The Providence of Ukraine’s Victory
How to Enhance the Security of the West
Оповідь українською, Рассказ на русском, Historia po polsku
Story by Taras Kuzio
Illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk
As Yale University Professor Timothy Snyder has pointed out, Ukraine has been at the centre of European history on multiple occasions. These include World Wars I and II, Joseph Stalin’s Holodomor and Great terror in the 1930s, and the Nazi’s Holocaust. Ukraine’s drive to independence and desire to re-join Europe led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union and will lead to the collapse of the Russian empire masquerading as the Russian Federation.
In December 1991, Ukraine’s referendum on independence was supported by 92 percent of the population. The Soviet empire ceased to exist on 31 December 1991. Belarus declared independence but did not hold a referendum, while the Russian SFSR never declared independence from the USSR. Ukraine’s upcoming military defeat of Russia will set in motion the disintegration of the last remaining Russian empire.
The West feared the disintegration of the USSR would lead to a ‘nuclear Yugoslavia,’ which never transpired. The USSR disintegrated in the main peacefully. Conflicts which broke out in Moldova’s Transnistria and Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetian provinces came about because of Russian hybrid intervention. The Soviet Union and Russia supported Armenian proxies who ethnically cleansed three quarters of a million Azerbaijanis, massacred over 4,000 Azerbaijani civilians and combatants, and occupied a fifth of Azerbaijan’s territory until it was liberated in 2020.
Nuclear weapons were transferred from Ukraine to the Russian Federation in return for security guarantees in the Budapest Memorandum which were revealed to be worthless in 2014 when Ukraine was invaded, and Russia flouted while the West ignored their responsibilities. Since the late 1990s Soviet-era nuclear weapons have been based only in the Russian Federation.
Ukraine’s upcoming military defeat of Russia will set in motion the disintegration of the last remaining Russian empire. The collapse of the Russian Federation will lead to its decolonisation and creation for the first time in history of a smaller in size Russian nation-state. This will represent a positive and long overdue development for the Russian people, ending decades of xenophobic antagonism with the West and imperialist wars with its neighbours. Russia would be following in the footsteps of the Turks who transitioned from the Ottoman empire to a Turkish nation-state under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And just as with the collapse of the USSR, there will not be a ‘nuclear Yugoslavia’ when the Russian empire disintegrates.
Six Western Goals
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been disastrous and is leading to the demilitarisation of Russia. This can only be good for Western security.
Russia’s pending defeat in the war with Ukraine will result in the de-Putinisation of Russia as his regime will not survive such a calamity. Putin and other Kremlin leaders will be put on trial for war crimes, most likely in absentia. Demilitarisation, military defeat, and de-Putinisation will bring about the disintegration of the Russian Federation and the decolonisation of the last remaining empire in the world. Non-Russians in the Russian empire, who were subjected to centuries of brutal colonisation, will create independent nation-states. Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny warned Russia is heading into a catastrophe, saying the question is ‘how hard Russia will hit the bottom and whether it will fall apart.’
The West should pursue six strategic goals towards Russia:
The first goal is to support Ukraine militarily and financially to pursue the war until Russia is defeated and its forces are withdrawn from all Ukrainian territories, including Crimea. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people will never accept peace as constituting a return to the territorial status quo in 2014-2022 when Crimea and 40 percent of Ukraine’s Donbas were occupied. Throughout the course of 2022 during the war with Russia, polling by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology revealed 82% (in May 2022)-87% (in September 2022) of Ukrainians have refused to compromise over the country’s territorial integrity even if the war will last longer. 80% of southern, 82% of eastern, and 88% of western Ukrainians held this opinion. There is also no significant difference between Ukrainian (89 percent), bilingual Ukrainian-Russian (86 percent), and Russian (76 percent) speakers over not supporting territorial concessions in return for peace.
