February 3, 2023

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Vladimir Putin: Restoring the empire is the end game for the Russian president

Vladimir Putin: Restoring the empire is the end game for the Russian president


Read Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Thoughts It is rarely a direct taskBut sometimes the Kremlin leader makes it easy.

That was the case on Thursday, when Putin met with a group of young Russian businessmen. Anyone looking for clues about Putin’s endgame Ukraine It may be necessary to read the text, usefully released over here In English.

Putin’s words speak for themselves: What he seeks in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.

Many observers quickly picked up one of Putin’s more provocative lines, comparing himself to Peter the Great, the modernized Tsar of Russia and founder of Saint Petersburg – Putin’s hometown – who came to power in the late 17th century.

“Peter the Great waged the Great Northern War for 21 years,” said Putin, calm and seemingly complacent. “Ostensibly, he was at war with Sweden taking something from her… He didn’t take anything, he was coming back. That’s how it was.”

Putin added that it does not matter that European countries did not recognize Peter the Great’s forcible seizure of territory.

“When he founded the new capital, no European country recognized this region as part of Russia; “everyone knows it as part of Sweden,” Putin said. “However, from time immemorial, the Slavs lived there side by side with the Finno-Ugric peoples, and this region was under the control of Russia. The same is true of the western direction, Narva and its first campaigns. Why go there? He was going back and strengthening, that’s what he was doing.”

Directly referring to his invasion of Ukraine, Putin added: “Obviously, it’s up to us and it reinforces it too.”

The Ukrainians quickly denounced these statements, seeing them as a frank acknowledgment of Putin’s imperial ambitions.

“Putin’s admission of land confiscation and his comparison with Peter the Great proves that there was no ‘conflict’, only the bloody seizure of the country under fabricated pretexts of genocide of the people,” Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said on Twitter. We shouldn’t talk about ‘saving’ [Russia’s] His face, “but on its immediate de-imperialism.”

There is a lot to unpack here, in terms of history and current affairs. Podolak was alluding to speaking in international capitals of Putin offering a face-saving way to de-escalate or stop the fighting in Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron has led the chargeLast weekend, he said the world “should not humiliate Russia” in its search for a diplomatic solution.

These arguments may have made more sense before February 24. In the run-up to the invasion, Putin put forward a series of grievances to make the case for war, from NATO’s eastward expansion to the West’s delivery of military aid to Ukraine.

But read the transcript of Putin’s Thursday remarks closely, and the facade of rational geopolitical bargaining will fade.

“In order to claim some kind of leadership – I’m not even talking about global leadership, I mean leadership in any region – any country, any people, any ethnic group must guarantee its sovereignty,” Putin said. “For there is no middle, no intermediate state: either the state is sovereign, or it is a colony, no matter what the name of the colonies may be.”

In other words, there are two categories of state: ruler and occupier. From the point of view of Putin’s empire, Ukraine should fall into the latter category.

Putin has always argued that Ukrainians do not have a file legitimate national identity And that their state is, basically, a puppet of the West. In other words, he believes that the Ukrainians have no agency and are a submissive people.

By invoking the memory of Peter the Great, it is also clear that Putin’s goals are motivated by some sense of historical destiny. Putin’s imperial restoration project could, in theory, extend to other regions of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, something that should raise alarm bells for all countries that emerged from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Earlier this week, a deputy from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party Submit a bill To the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, to repeal a Soviet decision recognizing Lithuania’s independence. Lithuania may now be a member of NATO and part of the European Union, but in Putin’s Russia, this kind of neo-colonial attitude is the surest display of loyalty to the president.

This does not bode well for Russia’s future. If there is no reckoning with Russia’s imperial past—whether in Soviet or Tsarist form—there is less chance that Russia without Putin will abandon the pattern of subjugating its neighbors, or become a more democratic country.

Former US National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski confirmed That Russia can give up its imperial habits only if it is willing to give up its claims to Ukraine.

“It cannot be asserted strongly that without Ukraine, Russia is no longer an empire, but with Ukraine subjugated and then subjugated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” Wrote in 1994.

Yet Putin is counting on something on the contrary: for Russia to survive, he argues, it must remain an empire, regardless of the human cost.

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