On November 4, Putin celebrated Russian Unity Day posing as a historian. After attending a propaganda banner exhibition “Ukraine. At the turn of the eras” in Moscow’s Manezh, he had a long conversation with “historians and representatives of traditional religions.”
For the first time, Ukrainians heard about this format exactly eight years ago. At that time, a similar widely covered meeting involved “young historians and history teachers”, while no clerics attended. Now we are apparently seeing the implementation of the current trend toward greater “maturity and holiness” as the infamous “spiritual bonds” are increasingly gluing thoughts, will, and conscience of the Russian elite.
On November 5, 2014, Putin shocked the academic community (in both Ukraine and Russia) with his ignorance of history and with actual directives to scholars on how they shall understand, write, and talk about the past.
The attention of the reviewers was drawn to the dictator’s revelations about Crimea as Russia’s “primordial land,” for which the Russians allegedly fought for centuries, and on Sevastopol, which, according to Putin, is Russia’s “primary baptismal font.” The other time these pseudo-historical justifications were demanded by Putin’s brainwashing apparatus was in the year of the illegal annexation attempt targeting the Ukrainian peninsula.
This time, a new occasion appeared on the “holiday of unity” (along with another batch of instructions for historians) — Russia’s attempt to seize another four regions of Ukraine: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia, and Kherson.
However, neither the content nor form of what Putin said no longer causes any surprise.
Meanwhile, the presence of Russia’s top Orthodox cleric Kirill (Gundyaev) and Foreign Intelligence Service chief Naryshkin (who for some reason also heads the Russian Historical Society) only added to the entourage usual for modern Russia.
Russian scholar Nikita Sokolov believes that Putin is “deeply convinced that over a thousand years, the world has not changed much, and the motives and customs of geopolitical players are the same as they were in the Middle Ages. He thinks of political history exclusively as of a constant ‘ball passing […], in the form of a series of power disputes that come and go, as well as refined ‘bluffing.’”
Has anything changed in these eight years, since Sokolov accurately diagnosed a high-ranking official and a neophyte of historical science? Nothing! At a new meeting with “historians and representatives of traditional religions,” speaking about historical discipline, Putin lamented that in the “hostile” West, “key historical events are presented in an absolutely distorted, inverted form, while the truth is being canceled.”
In Putin’s understanding, correctly adjusted history is almost an accurate science to justify the triumph of the “Russian world.” In his remarks, the attempt to substitute history for scientific Communism — a discipline that explained everything in the world back in the youth of the Russian dictator — is very much felt.
There are actually more problems arising from this barbaric attitude to such complex humanities as history as it seems. After all, last time, a loser artist plunged the world into a global war. It is hardly worth expecting anything else from a wannabe historian, who is guided in politics by his “historical logic,” detached from real life.
Putin’s lies about Ukraine
The discussion was preceded by an exhibition dedicated not to Russian unity, but to Ukraine. The short history of this stage of the war screams that in making his fateful decision, Putin had failed to learn the history of Ukraine in recent decades (let alone centuries). However, the content of the exhibition (one can draw conclusions from the report by Zvezda TV and comments of the Russian president himself) rather indicates that in the eight months of the full-scale war, the situation with “Ukrainianism” in Russia has not improved, to say the least.
Regarding Ukraine, Putin repeated his already rather worn-out talking points. He also mentioned targeted intervention and corruption of Ukraine by the West, which began immediately after the collapse of the USSR, and the spreading of pseudo-values by “Banderites” and “neo-Nazis.” Also, it was about the country’s transformation into anti-Russia. The Kremlin dictator attributes all changes in Ukraine after 1991 exclusively to hostile Western inducements, denying even the possibility of some internal dynamics in a multi-million Ukrainian society.
These same Western interventions, Putin persuades, have led to the war. Note: the intervention not in Russia, which launched aggression, but in Ukraine. How could this happen? The chief philosopher explains: the clash was inevitable, and therefore Russia resorted to a preventive strike, so as not to be caught off guard by the enemy, as it happened to the USSR in 1941. Obviously, guided only by the “historical logic”, Putin saw a multimillion fascist armada, ready for the new “Barbarossa,” on the Russian borders near Kharkiv and Sumy, so he did not wait for troubles to unfold as did Stalin.
However, there is, indeed, something new in the format of Putin’s speeches. While killing Ukrainians in real life, Putin says he feels sorry for them: “… it is just strange what is happening there: as if Ukrainians do not exist, they are being thrown into the fire, and that’s it. It is Ukraine, the Ukrainian people, that is the first and main victim of the deliberate incitement of hate towards the Russians, towards Russia. In Russia, on the contrary – you know it well – we have always treated the Ukrainian people with respect and warmth. This sentiment remains, despite today’s tragic confrontation.”
And the President of Russia pities the Ukrainians, of course, because they are “really one people with the Russians. In fact, the confrontation is within one people, just as it was after the 1917 events, as people are being pitted against each other again.”
Who did it? Putin convinces the audience that both then and now “foreign nations took advantage of the tragedy of our people. They didn’t care about the white or red – they pursued their interests, weakening and tearing historical Russia into pieces.”
This “one people,” he claims lives on the territory of “historical Russia,” from which the Russians voluntarily sculpted Ukraine “in order to create a single, common cultural, humanitarian, and historical space.”
Therefore, Putin is eager to tear Ukraine away from European space. To this end, he warns Ukrainians about the aggressive intentions pursued by the West. It’s about seizing Ukrainian lands, he says, claiming that the three neighbors – Hungary, Romania, and Poland – dream about regaining territories that were “forcibly taken away” from them in favor of Ukraine.
Instead, Putin brazenly calls Russia “the only true guarantor of Ukrainian statehood and sovereignty.” In fact, it’s the country that occupied in 2014 the Crimean peninsula, along with some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while since February 24, it has been trying to grab the whole of Ukraine.
In this strange “historical logic”, you no longer know what surprises you more: the guarantor of statehood and sovereignty overtaking the predatory western neighbors in an attempt to seize Ukrainian lands? Or Ukrainians, who are said to be unable to defend themselves against Hungarian-Polish-Romanian encroachments, defeating what was previously believed as the world’s second-strongest army for the ninth month in a row?
It follows from Putin’s perverse “historical logic” that Russia’s fraternal love for Ukraine manifests itself in the form of aggression and murder. Also, the ongoing supply of western weapons to Ukraine for self-defense, as it turns out, is evidence of indifference and ruthless attitude towards Ukrainians.
There’s only one lesson for Ukraine and the rest of the world of Putin’s pseudo-historical reflections — Putin always lies, saying what is needed for his propaganda. Therefore, the task of Ukraine’s Defense Forces is to expel the Russians from the occupied territory. Otherwise, Putin’s horde will go further, killing and raping, while claiming “we are one people.”
Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security
Ukrainian Institute of National Memory