Putin Chooses Forever WarRoundup
tags: Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, Russian history, Eastern Europe
Tom Nichols is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the author of its newsletter Peacefield.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a long speech full of heavy sighs and dark grievances, made clear today that he has chosen war. He went to war against Ukraine in 2014; now he has declared war against the international order of the past 30 years.
Putin’s slumped posture and deadened affect led me to suspect that he is not as stable as we would hope. He had the presence not of a confident president, but of a surly adolescent caught in a misadventure, rolling his eyes at the stupid adults who do not understand how cruel the world has been to him. Teenagers, of course, do not have hundreds of thousands of troops and nuclear weapons.
Even discounting Putin’s delivery, the speech was, in many places, simply unhinged. Putin began with a history lesson about how and why Ukraine even exists. For all his Soviet nostalgia, the Russian president is right that his Soviet predecessors intentionally created a demographic nightmare when drawing the internal borders of the U.S.S.R., a subject I’ve explained at length here.
But Putin’s point wasn’t that the former subjects of the Soviet Union needed to iron out their differences. Rather, he was suggesting that none of the new states that emerged from the Soviet collapse—except for Russia—were real countries. “As a result of Bolshevik policy,” Putin intoned, “Soviet Ukraine arose, which even today can with good reason be called ‘Vladimir Ilyich Lenin’s Ukraine’. He is its author and architect.”
It is true that Soviet leaders created the 1991 borders. That is also true of what we now call the Russian Federation. Putin, however, went even further back in history: “Ukraine never had a tradition of genuine statehood.”
By that kind of historical reasoning, few nations in Europe, or anywhere else, are safe.
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