February 24, 2022 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1628

Ukrainian Crisis: The Russian Point Of View

February 24, 2022 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
Russia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1628

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the beginning of a military operation in Ukraine. The military operation comes after the recognition of the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR). In an urgent address on February 24, Putin said that following a request from the "authorities" of Donetsk and Lugansk for assistance, Russia "will seek demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine" and will "press for bringing to justice those who have committed numerous bloody crimes against peaceful civilians, including Russian citizens." Putin urged the Ukrainian military to "lay down arms at once and leave for home." He then warned against foreign intervention: "Nobody should feel any doubts that a direct attack on Russia would end with the potential aggressor's defeat and terrible consequences for the attacker." Putin then added: "Whoever may try to create obstructions to us, let alone pose threats to our country and our people, they should know that Russia’s response will follow without delay and entail consequences that you have never encountered in your history. We are prepared for any march of events. All necessary decisions in this connection will be made. I hope that I will be heard."[1]

On February 23, 2022, which marked Defender of the Fatherland Day, Russian President Vladimir Putin laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin Wall. Putin honored the memory of the fallen soldiers with a minute of silence. The ceremony ended with a solemn march of the guard of honor and a military band. On February 24, Putin declared the beginning of military operations in Ukraine. (Source:

"Correcting" History

Putin's address had elements that can help us understand Russia's behavior, which seems to have "correcting" history as its ultimate goal. Once again, Putin stated that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States declared itself as the "winner" of the Cold War. Putin said that consequently, Washington started to build a U.S.-led unipolar world, in which Russia had no place. In his speech, Putin acknowledged that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the "power balance" changed and a "bipolar" world probably would not have been possible any longer. However, he said that the transition (from a bipolar to a unipolar world) should have been done "smoothly" and "patiently," taking into consideration Russia's "interests" and "responsibilities" towards former Soviet republics. Putin stated that the United States, taken by a "state of euphoria," instead behaved with "absolute superiority," (which he described as a kind of "modern form of absolutism"), with a "low level" of culture, and with "arrogance." As renowned Russian expert Vladislav Inozemtsev has explained, the Russian reaction is dictated by "resentment" towards the U.S. and the West in general.

It seems like a repetition of what happened at the end of WWI, which was won by the Allies. In fact, when WWI ended, the Versailles Treaty that followed in 1919 was deeply flawed and brought only rancor and bitterness on the part of the defeated countries. The war's victors were unable to build a new world order in which the vanquished countries would have a dignified role. The Treaty of Versailles instead did the opposite. It humiliated the defeated Germany, which had to cede part of its European territories and all of its overseas colonies. Forced to accept the War Guilt Clause, which involved to assume the complete responsibility for initiating the war, it had to pay the Allies enormous reparations, which triggered hyperinflation. Moreover, Germany had to reduce the size of its army. As a consequence, feelings of revanchism developed in Germany, which were used in the hyper-nationalistic rhetoric of a young Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party and known in the country for his radical ideas.

Resentment and sentiments of humiliation are not unimportant. After all, World War II, which was a continuation of World War I, broke out because of these same feelings (China has also built an ideological ethos known as the Hundred Years of National Humiliation, to describe the period of subjugation of the Qing dynasty and the Republic of China by Western powers and Japan from 1839 to 1949. To this day, this "humiliation" guides the policies of the Chinese Communist Party). In fact, learning from the mistakes of WWI, after the end of WWII, the United States promoted the Marshall Plan in Germany. Similarly, it  devised policies with the goal of rebuilding Japan.

After the fall of the Soviet Unition, however, the U.S. did not follow that direction. Russian statesman Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, published in 2016 an article in the Russian independent biweekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He wrote: "This all began when 'the victory of the West' in the Cold War was proclaimed. Our shared victory in the Cold War was declared a triumph of one side only [i.e. the West], which now thinks that 'everything is permitted.' This is the root from which today's global unrest has sprung."

