Putin’s article on Russian-Ukrainian relations crowns the failure of the Kremlin’s policy in a strategic direction
For 30 years of independent Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been holding senior positions in the Russian Federation for more than 20 years. There is more than enough time for the Russian leader to have a profound vision of an important neighbouring country. And the text released on the official website of the Kremlin should have contained the features of this acquired leadership wisdom. It turned out the opposite: the article “On historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians” testified to the primitive ideas of the Russian president about Ukraine and Ukrainians, moreover: the Neanderthal views on modern politics and incomprehension of history in its basic moments, all under the guise of exceptional expertise.
When the age-old friendship of the three peoples — Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians — is publicly deemed on by the man who started the war against the “brothers and sisters,” which has been going on for seven years, this reflection cannot be considered other than the continuation of the war and its inevitability. This is not a frank conversation about the real causes and consequences of decisions made in search of a way out. This is a propaganda dump of an overtly cheap quality, in the manner of hosts of boisterous shows on Russian TV channels.
The beginning of the text looks almost like repentance: “I perceive the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between parts of essentially one historical and spiritual space, as a great common misfortune, as a tragedy. This is primarily the result of our own mistakes, which we made at different times.” But the next sentence shifts guilt to “forces that have always sought to undermine our unity.” In the course of the article, it becomes clear that these forces are the Bolsheviks, the Ukrainians themselves, who do not see themselves as part of the triune great Russian people, and the insidious West, which always pursues a “grand purpose to divide and later pit against each other parts of united people.”
At the same time, the Ukrainian statehood, according to expert Putin, was constantly established by “robbing” Russia because Ukraine’s borders were set arbitrarily and Ukraine received “generous territorial gifts.” Thus, the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Donbas already look like a confrontation with the same enemies of the triune people and the establishment of historical justice, which was earlier neglected.
And, of course, the Russian leader could not help but repeat the key thesis of his own propaganda machine about the “civil war” that allegedly began in Ukraine after the “coup d’etat” in 2014. “Residents of Donetsk and Luhansk took up arms to protect their homes, their languages, their lives. Did they have another choice – after debacles that swept through the cities of Ukraine, after the horror and tragedy of 2 May 2014 in Odesa, where Ukrainian neo-Nazis burned people alive, orchestrated a new Khatyn? The followers of Bandera were ready to commit the same massacre in Crimea, Sevastopol, Donetsk, and Luhansk. They still do not abandon such plans. Waiting for a good time. But they won’t see this come.” What debacles and plans he is talking about? Where does Putin get this nonsense from? The endless trash pouring from Kremlin TV channels, creating a parallel reality, has long been commonplace. However, similar theses voiced by the head of state evoke a feeling of his complete inadequacy, which cannot but scare.
A while ago, in March 2014, The New York Times revealed in its editorial section a conversation between Angela Merkel and Barack Obama, in which the German Chancellor shared her impressions with the U.S. President after a telephone conversation with Vladimir Putin. She said she was not sure whether Mr. Putin had kept in touch with reality as the Russian leader appeared to be in another world. That was at the very beginning of the so-called “Russian spring.” Now that the deep “Russian autumn” has apparently come, the Russian president continues to live in his own fictional world. A sad story for anyone; the loss of connection with the reality by the state leader poses a great threat to both the citizens of his country and the world around him. In fact, everybody now observes the consequences of Putin’s inadequacy.
A common thread of Putin’s article is Ukraine as anti-Russia. But no one has made greater effort for that than the current Kremlin boss, despite the fact that relations between our countries were extremely close at the beginning of his presidency. For example, in 2003, 13 meetings took place between Leonid Kuchma and Vladimir Putin, some of which lasted several days, exceeding all subsequent meetings held by the presidents of Ukraine and Russia, including Medvedev, in the next 18 years. This did not prevent Russia from provoking a conflict around the island of Tuzla in the Kerch Strait in the same year, when a possibility of the armed confrontation became evident for the first time.
The failure to appoint Viktor Yanukovych as the President of Ukraine, whom the Kremlin actively campaigned for, in 2004 — Putin even spent three days in Kyiv on the eve of the first round of elections — severely affected Russian government attitude towards Viktor Yushchenko and Ukraine as a whole. The Orange Revolution obviously scared them. Using Putin’s terminology, Russia began to rapidly turn anti-Ukraine, building a regime in which the opposition cannot function and mass protests with political consequences are impossible.
Yanukovych returned to power fairly quickly, first as prime minister and then as president in 2010. Russia’s influence on Kyiv grew markedly without diminishing the Kremlin’s distrust and even contempt for the Ukrainian authorities. The events of the winter of 2013-2014, new massive protests, which Yanukovych could not suppress, fueled Putin’s old fears, and it seemed to him that the military option with the annexation of Crimea was a real catch for boosting his legitimacy and punishing Ukraine. The big helmsman did not foresee that the Russian Spring Operation would result in complete loss of influence on Ukraine and Russia’s new status as a world outcast with all the long-term consequences. Putin’s current article looks like a clumsy attempt to justify his own failure. The notorious greatness of Russia broke up on Ukraine through the efforts of its leader.
Putin develops the idea of a “triune Russian people” in his article, and there is an echo of the previous concept that formed the basis of pre-Crimean policy and prepared the Russian invasion of Ukraine: the concept of “Russian world.” It was based on the fact that Russia is much larger than its own state borders and reaches everywhere where there are Russian speakers and Orthodox believers. It should be acknowledged that the policy of active promotion of “Russian world” was quite effective. Otherwise, the pro-Russian sentiments in Crimea, in southern and eastern Ukraine and in the country as a whole would not have been so notable. The Ukrainian ruling class, limited in worldview and mercantile in interests, has been easily corrupted by Russia, which has enormous resources at its disposal.
Total political, economic, and cultural-informational influence ensured that the Kremlin kept Ukraine in the field of gravity. The war dramatically turned the relationship into a state of bloody confrontation, largely destroying the possibilities of “soft” influence. Russia, which is supposedly bigger than Russia, has collapsed to Russia, which is much smaller than its model at the beginning of 2014. For example, Kazakhstan quickly drew conclusions from the Crimea–Donbas lesson and began to take measures against the spread of the “Russian world.” Putin gave birth to the “Russian world,” and he himself destroyed it. Not to mention the rapid loss of Russia’s international prestige and status, which, with the ambitions of a superpower, has become a frightening country with a lost prospect of development at a pace comparable to that of world leaders.
Russia continues to pay an extremely high price for the irritation of its unchanging leader at Ukraine. Putin, on the other hand, will never acknowledge the fatal consequences of his own decision in 2014 and will live in a ghostly world, threatening everyone around him with his inadequacy. It is useless to wait that he may have a sudden insight and repent. It is our duty to be prepared for any new manifestations of the Russian tsar’s inadequacy.