Everything was supposed to look like a welcome reception into the so-called “great historical Russia,” where the host would kindly tell the guests to feel at home. But the four sheriffs of Ukraine’s breakaway regions had plenty of reason to be numb with fear as they listened to Vladimir Putin’s 37-minute speech in their honor. Provided they listened carefully and thought soberly, which is unlikely.
We are talking about people who will one day stand before the Ukrainian court for high treason for handing over part of their country’s territory to the occupier. Even if they somehow avoid it, they must have understood their leader’s speech as an open threat. In a speech that was “a set of unbelievably illiterate conspiracy cliches,” according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, they could hear from Putin what would happen to them and how they should feel now that they have been formally co-opted into the Russian Federation, that is, the “great historical Russia.”
Among other things, Putin spoke a lot about colonies, colonialism and evil metropolises, obviously referring to the West and its way of managing world affairs. “The West is ready to cross every line to preserve the neo-colonial system … They (the West) want us to be a colony … In certain countries, the ruling elites voluntarily agree to do this, voluntarily agree to become vassals; others are bribed or intimidated. And if this does not work, they destroy entire states…”
He mentioned colonies and colonialism, vassals and usurpation of states so often that, even if you were listening to Putin speak for the first time, you would have to conclude that this was a projection – consciously projecting your actions and intentions onto someone else. Therefore, Putin did not wish any welcome to the four from the east of Ukraine, he addressed them as colonial governors, described exactly what he did to their territories (subjugation and destruction), but also threatened with what could happen to them if they disobeyed.
The day that was celebrated in Russia as historical, the day when the motherland expanded into “historical territories” was, in fact, a day of demonstrable helplessness due to frequent battlefield defeats in the same east of Ukraine that was celebrated as an integral new part of Russia. The celebration was officially translated into parody by the Russian Duma two days later, with the decision that four territories would become part of Russia within the borders that were valid on the day the areas were annexed!? How will this decision be implemented, when Russia, with its occupying army, does not control the annexed territories? It was a bizarre decision that caused mockery on the internet, because in the same way Russia might as well annex Texas, the Netherlands, or Mars.
Following a series of major setbacks against the Ukrainians, Putin created another “Potemkin village” from his “Russian World” project. It was intended for his countrymen, who cannot be happy due to the lack of work, scarcity of consumer goods, and numerous calls to the front. By pompously annexing four Ukrainian regions, over which he has no control, Putin symbolically marked the end of Russia’s long tradition of colonialism, occupation of foreign countries and violent annexation. Territorial expansion has been the purpose of every ruling policy in Russia, whether under the Tsars, Soviet general secretaries or leaders in the post-Soviet period. From the Donbas, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson, the process of decolonization of “historical Russia” has symbolically begun.
The four heads of Ukraine’s east will probably not spend a day in their leadership positions to which they were sent by their master from the metropolis of Moscow. Putin senses this to some extent, because in the same speech in which he celebrates their entry into the “great historical Russia,” he invites Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war. But this is unlikely because the Ukrainian offensive for the return of the annexed areas is in full swing. Decolonization could be immediately continued with the return of Crimea to Ukraine, eight years after Russian annexation.
Until then, the anti-colonial resistance is strengthening at other points of the Great Russian area. Armenia is reconsidering membership in the Collective Security Treaty Organization, because it definitely cannot rely on the security support from Russia and its partners in the conflict with Azerbaijan. They do not need Russian “protection,” including its military base in Gyumri, from which they see no benefit for Armenia.
Although Georgia fears that this could be a dangerous provocation of a conflict with Russia, in recent months there have been calls for the armed return of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to their motherland, while Russia is busy with its conquest of Ukraine.
The farce with the annexation of four Ukrainian regions, in addition to symbolizing the collapse of centuries-old Russian expansionist policy and the beginning of its backward movement, also means relief for many separatist hotspots in the area outside “great historical Russia.” Most recent European separatist movements were more or less directly supported, encouraged and even inspired by Moscow. The leaders of the movement for the secession of Catalonia have a history of meeting with Kremlin officials, especially in intelligence. There is also Matteo Salvini from his secessionist period, the separation of the north from the rest of Italy, a politician who still acts like a client of Moscow, as he calls for a review of the sanctions policy against Russia. In this circle there is also the leader of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik, Putin’s ally who will remain so as long as he threatens the secession of the Serbian entity from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The self-collapse of centuries-old Russian expansionist policy began with the farcical annexation of Ukrainian territories, but it would be naive and irresponsible to wait for this work to be completed by itself. Putin needs help in order to finish what he started, to de-metropolize Russia while being convinced that he is doing the opposite, expanding its territory and convincing his subjects of it.
The return of the occupied East and Crimea to Ukraine is therefore a historical turning point, which will permanently wean Russia off aggression and annexation as a supreme national interest. And it is in the interest of the West to support Ukraine even more than before in this effort, because in doing so it will extinguish all current secessionist conflicts in its backyard and help forestall future ones – conflicts that have always been just an echo of Moscow’s aggressive policy.
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