Putin often speaks of a “One Russia,” meaning Russia, Ukraine and Belarus — or “Big Russia” and “Little Russia,” Russia being the “big” and Ukraine the “little.” He argued in 2009 that “no one should be allowed to interfere in relations between us. They have always been the business of Russia itself.”
This view highlights the common ancestry shared by Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in the medieval state of Kyiv Rus. Putin’s claim that the West divided these tightly bound Slavic brothers offends many Ukrainians who see it as devaluing the country’s two post-Soviet revolutions (2004-2005 and 2014) against Russian dominance.
His summer essay likened the formation of an ethnic Ukrainian state, hostile to Russia, to “the use of weapons of mass destruction against us.”
Moscow portrays Russian speakers in Ukraine as needing its protection, issuing passports to more than 500,000 of them in two separatist regions of eastern Ukraine that form part of the Donbas. In September, thousands of them were bused to Russia to vote in parliamentary elections.
The passports offer a potential pretext for military intervention to “defend” Russian citizens.
At a January conference in separatist Donetsk titled “Russian Donbas,” prominent Kremlin propagandist Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor in chief, said most Donbas residents wanted to “be part of our great homeland.
“And we have a duty to take care of them. Mother Russia, bring Donbas home,” she implored.
‘Exporting chaos’ — to solve your problems at home
A Russian nightmare: Ukraine as a strong, stable, Western-leaning democracy, where corruption is thwarted, civil society thrives and elections work.
A free, thriving democracy next door might inspire Russians to question their own system, where you can be jailed for a retweet, a protest sign, journalism or a comedy skit — and where Putin never loses power.
That’s why Russian state TV anchors ridicule Ukraine, as a failing, divided state, heavily influenced by “Nazis.” The former Putin aide Surkov called Ukraine “a muddle instead of a state” last year.
“Exporting chaos is nothing new,” he wrote last month in an article on pro-Kremlin website Aktualnye Kommentarii, giving Russia’s Crimea annexation as “a vivid example” of how to unite the country. “Dividing is a synonym of chaos.”
Echoes of Russia’s imperial history
Russia’s longest ruler, Ivan III, was called the “gatherer of Russian lands” by quadrupling Russian territory in his 65-year reign that ended in the early 16th century.
Russia lost its Soviet empire 30 years ago. Russia has moved on from its weakness in the 1990s, argued Russian foreign policy analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, “but the West’s mind-set hasn’t moved on.”
Ukraine looms large in this equation. Moscow thinks it is time to ditch the idea that “countries can choose their alliances as though it is nobody else’s business, which was never part of traditional geopolitics,” he wrote on the Russian Global Affairs website. “This approach is no longer working.”
Russia now sees the chance to expand its clout, believing the United States is in decline as a force to shape global policies.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told a news conference Thursday that Putin was using military threats to “force NATO to choose certain paths and, most worryingly, the desire to divide Europe into spheres of influence.”
“Russia will expand not because it is good, and not because it is bad,” wrote Surkov, “but because it is physics.”