Russia Wanted To Join NATO

After the end of the Cold War, a big question was the future of NATO, which was founded in 1949 in response to the threat posed by the Soviet Union. As the Soviet Union did not exist anymore, Russian experts explained that Russia thought that it could have joined NATO. Renowned Russian academic Sergey Karaganov stated: "When signing the Charter of Paris for a New Europe in 1990, we mistakenly agreed that any country had the right to join any union. Our leadership at that time apparently thought that we would join NATO ourselves."[2]

In his February 21 address, before recognizing the DPR and the LPR, Putin also said: "Moreover, I will say something I have never said publicly. I will say it now for the first time. When then outgoing U.S. President Bill Clinton visited Moscow in 2000, I asked him how America would feel about admitting Russia to NATO. I will not reveal all the details of that conversation, but the reaction to my question was, let us say, quite restrained, and the Americans’ true attitude to that possibility can actually be seen from their subsequent steps with regard to our country. I am referring to the overt support for terrorists in the North Caucasus, the disregard for our security demands and concerns, NATO’s continued expansion, withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, and so on. It raises the question: Why? What is all this about, what is the purpose? All right, you do not want to see us as friends or allies, but why make us an enemy?"

Putin then repeated that NATO did not keep its guarantees to Russia that there would be no eastward expansion. In 1990, NATO Secretary-General Manfred Wörner promised in Brussels: "This will also be true of a united Germany in NATO. The very fact that we are ready not to deploy NATO troops beyond the territory of the Federal Republic gives the Soviet Union firm security guarantees. Moreover, we could conceive of a transitional period during which a reduced number of Soviet forces could remain stationed in the present-day GDR. This will meet Soviet concerns about not changing the overall East-West strategic balance. Soviet politicians are wrong to claim that German membership of NATO will lead to instability. The opposite is true. Europe including the Soviet Union would gain stability. It would also gain a genuine partner in the West ready to cooperate."[3]

Sovietologist and U.S. Cold War policy architect George Kennan noted that NATO's expansion eastwards would have been a "tragic mistake." On April 30, 1998, the U.S. Senate voted to expand NATO by including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. A few days later, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote about a conversation he had had with Kennan, in which the latter called the Senate's move the "beginning of a new cold war" and added: ''I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country [i.e. the U.S.] turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [The NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs."[4] Kennan also noted that the West should not be "turning our backs" on Russia: "I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the Cold War were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime."

Putin: 'Modern Ukraine Is Entirely The Product Of The Soviet Era'

Inozemtsev stated that back in the early 2000s, Putin was looking at Europe as an example for Russia to follow. He wrote: "In his famous address to the Bundestag, he said that Russia was 'looking to the European integration with hope.' He also discussed the liberalization of Russia's economy, and sided with the U.S. in the War on Terror. Putin hoped that, after delivering this Western-oriented speech (which sincerely reflected his opinions), he would been respected by his Western counterparts. However, his hopes were soon to be shattered."

A few years later, in 2004, the West supported the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, ending the "brief Berlin-Paris-Moscow tripartite alliance." For Putin, this was the ultimate humiliation. He felt that the West wanted to dismantle Russia's identity itself. Zbigniew Brzezinski famously observed that “without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be an empire, but with Ukraine suborned and then subordinated, Russia automatically becomes an empire.” Inozemtsev wrote that after 2004, "Putin realized he would never be treated as one of the leaders of the Western world." Then, in 2014, Ukraine started another anti-Russia revolution. The West strengthened its support for a "European Ukraine" and its bid to enter NATO, increasing the rift with Russia.

In his essay, titled "On The Historical Unity Of Russians and Ukrainians," which was published on the Kremlin website on July 12, 2021, Putin defined Russians and Ukrainians as "one people" and as a "a single whole." He stressed that Russia and Ukraine are parts of what is "essentially the same historical and spiritual space." He emphasized that the "wall" that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine is the consequence of Moscow's mistakes, but also the result of "deliberate efforts" by "forces"(i.e., the West) that have always sought to undermine "our unity." Putin wrote: "The formula they apply has been known from time immemorial – divide and rule. There is nothing new here. Hence the attempts to play on the 'national question' and sow discord among people, the overarching goal being to divide and then to pit the parts of a single people against one another." He then described the historical link between the two countries: "Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe. Slavic and other tribes across the vast territory – from Ladoga, Novgorod, and Pskov to Kiev and Chernigov – were bound together by one language (which we now refer to as Old Russian), economic ties, the rule of the princes of the Rurik dynasty, and – after the baptism of Rus – the Orthodox faith. The spiritual choice made by St. Vladimir, who was both Prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Kiev, still largely determines our affinity today. The throne of Kiev held a dominant position in Ancient Rus. This had been the custom since the late 9th century. The Tale of Bygone Years captured for posterity the words of Oleg the Prophet about Kiev, 'Let it be the mother of all Russian cities.'"