The second goal should be to remove Vladimir Putin from power. This may come about by a Russian military defeat or in other ways. Putin remaining in power would constitute a future security threat to Ukraine and its western neighbours. Following a Russian defeat, Putin and his Kremlin ideologues and security forces commanders should be held accountable for crimes of aggression, war crimes, and genocide.
The third goal should be to ensure Russia no longer constitutes a threat to its neighbours and its military aggression would not create a global crisis. Russia’s war with Ukraine will have destroyed or incapacitated a huge proportion of Russia’s military equipment. The West should pursue the decolonisation of the Russian Empire which masquerades as a federation but has long been an oppressor of its non-Russian nations, including Ukrainians. Decolonisation of the last remaining empire in the world would end Russification and the genocide of the non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation.
Unlike England and France, Russia never built a nation-state before it built an empire and the two have always therefore been co-terminus. Russian identity was tied to the Soviet Union and not the Russian SFSR. In the post-Soviet era, Russian identity has been larger than the Russian Federation and tied to the USSR, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Eurasia, and the Russian World. Russia would benefit from decolonisation by becoming a nation-state for the first time in its history. Decolonisation would bring about the transformation of Russian identity from being imperial to a civic attachment to a Russian nation-state. As Janusz Bugajski has written, ‘…Russia needs liberation from itself.’
The fourth goal was already launched by Ukraine at the United Nations (UN); that is, the removal of the Russian Federation from the UN Security Council where it inherited the seat of the USSR without going through the steps required by the UN.
The fifth goal should be to prevent future Russian temptations to again launch military aggression against its neighbours by closing the grey zone of security between the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union (EU) in the West and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and Eurasian Economic Union in the east. This would be undertaken by offering Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs). A Ukraine ensconced inside NATO would prevent Russia from launching a future second invasion and at the same time resolve frozen conflicts in Georgia and Azerbaijan.
The sixth goal should be to support a democratic transition in Belarus to a post-Lukashenka regime by facilitating his replacement with Svitlana Tsikhanovskaya who won the August 2020 presidential elections but had her victory stolen by self-declared Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and Putin. Lukashenka should be also put on trial for supporting Russia’s war crimes. The EU should support a Belexit from the Eurasian Economic Union and Tsikhanovskaya’s signing of an Association Agreement with the EU.
The Imperative for Russia’s Decolonisation
Russian President Putin has condemned the US-led unipolar world since his well-known speech to the Munich Security Conference in February 2007. Anti-Western xenophobia has been a mainstay of his regime ever since, becoming especially shrill since he returned to the presidency in 2012. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and war against Ukrainians is viewed by Russia as a proxy war against the West which has allegedly transformed Ukraine into an ‘Anti-Russia’ against the wishes of its allegedly ‘Little Russian’ population.
Putin’s clamouring for a multipolar world to replace the unipolar world is at odds with his destruction of multipolarity in the Russian Federation. Russia is a sham of a federation with local autonomy and regional devolution destroyed and replaced by a hyper-centralised state. Governors are no longer chosen in elections but appointed by the Kremlin. Regional assemblies can no longer adopt legislation. Whereas federalism is a sham in Russia, the Kremlin pressured Ukraine to become a federal system in the eight years prior to the invasion as part of the implementation of the Minsk Accords signed in 2014-2015.
In destroying federalism and multipolarity, Moscow has made itself into an ‘imperial metropolis.’ Oligarchs and large state-controlled companies exploit natural resources in the non-Russian national territories in a manner far worse than anything undertaken by European colonialists in their empires. Over-centralisation and the destruction of federalism is being accompanied by rapacious exploitation of the raw materials and natural resources of the non-Russian nations of the Russian Federation. Oligarchs, who are under the thumb of the Kremlin, are posted to these colonies in the same manner as the British and French sent high ranking officials to exploit their overseas colonies. The Russian mafia state seeks to rapaciously exploit the resources of its colonies in a manner that would have made Western European colonialists blush with envy.
The money made from these resources leaves the non-Russian regions and fills the government budget for lavish spending in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other big Russian cities. A large proportion of the profits are sent to offshore zones where corrupt officials and oligarchs stash their loot.
