Vladimir Putin gave a rather bizarre interview to the German press recently. It certainly warrants a few highlights. Here are my picks:
“It lacks, it seems to me, the understanding that to be successful, stable, prosperous, it’s necessary that all people who live in that territory, regardless of which language they speak — whether Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian, or even Polish — have a feeling that the territory is their Motherland,” Putin said.
Yes, because Russia totally does this. I know Tatar and Bashkir mothers are just thrilled to know their sons can be conscripted and potentially killed for the sake of the “Russkiy Mir.” Minorities feel totally at home in Russia and ethnic Russians are always expressing their concern about issues like xenophobia and exclusion in society, education, media, etc.
“For this reason, I do not understand the resistance of Ukrainian political authorities to even listen to the possibility of federalization,” Putin added.
It was my understanding that they did listen, particular when they unilaterally offered the first ceasefire in the whole war. I also suspect that if this were the case, Putin totally understands why they wouldn’t listen. After all, simply publishing talk about that sort of federalization in Russia is specifically prohibited by law.
Under this strategy, according to The Guardian, “each region [in Ukraine] would have control of its economy, taxes, culture, language, education, and ‘external economic and cultural connections with neighboring countries or regions,'” Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in March.
Again, things they want to deny not only regions in Russia, but federal subjects which constitute the indigenous lands of various nationalities. Also it’s clear the Donetsk and Lugansk “People’s” Republics aren’t really interested in this if they insist on maintaining their own military forces. As for taxes well, they’ve already been going hat in hand to the “junta” in Kyiv begging them to pay pensions and salaries. Yes, these are functional countries. Respect them!
“I will now tell you straight: We are really concerned that [in Ukraine] there will arise a desire to carry out some kind of ethnic cleansing, we are afraid that Ukraine will roll into neo-Nazism,” Putin said. “Well, if people are walking around with swastikas on their sleeves … Or the SS insignia on the helmets of some combat units who are fighting in East Ukraine?
I’ve written plenty about the Ukrainian government’s mindless decision to arm and train far right-wing extremists such as the Azov battalion. That being said, I think I’m far more likely to find non-right wing people on the Ukrainian side than the Cossack and nationalist filled ranks of the DNR and LNR. Unlike them, the Ukrainian government still allows women to go to cafes and bars.
“If this is a civilized nation, where are the authorities looking? At least [they] should force them to remove the uniforms, and the nationalists to take off this insignia,” he said.
As far as things like the Azov battalion go, my recommendation is far more stringent than Putin’s recommendation. Disband the unit, arrest extremist leaders, and run a reeducation program for its members so they understand the concept of citizenship. I consider it pure chance that these thugs never got out of control and made Putin’s “ethnic cleansing” fantasy a reality. That being said, Putin’s solution is quite mild but logical in the context of Russian society. He just wants them to take the patches off. In Russia it’s perfectly normal to agree with every tenet of National Socialism so long as you don’t openly identify with the movement. You can be a fascist; just don’t call yourself fascist.
“Right now in east Ukraine there is fighting occurring,” Putin said. “The central authorities of Ukraine sent an army there, using even ballistic rockets. Is anyone talking about this? Not a word. What does this mean? What does this say about [the situation]? This suggests that you want the central authorities of Ukraine to destroy everyone there, all of their political opponents? Do you want this? We don’t want this. And we won’t let this happen.”
Yes, yes, we all remember how Russia allowed Chechnya to peacefully separate without launching any “ballistic rockets” at Grozny. And Russia strongly criticized Serbia and more recently Syria for their anti-insurgency campaigns. I’m not trying to equate all of these scenarios, but one simple fact is that when you start an armed insurgency against a government, you should expect them to fight back. A government which does not defend itself with deadly force is not a government at all. If your cause is just, by all means give force a chance, but don’t go crying to the world when they open up with artillery.
Having said that, I found Putin’s remarks about the Ukrainian government destroying its political opponents to be rather ridiculous. These people are claiming autonomy and have cut themselves off from Ukraine politically. Ergo they aren’t actually opposing those in government. His claims that Russia “won’t let this happen” are simply hilarious, since Russia’s official stance this whole time has been the exact opposite. They are letting “this” happen, they’ve been letting “this” happen, and the West is being unfair to Russia by sanctioning her for something that’s definitely not happening, i.e. sponsoring the rebellion. This is the paradox that is going to seriously cripple Putin. He tells Russia that they must defend these poor people from the Nazi junta, while he simultaneously swears up and down that Russia isn’t doing anything to support those people, beyond periodic convoys of “humanitarian aid.” In other words, he’s playing to nationalists in Russia while simultaneously admitting, in fact insisting, that he is betraying “Novorossiya.” That’s not going to turn out well.