Twisted are the paths of the Russian imperial propaganda that reliably reproduces the main theses of the ideology of the regime of Putin, which was built on the cultivation of resentments toward the image of “the largest geopolitical catastrophe” imposed retrospectively on Russia – the defeat of the USSR in the Cold War. In the Kremlin’s view, this defeat should be followed by revival and revenge. Based on this ideological myth, there was launched the propaganda metaphor about the dismembered body of the Russia nation where Ukraine and Kyiv, ‘mother of Russian towns’, were attributed the role of the main symbolic loss that should be recovered at any cost. In this connection, the European choice of Ukraine and other territories dominated by Moscow before the dismemberment of USSR became a serious threat to the regime and the revanchist policy of the Kremlin. If a part of the nations that were once united within the borders of the empire are able to build a democracy in European style, it is impossible to explain why Russia is doomed to personalist dictatorship.
Phantoms of Crimean War
Consequently, if a part of the historical body suddenly claims independence and uniqueness different from the Russian one, something similar to cognitive dissonance appears in society, followed by bewilderment, irritation, indignation and so on. In other words, the wish of the nations freed from the imperial yoke to live independently, not as part of Russia, is explained in a traditional way by the current propaganda by invoking not the internal processes in societies of the new independent states in the post-Soviet space, but the machinations of the West, which are aimed at destroying Russia. This view on the world in the Russian collective mentality has its origins back in the 19th century, being fuelled then by the defeat in the Crimean War (1853-1856) to the coalition of European states and, combined with another product named geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century and identified with the collapse of the Soviet empire, created a powerful resentment that led to the aggression and war against Ukraine.
To justify this fratricide war against the Ukrainians, the Kremlin permanently resorts to history. The Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly insisted that Ukraine is an artificial entity created by the Bolsheviks at Vladimir Lenin’s wish. The Ukrainian nation, he says, doesn’t exist at all as Ukrainians and Russians are actually one people. Putin has been preoccupied with the problems of Ukrainian history and of the Ukrainian identity for many years. Back in April 2008, right before the war against Georgia, in an open meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Bucharest, Putin said that he didn’t consider Ukraine was a real state. The press provided details of Putin’s speech, which were given by another participant in that meeting: “When it went to Ukraine, Putin lost his balance. Addressing U.S. President Bush, he said: “Do you see, George, Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? A part of its territory is Eastern Europe, another part, and a significant one, is a donation from us!” He then suggested in a very transparent way that if Ukraine was yet accepted into NATO, this state would simply stop existing. So, in fact he threatened that Russia could start to conquer Crimea and eastern Ukraine.”
About (alleged) historical unity
In Putin’s historical elucubrations at the Bucharest summit, what attracted attention was the Russian leader’s certitude that “a part of its territory (of Ukraine) is Eastern Europe”. He suggested that those territories were unjustly attributed to Ukraine. Later, the ex-President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev suggested that Poland, Hungary and Romania should claim back from Ukraine the territories that were occupied by force by the tsarist and Soviet empire. In accordance with this logic, the current Russian leaders involuntarily admitted that Bessarabia, which was conquered by the force of Russian arms, is not Russian land, as Moscow claims, but is Romanian land.
At the NATO summit in Bucharest, not many drew appropriate attention to that Russian leader’s “excursion” into history. For a period after the Bucharest summit, Putin calmed his wish to rewrite the history of Ukraine, but in 2021 he exploded again. In the summer of 2021, he published a large article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” (and a version in Ukrainian was posted on the official website of the Kremlin), in which he comprehensively presented his opinions that consisted of a continuous mixture of historical myths, untruths about Crimea and Donbas and manipulations about Ukraine.
Blend of ignorance and aggressiveness
The logic assumed by the author of the article obliged him to humiliate in his account the representatives of the national renaissance in Ukraine with accusations that they selfishly pursue “their goals”, to grossly simplify the linguistic and ethnic processes and to free the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union of responsibility for ethnic manipulation and persecution based on nationality. Even if in the article he spoke mainly about Ukraine, collaterally Putin leveled accusations at the emancipation and national liberation movements in all the former Soviet republics, which he despised and was ready to confront them by all possible methods.
