Recently Vladimir Putin published an article entitled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. President Putin has in the past published in his name policy articles dedicated to history and the national question. For example, in the run-up to his election in 2012. However, the meaning of the policy article penned ten years ago differed substantially from the view expressed in the current article. In the most recent text the ideal vision of Russia is no longer a mono-ethnic state, but instead a territory where historical and cultural boundaries should coincide with political borders.



It would be futile to try to challenge the view of relations between the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian peoples expressed in the article. In actual fact, there is no need to do so. The issue of the actual proximity of the peoples, their brotherhood and common history can be debated ad infinitum, and the more the viewpoints and nuances, divergences and differences of opinion, the more productive such a discussion becomes. As to the brotherhood of the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, then if it does exist, such fraternity is based first and foremost on supporting each other and embarking together on the path to freedom, and not on interference and interventions. The concept of brotherhood does not involve confiscating your brother’s passport, handcuffing him to a radiator and forcing him to marry against his will. The path to mutual understanding between Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians requires a completely different approach. 

Vladimir Putin is looking at the map titled «Russia and neighboring countries». August 11, 2006 // REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/KREMLIN’S PRESS OFFICE

However, it goes without saying that the main intention of Putin’s article is not historical, but instead strictly political — a demonstrative proclamation of a new geopolitical concept in respect of Ukraine — no longer the concept of “limited sovereignty”, but rather the absolute repudiation of Ukraine’s right to statehood and sovereignty per se and accordingly the filing of territorial claims against a neighbour.

According to Putin’s new political doctrine:

— First of all, the Ukrainian state has no right to a significant proportion of the territories within the current borders of Ukraine, and this is a far larger area than Crimea and Donbass;
— Secondly, millions of ethnic Russians live in Ukraine, who are being forcibly subjected to “Ukrainization” (mandatory knowledge of the Ukrainian language and adoption of the country’s traditions);
— Thirdly, the events in 2014 were not simply a coup (this view is outdated): the independent Ukrainian state ceased to exist and ended up under the external management of Western countries, which was facilitated by individuals betraying the interests of their own people. 

In actual fact, Putin’s political doctrine is addressed to all the former republics of the USSR in terms of his attitude to their statehood and territorial integrity. To all intents and purposes, this represents a denunciation of the entire legal framework of relations with these countries since 1991.

Such postulates expressed by the authoritarian president of a neighbouring nuclear power underpin the rationale for a possible war with Ukraine at any movement, as if Russia had the historical right to wage such a war. Moreover, this is not a war with a neighbour with whom the country has some differences, even if territorial, but instead a war with a powerful external aggressor, in other words, with the West where Ukraine is merely the battlefield for the confrontation.

This is the key gist of Putin’s article. 


The political substance of Putin’s article is unambiguous: a war with Ukraine in some form or other, ranging from a cold war, hybrid or all-out conflict — this is a war for the interests of Russia and Russians in Ukraine. And this is the main idea of the new Russian state system which emerged formally after the illegal amendments introduced to Russia’s Constitution on 1 July 2020 (see “The Day After”, August 2020). It would seem that reliance on the Victory of the Soviet Union in World War II and Yuri Gagarin’s flight into outer space as “traditional values” is no longer enough. And this is the very reason why this aggressive and chauvinistic imperialism has been declared on the basis of extremely dangerous ethnic nationalism to mobilise the Russian people.  

And it should come as no surprise that all the pro-government parties presented now in the State Duma — Zyuganov’s communist party, Mironov’s party (recently merged with Prilepin’s nationalist party) and Zhirinovsky’s extreme populist party — in the context of this article are in complete accord with President Putin. This is no longer the case of “back to the USSR” or to the “historical community of the Soviet people”. This is Neo-Stalinism pure and simple — with a “Short history course on the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks.” Just like the Stalinist handbook issued 83 years ago, Putin’s article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” will become the ideological catastrophe foisted on everyone to “study and assimilate” in schools, institutes of higher education, state institutions and the army1Russian Military to Make Putin’s Ukraine Opus Compulsory – RBC, The Moscow Times, 16.07.2021.

