Russian Spin on Ukraine Straight From the Horses Mouth…
In Putin’s own words: What he really thinks about Ukraine.
As Vladimir Putin once again warns the West against further NATO expansion — “It’s not us moving toward NATO, it’s NATO moving toward us,” — following a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron last week, where he also rejected a U.S. compromise deal to further arms control measures as of secondary importance to Russia.
Thus the tensions continue to ratchet up. On Tuesday evening (15th Feb) cyber attacks on the Ukrainian defence ministry website and a number of Ukrainian banks could presage an imminent invasion, even as Putin continues to deny any plans to invade and has supposedly started to withdraw troops as exercises with Belarus begin to wind down (Channel 4 news). Though current intel, as of Thursday morning, suggests that this supposed draw-down of Russian troops is false.
Talking on Washington Post Live (Thursday 17th Feb) former U.S.Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor just said that Putin’s finger is on the trigger and he can pull at any moment. But he said, by his own assessment, that Putin probably thought things wouldn’t get this far; that Biden, maybe Zelensky and almost certainly NATO would’ve blinked by now and given in to his demands. But in actuality all Putin’s aggression has achieved is to further unify the resistance against him. NATO is more unified than at anytime for the last 30 years and Biden has remained resolute and Zelensky, a day after his Ukrainian Day of Unity, remains upbeat.
With the US, the UK, Israel and many others having told their citizens and some diplomatic staff to leave Ukraine, the West feels that the time for a Russian invasion is ripe. Diplomatic channels remain open, but have become noticeably more feverish in the last few days with leaders and officials from France, Britain and Germany having reached out fruitlessly in the last few days. President Biden had yet another phone call with President Putin that lasted for over an hour last weekend, but again failed to achieve anything useful in the way of easing the blinding tensions.
The following day Biden reiterated US support for Ukraine while speaking again to Volodymyr Zelensky, who despite everything remains, on the face of it anyway, more optimistic and upbeat than most of his NATO friends even to the extent of inviting Biden to visit — an eventuality that is probably highly unlikely — but then this is a situation unlike any other in most peoples living memory.
Nothing, I would suggest, is unlikely or improbable right now.
And yet despite this apparent diplomatic failure Sergei Lavrov said on Valentines Day morning that the scope for dialogue was “far from exhausted” and called for talks to continue, asking for greater efforts from the US and NATO in an attempt to reach an agreement, which many seem to feel may be centred around the unfulfilled Minsk Accords.
Far from exhausted the talks may be, but Lavrov likely just wants to keep the dialogue running because he finally sees yet more weakness and signs that the West may be willing to compromise their high-held ideals and give in to Putin’s demands.
And I call these Putin’s demands and not Russia’s demands for one very simple reason; this is Putin’s pet project and through his manipulation and dominance of Russian media he is dragging the long suffering Russian people in his kleptocratic wake.
He feeds them the line, tells them how to react, when to react and they oblige willingly because, just like Western leaders and Western diplomats, they presume that Putin is a man like any other who cares about his people, who cares about his reputation, who cares about how the world sees Russia and sees him.
And that is their big mistake. Putin doesn’t give a flying f**k about any of those things. All he cares about is securing his own status, the status of his many friends and cronies, and his personal legacy.
When this storm was little more than a blink on Western radar Putin wrote about his feelings on the subject of Ukraine on the Kremlin website.
That history is supposedly important to Putin is no great secret, but in this essay he attempts to justify his current demands vis-a-vis Ukraine as solely a matter of shared history, shared culture and geographical proximity, and little else.
History is of course, important and cannot ever be dismissed as a factor determining national identity, but to think that a shared history should guarantee future unity is unrealistic to say the least.
Quite who this essay was aimed at is anybody’s guess. There are parts where he is plainly preaching to the Russian gallery dredging up names from history who are of little relevance to today’s situation and are only of importance nowadays to historians; whilst in other passages it would seem he is making overtures to any (Russian speaking?) Ukrainians who might listen in.
He attempts to invoke history and a common heritage to justify his claims to Ukrainian territory and his right to lord it over the Ukrainian people.
“Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory — from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov — were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and — after the baptism of Rus — the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today.”
Article by Vladimir Putin, ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.’
But since many of the original Rus were actually Vikings who pillaged, captured and then subsequently sold Slavic peoples in the ancient slave markets of Baghdad and elsewhere in the East, perhaps Putin should instead be pledging loyalty and unity to his Viking ancestry instead. Indeed so common was this enslavement of Slavs by the Vikings that it is thought to be the origin of the word ‘slave.’ This Viking ancestry is so strong in fact that a Finnish academic recently drew a parallel between the new rape and pillage undertaken by Putin’s oligarchical friends and their Viking heritage.
