Vladimir Putin’s statements about Ukraine in his “direct line” program yesterday look “moderate” but only in comparison with the militaristic declarations of the Russian defense minister and chief of the Russian general staff. But no one should be deceived into thinking he has changed his mind or assumptions, according to Vitaly Portnikov.
Clearly, the Ukrainian commentator says, Putin is “at the stage of taking decisions about the Donbas” but the Kremlin leader “still doesn’t know how to achieve his goals without war” and in fact believes that “war is the best means of realizing his political ambitions.”
Putin’s “moderation” in words which so many analysts and politicians are rushing to present as a change in course in fact “changed nothing,” Portnikov says. In fact, he repeated “his version of the development of the situation in Ukraine” and flagrantly lied when he again said there are no Russian troops in that country.
But there is one thing Putin said which deserves attention because the real meaning of his words is so often misconstrued. “When [he] says that his country has no imperial ambitions, he is not being disingenuous. It is simply that [his] understanding of empire is different from what we are accustomed to – and from that state that was the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.”
“Putin is not an imperialist,” Portnikov says; “he is a Nazi. And his notion about the state is in no way different from that of his predecessors – Adolf Hitler who dreamed about ‘lebensraum’ for Germans or Slobodan Milosevic who promised his fellow citizens that ‘all Serbs will live in one state.’”
That approach allows the Kremlin leader to deny that he has any imperial ambitions toward Ukraine and the former Soviet republics even as he insists that Russia must be “interested in the life and status of those [in those countries] who consider Russian culture their own and identify with Russia.”
That is what he said yesterday, and he said something else as well that provides a clue to Putin’s worldview: he declared that he “considers Russians and Ukrainians one people. This is Nazism in the purest form: Hitler also considered Austria an independent state. But he constantly reminded its leadership that Germans lived in that state and that they must not be oppressed.”
Of course, Portnikov continues, as history shows, Hitler “at the very first possibility swallowed Austria.” “Putin would have swallowed Ukraine if it hadn’t been for the Maidan.” Had he succeeded in swallowing Ukraine, he would have insisted as Hitler did that this wasn’t an act of restoring an empire but simply of uniting one people.
“No one must have any doubts about Putin’s political goals,” the commentator says. The issue is “only how he now is prepared to pursue them.” His “moderate” words suggest only that he is now thinking about what to do next, but they do not suggest any change in the goals he has long had in place.
“As before, he wants to force Ukraine to finance the Donbas; as before, he counts on the incorporation of the ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ in Ukraine as territories which will constrain” Ukraine’s development. “And as before, he does not know how to get out of this situation without a war” if Ukraine doesn’t agree to those conditions and “convert itself into a Russian protectorate.”