The discrepancies between the very poor socio-economic conditions and lack of employment prospects in the non-Russian regions and European Russia have become evident since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Russian troops from Dagestan, Buryatia, Tuva, and other non-Russian regions could not comprehend how far more prosperous Ukrainian villages and towns were. They could not believe Ukrainian villages had running water, bathrooms, indoor toilets, and electricity, which they did not, more than two decades after Putin first was elected Russian president. Looting washing machines made little sense as they could not be used back home in Russian villages which lacked basic amenities such as running water and electricity.
It is therefore not surprising the non-Russian nations of the Russian Federation are in favour of decentralisation and independence. Their representatives condemn the disproportionate use of non-Russians for the invasion of Ukraine and their higher casualty rates. Mobilisation has drafted more non-Russians proportionately than ethnic Russians.
The Ukrainian parliament has taken the lead since 2015 in supporting the non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation and condemning Russian colonial and racist policies towards and political repression of the Crimean Tatars. Four resolutions adopted in May 2015, May and October 2016, and March 2018 supported Crimean Tatars as the main titular nation in Crimea, not ethnic Russians. A Crimean Tatar state existed for six hundred years prior to the Russian empire’s conquest of Crimea in 1783. For four centuries prior to the 1240 Mongol invasion, Crimea was part of Kyiv Rus, the first name for Ukraine. Consequently, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars have ruled Crimea for nearly a millennium before Russia’s imperial conquest. Russian claims to be the indigenous people of Crimea is racist in the same manner as if Europeans claimed they – not the First Nations – were the indigenous peoples of the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries colonised by Europeans.
In May 2019, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution in support of Crimean Tatars and other smaller titular nations in Crimea based on the September 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Titular People. Another parliamentary resolution condemned the mass infringement of the rights of titular non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation in ten key areas:
1. The closing down of national minority organisations.
2. Criminally charging national minority organisations with ‘extremism.’
3. Launching criminal cases against non-Russian national activists.
4. Interference into religious confessions professed by non-Russian nations.
5. Educational policies preventing the teaching of non-Russian national languages.
6. Banning political parties and organisations created by non-Russian nations.
7. Non-Russian nationals are denied control and sovereignty over their natural resources which are exploited by oligarchs on behalf of the Russian mafia state.
8. Non-Russians are politically repressed for criticising and condemning the invasion of Ukraine and the criminal conduct of the Russian army.
9. Crimean Tatars are subjected to brutal political repression and racist destruction of their culture and identity by the Crimean occupation authorities.
10. The Russian authorities purposefully prevent criminal investigations of the murder of non-Russian activists.
The Ukrainian parliament demanded the UN act to condemn Russia’s infringement of political, civic, national, religious, and cultural rights of the non-Russian nations in the Russian empire. Ukraine also insisted Russia end its Russification and assimilationist policies for the non-Russian nations and curtail the destruction of the autonomous rights of the non-Russian republics. The resolution urged the UN to demand the Russian Federation provide resources for the languages of the non-Russian nations to be taught in schools and permit the registration of media publications in their languages.
In October 2022, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution describing the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as under temporary Russian occupation and condemned the genocide of the Chechen people. Putin’s war against Chechnya in the early 2000’s murdered over 100,000 Chechens. The Ukrainian parliament upheld the 25 November 1990 Declaration of the State Sovereignty of Chechnya by the National Congress of the Chechen people and the right of the Chechen people to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter.
In the resolution, the Ukrainian parliament:
1. Declared a policy of non-recognition of the incorporation of the territory of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria into the Russian Federation and considered the existing government there to be an occupation regime and illegitimate.
2. Condemned international crimes committed by the Russian Federation during the first (1994-1996) and second (1999-2009) wars against the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and the policy of genocide of the Chechen people which resembled the criminal actions of the Tsarist regime in Crimea in 1817-1864 and the Soviet government in 1944.
