In July, the official website of Kremlin published Vladimir Putin’s article entitled «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians», in which the President of the Russian Federation outlined his vision of the relationship between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples at the present stage and in historical perspective. Most of the ideological theses used by Putin in his article received a response from the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. On the day of the Baptism of Rus, Volodymyr Zelenskyy video address to Ukrainians was published. In his video, the President of Ukraine, opposed Putin's thesis about the creation of Ukraine at the expense of historical Russia, emphasized the inextricable link between Kyivan Rus and Ukraine, «the heir to one of the most powerful states of medieval Europe». According to Zelensky, it is not a part of Ukrainian history, it is the history of Ukraine. «We do not need to prove this with historical treatises, works, articles, because our proofs are not on paper, but in metal and stone. Not in myths and legends, but in our cities and on our streets», the President said, hinting at the attempts of the Russian leadership to rewrite history, which is being done by the Kremlin in order to subordinate national myths to the state ideology. The Kremlin is using hybrid means to achieve its own political goals in a non-military way. An important role in this context plays the soft power of Russia, which is driven by the ideology of the «Russian World». Thus, the war for the minds inside Ukraine continues, but so far, the Russian Federation is quite successfully waging the war at the cognitive level, imposing its own views and narratives on the Ukrainian population.
In his article, Vladimir Putin manipulates many facts and actually imposes a purely Russian vision of international politics, in particular, in the context of Russian-Ukrainian relations. In this situation, it is important to pay attention to those statements that interpret the events of the present and which can affect not only the electoral preferences of the Ukrainians, but also affect the internal political situation in Ukraine.
First of all, it is an issue of war, since for the majority of the population, according to opinion polls, this problem is the most pressing. Vladimir Putin places the blame for the conflict in Donbas exclusively on the Ukrainian side and the current political leadership of Ukraine. «The coup d'état, followed by the actions of the Kyiv authorities, inevitably provoked confrontation and a civil war ... Russia did everything to stop fratricide. The Minsk agreements were concluded, which are aimed at a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbas. I am convinced that still there is no other alternative ... During official negotiations, especially after the reminders from the Western partners, the representatives of Ukraine periodically declare their «full adherence» to the Minsk agreements, in fact they are guided by the position of their «Inadmissibility». They are not determined to seriously discuss either the special status of Donbas, or guarantees for the people living there. They prefer exploiting the image of a «victim of external aggression» and trading «Russophobia». They make bloody provocations in the Donbas. Thus, in any way they attract the attention of external patrons and masters».
The accusations of the President of the Russian Federation did not remain unanswered. Volodymyr Zelenskyy reflected in his interview for the Dom TV channel, which was published on August 5. The head of state said that in order to fulfill the Minsk Agreements, it is necessary at least to stop shooting. The main achievement of Zelenskyy government in the framework of the peaceful settlement was the conclusion of a full and comprehensive ceasefire on July 27, 2020. The ceasefire had a positive impact on the life of the front-line territories, where the citizens of Ukraine for the first time in 7 years of war, during several months in a row did not hear armed clashes and could not to be afraid for their lives.
At the same time, the infrastructure development of the region, the construction of roads and schools, and the development of sports infrastructure were accelerated within the framework of the presidential initiative «Big Construction». As a result of the adopted governmental program, residents who lost their homes in consequence of the armed Russian aggression were assigned payments if the housing was completely destroyed, or if the housing can be restored, it is subject to reconstruction as soon as possible. In addition, the truce created opportunities for a number of initiatives aimed at improving living conditions in frontline cities, such as restoring direct rail links between Kyiv and Avdiivka, or restoring power supply to the village of Opytne, whose residents have been living without electricity since the beginning of the war.
The notional truce, which is commonly called a hybrid peace, laid the foundation for accelerating the restoration of the government-controlled part of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and further peaceful settlement in the east of Ukraine. However, starting from January of this year, an aggravation began on the contact line, which was accompanied by aggressive rhetoric of the Russian Federation representatives about the need for Ukraine to fulfill the political part of the «Minsk Agreements» and to enshrine the special status of ORDLO in the Constitution. The escalation continues to this day, with its peak in April, when Russia concentrated more than 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.
Thus, the Russian Federation thwarted the achievements in the framework of the peaceful settlement in its humanitarian part, concentrating on its own geopolitical goals. It is significant that the President of Ukraine in his interview focused on the government's understanding of the difficult conditions in which citizens found themselves in the occupied territories and expressed confidence that in the future, after the return of ORDLO and Crimea, these citizens will return home to Ukraine. «But people are different, the circumstances are different. After all, someone stayed there to take care of their relatives, and in order to survive, they are forced to obtain Russian passports or some other «document». Or to be able to work there, and they are told: you can't work here without a Russian passport». The responses of the Ukrainian leadership to Russian narratives are important in terms of the formation of public opinion among the Ukrainian population. The information battle for the minds continues and the Ukrainian government still has to make great efforts to limit Russian influence on its citizens.
Following the publication of Putin's article, Ukrainian sociological research companies conducted a series of opinion polls in which they asked Ukrainians about the Russian president's theses and their vision of the historical past of Ukrainians and Russians. According to a poll conducted by the sociological group Rating, 41% of Ukrainians consider themselves and Russians to be one people belonging to the same historical and spiritual space. The survey of 2,500 people was conducted between July 23 and 25 in all regions except the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territories. Among those who agree with this thesis, the majority are parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (PCU) of the Moscow Patriarchate and voters of the pro-Russian parties, in particular, it is 86% of Viktor Medvedchuk's party «OPZZH» electorate, 85% of Yevheniy Muraev's party «Nashy» and 82% of Shariy party voters. However, quite unexpectedly, a large number of voters of other parties agreed with Putin's «one people» thesis. These are, for example, 48% of the Radical Party, 45% of the Batkivshchyna party electorate, 40% of the Voice party, and every third voter of the ruling Servant of the People party (35%). The most unexpected indicator was the age of the respondents. The perception of Putin's thesis did not actually depend on age, and the results were about the same. Moreover, people between the ages of 18 and 29 who were born in independent Ukraine and never lived in the Soviet Union often agreed in this survey with the Russian president's thesis. 44% answered «yes», against 52% of those who disagreed with the «one people» thesis.
Completely opposite results were published in the research of the Razumkov Center, which was conducted after the poll of the «Rating» group and after the reflection of the Ukrainian leadership on the July article, accompanied by an active discussion in the media. According to this poll, only 12.5% of respondents agreed with the thesis there was no and could not be any historical basis for ideas about the Ukrainian people separate from the Russian, while the separation of the Ukrainians and Belarusians as individual peoples was the result of the Soviet national policy. At the same time, 70.4% disagreed with the thesis. These results may indicate that the Ukrainian public opinion strongly depends on the information field in which citizens find themselves.
This indicates that since 2014, the Ukrainian leadership has done little to limit Russian information influence within the state. The Russian Federation state TV channels are still broadcasted in most of government-controlled Ukrainian front-line towns, while the broadcasting of Ukrainian channels is limited. The narratives promoted by the Kremlin not only influence part of the Ukrainian electorate, but may eventually be used to justify military aggression. Therefore, strengthening the capabilities of the state on the information front, enhancing the effectiveness of state humanitarian policy, in difficult conditions of hybrid war and limited resources, should be a priority for the government of Ukraine and one of the main directions of interaction with international partners.