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News | Feb. 10, 2022

Putin Likes to Talk About Russians and Ukrainians as "One People." Here's the Deeper History

By Jeffrey Mankoff The Washington Post

The U.S. Navy and the Ukrainian navy train together during Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in Odesa, Ukraine.
OLESHKY SANDS, Ukraine (June 28, 2021) The Ukrainian flag flies from the back of military vehicles during the opening ceremony of the land portion of exercise Sea Breeze, June 28, 2021, in Oleshky Sands, Ukraine. Exercise Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise cohosted by U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian navy in the Black Sea since 1997. Sea Breeze 2021 is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace within the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jack D. Aistrup)
The U.S. Navy and the Ukrainian navy train together during Exercise Sea Breeze 2021 in Odesa, Ukraine.
210628-N-MD802-2147
OLESHKY SANDS, Ukraine (June 28, 2021) The Ukrainian flag flies from the back of military vehicles during the opening ceremony of the land portion of exercise Sea Breeze, June 28, 2021, in Oleshky Sands, Ukraine. Exercise Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise cohosted by U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian navy in the Black Sea since 1997. Sea Breeze 2021 is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace within the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jack D. Aistrup)
Photo By: Petty Officer 3rd Class Jack Aistrup
VIRIN: 210628-N-MD802-2147

More than seven years after annexing Crimea and occupying eastern Ukraine, Russian forces are again massing along the Ukrainian border. Behind Russia’s demands that Ukraine not join NATO lie Russian leaders’ enduring belief that Ukraine and Ukrainians are inalienable parts of Russia’s own history — and that Western support for Ukraine is just the latest example of what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called “deliberate efforts by those forces that have always sought to undermine our unity.”

When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, Putin declared that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people.” He has often repeated this claim. Western analysts are inclined to dismiss Putin’s depiction of Russo-Ukrainian unity as cheap propaganda or deliberate disinformation.

Yet the belief that Russians and Ukrainians share a common identity has deep roots in Russia — and in certain quarters, in Ukraine, too — though Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine helped consolidate a shared civic identity among even Russian-speaking Ukrainians. My research suggests how Moscow is consequently prepared to pay a high cost to fulfill its ambition to restore control over its southern neighbor.

Read the rest at the Washington Post - 


Jeffrey Mankoff is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, Center for Strategic Research at National Defense University. 

The views expressed are the authors own and do not reflect those of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.