“History is the most dangerous creation of the chemistry of intelligence… It intoxicates peoples, it creates false memories for them, exaggerates their aspirations, enrages old wounds, attracts dreams, causes a mania for greatness or a shawl of persecution…” To this opinion, the French poet and philosopher Paul Valery arrived, summing up the experience of the First World War.
His «Regards sur le monde actuel” was published in 1931, two years before the same “admirer” of history as Putin took the helm in Germany – and began to roll the world into the hell of the World War II.
The obvious parallels are striking – between the Anschluss of Austria and the annexation of Crimea; between the occupation of part of Czechoslovakia and the capture of the Ukrainian Donbas; between the people’s passion for the fuhrer and people’s love for the leader; between Hitler’s address on the Sudeten Germans and Putin’s article “We are one nation”; between the theories of German living space and the “Russian world”.
In the opinion of an adequate person, it is dangerous and strange to build politics on the events of millennia ago, and even more so on their tendentious interpretation, when well-known historical facts are seasoned with fakes of modern propaganda. We, Ukrainians, do not claim Novgorod only because the Ukrainian ruler Volodymyr was the prince of Novgorod for several years. And we do not even encroach on Moscow as our former deaf province only on the grounds that it was founded by Yuri Dolgorukiy, Prince of Kyiv. After all, Charlemagne was the emperor of the ancestors of modern Germans and French, but no conscious politician thinks of declaring them one people, let alone unite them into a single state.
From the point of view of perception of history, Putin’s article does not bring anything new for us. This framework is known to us from the middle of the nineteenth century. Then, against the background of national revival in Ukraine, Russian imperial propaganda launched a campaign of non-acceptance of Ukrainians as a separate nation. “It was not, it is not and it cannot be,” said the infamous phrase from the circular of the Minister of Internal Affairs of Russia Valuev. That phrase became the official position of St. Petersburg on the Ukrainian language and the nation. «The Russians name everything Russian as Slavic, so that afterwards they can name everything Slavic as Russian», said Karel Havlicek-Borovsky, a Czech publicist and public figure at that time.
Almost 160 years have passed since then. However, it brings zero intellectual progress as the socio-political opinion of the Russian leadership has been petrified by the erroneous “discovery” of a century and a half ago. The statement that the Ukrainians and the Russians are one nation reminds me of the description of the madhouse in which Schweik lay. Among the residents there was a professor who “argued that there was another sphere inside the globe, much larger than the one above.”
In August we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Independence, and the Russians still have not come to terms with it. And why should we be surprised? Only thirty years, but in Russia many still grieve the loss of Finland and Poland, which occurred more than a century ago.
I’m not a historian to remove the ashes from the past millennia, and I’m not a psychiatrist to treat someone’s imperial paranoia. The result of the Russian president’s graphomania is also not a historical article, but a political manifesto, which indicates future threats to Russia’s neighbors – to Ukraine in the first place, but also to Poland, which is not accidentally repeatedly mentioned in the paper. It is clear that the Kremlin is preparing an anschluss of Belarus. And it is equally clear that if Moscow succeeded in conquering Ukraine, Putin’s hands and boots would reach out Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Or maybe even Berlin, because it is not for nothing that Moscow celebrates the victory in World War II under the slogan “We can repeat.”
Putin is not only denying the right of the Ukrainian nation for freedom and independence. Putin wants to consolidate Moscow’s veto power in Europe and to divide it once more into the spheres of influence. The distorted history is a cover for aggressive policy and outlining the “living space” for modern Russia.
In its essence the article formulates Russia’s territorial claims to Ukraine, and that is its core element! “Our historical territories”, “territorial gifts”, “robbed Russia”, “people living close to us”, “ conditional nature” of borders in the post-Soviet space – these are the key words of this “study” if we get rid of all the verbal garbage. Putin recalls the idea of his political father Sobchak about return of the former Soviet republics to their borders as of 1922 when they joined the Soviet Union.
