Putin’s new historical interest: Russians and Ukrainians

The Bell

President Vladimir Putin has a new historical focus. In a 5,000-word article published Monday, he looked at the historical ties between Russia and Ukraine, criticizing recent Ukrainian laws on indigenous peoples, and the distribution of agricultural land. There are, in fact, similar laws in Russia — something conveniently omitted by Putin.

  • Published on the Kremlin website in Russian, Ukrainian and English, the article went back over a thousand years of history and included a healthy dose of Soviet nostalgia. Turning to modern politics, Putin lamented that policy-making in Kyiv has apparently been dictated by nationalist extremists with aggressively Russophobic views since Ukraine’s 2014 revolution.
  • Putin said later that he decided to write about Ukraine and Russia when Ukraine passed a law earlier this month about indigenous peoples (autochthonous ethnic groups that don’t have their own state outside of Ukraine). According to the document, the indigenous peoples of Ukraine are: the Crimean Tatars, and the Crimean Jewish groups of Karaites and Krymchaks (all but wiped out by the Nazis). Putin’s ire was raised because Russians were not included on the list.
  • The law caused a storm of indignation in Russia. The country’s delegation lodged a protest with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), human rights ombudsman Tatiana Moskalkova said the law violated the rights of Russian speakers and called on the United Nations and the Council of Europe to intervene. The Russian Orthodox Church also got involved, saying it was “nonsense” that Russians had been excluded
  • Putin himself has repeatedly attacked the legislation. In his article, he said the law was “passed under the guise of large-scale NATO exercises in Ukraine” and that it forces Russians to “renounce their roots”.
  • While observing this, it’s interesting to remember that Russia has a 1999 law guaranteeing the rights of indigenous peoples that closely resembles the Ukrainian law. Russia’s law defines indigenous peoples as those “living in territories traditionally settled by their ancestors” (there are about fifty such groups, mostly in the Arctic and the Far East). However, Putin did not draw this parallel in his article — settling instead on a comparison between Ukraine and the Third Reich.
  • Putin’s article also mentioned a Ukrainian law on the sale of agricultural land, claiming NATO was, yet again, behind the legislation. In Russia, a similar law on agricultural land has been on the statue books since 2002.

Why the world should care: It’s easy to laugh at Putin’s criticisms of Ukrainian laws which closely resemble their Russian equivalents. But it’s hard to shake the suspicion that articles like this will be used to justify new territorial claims against Ukraine — especially when it was reportedly made required reading for all Russian military personnel.


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