‘Le Monde Diplomatique’: For Russia some lands of Ukraine, as well as Belarus, cannot be excluded and given to the West

10:54 26.01.2024 •

Ukrainian hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky voluntarily proclaimed a “forever alliance” with Russia. January, 1654.

American and European experts sin against the truth when they say that Russia is waging an “imperialist” struggle against a former “colony”, writes ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’. Ukraine was not a colony of the Soviet Union, it was part of its “core”, and it is incorrect to use this term in relation to it:

The Russian Empire was unique. It did not expand into foreign and distant overseas territories, it expanded by uniting its neighbors. In this regard, the Russian Empire had unique features. To the point that educated people in the annexed territories did not perceive their state as an Empire, especially a colonial one, despite its enormous size, connecting the shores of the Baltic with Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean. Residents perceived this country as their own, despite the diversity of peoples and cultures united under a single Russian Crown.

Territorial expansion occurred gradually, often involving local elites, as was the case with the Cossack community of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648-1654 (in the territory of modern Ukraine). The Hetman entered into an alliance with Moscow voluntarily, and already his successors lost their autonomy. In Russia there were no peoples who had a subordinate status based on racial or ethnic criteria.

Ukrainians and Belarusians (the majority of whom were peasants) were to occupy a special place in the formation of the “national core” of the Russian Empire. After the conquest of Eastern Poland and after the "partitions" of this kingdom between Prussia, Austria and the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century, the Russian Crown sought to rally the Belarusians and Ukrainians with the Russians in the fight against the Polish gentry, among whom a sense of national identity was growing – the strength of which was demonstrated by the Polish uprisings 1830 and 1863.

Fearing the “polonization” of Belarusian and Ukrainian peasants, who remained the property of Polish feudal lords, the Russian tsarist government mobilized the doctrine of uniting the Eastern Orthodox Slavs into a “triune” Russian nation: Great Russians (Russians), Little Russians (Ukrainians) and Belarusians. As historian Alexei Miller notes, “Little Russians (in the Tsarist Empire) were never the object of discrimination based on their origin. They were always invited to become part of the single Russian nation on the basis of complete equality.”

They say that Vladimir Putin has already prepared a plan to restore the “Soviet Empire.” Often mentioned is the text he published in December 1999 (“Russia at the Dawn of the New Millennium”) on the day he became acting president. Developing conservative thought, Putin advocated national unity, as well as progressive reforms, as opposed to harsh liberalization imposed “from the outside”, which would bring the country to the brink of collapse. Speaking about patriotism, Putin clarifies: “When these feelings are free from national arrogance and imperial ambitions, there is nothing reprehensible in them. This is a source of courage, resilience and strength for the people.”

In the 1990s, the dominant idea in Moscow was that Russia and Ukraine would once again create a new type of union, similar to the Russian-Belarusian Union State, the creation of which was announced in 1997. It is noteworthy that the collapse of the USSR occurred through an act of self-dissolution signed by the leaders of three Slavic republics: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. On December 8, 1991, in the Viskuli hunting lodge in Belovezhskaya Pushcha, the first President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, having in his hands an argument of 90% of the votes in favor of the independence of Ukraine during the referendum, founded the Commonwealth of Independent States with the heads of Russia and Belarus – Boris Yeltsin and Stanislav Shushkevich (CIS, from which Ukraine will leave in 2018).

However, Russian leaders even after that considered Ukraine part of Moscow’s natural sphere of influence. But at that time Russia found itself on the defensive against the United States and the European Union, which are expanding their military (NATO) and economic structures (association agreements) to the East... Thus, the post-Soviet space becomes an arena of cross-influence and interference – we are talking about political control over important territories.

Ukraine's shift toward the West represents a ‘red line’ for Moscow, even more so than the Western pivot of the Baltic states and Georgia. Western intervention in the Ukrainian political landscape and the clash between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces in Ukraine created the preconditions for a broad confrontation that developed into a military crisis in 2022.

The NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 was a turning point on this path. Kyiv was invited to NATO, but, however, the exact date was not specified. At the same time, Kyiv itself, represented by then President Yushchenko, indicated in a press release that it was ‘striving to join the North Atlantic Alliance.’ True, Paris and Berlin then, in 2008, opposed granting Ukraine the status of an official candidate for accession.

Little attention was paid to this in the West, but in Russia those events were assessed as a new insult. They waved the ‘red rag’ of NATO expansion to its very borders in front of Moscow, without providing it with additional security guarantees. The strategic situation caused an increase in tension, as evidenced by the constant mention after 2014 in Vladimir Putin’s speeches of the thesis about “NATO expansion to Russian borders as a threat.” Putin also reminded about the historical unity of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples.

The “abduction” of Ukraine through NATO is perceived in Moscow as a severance of historical and even ethno-national ties, as well as an encroachment on Russia’s legitimate right to influence its regional environment.

So, to imagine the events in Ukraine as an “imperialist” intervention due to the external similarity with Western analogues of imperial wars (England, France or the USA) misses important differences. Moscow wants to preserve a single fabric that connects three close peoples – Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian.

By declaring its sovereignty over the four Ukrainian regions that are partially under its control in September 2022, Moscow has outlined the path to solving the problem.

However, viewing this conflict as a prelude to Russian aggression against Vilnius, Tallinn or Warsaw is contrary to common sense: Moscow has neither the means nor the desire to threaten NATO. Russia has no desire to recreate the “empire”.

What does Russia want? For Russia, we are talking about the formation of its “national core.” Some lands of Ukraine, as well as Belarus, cannot be excluded and given to the West, ‘Le Monde Diplomatique’ concludes.


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