Then he stated: "Modern Ukraine is entirely the product of the Soviet era. We know and remember well that it was shaped – for a significant part – on the lands of historical Russia. To make sure of that, it is enough to look at the boundaries of the lands reunited with the Russian state in the 17th century and the territory of the Ukrainian SSR when it left the Soviet Union.

"The Bolsheviks treated the Russian people as inexhaustible material for their social experiments. They dreamt of a world revolution that would wipe out national states. That is why they were so generous in drawing borders and bestowing territorial gifts. It is no longer important what exactly the idea of the Bolshevik leaders who were chopping the country into pieces was. We can disagree about minor details, background, and logics behind certain decisions. One fact is crystal clear: Russia was robbed, indeed.

"When working on this article, I relied on open-source documents that contain well-known facts rather than on some secret records. The leaders of modern Ukraine and their external 'patrons' prefer to overlook these facts. They do not miss a chance, however, both inside the country and abroad, to condemn 'the crimes of the Soviet regime,' listing among them events with which neither the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), nor the USSR, let alone modern Russia, have anything to do. At the same time, the Bolsheviks' efforts to detach from Russia its historical territories are not considered a crime. And we know why: if they brought about the weakening of Russia, our ill-wishes are happy with that.

"Of course, inside the USSR, borders between republics were never seen as state borders; they were nominal within a single country, which, while featuring all the attributes of a federation, was highly centralized – this, again, was secured by the CPSU's leading role. But in 1991, all those territories, and, more importantly, people, found themselves abroad overnight, taken away, this time indeed, from their historical motherland."

Putin further explained: "You want to establish a state of your own: you are welcome! But what are the terms? I will recall the assessment given by one of the most prominent political figures of new Russia, first mayor of Saint Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak. As a legal expert who believed that every decision must be legitimate, in 1992, he shared the following opinion: the republics that were founders of the Union, having denounced the 1922 Union Treaty, must return to the boundaries they had had before joining the Soviet Union. All other territorial acquisitions are subject to discussion, negotiations, given that the ground has been revoked.

"In other words, when you leave, take what you brought with you. This logic is hard to refute." It is worth noting that in 1922, Crimea and Donbass were not part of Ukraine.


'The Formation Of An Ethnically Pure Ukrainian State, Aggressive Towards Russia, Is Comparable In Its Consequences To The Use Of Weapons Of Mass Destruction Against Us'

Putin added that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation did a great deal for Ukraine to establish itself as an independent country, but that events started to move in a different direction once Ukraine's ruling circles decided to "justify their country's independence through the denial of its past." He wrote: "They began to mythologize and rewrite history, edit out everything that united us, and refer to the period when Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union as an occupation."

He then added that the law about "indigenous peoples" introduced by the Ukrainian Parliament in 2021 is purposely discriminating against ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. He said: "Only those who constitute an ethnic minority and do not have their own state entity outside Ukraine are recognized as indigenous… New seeds of discord have been sown. And this is happening in a country, as I have already noted, that is very complex in terms of its territorial, national, and linguistic composition, and its history of formation. There may be an argument: if you are talking about a single large nation, a triune nation, then what difference does it make who people consider themselves to be – Russians, Ukrainians, or Belarusians. I completely agree with this. Especially since the determination of nationality, particularly in mixed families, is the right of every individual, free to make his or her own choice. But the fact is that the situation in Ukraine today is completely different because it involves a forced change of identity. And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy."

He then stressed: "It would not be an exaggeration to say that the path of forced assimilation, the formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us. As a result of such a harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians, the Russian people in all may decrease by hundreds of thousands or even millions."

