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Why Putin Still Covets Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the monument to Alexander III, on June 5, 2021 (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Why Putin Still Covets Ukraine

Walter Russell Mead

Writing long, historically focused opinion pieces is an activity more characteristic of think tankers than heads of state, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is anything but conventional. Last week he published a 5,000-plus-word article that reviews the last millennium to conclude that Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians share a common history, faith and destiny.

In Mr. Putin’s view, Western powers have tried for centuries to separate them, but those efforts are doomed to fail. He argues that “the anti-Russia project has been rejected by millions of Ukrainians” in Crimea, the Donbas and elsewhere. The Russian president believes that after centuries of common development and trade, the Ukrainian economy simply cannot flourish without close integration with Russia. Without his country, Ukraine will flounder, despite the occasional aid it receives from its Western paymasters, Mr. Putin writes. Even before the pandemic, Ukraine’s gross domestic product per capita was below $4,000. “This is less than in the Republic of Albania, the Republic of Moldova, or unrecognized Kosovo.” (Moscow doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s independence from Serbia.) “Nowadays,” Mr. Putin writes, “Ukraine is Europe’s poorest country.”

Some observers dismissed the essay as an empty propaganda ploy aimed at distracting Russian public opinion in the face of a surging pandemic. Others saw it as an announcement that Russia will escalate its support for the pro-Moscow forces in the smoldering conflict in eastern Ukraine. Since deception and surprise are fundamental tools of Mr. Putin’s statecraft, anything is possible, but Western powers would be well advised to take the essay seriously. The Russian president’s policies will always and inevitably reflect his calculations about the opportunities and risks he faces at any given moment, but his strategic objectives are unmistakable. Mr. Putin’s quest to rebuild Russian power requires the reassertion of Moscow’s hegemony over Belarus and Ukraine.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal

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