The key elements of the article demonstrate that Russia does not recognize our state borders and disregards the provisions of the international law. They keep preparing public opinion and the armed forces for continuation of aggression against Ukraine. It is not for nothing that the Russian Minister of Defense gave the order that the historical delusion of his Supreme Commander-in-Chief must be studied in the army, with a view to filling the heads of the Russian soldiers with imperial chauvinistic garbage, who should be ready to attack Ukraine again and again at any moment.
Over the past seven years, Russia has annexed Crimea, has tried to capture Donbas, most of which we managed to take back in my time as Supreme Commander-in-Chief. The Kremlin planned to form the so-called Novorossia from ten Ukrainian regions. And the main reason of fiasco of this campaign has been that the people of these regions, despite the fact that they speak Russian in large numbers, consider themselves as Ukrainians. And that is the point.
We, Ukrainians, have no problems with our own identity. And we don’t care what exactly Putin thinks about it. We are a Ukrainian political nation, where the citizens of different ethnic origin, religious confessions, language communities are equal in their rights and opportunities. And we are different from Russians not only by our own historical experience, language, songs and dances, or cuisine, but also by political culture, attitudes toward human rights and freedoms, geopolitical orientations, and a conscious and deep-rooted sense of belonging to European civilization. These differences have only intensified over the past seven years, and, by the way, Putin, who is so repulsive to Ukraine, has played a significant role in speeding up the process.
Ukraine has chosen its path of development, which is membership in the EU and the NATO. Opinion polls show that three-quarters of those, who plan to take part in the referendum, are ready to vote for EU membership, and two-thirds – for NATO membership. By the way, Russian aggression has encouraged significant strengthening of support for the Euro-Atlantic course among Ukrainians.
The thesis about “one nation” demonstrates that Putin does not need Crimea and Donbas. He claims the whole Ukraine, because he denies our very right to a separate existence as a nation and a state. His vision of Ukraine is the Little Russia Federal District as part of a single authoritarian space. In such a version of complete and unconditional surrender he may be ready to maintain our territorial integrity, because it is much easier to swallow as one piece than in small parts.
Therefore, these are the key messages of the article. Putin’s pseudo-scientific amateur historical exercises are designed to legitimize imperial claims in the eyes of Russian public opinion, which needs attention on the eve of the autumn elections to the State Duma. The Kremlin’s desire to encourage a small fifth column in Ukraine is also evident, following the Leninist-Stalinist tradition of appealing to peoples through the heads of their governments.
Finally, Putin could not deny himself the pleasure of once again spitting into the eyes of Western supporters of the appeasement policy, who failed to learn the lessons of Munich-38. They seem to miss the words of the Russian historian Klyuchevskiy, who wrote: “History is not a teacher, but a guardian, she does not teach, but punishes for ignorance of the lessons.”
Unlike history, where he manipulates and openly lies, Putin declares his political plans openly. Even during the Munich Security Conference in 2007, he challenged the entire transatlantic community. In response, the West decided to please Putin and in the spring of 2008, at the NATO summit in Bucharest, it refused to grant a Membership action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia. The lack of an adequate response encouraged Putin, and in summer of the same year he seized Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. Afterwards, Russian aggression against Ukraine has become the first case, when a permanent member of the UN Security Council attacked the founding state of the United Nations.
Putin is waging a hybrid war against democratic values around the world. His troops and mercenaries from Wagner’s private army intervened in the wars in Syria, Libya, Central Africa and the confrontation in Venezuela. Russia tried to meddle into the elections in the United States, Brexit in the United Kingdom, and the referendum in the Netherlands in order to disrupt the ratification of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU. Russia encouraged the separatists in Catalonia. Its military intelligence was preparing a coup in Montenegro to thwart the country’s entry into the North Atlantic Alliance. Putin’s agents poisoned Skripal in Salisbury, organized explosions at military depots in the Czech Republic, and, by the way, in Ukraine. Russian hackers carry out cyberattacks on vital systems of the Western countries. Putin is making troubles in all corners of the world. His unhealthy ambitions are global in nature, but the precondition for their implementation is the conquest of Ukraine. Without Ukraine, the Russian state cannot be an empire by definition. Gorbachev spoke about this thirty years ago, when he campaigned in vain for Ukrainians not to vote for independence in a referendum.
