Staunton, July 23 – For most of his 20 years in power, Vladimir Putin has “avoided openly nationalistic rhetoric,” Konstantin von Eggert says; but now, when talking about Ukraine, the Kremlin leader “sounds ever more like Slobodan Milošević at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.”
According to the Russian commentator, “the Serbian dictator liked to talk about the need for achieving the unity of the divided Serbs who were repressed by other peoples,” language that lay behind the wars in the former Yugoslavia and acts of genocide by the Serbs against others (dw.com/ru/kommentarij-kak-putin-povtorjaet-miloshevicha/a-58602388).
Given that history, Putin’s shift is disturbing because it suggests he is more than willing to play a similar nationalistic card with regard to ethnic Russians who are citizens of Ukraine and launch an expanded military effort there, something that if cast in such ethnic terms will likely result in similar kinds of communal violence.
There appear to be two reasons why the Kremlin leader is talking like this now, von Eggert says. On the one hand, Putin is reasonably worried that a Dutch court will name him and Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu as unindicted co-conspirators in the downing of the Malaysian jetliner.
That is why the issue of that disaster is so prominently part of Moscow’ suit against Ukraine in the European Human Rights Court.
And on the other, Putin has been emboldened by the decision of the US and Germany not to oppose Northstream-2, a decision made without the participation of Kyiv and thus, from his point of view, an indication that the West is moving at least implicitly toward “a Yalta-2” arrangement in the east.
By raising the specter of violence in Ukraine, Putin thus puts additional pressure on Western governments to defer to him on what he wants as a recognized Russian sphere of influence including Ukraine. That is because his nationalistic and militarist language suggest that efforts to oppose Moscow would be prohibitively costly.
But it remains an open question whether the West will agree, especially as many in Western capitals have not forgotten what its initial failure to stand up to Milošević led to in the Balkans.