Such an article published by the Head of State 25-30 years ago would have meant only one thing — a declaration of war. Against the backdrop of today’s political postmodernism — of fakes, the repackaging of the obvious and basic concepts, political entropy and disorder — it goes without saying that we can only hope that things will not escalate to the active phase of this plan (in particular, if all the targets of the article treat seriously the publication of the Kremlin’s declaration of intent).

“Russia is open for dialogue … Russia has never been and never will be anti-Ukraine … We have always been and always will be far stronger and more successful together”, Putin writes and provides as an example the friendly relations of modern Austria and Germany, the USA and Canada. However, it would appear that the fitting words expressed here on such relations cannot be taken seriously against the backdrop of assertions in the same article that “in actual fact Russia was robbed”, declarations about “our historical territories” and proposals that “leave with what you brought along”.  As for Austria and Germany, the USA and Canada, these countries are not annexing the territories of a neighbour and are not fanning the flames of a criminal-separatist conflict on adjoining lands, causing the loss of lives running into tens of thousands, and are not conducting unbridled propaganda of hatred towards a neighbour in all their state mass media. That is why discussions about some partnership are more indicative of mere veneer masking true intentions.

In general, however you read the article, you come away with the feeling that the already inconsiderable risks of the outbreak of a major war are rising significantly (see “On the Brink of War”, April 2021). 

In addition, the focus on the “threat from the West” and preparations to present the West with Ukrainian “red flags” is happening at the very moment when the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan is creating a new and extremely unstable situation in Central Asia which  represents a direct military threat for Russia. It is clear that no Russian “allies” in this region will be able to cope either with the Taliban or with Islamic State forces who have moved to Afghanistan from Syria, inter alia, to take their revenge on Russia for its participation in the Syrian civil war and for testing 320 types of different weapons on the population there2 Over 320 types of weapons tested in operation in Syria — Russia’s defense minister, TASS, 14.07.2021. These dangers are very serious, and above all, real.

In general, Putin’s article represents a clear illustration of the self-defeating nature of Russian foreign policy today – confrontation with the West and aggression towards Ukraine.

Enough time has passed since the events in 2014 to understand the fallacy of Russia’s reaction to developments in Ukraine and the futility of the foreign policy course of Putin’s system as a whole. However, this has not happened. 

A systemic defect of Putin’s politics in general and foreign policy in particular is the absence of any strategy and the limited level of forward planning. The annexation of Crimea, the unleashing and support of the armed conflict in Donbass – all these decisions were adopted ad hoc after the resounding failure of Russia’s policy towards Ukraine and the entire post-Soviet space. The only hope of their instigators was that over time everyone would become used to and accept the new status quo established in such a tense situation. It now looks that such hopes were not justified. Russia’s periphery economy is suffering serious long-term damage owing to sanctions. People in Donbass are suffering a horrific ordeal, living in a territory at war where terror and anarchy prevail. People in Crimea have limited civil rights as the “Russian status” of the peninsula is not recognised and will not be recognised by the international community. Russia has become a country whose borders are not recognised.

Local residents cross a bridge, which was exploded during a military conflict on the contact line between forces of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic and Ukrainian armed forces, as members of the self-proclaimed republic’s emergencies ministry dismantle fortifications in Stanytsia Luhanska settlement, Ukraine, August 26, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

However, instead of facing up to reality and seeking solutions, the regime is presenting Russia to its citizens as a “separate civilisation”,  a space that is closed off and isolated from the rest of the world. Furthermore, after 20 years of depoliticization, people in Russia are now completely detached from politics. The recreation of an empire power is driven from above by the “elites”, and the vast majority of Russia’s citizens can see that they have been completely excluded from the real decision-making process. Consequently, the people assume that they are not responsible for developments.

Today, one of the key concepts in the modern world is dialogue. The total control over people that the regime has sought to achieve in some form or other in connection with the pandemic, is no substitute for dialogue. Meanwhile, politics today in Russia and Putin’s actual article represent a rejection of dialogue from a position of strength, the creation of a power state instead of the liberation of the individual; centralisation, instead of local government and county councils. The tacit silence of the people over the declaration of Putin’s anti-Ukraine doctrine is the direct result of the sensation that they are unable to influence their own futures triggered by an intensifying sense of fear and lack of self-confidence. All this is spurring their further retreat into their shell and their own little worlds and is creating the grounds for the current anarchy in foreign policy.