3. Called on member states of the UN and international organisations to ensure an independent and impartial investigation of war crimes committed on the territory of the temporarily occupied Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and to bring the guilty persons to justice, as well as to recognise the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation and issue a condemnation of the crime of genocide against the Chechen people.
The first and second Forums of Free Peoples of Russia were held in Warsaw and Prague in May and July 2022 respectively. At the second forum, representatives of the non-Russian nations issued a ‘Declaration on the Decolonisation of Russia.’ The Declaration stated Russia’s ‘colonial policies and practices have been carried out for centuries, leaving our indigenous peoples and colonial regions victims of historical injustice and, in some cases, forced displacement and genocide. Now the colonial policy is expressed on an ever-increasing scale of state terrorism and repression.’
The Declaration continued:
‘Today, the Russian Federation is a terrorist state led by war criminals. Several insane wars unleashed by the imperial leadership of the Russian Federation over the past thirty years are depriving our indigenous peoples and colonial regions of the most important thing: the right to live, because representatives of indigenous peoples and colonial regions are subjected to mobilisation in the first place and used as “cannon fodder”.’
Continuing, the Declaration outlined how:
‘With the beginning of the war of conquest against Ukraine, our peoples and regions were drawn against their will into war crimes, including the genocide of the Ukrainian nation unleashed by the Kremlin. Because of this policy by the imperial centre, the peoples and regions of the Russian Federation are facing sanctions, the threat of civilisational isolation, and even their complete disappearance.’
The second Forum of Free Peoples of Russia demanded the right to self-determination as provided for in four international legal documents:
1. UN Charter.
2. UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Peoples.
3. UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
4. Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian SFSR issued on 12 June 1990.
The second Forum of Free Peoples of Russia condemned the ‘violation of basic rights and freedoms’ of indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation, coupled with ‘internal terror and repression’ against them. Russia’s imperial policies towards the non-Russian nations ‘affirms the inferior colonial position of indigenous peoples’ and discrimination against them such as ‘forced assimilation’ is aimed at the ‘colonisation and destruction’ of their languages, culture, and education systems.
Ecocide and over-exploitation of natural resources feeds the Kremlin’s kleptocrats and Russian military machine with little of the finances reinvested in the non-Russian republics. These national territories are denied self-government because Putin’s regime undermined federalism by over-centralising the state. The central government ignores protests and permits the storage of hazardous waste and nuclear and chemical weapons in the non-Russian republics.
The second Forum of Free Peoples of Russia issued three demands:
1. Complete and controlled decolonisation towards the liberation and restoration of independence and sovereignty.
2. Creation of National Transitional Governments and regional parliaments.
3. Holding of an international conference ‘On the Peaceful Decolonisation and Territorial Organisation of the Post-Soviet Space’ that would provide for:
– A peaceful path to decolonisation.
– Demarcation of borders.
– Treaties on friendship.
– Principles for the division of assets and debts.
– New constitutions.
– Return of the security forces to their respective new homelands.
– Establishment of National Legions as self-defence forces.
– Following Russia’s invasion, President Zelenskyy issued his own appeal in September 2022 where he stated:
‘Peoples of the Caucasus! All peoples on the territory of Russia! You have no reason to be among these many who still serve the one who wants this war. You must not die in Ukraine. Your sons should not die in Ukraine. You have no such duty and do not need to fulfil such a duty. Not before your fathers, not before your children, not before your future, and not before the future of your land. And you know this.’
President Zelenskyy continued:
‘The Kremlin does not seem to know the words of Imam Shamil who said, “Anyone who raises a weapon against the truth raises it to his death.” But his words should be known in the Caucasus. They must be heard in Siberia and in all other lands from which people are sent to this war.’
‘And now on mobilisation. Fight so as you don’t have to die! Defend your freedom now in the streets and squares, so you don’t have to fight later in the mountains and forests simply for your right to live, when the Russian authorities begin the next waves of mobilisation.’
