Putin's imperial ambitions underestimated Ukrainian nationalism

Contact Counsellor

Putin's imperial ambitions underestimated Ukrainian nationalism

  • As is widely known, the Soviet Constitution granted the right to secede to the 15 constituent republics of the USSR.
  • Recognising the languages and cultures of 15 national groups — from the Estonians on the northwestern tip all the way down to the Uzbeks on the southeastern flank — the Soviet Union would end up extinguishing internal nationalisms.
  • In Putin’s speech, he called this theory an “odious and Utopian fantasy inspired by the Communist revolution”.
  • Indeed, exercising the right to secede in 1991, all 15 republics of the Soviet Union did become independent nations.

Russian World

  • A non-literal, but more appropriate, translation would be a Russian imperium, consisting of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
  • Belarus has already accepted Russian hegemony, but having less than 10 million people, it is small. With a population of more than 40 million and having a land-mass second only to Russia in Eurasia, Ukraine is infinitely more significant.

Putin’s three arguments about Ukraine

  • First, Ukraine is an “inalienable part of our history, culture and spiritual space”. Only during 1918-21 and, then, for a mere three decades after 1991 has Ukraine been independent.
  • In contrast, he said, Ukrainians have called themselves Russians for centuries and have also been Orthodox Christians, thus sharing their religion with Russia.
  • Their statehood was “never stable”. They were historically an integral part of Russia.
  • Second, Ukraine’s new leaders are “building their statehood on the negation of everything that historically united us”, in the process “distorting the mentality and historical memory of millions of people”.
  • In the creation of pro-Western, anti-Russian attitudes, the political leaders have been systematically helped by Ukraine’s oligarchs, who have “stolen billions of dollars from the people and kept them in Western banks”.
  • Third, Ukraine’s gravitation towards the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), argues Putin, poses a grave security threat to Russia.
  • It is a two-headed threat. If NATO admits Ukraine as a member, an anti-Russian, US-led security umbrella will reach the doorsteps of Russia.
  • Ukraine can easily develop its own tactical nuclear weapons capable of hitting Russia, an argument the scholars of nuclear weapons find wholly false. Nuclear weapons require much more than technical knowhow.

What the Arguments indicate

  • Essentially, these three arguments boil down to one foundational claim — Ukraine cannot have an independent state because it was historically part of Russia.
  • There was no Pakistan before 1947, and no Bangladesh before 1971. Both were, historically, parts of India, and they even speak languages also spoken in India.
  • Such conditions, however, neither mean that India can legitimately claim them as its own today, nor that they must be brought back into an Akhand Bharat (undivided India) with military means.
  • As history progressed, both Pakistan and Bangladesh emerged from the development of national consciousness, became nations in their own right, evolved statehood reflecting that consciousness, and received international recognition for their sovereignty.

In case of ukraine

  • With over 92% vote in favour of independence, Ukraine opted overwhelmingly for a break-up from the Soviet Union in 1991, and other than in some small parts, especially on its eastern borders, there is no evidence of a popular desire to re-unite with Russia.
  • It is also now providing one of the ultimate tests of national resolve and consciousness.


  • Ready to sacrifice their lives, citizens are turning into street soldiers, mounting an impressive resistance against the Russian armed forces.
  • The emergence of citizen soldiers, aiding professional soldiers, reflects a highly developed form of national consciousness.