Putin ally calls Russia a 'continent of sanity' on state radio
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Ukraine existing as a functioning democracy in Russia’s “backyard” could continue the fragmentation within Russia which began during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, according to Bohdan Vititsky. Mr Vititsky is a former Resident Legal Advisor at the US Embassy in Ukraine and Special Advisor to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General.
Putin could see a functioning democracy merely existing near Russia as an existential threat to his rule – a panic which could have prompted his doomed invasion of Ukraine.
Writing for the Atlantic Council, he outlined why Putin may see Ukraine as such a threat.
He said: “By almost any measure, President Zelensky enjoys far more personal legitimacy than Putin, while democratic Ukraine is an infinitely more legitimate state than autocratic Russia.
“Putin is well aware of this fact. He also understands that if a democratic Ukraine is allowed to gain strength and prosper, it will likely inspire Russians to seek similar changes in their own country.
“In other words, he regards the existence of a free and democratic Ukraine as an existential threat to the future of his own autocratic regime.”
This threat could explain why Putin publicly denies Ukraine’s right to exist outside of a “partnership with Russia” – an opinion he codified in a 5,000 word essay just seven months before the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Vititsky said: “This helps to explain why Putin has chosen to gamble everything on the destruction of the Ukrainian state. From the Russian ruler’s perspective, independent Ukraine is an intolerable reminder that democratic legitimacy is entirely possible in the Slavic heartlands of the former USSR.
“Unless Ukraine is destroyed, Putin fears Russia itself may enter a new era of collapse that will continue the process begun in 1991.”
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Chief Sergei Naryshkin has stated that the “future of Russia is at stake” regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
He said: “Russia’s future and its future place in the world are at stake.”
Putin is facing the existential terror that Russia could tear itself apart with breakaway regions lured away from his iron grip towards the promise of democracy. It would not be the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that a group of people has tried to leave the Russian federation.
The Chechen Republic, or Chechnya, is a part of Russia but attempted to breakaway as an independent state in the 1990s. The result was two extremely bloody wars in which Russia devastated the area and installed pro-Russia leadership in the republic.
Russia is made up of 85 federal subjects, many of them ethnically diverse or majority non-ethnic Russian.
This panic felt by Putin could explain some of his actions both abroad and in Russia. He has systematically crushed the opposition inside Russia and dismantled any form of democratic system.
He also mentioned that ordinary Russians have been arrested for holding “blank placards in public spaces”.
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Putin’s invasion and his plans to destabilise and delegitimise Ukraine may have backfired.
By invading Ukraine, Putin has given the country even more legitimacy in the eyes of the West.
Zelensky is now seen as a first among Western leaders and the Ukrainian Armed forces are well respected for their courage in the face of a far larger army. By trying to wipe Ukraine from the map, Putin has cemented its place in the world’s conscience.
Putin may have taken a huge “gamble” by invading Ukraine, but with his armies bogged-down while fighting a war of attrition and the Russian economy in tatters it’s possible his luck may be running out.
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