From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Why Putin Has Such a Hard Time Accepting Ukrainian Sovereignty
Date January 27, 2022 2:50 AM
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[Underpinning Putin’s goal is Russia’s historical view of
Ukraine as a part of its greater empire. Understanding this helps
explain Putin’s actions, and how he leans into this to advance his
agenda.] [[link removed]]

[[link removed]]


Jacob Lassin and Emily Channell-Justice
December 21, 2021
The Conversation
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* [[link removed]]

_ Underpinning Putin’s goal is Russia’s historical view of
Ukraine as a part of its greater empire. Understanding this helps
explain Putin’s actions, and how he leans into this to advance his
agenda. _



Ukraine is again looking warily over its eastern border as
Russia threatens its territorial integrity
[[link removed]].

In recent weeks, a buildup of Russian troops
[[link removed]] along
the Ukrainian border has rattled Western leaders fearful of an
[[link removed]] similar
to, or perhaps even more wide-ranging than, Russia’s annexation of
Crimea in 2014
[[link removed]].

Then, on Dec. 17, 2021, Vladimir Putin demanded
[[link removed]] that
no former Soviet states, such as Ukraine, be added to NATO – the
Western alliance that Ukraine has long expressed a desire to join –
and that NATO cease all military cooperation in Eastern Europe.

Such rhetoric harks back to the Cold War, when global politics
revolved around an ideological struggle between a communist Eastern
Bloc and a capitalist West. It also serves Russia’s ideological and
political goal of asserting its position as a global power.

As scholars of the politics and culture
[[link removed]] of Ukraine and Russia
[[link removed]], we know that
underpinning Putin’s goal is Russia’s historical view of Ukraine
as a part of its greater empire, which at one time ranged from
present-day Poland to the Russian Far East. Understanding this helps
explain Putin’s actions, and how he leans into this view of Ukraine
to advance his agenda.

The view from Russia

Ukraine today comprises 44 million people and is the second-largest
nation by area in Europe.

But for centuries, within the Russian Empire, Ukraine was known as
“Malorossiya” or “Little Russia.”
[[link removed]]

The use of this term strengthened the idea that Ukraine was a junior
member of the empire. And it was backed by czarist policies dating
from the 18th century that suppressed the use of the Ukrainian
language and culture. The intention of these policies was to establish
a dominant Russia and later strip Ukraine of an identity as an
independent, sovereign nation.

A similar ploy has been used to downplay Ukrainian independence in the
21st century. In 2008 Putin’s then-spokesman, Vladislav Surkov,
claimed that “Ukraine is not a state
[[link removed]].”

Putin himself recently wrote an article claiming Russians and
Ukrainians are “one people – a single whole
[[link removed]].” This concept of
a single people derives from the history of “Kyivan Rus” – the
medieval federation that included parts of modern-day Ukraine and
Russia and had as its center present day Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

In recent years, commemorations in Russia of Kyivan Rus’ history
have increased in prominence and scale
[[link removed]].

In 2016, a 52-foot statue of Prince Vladimir of Kyiv
[[link removed]], considered a saintly
ruler by Ukrainians and Russians alike, was unveiled in Moscow. The
statue caused consternation among Ukrainians
[[link removed]]. Placing a mammoth
depiction of Vladimir in the center of Moscow signaled, to some,
Russia’s attempt to own Ukraine’s history.

The fact that it came just two years after Russia’s annexation of
[[link removed]] in
2014 and the invasion of the eastern Ukrainian Donbass region didn’t

Ukraine’s Russian citizens

The Donbass and Crimea are both home to large numbers of ethnic
Russians and people who primarily speak Russian.

In the years leading up to Russia’s military actions, Putin and his
allies often invoked the concept of the “Russian World” or
“Russkiy Mir
[[link removed]]”
– the idea that Russian civilization extends to everywhere that
ethnic Russians live.