Zelenskyy advised Russian soldiers to:
‘obtain a tattoo with your name and surname, so we know how to find your relatives when you are killed and when you don’t even have a soldier’s dog tag. The Russian government sends people to this war without dog tags and often without documents!’
At the end of his appeal, President Zelenskyy said:
‘Dagestanis should not die in Ukraine. This also pertains to Chechens, Ingush, Ossetians, Circassians, and any other peoples who ended up under the Russian flag. There are almost 200 different nations in total… You know who sends them to Ukraine. The one who sends them wants to make them be transported as casualties by Cargo 200.’
Russophiles in Western academia, think tanks, and media are understandably concerned at growing support for the decolonisation of the Russian Empire masquerading as the Russian Federation. Russia becoming a nation-state would deprive them of claiming to be experts, since heads of academic and think tank centres focusing on the post-communist world make up the majority of the external referees for articles and research papers submitted to scholarly journals.
The potential decline of future employment prospects for Western Russophiles will be a positive development. After all, many of them downplayed or denied the rise of nationalism in Putin’s Russia while even those who wrote about Russian nationalism ignored the growing influence of White Russian émigrés who deny the existence of Ukraine and Ukrainians. Two major books published after the 2014 crisis and on the eve of the invasion ignored how Russian nationalism had evolved from the Soviet acceptance of Ukraine and Ukrainians to the White Russian émigré outright denial they exist.
In one of these books, besides denying Putin’s regime was nationalist, Marlene Laruelle also opposes describing Russia as a fascist regime; her book on this topic was published with bad timing in the same month Russian war crimes were uncovered in Bucha, near Kyiv. Since then, mounting evidence has shown the fascist and genocidal nature of Russia’s invasion force in Ukraine.
It is therefore perhaps not entirely surprising that Laruelle is also a leading opponent of the decolonisation of the Russian Federation. Instead of decolonisation, Laruelle proposes the ‘reinvention’ of Russian federalism, which is a non-starter for Russian nationalists. Most Russians have no respect for the non-Russian nations they are occupying and exploiting and believe in the deep-seated myth they are bringing them a higher Russian civilisation.
Laruelle, to her credit, admits the non-Russian nations in the Russian Federation have a long list of grievances against the Moscow imperial centre which are growing. They are being proportionately over-used in the war against Ukraine with far higher casualty rates in the non-Russian regions. Dagestanis, Chechens, Tatars, Buryats, Tuvans, and other non-Russian nations are dying in far higher numbers than ethnic Russians. Mobilisation in Autumn 2022 was organised disproportionately in the non-Russian regions and these newly mobilised soldiers, sent as cannon fodder to Ukraine, have suffered higher numbers of casualties than ethnic Russians. With the Kremlin not flummoxed about the high level of killed Russian soldiers (100,000 by December 2022) and planning to drag the invasion out, if possible, in a war of attrition, the number of casualties from the non-Russian nations will continue to grow.
The non-Russian nations of the Russian Federation also hold cultural grievances, as does the large Ukrainian minority Laruelle – like all Western Russianists – ignores. The non-Russian nations and Ukrainian minority in the Russian Federation are very unhappy at their denationalisation and Russification. They demand changes to Russian school textbooks which celebrate annexations and invasions as the ‘lesser of two evils’ compared to annexation by other powers and because Russia allegedly brought a superior civilisation and culture to them.
Russian textbooks and arrogant Russian chauvinism towards the non-Russians and Ukrainians are unlikely to change as these are deeply embedded in the Russian psyche. Centuries of Russians being empire builders and decades of Soviet historiography and textbooks have deeply embedded chauvinistic views of the non-Russians and Ukrainians. These have only served to become more firmly ensconced because of Putin’s re-sovietisation and re-Stalinisation of Russia. Laruelle’s call to change the ‘national reckoning on the legacy of Russia’s colonisation’ is therefore to all intents and purposes a non-starter.
