Throughout his rambling essay, Putin issues a number of thinly-veiled threats and repeatedly demonstrates his contempt for Ukrainian statehood. Independent Ukraine, he declares, “is entirely the brainchild of the Soviet era, and was to a large extent created at the expense of historical Russian lands.” He argues at length that today’s Ukraine is little more than a Western project designed solely to undermine Russia, and likens Ukraine’s post-Soviet nation-building efforts to weapons of mass destruction. Putin’s most ominous comments are reserved for the final few paragraphs. “I am convinced that true Ukrainian sovereignty is only possible in partnership with Russia,” he notes. “After all, we are one people.”
Despite more than seven years of Russian aggression against Ukraine, many outside observers still struggle to grasp the true nature of the conflict and fail to understand why the Kremlin strongman is prepared to pay such a disproportionately high price to prevent the loss of Ukraine. Since the attack on Ukraine began in early 2014, Russia has been hit by successive waves of sanctions. Meanwhile, the country’s relations with the Western world have entered into a downward spiral of mutual suspicion and hybrid hostilities. What is it about Ukraine that has persuaded Putin to plunge the entire world into a new Cold War?
Putin himself provides part of the answer to this question with his constant references to Ukraine’s central role in Russia’s national story. He appears to sincerely regard Ukraine as an indivisible part of Russia’s historical heartlands, and views the country’s potential defection to the West as the next stage in a Russian retreat that began decades ago with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Little has changed during the intervening seven years. Despite overwhelming evidence that his war against Ukraine has been a self-defeating blunder, Putin remains firmly in denial. He refuses to recognize the agency of the Ukrainian people or their increasingly obvious preference for Euro-Atlantic integration, and prefers to blame everything on far-fetched anti-Russian plots allegedly orchestrated by the West.
On numerous occasions since 2014, Putin has directly questioned Ukraine’s historical legitimacy and claimed that much of today’s Ukraine was unjustly taken from Russia. This unambiguously imperialistic approach to Ukraine shines through in his latest essay, which is as close as we are ever likely to get to a declaration of war against the entire notion of Ukrainian statehood.
The Russian leader’s recent article may not signal an imminent escalation in hostilities, but it does underline his continuing preoccupation with Ukraine and unwavering resolve to prevent the country from ever leaving the Kremlin orbit entirely. Putin’s obsession with Ukraine shows no signs of abating and remains one of the greatest threats to international security in the world today.
As long as the current confrontation remains unresolved, the possibility of a major war in Eastern Europe cannot be ruled out. Putin has already demonstrated his readiness to accept today’s Cold War climate as the cost of defending Russia’s claim to Ukraine. Given the right circumstances, he could yet seek a more conventional military solution to his Ukraine problem. his menacing essay is a reminder of the need for strong messages of deterrence from Western leaders.