Russia, Ukraine and the EU: A Comment on Putin’s history doctrine

A commen­tary by Ralf Fücks on Putin’s latest histor­ical policy manifesto, published by the Kremlin.

He who controls the past controls the future: as with Stalin, official histo­ri­og­raphy in todays Russia serves to justify imperial power politics. Putin’s histor­ical-political digres­sion on the unity of Russians and Ukrainians is entirely in the Great Russian imperial tradition. If the Ukrainians absolutely want to be one nation, be my guest — but only under the wing of the Russian motherland.

In Putin’s narrative, the Russian Empire was one big family of nations, united by language, culture & Orthodoxy. Conquerors and oppres­sors were only the others. Even the land grab after the Hitler-Stalin pact was just a return of histor­ical possessions.

His complaint that the Bolshe­viks laid the axe to the unity of the empire with their nation­al­i­ties policy is signif­i­cant. To him, the disin­te­gra­tion of the Soviet Union since 1990 is not an act of liber­a­tion but a histor­ical cata­strophe. Putin accuses the republics that have fallen away of nation­alism (fomented by the evil West) — the fact that the Kremlin has set violent sepa­ratism in motion in Georgia and Ukraine falls by the wayside, as does Russian nation­alism as the cement of his regime. Putin’s histor­ical-political doctrine caters to Russian post-imperial phantom pain.

He is full of contempt for contem­po­rary Ukraine. His article is a cold threat: Ukraine belongs in the Russian orbit. It does not have the freedom to choose its alliances. This is the return of the Brezhnev Doctrine in a new guise. The Russian Foreign Ministry sums up its message: “Ukrainians and Russians are one people, one entity.”

Ukrainians will not accept that. Putin himself has ensured that they will have to seek their inde­pen­dence by sepa­rating them­selves from Russia. One can only hope that the West will not abandon them. A return to Yalta, to the division of Europe into separate spheres of influence, is unacceptable.

The equal sover­eignty of all states and the renun­ci­a­tion of violence as a means of politics are corner­stones of the European peace order — as is respect for human rights. They must also be the yard­sticks of German and European policy towards Russia.

Ralf Fücks is a founder and Man­ag­ing Partner at the Center for Liberal Modernity


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