Another grievance is the over-exploitation of the natural resources in the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation. It is difficult to see how this system will change if Russia continues to be a mafia state with oligarchs acting as the Kremlin’s boyars in the non-Russian regions.
Laruelle’s inability to not see nationalism among the non-Russian republics of the Russian Federation should be understood together with her denial of the existence of nationalism in Putin’s Russia. Laruelle believes in the bonds that tie together the Russians and non-Russians. She claims Western experts who support the decolonisation of the Russian Federation are pursuing an ‘erroneous strategy’ because they allegedly ‘lack knowledge of what ties together Russian society in all its diversity.’ Similar statements were undoubtedly said in defence of colonial ties between Britain and France and their colonies.
Finally, Laruelle warns the disintegration of the Russian Federation would lead to civil war and violence against non-Russian nationalists clamouring for independence. While this would be tragic, it would be no worse than continuing the Russian empire in its current form with the non-Russians disproportionately being killed in the Kremlin’s pursuit of imperialism. Denationalisation and Russification are also forms of violence, after all, against the non-Russians and Ukrainian minority in the Russian Federation. A Russian civil war would be more likely to take place between Russian elites and security forces keen to take power in the post-Putin era, rather than between the non-Russians. A civil war between Russians would lead to the withdrawal of security forces from the non-Russian nations which would be beneficial to them and permit a peaceful path to national independence.
Russia Should Jettison Its Empire to Prosper
as a Nation-State
After the USSR disintegrated in late 1991, the Russian Federation embraced the same imperial identity the Soviets had inherited from their Tsarist predecessors generations earlier. Since the early 1990s, Russia has demanded the West acknowledge the former USSR as its exclusive sphere of influence. This stance reflected strong imperial instincts inside the Kremlin and throughout Russian society along with confusion over exactly what constitutes the borders of ‘Russia.’
The Russian Orthodox Church also viewed the entire USSR as its canonical territory, especially Ukraine and Belarus. This was very different to Orthodox Churches elsewhere which were tied to nation-states, not multinational empires. The Russian Orthodox Church’s hold over the former USSR began to decline in the mid 1990s when the Estonian Orthodox Church split from it. The big challenge came in 2018-2019 when Constantinople declared Ukraine to not be Russian Orthodox canonical territory and recognised autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Prior to and especially after the invasion, the Russian Orthodox Church disintegrated in Ukraine with only four percent of Ukrainians claiming an allegiance to it, compared to 54 percent to the (autocephalous) Orthodox Church of Ukraine in July 2022. The Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church has double the adherents (eight percent) of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The Latvian, Lithuanian, and Moldovan Orthodox Churches also began pushing for autocephaly from the Russian Orthodox Church. The fall of Lukashenka from power, which would be inevitable with a post-Putin regime in Russia, would also likely lead to clamouring for Orthodox autocephaly in Belarus.
These developments are important in the process of de-imperialising the Russian Orthodox Church, facilitating the change from claiming jurisdiction over the entire former USSR and thereby reinforcing the ties between Soviet and Russian identity to becoming the national Church of the Russian nation-state.
Russian and Soviet identities were virtually indistinguishable within the USSR. When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Russian SFSR took control of Soviet institutions in Moscow and began the process of post-Soviet state-building from top down. Russia’s reluctance to completely disassociate itself from the USSR was evident in December 1991 when President Borys Yeltsyn initially backed continued talks over transforming the USSR into a Union of Sovereign States but, after Ukraine rejected this, proposed a Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Throughout the 1990s, civic attachment to the Russian Federation as a nation-state homeland for Russians remained weak. As early as 1993, Russia demanded the West recognise Eurasia as its exclusive sphere of influence with the Kremlin coming to oppose the enlargement of NATO and the EU into this region and the use of UN peacekeepers in frozen conflicts it had manufactured.
