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Putin’s Rewritten Version Of History Is The Reason Why He Has Invaded Ukraine

Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on Wednesday, announced the start of a "special military operation" in Ukraine. Several news outlets reported explosions in various cities as well as evidence of large-scale military operations taking place across Ukraine. His speech is consistent with the Russian president's previous statements, which range from a 5,000-word essay on Ukrainian history published last year to a 2005 speech in which he declared that "the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster [in which] tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots found themselves outside Russian territory."

Russian President, Vladimir Putin/ Photograph by Sean Gallup / Getty

“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” Validmir Putin, as per the Kremlin’s official translation. “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians.”

According to him, what is now called Ukraine, “was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik Communist Russia.” According to this dubious narrative, a trio of early Soviet leaders — Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev — carved land away from Russia and several neighbouring nations to form a distinct and ahistorical republic known as Ukraine. The establishment of Ukraine and the other Soviet republics was an attempt to gain the support of the Soviet Union's "most zealous nationalists" — at the expense of the historical concept of Russia.

This exemplifies what Putin means when he refers to "the virus of nationalism." In his opinion, Ukrainian nationalism is an infection introduced by the Bolsheviks into the Russian host; when the Soviet Union collapsed and republics from Ukraine to Estonia to Georgia declared independence, the virus killed its host. In reality, these countries have distinct ethnonational identities from Russia. Putin, on the other hand, regards the former Soviet republics — and, in particular, Ukraine — as parts of Russia stolen from the motherland as a result of communist machinations.

“Radicals and nationalists, including and primarily those in Ukraine, are taking credit for having gained independence. As we can see, this is absolutely wrong,” he says. “The disintegration of our united country was brought about by the historic, strategic mistakes on the part of Bolshevik and Soviet leaders ... the collapse of the historical Russia known as the USSR is on their conscience.” Putin is concerned about more than just a military assault. He describes the Ukraine Maidan movement as a "coup d'état" carried out "with direct assistance from foreign states," and he clearly fears a similar movement against his own government. Bringing Ukraine to heel — demonstrating that a pro-Western protest movement in Russia's historical heartland cannot succeed — is critical to his own government's survival.

“I think the bigger threat for him is a regime threat, not an actual military invasion,” Seva Gunitsky, a political scientist at the University of Toronto who studies Russia explains. “He thinks the West wants to subvert his regime the way they did in Ukraine. That’s why NATO is only a part of threat.”

In Putin's mind, Russian nationalism and Russian security interests are inextricably linked. Putin believes that the current Ukrainian government poses a threat to Russia for reasons related to their imperial past; restoring Russian control over territories he believes Russia rightfully owns would be one way to end the threat.

This thinking is most clearly on display in Putin's most ominous line: one that, in context, can be read as a threat to return Ukraine to Moscow's direct rule.

“You want decommunization? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunization would mean for Ukraine.”


Beauchamp, Z. (2022, February 23). Why is Vladimir Putin attacking Ukraine? He told us. Vox.

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