The ideology also asserts that no matter where Russians are in the
world, the Russian state has a right and an obligation to protect and
defend them.

Ukraine – both in 2014 and with Putin’s seemingly increasingly
belligerent stance now – provides the perfect landscape for this
concept. And Russia has allegedly been promoting “Russian World”
ideology through the arming of pro-Russian separatists
[[link removed]] in
the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014.

Viewing Ukraine as a country split between pro-Moscow ethnic Russians
and pro-Western Ukrainians, however, is a gross oversimplification.

Ethnic tensions?

Ukraine’s ethnic makeup today – with an especially large minority
of Russians living in the east – reflects the country’s absorption
into the Soviet Union from 1922.

Ethnic Ukrainians lived across the country before it was incorporated
into the Soviet Union. In 1932-33, Soviet leader Joseph
Stalin orchestrated a famine
[[link removed]] that
killed some 4 million Ukrainians in the eastern regions. The famine,
known as “Holodomor,” made it possible for ethnic Russians to move
into the territory of Ukraine.

These new residents drove Stalin’s industrialization campaign. To
this day, the Donbass remains the heart of Ukraine’s industrial

When Ukrainians voted for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991,
all of its 24 “oblasts,” or regions – including Donetsk, Luhansk
and Crimea – supported independence
[[link removed]].
The large minority of ethnic Russians – 17.3% of the population at
Ukraine’s last census in 2001
[[link removed]] – were
included as Ukrainian citizens in an independent state. For the most
part, they too voted for independence
[[link removed]].

For most of the first two decades after independence, ethnic Russians
have lived peacefully with Ukrainians and the country’s other ethnic

But that changed in 2010 when Viktor Yanukovych
[[link removed]],
a politician from Donetsk, became Ukraine’s president. Though he did
not state outright that he preferred a pro-Russian future for Ukraine,
many of his policies marked a move away from the pro-European policies
of his predecessors and played into Vladimir Putin’s designs on

Ukraine was on track to sign an association agreement
[[link removed]] with
the European Union in 2013. Instead, Yanukovych decided to join an
economic union with Russia. This set off mass protests around the
country that resulted in Yanukovych’s being ousted. Putin
then annexed Crimea
[[link removed]] on
the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians living on that peninsula.

Meanwhile, pro-Russian separatists took over multiple cities in the
Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the hope that Russia would have a
similar interest in protecting Russians in eastern Ukraine.

[A soldier stands in a trench while looking down the scope of a

A pro-Ukrainian volunteer soldier watches for pro-Russian
separatists.  Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)
[[link removed]]

But ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine’s east did not
automatically support the separatists or want to be part of Russia.
Since 2014, some 1.5 million people
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left the Donbass to live in other parts of Ukraine. Meanwhile, at
least a million people have left for Russia
[[link removed]].

Many of those who remain in the territories occupied by separatists
are now being offered a fast track to Russian citizenship
[[link removed]].
This policy allows Putin to increase pro-Russian sentiment in eastern

Ukraine’s strengthening identity

While Putin claims that ethnic Russians living in Ukraine are part of
the Russian World, in reality, ethnicity is not a predictor of
political affiliation in Ukraine. In other words, being an ethnic
Russian or a Russian speaker does not indicate that one sees oneself
as part of the Russian World. Rather, across Ukraine, there has been
an increase in sentiment of a strong, unified Ukrainian identity
[[link removed]] since
1991. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Ukrainians support
[[link removed]] entrance
into NATO.

Most Ukrainians see their future as a sovereign country that is part
of Europe. But this directly contradicts Putin’s goals of expanding
the Russian World. They are conflicting visions that help explain why
Ukraine remains a flashpoint.

Jacob Lassin
[[link removed]]  is a
Postdoctoral Research Scholar at Arizona State University.  

Emily Channell-Justice
[[link removed]] is
Director of the Temerty Contemporary Ukraine Program at Harvard

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* [[link removed]]







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