Whilst Putin’s claim read well in the essay it has little relevance today. It is at best, a vague and poorly executed appeal for Slavic unity that, has in large part fallen on deaf ears in the Ukraine at least. Though nation building per say, as we know from recent experience, is no easy task — just ask Joe Biden, Obama, Trump and Bush — and can take generations, possibly failing time after time. I would argue however, that such attempts only serve to build the eventual national character that does emerge.
Alfred the Great and his quest for England is a great case to point.
But this doesn’t preclude Putin from trying to dismiss Ukraine’s labours in this respect. Later in the essay he demeans previous attempts by Ukraine to foment their own nation as little more than folly, always doomed to failure, implying that the Ukrainian people are incapable of standing on their own without the supportive bolsters provided by the other Slavic peoples of Belorussia and Russia.
“For those who have today given up the full control of Ukraine to external forces, it would be instructive to remember that, back in 1918, such a decision proved fatal for the ruling regime in Kiev.”
The ‘external forces’ here is a clear indictment of what he feels the West to be; a political, cultural and economic wasteland; harsh, cold and unfriendly by comparison with the rich life to be found under the ‘freedom’ provided by a more caring, nurturing Russian, or historically, a Soviet government.
As he moves onto more recent history in the essay he seems intent on portraying the USSR as having provided a warm blanket of security over its citizens that shielded it from the evils of the West, where thoughtful Uncle Lenin and kindly Cousin Stalin removed the painful, personal choices and inherent randomness of life from the weary backs of the proletariat to engender stability, safety, prosperity and happiness. Choice and freedom are mere illusions conjured by the West to justify the flagrant corruption, exploitation and oppression of Western elites.
But at least we mostly try to contain and not condone our corruption!
However, I’m sure such fine words paint a pretty picture in the minds of many Russians whose access to free media, to free and fair elections, or the chance to just simply make their own mind up about a political situation where they are (potentially) in possession of both sides of the story, is just plain denied. The Russian state strangles individual thought replacing it with the Putin doctrine, engineered to feed and water mass feelings of desolation and despair with stories of a tyrannical West that wishes only destruction and chaos on the people of Russia.
And of course, if that is all one hears time and time again, it becomes the truth. The truth becomes whatever Putin says it is. Because there is no-one, now Navalny is effectively silenced, to say otherwise.
As the essay moves on, Putin belabours the breakdown of the USSR, something which he is known to feel deeply — if indeed Putin is capable of feeling anything deeply! Yet even here he pushes the blame for the break up, in part at least — although it is the West, and in particular the U.S. which he holds largely to account, but more of that in a bit— onto Lenin and Trotsky and the wording in the Declaration on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with no mention of the pograms, the purges, the oppression, the gulags, the violence and the kleptocracy for which the USSR was infamous.
“In 1922, when the USSR was created, with the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic becoming one of its founders, a rather fierce debate among the Bolshevik leaders resulted in the implementation of Lenin’s plan to form a union state as a federation of equal republics. The right for the republics to freely secede from the Union was included in the text of the Declaration on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and, subsequently, in the 1924 USSR Constitution. By doing so, the authors planted in the foundation of our statehood the most dangerous time bomb, which exploded the moment the safety mechanism provided by the leading role of the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union) was gone, the party itself collapsing from within. A ‘parade of sovereignties’ followed. On 8 December 1991, the so-called Belovezh Agreement on the Creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States was signed, stating that ”the USSR as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality no longer existed.“ By the way, Ukraine never signed or ratified the CIS Charter adopted back in 1993.”
And because the Ukraine never signed the original agreement they are legally not entitled to secede and therefore remain under the cosy umbrella of Russian sovereignty! Or so it would seem to young Vlad at least!
I don’t think so mate!
Does Putin really think that if the nations that were so enamoured by life in the warm embrace of Soviet dominance they would not have stayed put? Why then was there was such a stampede to escape the grizzly clutches of the USSR?
Even so, on this point he remains, not unsurprisingly, mute! Although he does attempt to relate the call for independence of the departing Soviet bloc nations as being the equivalent of a stranger in a alien land, abroad without a passport.
“Of course, inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country, which, while featuring all the attributes of a federation, was highly centralized — this, again, was secured by the CPSU’s leading role. But in 1991, all those territories, and, which is more important, people, found themselves abroad overnight, taken away, this time indeed, from their historical motherland.”