Meanwhile, more overtly imperial forms of Russian identity proved to be far more popular, leading to calls for a revival of the Soviet Union and Tsarist empire or for a resurgent Russia to lead a new Eurasian Union. This trend was evident even before the Soviet empire fell, with Russian nationalist dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn calling in 1990 for the USSR to be replaced by a Russian Union of the three eastern Slavic nations (Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). This concept would be revived and broadened to serve as the basis for Putin’s Russian World (Russkiy Mir) which was unveiled in 2007.
The popularity of supra-national imperial identities in post-Soviet Russia was evident during the 1993 constitutional crisis, which saw a ‘red-brown’ alliance of communists and extreme nationalists and fascists attempting to overthrow President Yeltsin. Three years later during the Russian presidential election, Yeltsin embraced the imperial agenda of a union state with Belarus to counter strong revanchist support for Communist Party leader Gennadiy Zyuganov.
By the time KGB veteran Putin became president at the turn of the millennium, Russia was already visibly shifting away from its brief flirtation with European integration which had been prepared by another former officer of the KGB. In 1996, former KGB officer and SVR (Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service) Chairman Yevgenny Primakov replaced Andrei Kozyrev as foreign minister. Primakov reformatted Russian foreign policy from that of Russia within a ‘common European home’ to Russia at the centre of Eurasian civilisation which was superior to and in conflict with the West. Putin openly embraced Russia’s imperial identity. Importantly, the roots of Putin’s obsession with Ukraine go back to the very start of his presidency and by the late 2000s had turned into the goal of bringing Ukraine firmly back into the Russian World.
Putin’s position was hardly surprising. The Soviet KGB where he spent the formative years of his professional career had always been a chauvinistic structure openly embracing a sense of Russia’s imperial mission and Russian chauvinism towards Ukrainians. The Soviet KGB was behind numerous rounds of political and cultural repression in Ukraine in the 1960s and 1970s which were the biggest crackdowns in the Soviet Union. This Russian chauvinistic mentality was passed on to the KGB’s post-Soviet successor institutions, which assumed a dominant role in Russia following Putin’s rise to power and creation of a militocracy. Russia’s neighbours, former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, were never seen as having real agency or enjoying genuine sovereignty. Instead, they were regarded as part of modern Russia’s informal empire. Such ideas enjoyed widespread support among the Russian public and were heavily promoted in the carefully curated Russian mainstream media and through the Kremlin’s disinformation.
In 2012, Putin returned to the presidency with the goal of entering history as the gatherer of Russian lands. In practice, this meant completing the reintegration of Belarus and Ukraine. Putin had always viewed these two east Slavic states as core members of his Russian World and Eurasian Union. With Crimea annexed in 2014 and Belarus transformed into a Russian puppet state in 2020, the last and decisive step in this historic process was to be the complete subjugation of Ukraine in 2022. Unfortunately for Putin, his invasion of Ukraine will lead not to the conquest of Ukraine but the disintegration of the Russian Federation.
The invasion of Ukraine has not gone according to plan. Far from completing Putin’s historic mission, the rapidly unravelling attack on Ukraine has dramatically undermined Russia’s reputation as a great power and as a military force to be reckoned with. Instead, many now view Russia as a declining power and believe the Russian Federation is ripe for disintegration. Moscow’s ability to project influence in Eurasia and beyond has suffered accordingly. This presents Russia’s neighbours and the Western world with a golden opportunity to encourage the evolution of a post-imperial Russian identity by supporting the decolonisation of the world’s last remaining empire.
In order to achieve this goal, the democratic world must stop implicitly acknowledging Russia’s imperial aspirations and encourage Russia to evolve into a nation state by jettisoning its non-Russian nations. Western leaders should also encourage the non-Russian states of the former USSR to stop buttressing Russia’s supra-national identity and end their participation in post-Soviet structures whose main purpose is to prolong Russia’s regional dominance. Members of the CSTO (the Collective Security Treaty Organization) and Eurasian Economic Union should be encouraged to withdraw from them. Armenia, one of two remaining Russian puppet states, should be persuaded to return to the EU Association Agreement it abandoned under Russian pressure in 2013.
