During his annual call-in show on June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to write an article to back up his much touted claim that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people.” As promised, on July 12, the Kremlin published Putin’s take “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” In an essay that spans the Middle Ages to the present day, Putin touches on everything from the Mongol invasion to the collapse of the Soviet Union and more. In addition to claiming that modern Ukraine is the “brainchild” of the Soviet era, Putin blames the West and Ukrainian elites for allegedly working to the turn the country into an “anti-Russia.” Despite Putin’s repeated claims about Russian and Ukrainian being “almost identical,” the Kremlin chose to publish his essay in both languages. Meduza summarizes Putin’s “historical article” here.
Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are the heirs of Ancient Rus. When this nation collapsed, people still perceived its territory as their homeland. After the invasion by Batu Khan, the eastern Russian lands fell under the control of the Golden Horde, while the western lands became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania [Putin refers to it as the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Russia]. But everyone spoke the same language and preserved the Orthodox faith.
Moscow became the center of the reunification of the Russian lands; Lithuania united with Poland to form the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and began “Polonization” and romanization, ousting Orthodoxy. This is why the Cossacks on the banks of the Dnieper River during the times of Bohdan Khmelnytsky asked for Moscow’s patronage. Not everyone was happy, of course, but the people as a whole dreamed of freeing themselves from the Commonwealth and joining Russia. “Only a small portion of the Cossacks supported [Ivan] Mazepa’s rebellion.” All of these lands were called Malaya Rus’ (Little Russia) and the name Ukraina (Ukraine) was used exclusively to refer to the okraina (periphery). Those who remained under Polish rule suffered from social and religious oppression and in many ways, Little Russians created a large, common Russia. Suffice it to say that Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev — “whose party biography was most closely associated with Ukraine” — led the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for 30 years.
The language was almost identical. Though at some point the import of literature in Ukrainian was banned, the Poles were to blame for this — they had a national movement, which took advantage of the Ukrainians. At the same time, the idea of a separate Ukrainian people emerged, but “there was no historical basis here and there couldn’t be,” this is based on “various fictions.” Austria-Hungary took up this theme in opposition to both the Polish national movement and pro-Moscow sentiments in Galicia; Galicians suspected of sympathy towards Russia were thrown in concentration camps. After the collapse of the Russian Empire, Ukraine declared independence, but immediately began negotiations with Austria-Hungary and Germany, and was actually occupied. “For those who today have given Ukraine over to full external control it’s worth remembering that at the time, in 1918, such a decision turned out to be fatal for the ruling regime in Kiev.”
As a result, the western portion of the Little Russian lands became part of Poland and the rest became part of Soviet Ukraine (though the Donbass wanted to live separately even then, Lenin did not allow it!). Those who remained under Polish rule, again, as in the Middle Ages, suffered from Polonization, while the Soviet government practiced Ukrainization. “Modern Ukraine is utterly and completely the brainchild of the Soviet era […] Russia was actually robbed.” In the USSR, borders between the republics weren’t state borders, “but in 1991 all of these territories —and most importantly the people who lived there — found themselves abroad overnight.” Everything changes and in the course of its development, a part of one people may at a certain point recognize itself as a separate nation. There’s only one way to respond to this: with respect! “You want to create your own state? You’re welcome to! But on what terms?” You should leave with what you came with — return to the borders that you joined the Soviet Union with in 1922 [In the case of Ukraine, this would exclude the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014].
Russia “has done a lot to make Ukraine an independent country,” but with the help of the West, Ukrainian elites turned it into an “anti-Russia” and the “poorest country in Europe.” They pass off our “common tragedy of collectivization and the famine of the early 1930s” as a “genocide of the Ukrainian people.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised peace, but this promise “turned out to be a lie.” The current government has millions of opponents. “But they aren’t allowed to raise their heads. They’ve been practically denied the legal possibility of defending their point of view. They’re intimidated and driven underground. For their convictions, for their words, and for openly expressing their position they’re not only persecuted, but also murdered. The killers, as a rule, go unpunished.”
This is a summary of Vladimir Putin’s essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” The full text is available on the Kremlin’s website. Direct quotes from the text appear in quotation marks.
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Cover Photo: Alexey Druzhinin / Pool / TASS / Scanpix / LETA