Overall, Putin’s article is anti-history. Politicians need a historical foundation, not to write treatises about history from antiquity to our days, but instead to draw conclusions from the past.



A failure to understand the lessons of history and the requirements of the present day — ethno-cultural nationalism, chauvinism, the instincts of the communist party nomenklatura, the absence of any independent programme and the worship, to put it mildly, of strange biased advisors who write such articles – all these factors are leading Russia along a crooked path and taking us down the wrong track. The attempts of Russia’s leadership to practice Neo-Stalinism is proof positive that they have fallen out of time. Competition on the battlefield today in order to play a role in the world does not involve the acquisition of foreign lands, either remote or near, and does not mean a return to the dust-laden maps of previous centuries where borders would be redrawn again and again and zones of influence would be continually redistributed. These days there is no need to conquer territories: instead you must win over the hearts and minds of people. And this is the very area where today’s Russia is losing out.

Let me remind you here that the catalyst for Maidan in Kyiv in 2013-2014 can be traced back to Russia’s groundless and redundant attempts to oppose the signing of the European Union Association Agreement by Ukraine. The anti-European direction of Russia’s domestic and foreign policies ripped asunder the post-Soviet space and scared off allies. 

It was already on the very next day after the publication of the article that Putin had to explain in particular that his words about the illegitimacy of the borders of post-Soviet states did not concern Kazakhstan or other neighbouring countries — it did not relate to any of them other than Ukraine. However, the context created by the article cannot be eliminated by such explanations.

In 2008, when commenting on Russia’s intervention in the events in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Putin also asserted that Crimea was by no means a contested territory and that Russia had recognised Ukraine’s borders a long time ago. Today’s example of a dangerous and unproductive policy is the attitude of Russia’s leadership to Belarus and its citizens. Frightened by the aspirations of Belarusians for freedom and self-respect, the Kremlin staked everything on an overreaching dictator and supported the mass repressions of Lukashenko’s regime against the Belarusian people. What attitude to Russia can be expected from Belarusian’s citizens now?

However, Putin is totally indifferent about their reaction. He seriously thinks in terms of previous centuries and believes that an empire is a territory cordoned off by barbed wire where truncheons and prisons, missiles and zones of influence designated by “red lines”. As a matter of fact, he also ascribes such a world view to his own “partners”, the leaders of other countries, because he doesn’t believe that other outlooks exist and indeed won’t tolerate any other viewpoint.

The model proposed by Russia today to its neighbours is to all intents and purposes Assad’s regime, which literally depends on Russian and Iranian forces and makes money from trading in synthetic drugs.

When it comes to protecting our borders and interests, then one of the key conclusions from the history of relations between Russia and Ukraine is that if we don’t allow ourselves to become hostages to historical difficulties, as already happened back in 1991, if we don’t want new wars and economic crises, we have to respect international law (notwithstanding all its shortcomings), we must safeguard and not violate international borders, we must reject chauvinism and attempts to lecture to and pressurise others, instead of concentrating on sorting out our own problems. And discussing today the Belovezha Accords of 1991 as grounds for revising borders, as in Putin’s article, is tantamount to digging yet another hole for ourselves. There will be no “new Yalta”, no new “repartition of the world’ involving Russia. If we want to protect and preserve our territory, we have to rely on internationally recognised borders. Eroding the legitimacy of borders and annexing the territories of neighbouring territories under different contexts means planting a time bomb under Russia’s future. 



What should counter the dead-end and extremely dangerous policies advocated by Putin? First and foremost, we need to correct the mistakes that we have already made. It is in Russia’s interests to return to the global realities of our century: initiate an international conference on Crimea  and take a number of clear measures to de-escalate the situation in the north-east of Ukraine. These practical measures are vital in some form or other. This represents the start of an alternative path that is worth fighting for. However, this alone is no longer enough.