Putin’s opinions stated in the article that was published before the invasion of Ukraine were a blend of ignorance and aggressiveness. Putin not only refused the Ukrainians the right to national independence, but in essence announced the plans to resolve the “Ukrainian issue” by using force. The task of his story about the events of the 19th century – the beginning of the 21st century was to declare the rights of current Russia to restore the Russian empire by preparing the ideological and propaganda basis for the war against Ukraine.
Obtained an exactly opposite result
From the content of Putin’s article, we can deduce that the Russian leader sincerely believes that there are no Ukrainians in nature. That’s why he ordered to attack Ukraine on February 24, 2022, basing his acts on the broad support of the Ukrainian citizens who were allegedly eager to reunite with their Russian brothers. Nevertheless, even the evident failure of the rapid special operation that turned out to be an extended and bloody war didn’t affect his rhetoric somehow. On March 3, 2022, Putin, as if nothing had happened, in a meeting with the permanent members of the Security Council, said that: “I will never give up the belief that Russians and Ukrainians are one people”. But it is highly probable that the result of Putin’s military adventure will not be the restoration of “historical unity” of the Russian and Ukrainian people, but exactly the opposite – final formation of the Ukrainian nation.
Golden Horde behaved cruelly, but didn’t affect language, traditions and culture
Putin seems to be further crazy about history. In a recent meeting with members of the new composition of the Civic Chamber of Russia, on November 3, he gave a speech, starting this my making reference to history and to Alexand Nevski. Putin justified the fact that Alexand Nevski bowed down to the khans of the Golden Horde in order to get the right to rule, even if this right in reality meant also the obligation to collect the tribute paid by the Russians to the Horde. The Russian president said that for Moscow, the Golden Horde had always been better than the “Western conquerors”. However, as Putin noted, the Horde on Russian land behaved with folly and cruelty, but didn’t affect the Russian language, traditions and culture. According to him, this is want the “Western conquerors” wanted to do.
Russian and Soviet hordes affected language, traditions and culture
If we transpose the Alexand Nevski precedent from Putin’s historical logic to the history of Bessarabia, we should admit that the whole propaganda effort of the Russian imperialism about the progressive act of 1812 concerning the Russian liberation of Bessarabia from Turks is not worth even the paper on which this narrative was written. As, following Putin’s logic, for the Romanian-Moldovans eastward the Prut, the domination of the Turks who didn’t affect the language, religious, traditions and national culture was better than that of the Russian conquerors who denationalized us, isolated us by imposing the impenetrable border on the Prut from the national culture and this way made us to archaize the national language, imposed the forced Russification and deconstruction of identity on us, stripped us of the national church.
Painful phobia about the West
It seems that by such an approach to history, the regime of Putin resorts to an attempt to fully invert the national identity of the Russians, which since the 19th century, if not from the 18th century, has been built on opposition with the Tatar-Mongol yoke. Now the role of the Golden Horde in Russia’s history is played by the West against which an eternal struggle since the oldest times has been insinuated.
Cannot stop objective course of History
The failure of the war against Ukraine profoundly marked Putin, forming a painful phobia about the West and absolutizing the fundamental mistake about the faith in the eternal antagonism of the West against Russia. History teaches those who are capable of learning that there is no eternity in our world. In decisive moments of history, the West and Russia were together. Napoleon was beaten by the UK, Prussia and Russia, Hitler – by the UK, the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Putin ignored this historical truth and condemned Russia and the Russians to international isolation.
Now too, the West doesn’t have any wish to tear Ukraine away from Russia, as Putin believes. Ukraine simply chose the Western path and, if Russia had followed the same path about which Putin has spoken long during his term in office as President, Ukraine and Russia would have gone hand in hand with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Croatia and Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria in European communication. But Putin’s Russia put up resistance to the West, while Ukraine, defending itself from the Russian aggression, is increasingly attracted by the European Union and NATO, actually as other East-European states like the Republic of Moldova are. And no Putin on earth can stop the objective course of history even if he can yet shed a lot of human blood for the sake of the own historical phobias.
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.