Putin: 'True Sovereignty Of Ukraine Is Possible Only In Partnership With Russia'

Putin stated that the West is pushing for an "anti-Russia project" in Ukraine. He argued: "The Western authors of the anti-Russia project set up the Ukrainian political system in such a way that presidents, members of parliament, and ministers would change but the attitude of separation from and enmity with Russia would remain… In the anti-Russia project, there is no place either for a sovereign Ukraine or for the political forces that are trying to defend its real independence… Today, the 'right' patriot of Ukraine is only the one who hates Russia. Moreover, the entire Ukrainian statehood, as we understand it, is proposed to be further built exclusively on this idea."

He further warned: "All the subterfuge associated with the anti-Russia project is clear to us. And we will never allow our historical territories and people close to us living there to be used against Russia. And to those who will undertake such an attempt, I would like to say that this way they will destroy their own country."

Putin then concluded: "I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people. Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing – Russia has never been and will never be 'anti-Ukraine.' And what Ukraine will be – it is up to its citizens to decide."

In his address on February 21, Putin accused the West of misguiding Ukraine, because poverty has increased since 2014. Putin stated: "This situation begs the question: poverty, lack of opportunity, and lost industrial and technological potential – is this the pro-Western civilizational choice they have been using for many years to fool millions of people with promises of heavenly pastures?

"It all came down to a Ukrainian economy in tatters and an outright pillage of the country’s citizens, while Ukraine itself was placed under external control, directed not only from the Western capitals, but also on the ground, as the saying goes, through an entire network of foreign advisors, NGOs and other institutions present in Ukraine. They have a direct bearing on all the key appointments and dismissals and on all branches of power at all levels, from the central government down to municipalities, as well as on state-owned companies and corporations…

"There is no independent judiciary in Ukraine. The Kiev authorities, at the West’s demand, delegated the priority right to select members of the supreme judicial bodies, the Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges, to international organizations.

"In addition, the United States directly controls the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office and the High Anti-Corruption Court. All this is done under the noble pretext of invigorating efforts against corruption. All right, but where are the results? Corruption is flourishing like never before.

"Are the Ukrainian people aware that this is how their country is managed? Do they realize that their country has turned not even into a political or economic protectorate but has been reduced to a colony with a puppet regime?"

Putin: 'Kiev Continues To Prepare The Destruction Of The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Of The Moscow Patriarchate'

In his address on February 21, Putin also discussed the split of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church: "Kiev continues to prepare the destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. This is not an emotional judgement; proof of this can be found in concrete decisions and documents. The Ukrainian authorities have cynically turned the tragedy of the schism into an instrument of state policy. The current authorities do not react to the Ukrainian people’s appeals to abolish the laws that are infringing on believers’ rights. Moreover, new draft laws directed against the clergy and millions of parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate have been registered in the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian Parliament]."

On October 11, 2018, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, under the leadership of Patriarch Bartholomew, decided to grant canonical status to the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, and recognized them to be part of the Constantinople church. Before this decision, the Kyiv Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church were not recognized by the 14 official Orthodox churches. Only the bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine were recognized.[5]

At the time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that the Patriarchate of Constantinople's decision is a provocation backed by the West: "The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is against those provocations that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is plotting now with Washington's direct public support." He added: "As concerns church matters, interference in church affairs is banned by the law in Ukraine, in Russia, and, I hope, in any other normal country. But when the U.S. special representative on church relations directly welcomes Patriarch Bartholomew's decision, when Kurt Volker, whose duty is on behalf of the U.S. to facilitate a settlement in Ukraine based on the Minsk Agreements, says what he says about these processes, we have a saying: the thief has a burning hat. The people, who cannot confront us with a single fact confirming their groundless accusations that we meddle in someone's affairs, behave in such a way as if this was normal."[6]

Resuming The Novorossiya Project

After his address, on February 21, Putin signed the Executive Orders on the Recognition of the DPR and the LPR. Some nationalist Russian intellectuals like anti-liberal philosopher Alexander Dugin celebrated the news, stating that finally Putin continued the "Novorossiya project" that he stopped in 2014. Dugin said that he could not understand why at the time Putin did not recognize the independence of the DPR and LPR.

