Frontline: Historian Serhiy Plokhy on Putin’s World View. – Politics

It all started with “organized divorce proceedings”: the term, coined in Kyiv in the 1990s, demonstrated Ukraine’s efforts to completely evade Russian rule. Abandoning its nuclear weapons, leasing the naval base in Sevastopol to the Russian fleet – every concession offered by the second largest state in the former Soviet Union provided guarantees of the independence and inviolability of the Ukrainian borders. So it was hoped in Kyiv. But regardless of all the agreements, Moscow adhered to forced marriage with “foreign neighbors” and finally tried to impose it by force.

With his attack on all of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin was not responding to NATO’s expansion in the east. The real cause of the aggression, as US-teaching historian Serhiy Plokhy asserts in his book Front Line, is the “historical roots that the Russian president has misused.” “Fundamentally wrong,” said Putin, however, who, as an amateur historian, still talking about Ukraine’s supposedly artificial structure in 2021, assessed his target with the attack: the nation, which Putin believes never existed, mustered across linguistic, ethnic, and religious lines of demarcation. And I stood on its foundations: “This is the model of the nineteenth century. A nation based on language with a modern model of a political nation based on shared values.”

“Often tragic relationship with Russia”

Plukhy, director of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and author of several books, examines the causes of Russia’s war of aggression in several articles. Written mostly before the escalation of the military conflict and with an introduction, it is more relevant today than ever before. They provide insight into Ukraine’s “long, stormy and often tragic relationship with Russia,” its history, culture, and identity.

“We will show that we are of Cossack descent”: a hymn, a 19th-century text sung about the struggling and freedom-conscious Cossacks, the founding myth of the modern Ukrainian nation. For the first time in the Middle Ages, Kyiv historians referred to the regions of today’s Ukraine as “Ukraine”, “the frontier region”. As warriors, wandering Cossacks, led by an elected “hetman”, were recruited by Polish and Lithuanian nobles to protect against the invasion of the Tatars. This led to the rise of the Ukrainian Cossacks to become a powerful military and later political power.

What happened in Pereyaslav in 1654?

The world is meticulously untangling the intricate entanglement of historical legends that arose around a convention concluded in 1654 in the city of Pereyaslavl. The treaty established the Tsar’s protectorate over the Hetman-Bohdan Khmelnitsky Cossack state, who was revered as a hero in the struggle for Cossack rights. To this day, Moscow interprets the Hetman’s oath as evidence of eternal surrender. From the Ukrainian point of view, an agreement was concluded between two independent states. Ukrainian scholar Plokhy and his Swiss colleague, Ukrainian expert Andreas Kappeler, agree that the Cossack elite considered the oath and service of Tsar Alexander I “at most temporary personal subordination.” In both cases, this treaty was, according to Balkhy, “an introduction to the political realm of the Moscow Empire” for the Cossacks.

In his article “How was the Russian-Russian Revolution?” Plukhy reinterprets what really happened in the multi-ethnic Russian Empire in 1917: as a peoples’ revolution, the Russians were only one of them. Then the entire Russian nation was divided into three separate states, Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian. Ukraine played a decisive role in the process of partition, which unilaterally declared its territorial independence in the Rada (Central Council) in March 1917 – and not only in the aftermath of the October Revolution.

Lenin and Stalin disagreed on the issue of Ukraine

Putin revisited the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations three days before the February 24 invasion. He claimed that Lenin and the Bolsheviks set up a Ukrainian state against the will of the people. Indeed, in Lenin’s view, the great Russians were the dominant ones, while the Ukrainians and Belarusians, formerly members of the privileged Russian nation, were now among the oppressed peoples. Thus, in the summer of 1917, Lenin declared his support for the Ukrainian Central Rada against what he considered superpower chauvinism on the part of the Petrograd Provisional Government. The Ukrainian language, persecuted by the tsarist regime, was to be adequately understood and spoken again in all Soviet institutions.

A clear message: During the Maidan protests in 2014, a poster appeared showing Hitler, Stalin and Putin respectively.

(Photo: Sergey Sobinsky/AFP)

But this did not last long. During the “Great Famine” of 1932/33, when Stalin deprived Ukrainians of their livelihood through “grain extraction” and millions of people died, the Kremlin was also concerned about cultural superiority: the Russian language immediately replaced Ukrainian during the “Holodomor”. the language . According to Plokhy, the Ukrainian village “was there for looting and exploitation.” While the peasants were starving, Stalin attacked the party elite and the intelligentsia. Blokhy: “The largest ethnic minority in Russia has been culturally eliminated.”

Chernobyl prelude to collapse

The historian is convinced that the collapse of the Soviet Union’s nuclear superpower was marked by the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Plukhi has received numerous awards for his book on the worst reactor accident in history. The disaster “ignited the first major public debate in a society trying to find its voice again after decades of communist rule.” Realizing how small their fate was in their own hands, the incident greatly increased resentment of Moscow. He was an environmental activist who first read Ukraine’s Declaration of Independence in Parliament in August 1991. In the subsequent referendum on December 1, a majority of more than 90 percent voted in favor of the country’s independence. Plukhy wrote that this dealt a fatal blow to the Soviet Union: on December 8, it was dissolved by the leaders of the three republics most affected by Chernobyl.

The War in Ukraine: Serhii Plokhy: The Front Line.  Why Ukraine has become the scene of a new conflict between East and West.  Translated by T. Schmidt, G. Hens, U. Bischoff, S. Kleiner, and S. Gebauer.  Rowohlt, Hamburg 2022. 544 pages, €30.

Serhi Balukhi: The Front Line. Why Ukraine has become the scene of a new conflict between East and West. Translated by T. Schmidt, G. Hens, U. Bischoff, S. Kleiner, and S. Gebauer. Rowohlt, Hamburg 2022. 544 pages, €30.

(Photo: Rohlt)

“Only a few moments and major developments in Ukrainian history and Russian-Ukrainian relations have been collected,” according to the author, in his book (equipped with an index, source notes and a map section). “Rethinking the Continent” is the title of the final chapter: with Ukraine seen as an integral part of Europe, occupying a central geopolitical position on the continent.

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