Putin’s article fits perfectly into the traditional rhetoric of the Russian President about the alleged military threat to Russia and becomes an excuse for military maneuvers on the border with Ukraine, building a military machine and total mobilization of Russian society. It is a cunning maneuver of Putin to lead everything to military confrontation, because it is only in the environment of the besieged fortress, that Russia feels comfortable and confident.
It would be a mistake for the West to accept Russia’s “reality,” which would mean to agree to play by imposed alternative rules in the opponent’s territory. And in the end it would mean a defeat.
Putin’s revelation is an important moment for the West and Ukraine, as an integral part of European civilization, to understand the right response to Russia’s claims. It is important to remind the factors, which helped to stop the Russian offensive in 2014. It was the commitment of the Ukrainian people to defend their freedom and their choice. It was the commitment of the Ukrainian leadership to reform and to get rid, first of all, of the gas shroud. It was the commitment of a strong pro-Ukrainian international coalition to respond to Russia’s aggressive actions.
As a statesman, as the fifth President of Ukraine, as eventually the leader of the democratic pro-European opposition, I am concerned about the arrangements between the US and Germany on Nord Stream – 2. It is very similar to the Budapest Memorandum and its empty guarantees, which we have been “enjoying” for eight years. It is clear that the North Stream – 2 – is a threat to Ukraine, to the United Europe, and to the whole transatlantic community.
For us, gas transit is not so much a problem of money. We can make money on something else in the end. We are talking about regional, continental and transatlantic security. And for Ukraine, this is an existential issue, because Putin’s article shows that he did not refuse to erase Ukraine from the political map. This is an idea as obsessive as once was the plan to “throw Israel into the sea.”
Until all possibilities are exhausted, Kyiv will continue to fight against Nord Stream 2, whatever the opinion of the great powers may be. In Ukraine, relations between the opposition, represented by European Solidarity, and the government are not easy. But we will act together on this issue, because this is about our fundamental national interest. And it is also about the interest of our closest neighbors.
Ukraine needs guarantees, not money. And first of all it is not about guarantees of gas transit, or helping in green energy. We need clear guarantees of security and independence. And this is NATO membership. Putin’s article once again proves that it is not enough to promise a vague prospect of Ukraine’s accession to the Alliance. Our partners’ dreams and promises must materialize into a specific project, and such a project is called a Membership Action Plan. It takes time to implement, and for this period Ukraine has the right to count on interim security agreements with partners. I hope this will be the subject of negotiations between Volodymyr Zelensky during his visit to the White House in late August.
We, Ukrainians, are grateful to Poland for long, sincere and unwavering support of Ukraine in our defense against Russian aggression, in our European and Atlantic aspirations. And another proof of that is the joint statement of July 22 that Kyiv and Warsaw will jointly oppose the launch of Nord Stream-2 as a project that threatens the security of the whole Europe.
Poland recently felt Putin’s “passion” for history, when Russia blamed Poland for unleashing the World War II, because Poland was the first to resist Nazi aggression. According to the Russian leader, it is not Hitler and the Nazis who are responsible for anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, but the Polish ambassador to the Third Reich. This outrageous distortion of historical facts took place in order to achieve a political goal – to erase the memory of the Soviet Union’s role in the outbreak of World War II, to downplay Poland’s importance in the international arena and, in the long run, to divide Central and Eastern Europe again, like the new Yalta. The Poles rallied to resist this attack on their own state and an attempt to revise the history. Poland was supported by its partners, including Ukraine.
We in Ukraine, like you in Poland, believe that the free world is not about the dominance of the interests of great powers. It is about unification, where even the smallest state feels equal and protected. This is what makes a fundamental difference between a free world and the unions, which are imposed by the authoritarian rulers.
Putin’s article on the “unity” of nations is a manifestation of “mature Putinism». Models of state governance and participation in international politics, based on authoritarianism, imperialism and aggression, are the direct threat to Ukraine, Poland and Europe. It could be overcome together. And the worse thing we can do is to encourage the Russian president, which will only strengthen his aggressive behavior.