Three decades after the disintegration of the USSR, the war in Ukraine has shown Russia is not the great power it claimed to be but an empire in decline. The disastrous invasion of Ukraine has exposed internal weaknesses and sparked a collapse in Russian influence throughout the former Soviet empire and the likely decolonisation of the world’s last empire. It is in the strategic interests of the West to encourage these processes because the transformation of Russian national identity into a post-imperial and civic form would improve European security by reducing the threat of Russia’s perennial invasions of its neighbours. The ultimate beneficiaries would be the Russian people themselves.
Russia will always be a threat to the West when it is ‘a hyper-centralised empire with a messianic ideology.’ A decolonised Russia transformed into a nation-state would no longer wage aggressive imperialistic wars as it would no longer be driven by a ‘messianic ideology.’
Other stories written by Taras Kuzio
Other stories Illustrated by Maryna Lutsyk
Taras Kuzio is a British academic and expert in Ukrainian political, economic, and security affairs. He is a professor of political science at National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and author of the book “Putin’s War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism and Crime” (2018).
 Taras Kuzio, ‘The European Mass Graves You Never Knew About,’ Rolling Stone magazine, August-September 2022, pp.44-49.
 Arkady Ostrovsky, ‘Russia risks becoming ungovernable and descending into chaos,’ The Economist, 18 November 2022.
 Janusz Bugajski, Failed. State. A Guide to Russia’s Rupture (Washington: Jamestown Foundation, 2022), p.5.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ58Yv6kP44 and https://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/24034
 Vadim Shtepa, ‘Russia’s Inside-Out Federation,’ Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19, 148 (6 October 2022). https://jamestown.org/program/russias-inside-out-federation/
 V. Shtepa, ‘Putin’s Double Standards. A Unitary Empire for a ‘Multipolar World’,’ Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19, 168 (10 November 2022). https://jamestown.org/program/putins-double-standards-a-unitary-empire-for-a-multipolar-world/
 Yekateryna Bezmenova, ‘Russia’s ‘Shadow Mobilization’ Accelerates With New Ethnic Units From The North Caucasus,’ RFERL, 26 June 2022. https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-ukraine-war-north-caucasus-recruitment/31915842.html
 https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2734-19#Text and Holos Ukrayiny, 7 June 2019.
 V. Shtepa, ‘Responding to Moscow’s Imperial Revanchism, a “Post-Russia” Forum Is Born,’ Eurasia Daily Monitor, 19, 122 (10 August 2022). https://jamestown.org/program/responding-to-moscows-imperial-revanchism-a-post-russia-forum-is-born/
 Taras Kuzio, ‘The nationalism in Putin’s Russia that scholars could not find but which invaded Ukraine,’ Ideology, Theory, Practice, Journal of Political Ideologies, 4 April 2022. https://www.ideology-theory-practice.org/blog/the-nationalism-in-putins-russia-that-scholars-could-not-find-but-which-invaded-ukraine
 Pal Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud eds., The New Russian Nationalism. Imperialism, Ethnicity and Authoritarianism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016) and Marlene Laruelle, Russian Nationalism. Imaginaries, Doctrines, and Political Battlefields (London: Routledge, 2019).
 M. Laruelle, Is Russia Fascist? Unraveling Propaganda East and West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2022).
 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘The Sovietization of Russian Politics,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 25, 4 (2009): 283–309 and Taras Kuzio, ‘Stalinism and Russian and Ukrainian National Identities,’ Communist and Post-Communist Studies 50, 4 (2017): 289–302.
 M. Laruelle, ‘Putin’s War and the Dangers of Russia’s Disintegration,’ Foreign Affairs, 9 December 2022. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/russian-federation/putins-war-and-dangers-russian-disintegration
 M. Laruelle, ‘Putin’s War and the Dangers of Russia’s Disintegration.’
 Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Stephen White, ‘Putin’s Militocracy,’ Post-Soviet Affairs, 19, 4 (2003): 289-306.
 Shtepa, ‘Putin’s Double Standards.’