Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire – was a “patriot of Russia” and wrote in Russian. “How can this heritage be shared between Russia and Ukraine?
Later, Putin condemns the “harsh Polonization” which took place during the interwar period, when the Poles suppressed “the local culture and traditions”. He then attributes to the Bolsheviks the “development and strengthening” of Ukrainian “culture, language and identity” through their policy of Ukrainization.
The problem, Putin continues, is that “Ukrainization has often been forced on those who did not consider themselves Ukrainians”. The Russification of the Ukrainians – which far exceeds anything the Poles have done – is not mentioned.
Putin also presents the Soviet Union as the savior of Ukrainian reunification. “In 1939, the land previously seized by Poland was returned to the USSR. Their main share was given to Soviet Ukraine. It’s a bizarre representation of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviets and Nazi Germany. Yet Putin shamelessly concludes that “contemporary Ukraine was entirely created by Soviet times.”
Putin has his disagreements with the Bolsheviks, beyond their apparently excessive Ukrainization. Its problem is not, say, the Great Famine which killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932-33. (Putin avoids mentioning Stalin at all and says that modern Ukrainian leaders are “rewriting history” when they present the “common tragedy of collectivization and famine” as genocide.)
On the contrary, Putin disputes the way in which the Bolsheviks have treated the Russian nation: “as an inexhaustible material for social experiments”. Their dreams of “world revolution” and the abolition of nation states have led them arbitrarily to “cut borders” and offer “generous” territorial gifts. “Russia has actually been robbed. “
Yet even though the world condemns the “crimes of the Soviet regime,” it does not regard the actions of the Bolsheviks to “wrest” historic territories – like Crimea – from Russia as criminal acts. And Putin knows why: it “led to the weakening of Russia,” he says, so our “bad guys are happy with it.”
Putin is coming back to the bad guys, but first he has a thing or two to say about the economy. “Ukraine and Russia have developed as a single economic system for decades and centuries,” 30 years ago achieving “deep cooperation” that the European Union today would envy. For example, from 1991 to 2013, he claimed – not particularly credibly – that Russian gas subsidies saved Ukraine over $ 82 billion for its budget. He fails to mention the submission that the Ukrainian leadership had to offer in return.
“Such a close relationship can… increase the potential of both countries,” Putin writes. Yet the truth is that these decades of commitment have left both economies underdeveloped. Never mind: Putin attributes Ukraine’s “deindustrialization and economic degradation” to his efforts to separate from Russia since 2014.
Russia has always treated Ukraine “with a lot of love,” says Putin. This is not quite how I would describe imposing tough trade sanctions on a country in crisis, as Russia did to Ukraine when President Viktor Yanukovych, a friend of Putin, was ousted. in 2014. It is also not an appropriate representation of shooting down an airliner, as Russian forces did in July of the same year, killing 298 people.
Yet, according to Putin’s account, Ukrainian elites “squandered the achievements of many generations”, justifying their country’s independence “by denying its past”. And they have been encouraged by none other than the EU and the US – the apparent villains in modern Ukrainian history, who are engaged in a comprehensive “anti-Russia” project.
This echoes Putin’s statement on the phone show: “The main questions regarding the functioning of Ukraine are not decided in Kiev, but in Washington and, in part, in Berlin and Paris. In Putin’s opinion, the acceptance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of “full external management of his country” makes any attempt to meet him futile.
Nevertheless, Putin declares in his article: “Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine”. But, for such a dialogue to work, Ukraine must represent its “own national interest”, rather than trying to “serve foreign interests”. Of course, according to Putin, Ukraine’s only national interest must be to unite with Russia.
Make no mistake: by denying Ukraine the right to independence, Putin is paving the way for war. The West must decide quickly what it is prepared to do to prevent it.
Anders Aslund is a senior fellow at the Stockholm Free World Forum. – Ed.
By Korea Herald ([email protected])