Ukraine in Mind, or Reading Vladimir Putin

The President of Russia Vladimir Putin in early July decided to try on the clothes of a publicist, or even a historian. It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time he has done this. Already in the past, texts signe…

The President of Russia Vladimir Putin in early July decided to try on the clothes of a publicist, or even a historian. It is worth mentioning that this is not the first time he has done this. Already in the past, texts signed on behalf of the President of Russia have appeared in both Russian and foreign publications. Vladimir Putin’s latest work is called “About the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians” – it contains both a historical perspective and an analysis of current issues. Of course, all this is presented through the crooked glass of the Kremlin propaganda.
History, Geopolitics and Propaganda
As can be seen from the title of the text, the essential aim of the latest article by the President of Russia is to prove that Russians and Ukrainians (as well as Belarusians) are one nation. Vladimir Putin himself had recently made such a statement in public.
There is no point in recounting Vladimir Putin’s opus in detail (anyone who wants can read the text on the official website of the President of Russia:, but some things have to be mentioned. The text makes a great excursion into the history, talks about Russian baptism (Orthodox versus Catholics), and reviews the development of the Russian Empire. To tell the truth, the text is characterized by a pseudo-scientific interpretation of historical events. For example, Russian historian Kirill Kochegarov has analyzed the text in question and shown where Putin is not entirely right and seeks to interpret the history in a way that is consistent with the purpose of his article (the results of the analysis in Russian are available here: https://medusa). io/feature/2021/07/14/glavnaya-mysl-static-putina-ukrainskiy-narod-pridumali-tolko-v-konce-xix-veka-istorik-kirill-kochegarov-razbiraet-argumenty-presidenta-s-nauchnoy-tochki-reniya? fbclid=IwAR0wuAFisEo7c_XmBWMqhKYRy4-saf3Ut2UP-zpM1v899jOdoTp2M_2TZ1w).
Anyway, Vladimir Putin’s article is interesting not so much as an example of an interpretation of history, but as a collection of various propaganda stories used by the Kremlin against Ukraine, gathered in one place. The statement itself (Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians are one nation) is one of the traditional narratives of the Russian information war. This statement is used as a justification for aspirations of Moscow to run the neighbouring states.
Of course, Vladimir Putin’s text portrays Russia as a country that has always wished Ukraine and its people only good. After occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the events in Donbas, where Moscow played a key role, all this sounds extremely cynical. In this case, Vladimir Putin is allowed to preserve the internal logic of the text by other propaganda narratives – they are not new either. In his text, the President of Russia regularly repeats that “majority of the Ukrainian population” wants good and friendly relations with Russia; however they are hindered by the nationalists who seized power in Kiev. By the way, one of the traditional techniques of the modern Kremlin propaganda is used here – by rhetorically separating “nation” and “power”, tarnishing and demonizing the latter. This technique is often used not only in Ukraine, but also, for example, in the Baltic States. To tell the truth, it is done by ignoring the fact that in democratic countries the same representatives of the nation elect the power, so separation is clearly artificial and even illogical.
With particular pleasure, Vladimir Putin repeats in his text that Ukraine is “governed from the outside”. Those external forces to which, according to the President of Russia, Kiev has allegedly given sovereignty, are also easily recognizable – the EU, NATO and the traditional generalized West.
From all this Vladimir Putin forms a conspiracy theory about cherishing the project “Anti-Russia” by the West from ancient times.
Of course, according to the logic of the President of Russia, signs of this conspiracy are the desire of these mythical hostile forces to break the unity of the Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians.
By the way, the statehood of Ukraine in the text is fundamentally negative. Vladimir Putin claims that Ukraine was artificially formed during the Soviet era from Russian lands, thus “robbing Russia”.
It is worth mentioning that even the use of propaganda narratives does not allow to completely avoiding logical errors in the analyzed text (at least in terms of the internal logic of the text) and a certain cognitive dissonance. For example, Vladimir Putin makes a tilt at Bolsheviks, criticizes some aspects of the Soviet policy, and so on. Among things causing outrage of the President of Russia is inclusion of a clause on the right of republics to withdraw from the Soviet Union in the USSR constitution. Vladimir Putin calls it a “delayed-action bomb.” Ironically, but we can say outright that the above-mentioned Soviet constitutional norm did not work and was included there only for the sake of eyes – it is only worth remembering the history of liberation of Lithuania from Soviet occupation in 1990-91. It is also interesting to consider how criticism of the creators of the USS and their politicians interacts in Vladimir Putin’s brain with nostalgia for the Soviet Union, his description of its collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe,” and so on.
A text as diagnosis
The essential question that can be raised about Vladimir Putin’s text in question – who on earth needed such an article; besides, written by the President of Russia himself (of course, if he wrote it). By the way, I personally doubt that Vladimir Putin personally sat at a white sheet of paper in the evening, laid historical arguments and so on. The abundance of standard propaganda stamps rather suggests that one or even several “manor propagandists” are actually behind this text. Of course, the idea of the text itself may belong to Vladimir Putin. I also have no doubt that the President of Russia read the text before its publication and gave his approval. However, all these things are probably not essential.
The text in question shows that Ukraine is indeed stuck in the minds of the head of the Kremlin. Given that modern thinking of Moscow has many imperial elements, Vladimir Putin may not be reassured by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s words that “without Ukraine, Russia is not an empire.” The Kremlin is really making a lot of effort not to “let go” the country, by using all drastic and dubious methods, including inciting the Donbas conflict.
On the other hand, Vladimir Putin is unlikely to have peace of mind and his unsuccessful Ukrainian adventure. There are more defeats than victories – Russia has failed to legitimize occupation of Crimea. We should also mention here of economic sanctions and the de facto ruined international image of Russia. Finally, Ukraine itself, even its eastern part, was in no hurry to accept the deceptive embrace of Russia. In 2014 and later, Vladimir Putin hinted at the same propaganda myths that assured that Ukrainians only dream of reuniting with Russia. The reality is obviously different. Again, new propaganda myths about malice from the country (West), lack of independence of Ukraine, and so on, help the Kremlin to face up with it.
At the same time, it is no coincidence that this text was signed by Vladimir Putin himself (whether he wrote it himself or not). It is reported that this article has already been included in the list of subjects that must be used in the so-called military-political training in the Russian armed forced, by order of the Minister of Defence of Russia Sergey Shoygu. However, the more important thing is that the text essentially drives a collection of traditional propaganda narratives about Ukraine to another level – state ideology. Again, it cannot be said that all statements in the text were not previously reflected in Russian politics, but they are now gathered in one place, clearly articulated and approved by the signature of the authoritarian leader of Russia.
Viktor Denisenko

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