The world known to us until now is transforming literally before our eyes: hierarchies are being destroyed, the institutions on which society and the state relied for decades or even centuries are no longer effective or influential. The conclusion dictated to us in these circumstances by life and Russia’s entire post-Soviet history is that we need to understand the essence of time. Every era has its own meaning indicating how we need to act. In that case, our actions will be effective and will have a long-time impact, while our achievements will be strategic. If we fail to understand or grasp the time we are living in, serious mistakes are inevitable.

Today two centres of economic power are developing globally: North America and South-East Asia. Against this backdrop, Europe has a chance to acquire a qualitatively new future, a new surge of economic forces is contingent on comprehensive cooperation, followed by a certain level of integration with Russia. And it is in this scenario that Russian will gain a real opportunity to survive and develop as a modern country, drawing on the strong foundation of its historical specifics and cultural diversity. The key political goal of the first half of the 21st century is to establish a Russian-European world based on values, freedom, respect for our fellow man, a life without fear, where we rein in technological progress which is outstripping human consciousness today.

This is not a situation where you weigh up your options based on the current political environment and is not remotely linked to ideology. From the perspective of big economics and safe politics, integration is akin to the laws of physics, an objective reality which exists regardless of what we think. We can either factor in and utilise this reality, relying on it and striding forward, or we can lose out. It goes without saying here that I am talking about integration based on a common understanding of human rights and freedoms, real democracy and the fundamental principles of the state structure, such as the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary and the inviolability of private property. I do not mean here integration such as membership of the WTO or even participation in the Customs Union.

The crux of this time is that as Ukraine recognises itself to be (and de facto is) a European state seeking to become part of the European Union, the issues of Russian-Ukrainian relations transcend bilateral frameworks. To all intents and purposes, this refers not only and not so much to Russia’s relations with Ukraine as to the problem of Russia’s relations with Europe. For Russia-European integration offers a solution not only to the problem of relations between Russia and Ukraine, but also provides a path to a safe and prosperous future for Russia itself and for Belarus.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a news conference after a EU-Russia Summit in Brussels, January 28, 2014 // REUTERS/Yves Herman

This implies the establishment of an alliance on the post-Soviet space, above all in its European part, of modern states based on human rights, freedom, respect for your fellow man, the separation of powers, a competitive market economy and a civil society which provides creative opportunities. This is the strategy underpinning the creation of a third global centre of power, a Russian-European centre on level footing with the centres in North America and South-East Asia. And this is what Putin’s politics and the article are seeking to prevent.



The Russian regime, just like its Soviet predecessor, never asks or warns anyone. In 1979 nobody warned our people about the military invasion into Afghanistan. In 1994 they launched a war in Chechnya, once again without any discussion. They proceeded in virtually the same way in Ukraine and Syria.  

And in this sense Putin’s article has yet another separate and special feature: this article was a warning. Even though it was addressed not so much to us as to a notional version of the West, it was published on the eve of what is called elections in our country3 Legislative elections will be held in Russia on September 19, 2021. 450 deputies will be elected to the State Duma, the lower house of the Federal Assembly. There is a widespread opinion in Russia that the elections are compromised due to voter fraud., and this makes Russian citizens its active recipients to a material extent. Russia’s citizens will have an opportunity to express their views on the policy proclaimed by the President. We can vote “for”: for Russia’s right to a significant proportion of the territories of neighbouring Ukraine, for a plan to strip Ukraine of its sovereignty and statehood, and accordingly for the opportunity to wage war with Ukraine at any moment in time. This means voting for United Russia, the Communist Party of Russia, the Liberal Democratic of Russia and A Just Russia – Patriots – For Truth.  

However, we can also vote against such a policy — for peace, the prospects of mutual understanding with the European Union, for equal and amicable relations with Ukraine and Belarus. And this means voting for Yabloko. 

It goes without saying that the geopolitical and military and political course implemented by Putin will not be contingent on the views of a small proportion of the electorate, all the more so as too much is known in advance about the “results’ of these elections. To engineer a change of course, as many people as possible must vote against a war with Ukraine. However, in the current environment of depoliticization, the utterly abased and despicable state propaganda, dumbing down and falsifications, the majority of the population is deprived of the chance to realise that war might become reality and that this is the underlying message of Putin’s article. At the same time, however, for the time being it is still possible to say “no” to war and chauvinistic expansion, and this opportunity must be used. At least for history’s sake.