Friday, February 28, 2020

Putin Doubles Down in His Insistence that Russians and Ukrainians are ‘a Single People,’ Illarionov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 22 – In his latest TASS interview, Vladimir Putin not only reaffirms his mistaken belief that Russians and Ukrainians are “a single people” who should live in a single state, but “adds to this several new myths,” thus showing that his “main strategic goal is the unification of Russia and Ukraine,” Andrey Illarionov says.

            Putin now asserts that “up to the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, we [Russians and Ukrainians] did not have any difference in language,” the Moscow commentator says, completely ignoring the fac tthat “there were no Russians and Ukrainians in the contemporary sense of ethnic groups” at that time (

             Moreover, he blames “Polonization” for the divisions between the two, when in fact they emerged centuries before the Union of 1569 with Muscovy’s destruction of Novgorod the Great. And most critically, Putin continues his promotion of the idea that national identity is based on language almost exclusively.

            As Illarionov points out, the Kremlin leader “confuses two different means of the term ‘Ukrainianss’ which were used at various times,” as residents of border areas and “as an ethnonym designating a major nation, the representatives of which live primarily in the south of the Eastern European lowlands;” and he confuses the different meanings of “Russians” as well.

            “No one, except Putin, who used the terms ‘Ukrainians’ and ‘Russians’ ever in the 17th century or the 21st ever put an equals sign between them.” And few are foolish enough to think that language invariably defines identity. “The key criterion of national identity is not language but a sense of belonging to one’s own civic nation.”

            Putin introduces yet another myth, the notion that modern Ukrainianism was the product of an operation by “the Austrian special services” on the eve of World War I. That reflects his general view that intelligence services are behind everything. But “the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians today” have no idea about this and until 2014 had a positive attitude toward Russia.

            Such positive feelings were destroyed, Illarionov points out, “not by Austrian spies and Banderite nationalists” but by Putin himself, who “stole Crimea and unleashed a bloody fight in the Donbass which has killed more than 13,000 Ukrainians, left more than 30,000 as invalids, and transformed several million into refugees.”

            Polls confirm this, the Russian commentator says. In 2010, 93 percent of Ukrainians had a positive view of Russia. By May 2015, that figure had fallen to four percent.

            But the most important aspect of Putin’s latest remarks concerns his ultimate goal.  In the past, he has talked about Crimea, about the Donbass, about Novorossiya. But now, it is clear that he seeks “the unification of Russia and all of Ukraine.”  He would be unlikely to have made this shift unless he believed he could count on some support in Kyiv.

            “And such a Putin declaration can mean only one thing,” Illarionov argues in conclusion: the Kremlin leader is now moving toward the practical realization of this strategic plan,” all his talk about compromise and rapprochement notwithstanding.

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