…taken away by, no doubt by evil Western temptresses. It’s all so tragic!
Though for completeness, the collapse of the Soviet Empire is the root of Putin’s grievances with the West, and to some extent he has a point. NATO has advanced almost to Russia’s backdoor with increased military presence in the Black Sea region as well as in Ukraine and it is this as much anything that has led to the current build up of Russian troops and the ‘will he, won’t he’ situation we find ourselves in today.
It is arguable whether all the increased rhetoric and media reports about Russian expansionism and Slavic unity is a smoke screen, with the true intention of the troop build up being to just stop further NATO expansion or whether it is a genuine desire to reunite much of the Soviet era Empire to which Putin is so affectionately attached.
Time will tell.
What is not in doubt however, is the genuine hypocrisy he exhibits by way of explaining his actions to the Russian people. He attacks the corruption that was prevalent in the early days of post-Cold War Ukraine — and rightly so. It was like the Wild West. Or should that be the Wild East?
What he doesn’t say is how he and his cronies — so beautifully characterised in Catherine Belton’s book, Putin’s People — were the architects and major beneficiaries of almost all of these kleptocratic and criminal schemes.
Such activities were rife all across the post-Soviet world, and whilst some nations managed to free themselves and their people from the shackles of Putin’s oligarchs, others like Ukraine, stayed trapped, caught in Putin’s nefarious web and suffer the consequences to this day. Though, from his essay it seems clear Putin’s narrative is to limit such corruption to Ukraine and Ukraine alone.
“Radicals and neo-Nazis were open and more and more insolent about their ambitions. They were indulged by both the official authorities and local oligarchs, who robbed the people of Ukraine and kept their stolen money in Western banks, ready to sell their motherland for the sake of preserving their capital. To this should be added the persistent weakness of state institutions and the position of a willing hostage to someone else’s geopolitical will.”
To read this one might think Putin was writing his own story! I can only imagine he must have been chuckling to himself as these words appeared on the screen in front of him!
But the fantasy continues…
“In essence, Ukraine’s ruling circles decided to justify their country’s independence through the denial of its past, however, except for border issues. They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation. The common tragedy of collectivization and famine of the early 1930s was portrayed as the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
As if anyone could ever have thought that life under the yoke of the Soviet Union was an occupation? Perish the thought! Lenin, Stalin, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov were such nice, down to earth people after all!
Oh, and by the way, the famine of the 1930’s was portrayed as a genocide because that’s probably what it was. But let’s not split hairs over a measly 3.9million people, eh?
“This is what is actually happening. First of all, we are facing the creation of a climate of fear in Ukrainian society, aggressive rhetoric, indulging neo-Nazis and militarising the country. Along with that we are witnessing not just complete dependence but direct external control, including the supervision of the Ukrainian authorities, security services and armed forces by foreign advisers, military ”development“ of the territory of Ukraine and deployment of NATO infrastructure. It is no coincidence that the aforementioned flagrant law on ‘indigenous peoples’ was adopted under the cover of large-scale NATO exercises in Ukraine.”
Hum hum!! Let’s be clear here! Large -scale NATO exercises that involved a grand total of 6,000 troops! Some what less than the estimated 200,000 troops involved in the current Russian-Belarus exercises. And as for Ukraine militarising their country — well yes! They are scared the Russian bear might come-a-calling! And rightly so!
‘My, what big teeth you have Mr Putin!’
But please, Mr President! Continue if you will…
“Again, for many people in Ukraine, the anti-Russia project is simply unacceptable. And there are millions of such people. But they are not allowed to raise their heads. They have had their legal opportunity to defend their point of view in fact taken away from them. They are intimidated, driven underground. Not only are they persecuted for their convictions, for the spoken word, for the open expression of their position, but they are also killed. Murderers, as a rule, go unpunished.”
Again I can only imagine the laughter as he was writing this! ‘Intimidated and driven underground!’
Like opposition politicians peut-être?
And ‘murderers going unpunished?’ Heaven forbid!
But, as we know now, Putin isn’t one to let the truth get in the way of a good tale…
“Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us. We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous.”
Oh please! It’s all too much! Really it is!
And now…finish with a flourish!
“I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.”
And there we have it! They are one people! In a nutshell!
So my suggestion Mr Putin, if I might be so bold…try doing what you say you’d do and actually respect Ukrainians desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous, and stop poking your tanks into places where they’re not welcome!
That’s all folks!