On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians
On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians
"On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians" (Russian: Об историческом единстве русских и украинцев, romanized: Ob istoricheskom yedinstve russkikh i ukraintsev, Ukrainian: Про історичну єдність росіян та українців, romanized: Pro istorychnu yednist rosian ta ukraintsiv) is an essay by Russian president Vladimir Putin published on 12 July 2021.
It was published shortly after the end of the first of two buildups of Russian forces preceding the large military invasion in February 2022. In the essay, Putin describes his views on Ukraine and Ukrainians.
In the essay, Putin argues that Russians and Ukrainians, along with Belarusians, are one people, belonging to what has historically been known as the triune Russian nation. To support the claim, he describes in length his views on the history of Russia and Ukraine, concluding that Russians and Ukrainians share a common heritage and destiny.
Noting the large number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Putin compares "the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia" to a use of weapons of mass destruction against Russians.
Putin openly questions the legitimacy of Ukraine's contemporary borders. According to Putin, the modern-day Ukraine occupies historically Russian lands, and is an "anti-Russia project" created by external forces since the seventeenth century, and of administrative and political decisions made during the Soviet Union. He also discusses the Russo-Ukrainian War, maintaining that "Kiev simply does not need Donbas".
Putin places blame for the current crisis on foreign plots and anti-Russian conspiracies. According to Putin, the decisions of the Ukrainian government are driven by a Western plot against Russia as well as by "followers of Bandera".
Putin ends the lengthy essay by asserting Russia's role in modern Ukrainian affairs.
A few days later, the Kremlin website published an interview with Putin about the article.
Several months later, Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, also published an article on Ukraine. In it, he agrees with Putin's essay, and declares that there will be no negotiations with Ukraine until the Ukrainian government is replaced. The article, endorsed by the Kremlin, was criticized for its denigrating and antisemitic tone.
Vladislav Surkov, the personal adviser (2013–2020) of Putin, also published an article concerning Ukraine and other ex-USSR territories. In the article, he questions the legitimacy of the western border of Russia (including the borders with Ukraine and the Baltic states), and argues that Russia should abolish the "wicked peace" that keeps it confined by the borders.
In a speech on 21 February 2022, following the escalation in the 2021–2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis, Putin said that "modern Ukraine was wholly and fully created by Bolshevik, communist Russia". Sarah Rainsford wrote in BBC News that Putin's speech was "rewriting Ukraine's history", and that his focus on the country was "obsessive".
The article "The Advance of Russia and of a New World" by Petr Akopov was briefly published in several Russian state news sites on 26 February 2022, two days after Russian forces openly invaded Ukrainian-controlled territory, but was soon deleted. Its original publication on RIA News at precisely 8:00 a.m. suggests it may have been automatically published by mistake. The article celebrates the "gathering the Russian world, the Russian people together—in its entirety of Great Russians, Belarusians and Little Russians" (using a Russian-empire term for colonized Ukrainians), and Vladimir Putin's historic responsibility for "resolution of the Ukrainian question". The same state-owned RIA News later published the article in 2022, "What Russia should do with Ukraine" openly advocating censorship and elimination of the Ukrainian culture, large-scale new education and de-ukrainisation of Ukrainians on the occupied territories.
On 29 March 2022, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government gazette of the Russian government, published an article that claims that European elites support the Ukrainian resistance because they are Nazis. According to the article, Ukraine must become a part of Russia, even if Ukrainians are against it.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, criticized the essay on 13 July, comparing Putin's view on the brotherhood between the nations with the story of Cain and Abel. Former president Petro Poroshenko also sharply criticized the essay, describing it as a counterpart of Hitler's Sudetenland speech. Former president of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves similarly likened it to Hitler's 1938 rhetoric justifying the partition of Czechoslovakia. Ukraine's envoy to United Nations Sergiy Kyslytsya commented, "fables about the 'one people' ... have been refuted in Donbas battlefields".
According to the Institute of History of Ukraine, the essay represents the historical views of the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian World Congress compares Putin's view of Ukraine "as a non-nation" to that of Joseph Stalin under whose watch at least five million Ukrainians perished during the Holodomor. The analytics platform VoxUkraine [uk] described the essay as a "mixture of historical myths, lies about Crimea and Donbas and manipulation of Ukrainian economic data".
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called the essay a "historical, political, and security predicate for invading [Ukraine]". The Stockholm Free World Forum senior fellow Anders Åslund branded the essay as "one step short of a declaration of war." According to Foreign Policy, the essay is a "key guide to the historical stories that shape Putin's and many Russian's attitudes". Historian Timothy Snyder has described Putin's ideas as imperialism. British journalist Edward Lucas described it as historical revisionism. Other observers have noted that the Russian leadership has a distorted view of modern Ukraine and its history.
In Romania, a part of the essay caused outrage. The fragment in question describes how, in 1918, the Kingdom of Romania had "occupied" (and not united with) the geographical region of Bessarabia, part of which is now in Ukraine. Romanian media outlets such as Adevărul and Digi24 commented on Putin's statements and criticized them. Remarks were also made regarding Northern Bukovina, another former Romanian territory now part of Ukraine. Alexandru Muraru [ro], then a deputy of Romania, also replied to Putin's essay, declaring that Bessarabia was not occupied but "reattached" and "reincorporated" following "democratic processes and historical realities". Muraru also commented on Northern Bukovina.
A report by 35 legal and genocide experts cited Putin’s essay as part of "laying the groundwork for incitement to genocide: denying the existence of the Ukrainian group".
- Address concerning the events in Ukraine
- Where have you been for eight years?
- On conducting a special military operation
- What Russia should do with Ukraine
- Russian nationalism
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