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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