In an interview published on February 11, Dugin stated: "In 2014, I was deeply convinced that Russia could, at a relatively small price, achieve the implementation of the Novorossiya project, its liberation. At the very least, the issue of the liberation of Eastern Ukraine could have been resolved by much simpler means, with a greater degree of legitimacy and at lower costs than today. I was then simply amazed that when everything was ready for the next logical step, we stopped. I think it was illogical. We hesitated, stopped and missed the chance. This is obvious to me. [Now,] either the West is provoking us… and creating the appearance that we are ready to take a decisive action in order to intimidate us, so that we dutifully accept Kiev's possible terrorist operation in the Donbass, or we decide to correct this shortcoming of 2014… What happened in 2014 is a mistake, and maybe a betrayal. In 2014, because of my positions [in support of the Novorossiya project], I was removed from [Russian] TV Channels."[7]

In fact, in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin had a dream to revive the historic region called Novorossiya ("New Russia," the name that was given in the 18th century to the lands of the Black Sea littoral, incorporated in Russia as a result of wars with the Ottoman Empire). However, in 2015, the project was declared frozen. Oleg Tsaryov, who at the time was the speaker of Novorossiya's "Unitary Parliament," said: "The work of Novorossiya [official] structures has been frozen because it does not conform to the [Minsk-2] peace agreement signed in the presence of the Normandy Four countries [Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France]."

However, on February 21, Putin declared that the Minsk agreements, which had the goal of ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine, were "dead" long before the recognition of the people's republics of Donbass, accusing the Kiev authorities of "killing" them. He said: "It is not seven but almost eight full years that we have been working on this [the Minsk agreements]. By 'we,' I mean Russia... I would like to emphasize again that we were interested in seeing this package of measures implemented, because it was the result of a compromise. The leaders of the two then unrecognized republics [DPR and LPR] signed these documents. Incidentally, one of them was killed in a terrorist act. He was killed by the special services of Ukraine, an agent of these services. There is no question here. This is an obvious thing, simply an outright political assassination.

"But what matters is that the leaders of the two republics signed these documents. We managed to broker this compromise at that time. By the way, it was not easy to do this because initially the leaders of these entities did not want to take part in the Minsk agreements and to sign their names to these documents. But a compromise was reached nonetheless, which was real progress towards achieving a settlement by peaceful means.

"As it was said yesterday during the Security Council meeting, over all these years, the efforts of the current Kiev authorities reduced it all to naught. So, the Minsk agreements were dead long before yesterday’s recognition of the people’s republics of Donbass. They were killed not by us and not by the representatives of these republics, but by the current Kiev authorities."

He then explained: "The recognition of these republics was dictated precisely by the fact that the Ukrainian leadership had publicly declared that they were not going to abide by these agreements. Not going to abide by them. Well, what else can you say to that? The top officials have publicly said so."

It is worth noting that the Chatham House defines the Minsk-2 as a "tangle of contradictory provisions, and a convoluted and contested sequence of actions." The Chatham House states: "Textual incoherence reflects incompatible interpretations of what is to be achieved and how. And at its heart is a simple problem – Ukraine sees Minsk-2 as a means to restore its sovereignty, but Russia views it as a tool with which to cripple Ukraine’s sovereignty."[8]


Dugin has explained that the battle over Ukraine is a battle to establish a new world order, and consequently to end the U.S.-led unipolar order. In an interview with Serbia's Pink TV, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stated that Putin's recognition of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics signifies that the security architecture of the world is collapsing. "I think that the world order is changing in this way," he said.[9] Nevertheless, Western leaders seems more united now than ever against Russia.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that "this is not the beginning of a war," but rather the prevention of the development of a crisis, which may lead to a global military confrontation. She also said that the recognition of the DPR and LPR help to put an end to the war in Donbass.[10] Alexander Baunov, editor-in-chief of the Carnegie Moscow Center website, wrote in his Telegram channel: "The most striking contrast compared to 2014 is the complete absence of an attempt to show tangible popular support [in Russia] after the recognition of the Donbass republics… Everything is prudent, secretive, tough." He then added that Putin's actions are not to be read in the "space of politics," where the support of the street is needed, but rather in a history textbook. "Tangible popular support is saved for the future."


*Anna Mahjar-Barducci is Director of the MEMRI Russian Media Studies Project.


[1], February 24, 2022.

[2], January 19, 2022.


[4] The New York Times, "Now a Word From X," May 2, 1998.

[6], October 12, 2018.

[7], February 11, 2022.

[8], February 16, 2022.

[9], April 22, 2022.

[10], February 24, 2022.

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