On Putin’s Vision of the “Historic Unity”


On July 13, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence, the Kremlin published Vladimir Putin’s “analytic article” “On the historic unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. It portrays Ukraine and Russia as “one nation, a single whole” (which also implies “one great Russian nation” and “one Russian world”), being not only another example of pseudo-historicism but also a loose documentation of Russia’s political course regarding Ukraine. The key messages of the article are briefly analyzed below.

  • “The wall that in recent years has appeared between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of, in fact, one historic and spiritual space, I think of it as a common calamity, as a tragedy.” Blaming the “demonic West” for “pitting two parts of one nation against another”, Putin develops the old Kremlin narrative “divide et impera”, depicting Ukraine as an object in “anti-Russia” politics of the EU and USA used as a bridgehead between Russia and the West. 
  • As it is stated in the article, “History chose that Moscow became the center of reunification”. This once again pursues the messianic role of Russia as a long-lasting historic tradition. By consistently mentioning all Ukrainian territories as “Russian”, Putin refers to a long-outdated Russian myth about the etymology of the toponym “Ukraine” which meant “outskirts”, “borderland” and not a separate country, implying that the whole state is nothing but a myth.
  • It is also emphasized in the text that both Ukrainian and Russian territories have always been united by “one Russian language” (which was in fact Ruthenian, after the name of Rus’ or Ruthenia, as it was called in medieval Latin tradition). Russian president calls language which was spoken in Ukrainian territories since the times of Kyivan Rus’, a “regional dialect” of “one great Russian language”, continuing the tradition of the Valuev Circular (1863) and the Ems Ukaz(1876) which banned the stage performance, the publication of literature, and the import of books in Ukrainian to erase the Ukrainian identity. However, the Russian President forgets to mention that the very toponym “Russia” and the respective adjective “Russian” were derived from the Byzantine Greek pronunciation of the Rus’ — Ρωσσία (Rossia) and popularized by tsar Peter I the Great after he became an emperor of All Russia in 1721. 
  • Calling Ukrainian authors Ivan Kotliarevskyi, Hryhoriy Skovoroda, and Taras Shevchenko “the common literary and cultural heritage” of Russia and Ukraine. The question “How is it possible to divide this heritage among Russia and Ukraine? And why do it?” is an example of Russia’s cultural appropriation, which is a continuation of both Soviet and Imperial traditions.
  • The very idea of the existence of a Ukrainian nation “which is separate from Russian nation” is described as a “fiction” without “any historical basis” which was created “for political purposes, as an instrument of rivalry between European states”, which calls into question the position of Ukraine as a sovereign state — according to the article, if it was not for Soviet Union (and Russia as its symbolic heir), Ukraine would not exist as an independent state. Predictably, calling Ukrainian National Republic (1917–1920) a «quasi-state structure under the German protection” is an intermediate step to the common “Ukraine’s external governance” narrative which is one of the key concepts of what is called “foreign policy” in Putin’s Russia. 
  • However, the culmination of the article exposes its true purpose — legitimizing the occupation of Ukrainian territories. Crimea is portrayed as a “cradle of Russian spirituality” since the “Russian” Prince Volodymyr baptized the “Russian people” in Chersonesus. However, it is another act of disinformation as it happened either in Kyiv or in Vasylkiv. Also, the transfer of the Crimean peninsula from the Russian SFSR to Ukrainian SSR is represented as a “generous territorial gift” with “no legal basis” (which is another fake) since the leitmotif of the whole text is “Russia was robbed”. This idea of occupation as the “restoration of historical justice” was also used by Putin during the so-called “celebration” of the 7th anniversary of Crimea’s reunion with the Russian Federation.
  • The military aggression on Ukrainian Donbas is also portrayed as the “historic choice of the people of the south-east of Ukraine” and the reaction to the “anti-Russia project” which has been implemented by Ukrainian authorities since the Revolution of Dignity in 2014 (which is also demonized and called a coup d’etat and a neo-Nazi regime). With more than 13.000 Ukrainians (including more than 3.300 civilians) killed in the war initiated by Russia, the Kremlin still has cynicism to blame Ukraine for “non-compliance with the Minsk agreements” as well as for all the victims while Russia “has done everything to end the fratricide”.
  • Moreover, Putin is blaming Ukraine for the “assimilation”, “military aggression”, “nazism” and “incitement of hatred” towards Russian people while building a military base in the occupied Crimea, forceful passportization in occupied Crimea and Donbas, and active militarization of the occupied territories. The law “On indigenous peoples of Ukraine” initiated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and adopted by the Verkhovna Rada, which includes Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks but not Russians, was also branded as “Russophobic”. However, a similar law has existed in Russian Federation since 1999, and Ukrainians are also not included in the list. 
  • While the collectivization is described as a “common tragedy for Russia and Ukraine” and Ukraine is blamed for “rewriting the history” and “creating a great myth” of occupation by both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union and the genocide of the Ukrainian nation. However, the number of Holodomor victims who died from starvation ranges from 1.8 to 15 million people — and holding the responsibility for that crime against humanity is not the case when Russia proclaims itself as an heir of the Soviet Union. 

Blaming Ukraine for the “chronic weakness of the state institutions”, the position of a “voluntary hostage of other states’ will”, a US and EU puppet, and a military site for NATO in its aggression against Russia, and pursuing the classical narrative of external governance, the Kremlin hides direct threats of further escalation and/or integration of the occupied territories in Russian Federation under the cynical motto “Apparently, Kyiv simply does not need Donbas” — and this also corresponds with the symbolism of publishing the article as a specific answer to Ukraine’s independence anniversary and the fact that the text was translated to Ukrainian. As for the “facts” and “arguments” used by Putin, they lack originality, simply listing the most widespread propagandistic myths and conspiracy theories ever created by the Kremlin which is another reminder that Russia keeps exploiting absolutely the same tactics it blames Ukraine for — transference, rewriting of history, and, obviously, lies — as well as showing the importance of deconstructing the pseudo-historical narratives of the Kremlin.