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How Putin Is Writing the History of Ukraine

Andrew is an avid reader who enjoys researching and discussing history with others.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Russian troops were stationed on the border for months before the eventual invasion began, and it is fair to say that the scale of the invasion shocked the world. Some analysts and experts believed that Putin was planning on repeating the 2014 scenario, but this time the annexed territory was not Crimea, but the separatist Republics.

They were wrong. Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and the fighting continues months later. Russia's progress was and still is very slow, and according to the Ukrainians, the Russian military has already suffered over 10,000 casualties.

Some Historical Background

The Russians and Ukrainians are considered "brother nations." Putin has already expressed his belief that the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are the same, and only the misguided politics of the Soviet Union lead to the eventual separation of the three countries. From a Russian perspective this may even be so. The Soviet Union was made up of 15 republics, but the control was in Moscow and to most people from the outside, it probably looked like a single state.

Ukraine, historically speaking, was rarely independent. During the medieval period, a separate Rus principality existed in Kyiv, but this was destroyed by the Mongols. From this point on the region was nearly always under the control of some regional power. After the decline of the Golden Horde, first the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, controlled the area.

In the 17th century, Poland-Lithuania got critically weakened by the constant wars with its neighbours and internal struggles with the Cossacks. The Cossacks rebelled against their overlords and allied with Moscow. Ukrainians and Russians may disagree about the nature of their early alliance, but with time Ukraine got integrated into the Russian Empire. In the years of World War I, Ukraine seceded from Russia, but the advancing Communists crushed this Ukrainian state. From the 1920s to 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine was an integral part of the Soviet Union.

During the 1990s, Russia was plagued by internal problems. The regime of Putin succeeded in stabilising Russia in the 2000s. During the 2000s and early 2010s, Ukraine was a political battleground between the West and Russia, each trying to steer the country into its own sphere of influence.

Things changed in 2014 when the pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovich fled the Ukraine in the face of massive protests. The influence of the West was seemingly winning, and Putin reacted instantly. He annexed Crimea and helped the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. And now he has finally ordered a full-scale invasion of the country to topple the regime of the pro-West Volodymyr Zelensky.

Why Putin's Invasion Could Backfire

Although the Ukraine’s history is closely attached to Russia’s as brother nations, and although the Russian army's morale is quite low (if reports are to be believed). the two countries are not the same, and neither are the people.

Since 2014 Ukraine has steadily drifted away from Russia, to a more Western orientation. The leadership of the country never made it a secret that they intended to make Ukraine a member of the EU and of NATO.

This pro-Western stance is even more clear now. Despite the overwhelming odds that the Ukrainians now face, the civilian population decided to take up arms and fight against the invaders. Ukrainian politicians have a bad reputation in Eastern Europe; here in Romania we regard them as even more corrupt than our own politicians. Yet I can only admire the courage of President Zelensky, the Klitschko brothers and ex-President Poroshenko, who decided to remain in Ukraine and lead their people by example.

And this might be the thing Putin expected the least. Most analysts, both political and military, believe that Putin expected a quick, blitzkrieg-style victory over Ukraine. The Russian military had a fearsome reputation, and the general belief was that Putin could take over Ukraine in a couple of days.

That is something that most certainly did not happen. The Russians may yet succeed in defeating the Ukrainians, but it will be a grind. With each passing day, they destroy more civilian buildings, kill more Ukrainians and fuel the hate of the Ukrainians.

By dragging out this war, the Russians may have just created the nation-forming history that Putin believed Ukraine lacked. Many nations proudly look back at their heroic ancestors who stood up and defeated foreign invaders. The Russians have two such historical memories of their own, the failed invasions of Napoleonic France and Hitler’s Germany. The Spanish people have one also, their victory over Napoleon. My countries have their own too: Romanians fighting off the Ottoman yoke, and Hungary trying to fight off the Habsburg yoke.

And these heroic stories are immortal, irrespective of their success or failure. It might not matter in the long run whether Putin defeats Ukraine. Figures like Zelensky will become symbols of resistance and freedom.

So unless Putin turns his sphere of influence into a North-Korea-type pariah state, no amount of state propaganda can wash away their memories.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler