Putin has history on his side - by Dominic Sandbrook for Unherd - 28.01.22

Writer and broadcaster Dominic Sandbrook brings a historic perspective to the current crisis threatening stability on the Russian Border which we the West would do well to understand.


Contrary to media assertions over here, Ukraine has not, and has never been, regarded as a sovereign independent state by millions of Russians living within and outside its borders. Since the days of Peter the Great's battle with Sweden at Poltava in 1709 in the Great Northern War it has come to symbolise the beating heart of Russia itself. Sandbrook takes up the story:


“Soldiers! The hour has struck when the fate of the whole motherland lies in your hands! Either Russia will perish or she will be reborn!” So ran the proclamation of Peter the Great, Tsar of All the Russias, the day before the decisive showdown. For almost a decade he had led a coalition against the Swedish Empire of his rival Charles XII. This was his chance to overturn the balance of power in the Baltic and confirm Russia’s emergence as the new colossus of Northern Europe."


Before jumping in, the West may wish to take the trouble to understand its enemy even if it doesn't agree with him, argues Sandbrook:


"Fixated on their own modernity, obsessed with the here and now, many Western politicians seem unable to grasp that at the eastern edge of Europe, history really matters. Go to Putin’s official government website, and you can read his 5,000-word essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, published last summer. Did he really write it himself? It hardly matters. The important thing is that he clearly believes it.


Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians, Putin says, are one people, “descendants of Ancient Rus”. He admits that they later became fragmented, but insists that “Moscow became the centre of reunification, continuing the tradition of ancient Russian statehood.


Today it’s very common to regard Putin as a kind of anomaly. We think of the Western-dominated, rules-based international system as the norm. The West represents order, and Putin represents disorder. We stand for continuity; he represents change and chaos.


But as unpalatable as it might be to admit it, a very long view suggests that it’s Putin who looks normal, and we who look peculiar. After all, if you walk around most European cities you can see plenty of statues of people who were very like Vladimir Putin — pragmatic, ruthless, authoritarian rulers who governed with an iron hand at home and believed might made right abroad. "


The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:



Article for Unherd by Dominic Sandbrook - Putin has history on his side - 28.01.22
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