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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The rhetoric of Putin testifies to the fact that Ukrainian sovereignty is just a convention, and in the future Russian aggression, against the background of the passive reaction of the West, will only increase


On July 12, 2021, Vladimir Putin's article entitled «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians» was published on the website of the President of Russia». From time to time, the President of the Russian Federation publishes articles describing his own vision on international affairs, in which he substantiates the motivation for actions and partially defines the contours of the future policy of the Kremlin. The July article was no exception, and the theses that Putin used in his essay are already being actively disseminated by Russian officials and ideologists of the «Russian world».

In his article, which was published on the website in Russian and Ukrainian languages, Vladimir Putin states that Russians and Ukrainians are in fact one people”, part of one historical and spiritual space, which was divided by purposeful actions of external forces. The history of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples is viewed from a historical perspective, purely from the Russian point of view, from time to time confirming the fact that these two peoples are separate units, then returning to Putin's ideological line and assertion of their unity. The article purposefully emphasizes the separation of Ukrainian elites from ordinary citizens and emphasizes that the disputes that have arisen between Russians and Ukrainians are the result of the failed policy of these Ukrainian elites.

The alternative for Ukrainian citizens, according to the Russian presidents’ conviction, should be obtaining Russian citizenship. It is worth noting that in recent months, the passportization of the occupied territories has significantly increased. Russia artificially creates all the conditions so that without its citizenship and a citizenship of the so-called «LDPR» it would be impossible to exercise a number of rights in Crimea and «ORDLO». Recently, the policy of passport intervention has spread to other Ukrainians, after the submission to the State Duma by Konstantin Zatulin, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration, Relations with Compatriots, a draft law on repatriation. The explanatory note says that the bill defines the conditions and procedure for the return of Russian compatriots to permanent residence in the Russian Federation. Citizens of Belarus and Ukraine who want to become citizens of Russia will be able to obtain a Russian passport through a simplified procedure, without renouncing their own citizenship and without having ancestors who previously lived in the territory of the modern Russian Federation. By doing so, Russia forms a «fifth column» consisted of citizens who are loyal to the Russian Federation. In part, the published article is aimed at this audience, as well as at the pro-Russian parties, which these people support. In a future, the Kremlin will be able to use its citizens to destabilize Ukraine from within and create separatist movements in regions with a passported population, or to carry out military intervention under the pretext of «Russian citizens protection». In his article, Putin several times directly threatens Ukraine with Russian intervention, which he justifies, including from the historical point of view and precisely by the need to protect Russian-speaking citizens. This is especially dangerous because it relates to Russia's claim to the protection of all Russian-speaking minorities in the former Soviet republics. This is the doctrine of the «Russian world». Parallels can be drawn with how Germany used its German-speaking minorities, for example, in Czechoslovakia and Poland, for its expansionist policy. First during the Weimar Republic, and then to an even greater extent during the time of National Socialism.[1]

Paraphrasing the thesis Russia is anti-Europe, Putin declares that there is no place for a sovereign Ukraine in the Ukraine-Anti-Russia project, as well as for political forces that are trying to defend its real independence... «All the tricks associated with the anti-Russia project are clear to us. And we will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia. And to those who resort to such an attempt, I want to say that in this way they will destroy their country», he writes. Thus, Vladimir Putin delineates his own sphere of influence. These messages are aimed not only at Ukraine, which according to the Russian president can exist only in the status of a Russian satellite, or directly within Russia, but also at the West. In fact, it is a threat to Western countries and a repetition of the red lines that the Russian president spoke about back in April this year during his annual address to the Federal Assembly. Putin's rhetoric once again reminds us that the geopolitical goal of the Russian Federation is to advance Russia's borders as far east as possible, away from the capital, Moscow, and Russia's «heartland», as it was during the Soviet era.

The Russian president also questions Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling the state «the brainchild of the Soviet era, which was created at the expense of historical Russia». Listing the lands that Putin considers historically Russian, in particular, he mentions Snake Island. Earlier, Ukrainian experts have called the island a possible point that Russian troops will try to capture in the event of a large-scale offensive, or in order to establish a naval blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. Sea lines of communication are currently located in the 25-mile sea strip between Snake Island and the Tavrida gas extraction platform, which Russia seized in 2014. This strip is controlled by Russian military units with appropriate weapons and technical means of underwater and surface surveillance.[2] Potentially, if the Kremlin dares to seize the island, it will not only block Ukraine's maritime trade, but also allow the Kremlin to influence freedom of navigation on the Danube, as the island is close to the mouth of the river and the territory of Romania, a NATO member state. Thus, the security situation around the island requires close monitoring by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, especially after the mention of this territory in the text of the Russian president. However, given the asymmetry of the military capabilities of Ukraine and Russia, in order to prevent the scenario of Russia's capture of Snake Island, the defense of this strategic territory requires close cooperation and active involvement of NATO forces.

As already noted, the article «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainian», was published in two languages. Despite this, the main target audience of the text is the Russians, primarily the Russian military. After the publication of the article, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu ordered to include «On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainian» as one of the mandatory topics in military-political training classes in the Russian army. So, the Russian military is ideologically prepared to liberate the «historical Russian lands» from the «Ukrainian fascists».

Vladimir Putin's article, written in the spirit of ethnic nationalism, in fact consists of myths and narratives professed by the ideologues of the «Russian world». The text sets out the Kremlin's vision for Russia's relations with the West and Ukraine. In this paradigm, Ukraine must remain in the Kremlin's sphere of influence and take the place of the Russian satellite, as well as abandon the pro-Western vector of development. If Ukraine's policy remains unchanged, the state may face the existential challenge of a full-scale armed aggression by the Russian Federation. «On the historical unity of the Russians and the Ukrainian» is already included as one of the compulsory topics in the military-political training classes in the Russian army with the aim of ideological indoctrination of the Russian military. At the same time, the theses contained in the article are massively promoted on Russian television for the psychological preparation of the country's population for a full-scale armed conflict with Ukraine. The rhetoric of Putin and the official representatives of the Russian Federation testifies to the fact that the sovereignty and modern internationally recognized borders of Ukraine are just a convention for them, and in the future Russian aggression, against the background of the passive reaction of the West, will increase.