An Evaluation of Putin’s Article “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainian

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On July 12, 2021, a long article titled “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, by Russian President Vladimir Putin, was published on the Kremlin’s official website.[1]

As can be understood from the title, Putin drew attention to the unity of origin between Russians and Ukrainians by making many historical references in his article. In this context, while Putin stated that the word “Ukraine” means “surrounding, outside”, which is used for settlements close to the borders, the expression “Ukrainian” defines border guards for a while, he emphasized that they were under the same church until the middle of the 15. century, that they lived together and spoke the same language before Batu Khan invaded these lands.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that Putin especially emphasized the Zaporozhian Cossacks who opposed the occupation of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, under the leadership of Bohdan Khmelnytsky and the process of liberation from the occupation. Because Putin tells that Hmelnitsky requested help from the Russian Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich against the Polish-Lithuanian Union and that many cities such as Kyiv declared their loyalty to the Russian Tsar as a result of the acceptance of the request. This loyalty was determined with the Pereyaslav Agreement in 1654 and the Russian Tsardom fought together with the Zaporozhian Cossacks.

As a result, with the “Eternal Peace” agreement, the east of the Dnieper River remained under Russian rule.[2] According to some, Hmelnitsky was an important person who provided the establishment of the Ukrainian-Russian union through Pereyaslav; in modern Ukraine, this profile has been shaken and he has been accused of initiating the Russian “yoke”.[3] Putin, on the other hand, sees him as the “important person providing unity”. The fact that the Russian leader included this event in his article was due to the aim of providing historical legitimacy and showing an example of unity.

In his article, Putin argues that the leaders of the Polish Uprisings in the second half of the 19th century used the “Ukrainian Problem” for their own interests, and as a result, the idea that the Ukrainians were a separate nation was strengthened. In addition, Putin talked about the role of Ukraine in the establishment of the Soviet Union and stated that with the “localization” policy of the Union with the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), the only nation in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia began to separate. The President of Russia explains with various examples that today, the people of the two countries are tried to stand against each other within the framework of the “divide and rule” strategy carried out by foreign powers.

As it will draw attention, Putin insists on common points and says that there is unity among the peoples. According to the Russian leader, “foreign powers” and “wrong Soviet policies”, that is applied in the past, triggered the current disintegration. In this context, it is striking that Putin shows the Ukrainian Government and historical characters that are impossible to answer as the perpetrators of the current situation, and that he does not take any responsibility on behalf of himself and Russia. The reason for this is that, as Putin stated in the interview, the text was addressed to both peoples and “the sponsors of the Ukrainian Government”.[4] When this argument is combined with historical emphasis, it is understood that Putin called for unity of both peoples; he presents Russia, that is, the partnership with Moscow, as a solution proposal against those he deems responsible.

In this context, according to Putin, just as the United States (USA)-Canada or Germany-Austria are different sovereign states that speak the same language, have the same ethnic origin, and live in peace, so can Russia and Ukraine. In the light of all these solution proposals, Putin said that the real sovereignty of Ukraine is not possible with the West; he puts forward the idea that it would be possible if they have a partnership with Russia.

In another part of the article, the Russian leader recalled the border changes before and after the Second World War; emphasizing that the USSR drew arbitrary borders without caring about the opinions of the people living in the region within the framework of the idea of “World Revolution”, he evaluated the handing over of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine in 1954. In this context, Putin said, “It no longer matters what the USSR leaders thought. You can discuss the reasons, but it is clear that Russia has been robbed.”. Today, the idea in question that forms Russia’s uncompromising justification for the Crimea issue and the basis of the slogan, frequently used and still repeated during the annexation of Crimea, “Crimea is ours” is the main argument of Moscow in the Crimean Question.

In addition, stating that the Russian people living in the region are oppressed with the “anti-Russian” mentality and they are prevented from speaking their language, Putin likened this mentality to the Nazis and claimed that it includes a danger of reaching the point of “ethnic cleansing”; he even stated that the Russian people here are tried to be hostile to Russia.

One of the most striking parts of the article is Putin’s claim that Ukraine is gradually drawn into a geopolitical game, that it is intended to be a stepping stone against Russia and a buffer zone between Europe and Russia, and that’s why the “anti-Russian” trend was born. This discourse should be read from the framework of the geopolitical “containment strategy”, which has critical importance in Russia’s foreign policy.

Despite the disintegration of the USSR, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) continued to expand, Russian decision-makers perceived this expansion as an aggressive move against them, and thus the idea that Russia was the new target of the containment strategy became an important cornerstone in the foreign policy of the Moscow administration.[5] The argument that can be drawn from this discourse is that the Moscow administration is afraid of Ukraine being a part of the “containment” circle and attaches great importance to preventing it.

Stating that Russia has never been and will never be an “anti-Ukrainian” supporter and the article’s ending with the expression of “Ukrainian people will decide.” can be read as Putin’s meeting at common points of foundations from the history and presenting Ukraine-Russia cooperation as a solution proposal. While the solution proposed is being put forward, who is the “enemy” is also shown on a historical basis. However, despite this constructive proposal, not accepting any responsibility on behalf of Russia, trying to establish a justification through the “anti-Russian” discourse in conflict zones, and persistently not making concessions on the stance on Crimea are not overlooked.

In addition, although this article refers to the “one language, one culture” emphasis of people who are sensitive about the unique identity of the Ukrainian people, it is seen that the “Russian supra-identity” is brought to the fore. Therefore, although Putin contains constructive suggestions, he has produced a text that reflects his intention to provide this constructivism with his justification.

[1] Vladimir Vladimiroviç Putin, “Об историческом единстве русских и украинцев”, Kremlin,, (Date of Accession: 16.07.2021).

[2] Nicholas V. Riasanovsky-Mark D. Steinberg, Rusya Tarihi, çev. Figen Dereli, İnkılap Yayınevi, İstanbul 2016, s. 186-187

[3] Serhii Plokhy, “The Ghosts of Pereyaslav: Russo-Ukrainian Historical Debates in the Post-Soviet Era”, Europe-AsiaStudies, 53(3), 2001, s. 489-505.

[4] “Путин рассказал о своей статье о российско-украинских отношениях (Putin est circa Russian eius articuli, inUcraina rationes)”, Российская Газета,, (Date of Accession: 14.07.2021)

[5] Ali Oğuz Diriöz-Kutay Alımcı, “Klasik Jeopolitik Yaklaşımlar Üzerinden Rusya’nın Suriye Politikaları”, Cappadocia Journal of Area Studies, 2(2), 2020, s. 104-126.

Kutay Alımcı, 2021 Yılında TOBB Ekonomi ve Teknoloji Üniversitesi Uluslararası Girişimcilik Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Lisans eğitiminin bir kısmını Lomonosov Moskova Devlet Üniversitesi’nde ve St. Petersburg RANEPA-Kuzey-Batı Yönetim Enstitüsü’nde almıştır. Bölge çalışmaları kapsamında Post-Sovyet coğrafya, jeopolitik ve Rus Dış Politikası konularıyla ilgilenen Alımcı, İngilizce ve Rusça bilmektedir.