The fourth factor is that Russia views its hegemonic control over Eurasia as the source of its recognition as a great power. Ukraine is central to this idea because it was the second-largest economy and population in the USSR with a large military-industrial complex. This is something that Putin has many times stated. A Russian-Ukrainian union at the core of Eurasia would ensure a Russian great power would be respected and feared at the center of Eurasian civilization.
Russian national identity is the source of the 2014 crisis, the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing Russian military aggression against Ukraine and likely Russian military or security action against Ukraine. Unfortunately, little of the above is understood by Western policymakers who roll their eyes when there is a discussion of conflicting national identities, nineteenth-century historical myths, and territorial claims. Such issues are as much over the heads of the EU as they are in the United States where policymakers, journalists, and academics dismissed the seriousness of populist nationalism in the 2016 election campaign. Western academic experts on Russia, who often dismiss evidence of nationalism in Russia, have also yet to treat national identity as the cause of the war in a serious fashion.
Putin is a fully paid-up believer in everything he wrote in his article. If Putin were only an amateur historian, Western policymakers would have no need to be concerned. But this is unfortunately not the case as Putin’s article is potentially also that of an ideological commissar of a future conflagration between Russia and Ukraine that would be the biggest crisis since 1962. It is time for the United States and the West to understand Russian national identity roots behind Europe’s only war.
Taras Kuzio is a professor of political science at the National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of the forthcoming Russian Nationalism and the Russian-Ukrainian War to be published by Routledge.