Ukraine is not Russia vs One Nation: political prose as the prelude to the Russo-Ukrainian War

Yana Prymachenko
Senior Researcher
Institute of history of Ukraine, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

In September 2003, the publishing house Vremya in Moscow published a book with the eloquent title Ukraine Is Not Russia. The author of the book was Leonid Kuchma who was finishing his second term as president of Ukraine. The book was written in the genre of political prose and presented views of Ukraine’s second president on the events of the twentieth century as well as differences between Russians and Ukrainians. Kuchma concluded that most Russians, even highly educated, perceived Ukraine as “historically an inseparable part of Russia, ceded only through some strange misunderstanding or even crankiness, as just a lost child. Russians see Ukrainians as village kinsfolk. But these nice kinsfolk let some ‘Banderites’ confuse them…”

Kuchma did not mistake the Russian perception of Ukraine, but he believed that this misunderstanding was caused by “lack of knowledge, not excessive arrogance”. His optimism can be explained by the fact that in 2003 the Weimar Syndrome of post-Soviet Russia was not so obvious. Kuchma’s attempt to present Ukrainians as a separate nation with their own history, culture, and language found response neither among Russian elites nor among ordinary Russians.

A 2005 Russian opinion poll showed that 74% of Russians felt ressentiment for the loss of the great power status, while in 2007 Russians supported economic and political pressure of the Russian Federation on the former Soviet republics as a method of restoring Russian influence. The instrumentalization of this ressentiment turned into a new Russian “national idea”. In 2008 another opinion poll showed that 81% of Russians supported the idea of the annexation of Crimea as “an act of restoring historical justice”.

The Weimar Syndrome had become clearly outlined with the creation of the “Russian world” idea in 2007. Based on the concept of common cultural identity, the “Russian world” had to extend Russian neo-imperial ambitions not only in the post-Soviet space but also all over the world. According to this concept, Ukrainians were treated like a “fraternal nation” that has been deceived and duped by the West.

The idea of the “Russian world” reached its climax during the Revolution of Dignity, when Russian media narratives divided Ukrainians into the good and the bad ones (the mythological neo-Nazis and direct descendants of “Banderites”), who allegedly installed a “fascist junta” to eliminate the Russian-speaking people. Of course, neither of that was true. But these narratives were used to justify the annexation of Crimea and the aggression in Donbas.

Before subjecting the Ukrainian population to indiscriminate shelling since 24 February 2022, the Russian “special military operation” to “denazify” Ukraine was preceded by two articles signed by Vladimir Putin. They were written in the pseudo-political prose genre and signaled the upcoming war.

The first article, “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II”, was published in June 2020 in The National Interest, the American conservative magazine published by the American-Russian political scientist Dmitry Simes. Putin used standard arguments of Soviet historiography, which placed the primary responsibility for World War II incitement on Western countries. In particular, the emphasis was on the “Munich Betrayal” – the 1938 Munich Agreement that liquidated Czechoslovak statehood.

It is no coincidence that Putin draws parallels between the Red Army, which fought against Nazism, and modern Russian soldiers who are “fighting international terrorism” in the North Caucasus and Syria. As experts rightly note, Putin used historical arguments to bring UN Security Council members to the negotiating table and divide the world again. It was an invitation to Yalta-2 that Western powers ignored.

In July 2021, a new article has appeared directly on the Kremlin website. This time it was published in Russian and Ukrainian and had an eloquent title “On the Historical Unity of Russian and Ukrainian Peoples”. The key message of the article is that Ukrainians and Russians are one nation separated due to the influence of external factors. The modern Ukrainian state was presented as nationalistic and Russophobic. Putin accused the West of turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia. He stated that “the time inevitably came when the concept of ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ was no longer satisfactory. An ‘anti-Russia’ was needed, which we will never accept”.

Thus, Putin openly declared the destruction of independent Ukraine as a Russian policy objective. It was also called “the final solution of the Ukrainian question” in February 2022 Russian propagandistic materials. This statement has shown that the neo-imperial ambitions of the Russian elites will have never allowed them to accept the fact that Ukraine is an independent sovereign state, as well as that Ukrainians even are a separate nation. So, the only way for Ukraine to remain a state and avoid incorporation into Russia or a puppet statelet is to win this war. Otherwise, Ukrainians will face genocide and forced conversion into “one nation”.


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