Vladimir Putin’s angry and rambling hour-long potted history of Ukraine’s failings on Monday night, culminating in a commitment to recognise the self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, left western diplomats scratching their heads and wondering whether they had been made redundant.
The Russian president not only said he would recognise Russian-controlled territory in Ukraine, rendering eight years of negotiations over their future pointless, but he also signalled that Russia could not tolerate an independent Ukraine on its borders. Nato was hardly mentioned. His target at one point seemed to be the Bolsheviks, for relinquishing land to the nationalists.
The lecture was a far cry from a statement from Emmanuel Macron’s office 24 hours earlier saying the French and Russian leaders had “made firm commitments to carry out all useful actions to avoid escalation, reduce risks and preserve peace”.
Putin said the self-declared republics needed defending from the threat of “genocide”, and parts of Ukraine must be purged of corruption, cells of extremists, and the threat of nuclear weapons being pointed “only in a matter of time” at Moscow.
“Ukraine is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” Putin said. “These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.”
Much of what was said was a rehash of an article he wrote last summer, but it has become clear this ideology is now guiding his actions and he needs to be taken literally and seriously.
Following the logic of Putin’s speech, it seems only a matter of time before a full invasion of Ukraine to reunite the two peoples will have to take place. Russia, viewed through this lens, cannot face the risk of assault from Ukrainian territory. The “puppet regime” will have to be removed.
Yet even now, at this grimmest point, the west does not want to…