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Zelenskyy Provides Putin With a Long-Awaited Historical Insight

To commemorate Ukrainian Unity Day on January 19, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine issued a decree, urging efforts to explore, promote, and protect Ukrainian cultural identity in regions currently part of the Russian Federation that have a historical connection with Ukrainians. This strategic move by the Ukrainian leader not only demonstrated adept political maneuvering but also served as an overdue history lesson for his Russian counterpart.

Over the years, Vladimir Putin has consistently rewritten history to deny Ukraine’s legitimacy and justify his ongoing invasion of the country. However, his claims rest on centuries-old Russian imperial propaganda that bears little resemblance to historical facts.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in spring 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, Putin has resurrected the outdated Czarist administrative term “Novorossiya” (“New Russia”) to assert that southern and eastern regions of Ukraine are “historically Russian lands.” He has consistently dismissed Ukrainian territorial claims, attributing their inclusion to a supposed error by Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin following the Bolshevik Revolution.

These arguments have long circulated in Russian nationalist circles, with even prominent figures like Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn opposing Ukrainian independence and challenging the country’s claims to its southern and eastern regions. Solzhenitsyn’s support for Russian imperialism underscores why many Ukrainians remain skeptical of the extent of Russian liberalism, especially in relation to Ukraine’s borders.

Also Read: EU Readies Billions from Frozen Russian Assets for Ukraine

In July 2021, Putin laid out his historical claims to Ukraine in a 5000-word essay, resembling a declaration of war against Ukrainian statehood. Many now view this document as an ideological blueprint for the subsequent full-scale invasion that occurred just seven months later.

When addressing Russian audiences, Putin openly describes the invasion in imperialistic terms as a war of conquest. In the summer of 2022, he likened his actions to the imperial conquests of eighteenth-century Russian Czar Peter the Great. More recently, he has referred to the occupied areas of Ukraine as “conquests.”

Putin’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge Ukraine’s right to exist has led to instances of selective blindness, as seen in May 2023 when he claimed that “no Ukraine ever existed” despite a clear marking of “Ukraine” on a seventeenth-century map he was examining.

Contrary to Putin’s assertions, the term “Ukraine” has medieval origins dating back to the twelfth century, around six hundred years before Peter the Great’s rebranding of Muscovy as the Russian Empire. Moreover, Putin’s claims regarding Russia’s ancestral ties to southern and eastern Ukraine lack historical accuracy, as these regions historically had a predominantly Ukrainian population, even as Russian imperial influence expanded southward. In essence, Putin’s argument of ancient Russian claims to these regions is historically unfounded.

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