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Great Power Nationalism

Section 2 from “Old Wine in a New Bottle: Russia’s Modernization of Traditional Soviet Information Warfare and Active Policies Against Ukraine and Ukrainians”. 

by Taras Kuzio, the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv, Ukraine

Putin’s adoption of Tsarist era Russian great power nationalism was a gradual process from 2006–2007 onwards and became especially pro- nounced after the 2011–2012 Russian protests and his re-election as presi- dent. Contemporary Russian information warfare has removed the constraints that existed in the Soviet era, permitting a return to Tsarist-era chauvinistic views of Ukraine and Ukrainians. 

Chauvinistic attitudes toward Ukrainians as a non-existent people and a branch of the ‘Russian people’ is believed by a majority of the Russian public and those in power and the opposition. Putin and Russian leaders have repeatedly stated that ‘Ukrainians and Russians are one people’, which echoes opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who said, ‘I do not see any difference between Russians and Ukrainians’. 37 Tor Bukkvoll writes that ‘The axiom about Russia and Ukraine being one and the same is seldom contradicted in the Russian elite’.38 With such attitudes commonplace across Russia’s political spectrum, it is not surprising that Ukrainian security affairs expert Yevhen Magda believes that Russian democracy ends at the Ukrainian border.39

Putin’s ‘gathering of Russian lands’ required Ukraine to be a part of the Russian World and for this to be possible Yanukovych had to be re-elected in January 2015 as Ukrainian president.40

Russians continue to hold to the Russian nationalist and Soviet myths of the three eastern Slavs born together in the medieval Kyiv Rus, that they have always striven to remain united despite foreign plots to break them apart, and that they will continue to remain ‘fraternal’ and ‘brotherly peoples’ indefinitely. Soviet mythology of the perpetual ‘fraternal’ nature of friendship between the three eastern Slavic ‘brotherly peoples’ is rooted in Kyiv as the alleged birthplace of the ‘Russian’ (understood as the three eastern Slavic) peoples. Putin stated, ‘We are one people. Kyiv is the mother of Russian cities. The ancient Rus is our common heritage — we cannot grow without each other’.41 In November 2016, a monument to Grand Prince Volodymyr, who ruled Kyiv Rus from 980–1015, was unveiled in Moscow, a city that did not exist when he ruled the medieval state (Moscow was founded in 1147 as a minor town on the edge of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality). 

The Russkiy Mir (Russian World) is the modern-day successor to Kyiv Rus, which unites three ‘brotherly peoples’ through a shared history, the Russian language, and the Russian Orthodox Church. There was declining support in Ukraine for this prior to 2014, with Ukrainian history writing viewing Kyiv Rus as exclusively belonging to Ukrainian, rather than eastern Slavic history.42 The Euromaidan Revolution and Russian military aggression since 2014 have accelerated Ukraine’s divorce with Russia through a growth in Ukrainian identity and language and recognition of an autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. 

Russian nationalists divide Ukraine into four parts: Crimea, New Russia (Novorossiya [Little Russia] — that is, eastern-southern Ukraine) populated by ‘Russians’ (i.e. Russian-speakers), Little Russians in right-bank Ukraine, and western Ukrainians. 43 The Crimea is Russian. President Putin told the NATO- Russian Council: ‘The south, the south of Ukraine, is completely populated by Russians’. 44 Ukrainians living in right-bank Ukraine also desire to forever live in close unity with Russia. Western Ukraine has been corrupted by Polish and European influences and is Russophobic, and Russian nationalists never lay claim on this region. Moscow believes that ‘Russians’ in ‘New Russia’ (southern- eastern Ukraine) and Little Russians (right-bank central Ukraine) are prevented from living in the Russkiy Mir by western Ukrainian ‘fascist’ putschists who are in power with Jewish oligarchs backed by the West with the purpose of keeping Russia weak.45 Moscow’s belief in a Ukraine divided between an anti-Russian West (‘fascists’ and ‘Russophobes’) and pro-Russian center, east, and south (‘Russians’ and’Little Russians’), is evident in Russian Security Council secretary Nikolai Patrushev’s belief that Ukraine breaking away from Russia was being undertaken on the orders of the West ‘while ignoring the interests of its own people’.46


34 ‘Attacking Ukraine via Canada’, EU Disinformation Review, 21 January 2019, ukraine-via-canada/. 

35 A. Barbashin and H. Thoburn, ‘Putin’s Philosopher: Ivan Ilyin and the Ideology of Moscow’s Rule’, Foreign Affairs, 20 September 2015, 36M. Laruelle, ‘The “Russian Idea” on the Small Screen: Staging National Identity on Russia’s TV’, Demokratrizatsiya 22 (Spring 2014) p. 330, 

37 Interview with Alexei Navalny, Ekho Moskva, 15 October 2014, 

38 T. Bukkvoll, ‘Why Putin Went to War’, p. 21.

39 Y. Mahda, Russia’s Hybrid Aggression: Lessons for the World (Kyiv: Kalama 2018) pp. 200–03.

40 K. Pynnoniemi and A. Racz, Fog of Falsehood, p. 94. 

41 Ibid., p. 93.

42 T. Kuzio, ‘Nation-State Building and the Re-Writing of History in Ukraine: The Legacy of Kyiv Rus’, Nationalities Papers 33 (March 2005) pp. 30–58.

43 A. Shekhovtsov, ‘Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo-Eurasianism and the Russian-Ukrainian War’, in Mark Bassin and Gonzalo Pozo (eds.), The Politics of Eurasianism: Identity, Popular Culture and Russia’s Foreign Policy (London: Rowman and Littlefield 2017) pp. 185–204. 

CONTACT Taras Kuzio Department of Political Science National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy 2 Skovoroda Street Kyiv 04070 Ukraine

The opinions expressed in this Blog page are not necessarily those of British-Ukrainian Aid.



British-Ukrainian Aid supports people suffering from the war and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, including the injured and wounded, orphaned children, the elderly, internally displaced persons, refugees and families who have lost their main earners.

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