Putin’s distortions of history do not justify war
At a press conference in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin brought up the Lone Star State to defend his country’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. “What,” he said, “like Mexico and the United States have never had territorial disputes? Who owned California? And Texas? Although few people question the fact that Texas is part of the United States, Putin said most countries still recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Texas pops up as a talking point in the Kremlin more often than you might expect (like last year’s frozen windmills). Texans are dealing with pressing issues close to home, so why should we care about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? On the one hand, Putin’s actions, unprecedented since World War II, have broader implications that should concern us all. And although geographically distant, this war will have concrete impacts on Texans. The most basic example is that many Texans are Ukrainian or have ties to Ukraine and have asked for help.
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This war is an escalation of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the partial occupation of eastern Ukraine it has maintained, though denied, ever since. After amassing around 190,000 troops around three sides of Ukraine, Putin moved to recognize the Russian-backed breakaway regions – the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics – and greenlit military action “at the foreigner”. And now Russia has launched a full-fledged war of aggression on the European continent.
One of Putin’s main justifications for military action should give us particular pause. In an hour-long speech recently, he made a factually inaccurate historical argument that Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin invented Ukraine and the country has no right to exist within its borders internationally. recognized.
But he is wrong. Ukraine has its own rich national history that dates back over 1,100 years. It has its own language, culture and traditions, not to mention its own national security interests. Putin expressed bitterness in his speech that Ukrainians have toppled statues of Lenin in recent years in avowed acts of decommunization. He then published what was clearly designed as a threat to Ukraine’s territorial integrity: “Do you want decommunization? Very well, that suits us very well. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunizations would mean for Ukraine.
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If Putin truly believes this version of the story, and there are many indications that he does, then he sees the annexation of more Ukrainian territories as the correction of a historical wrong. By this logic, Spain, France, and Mexico would each be justified in launching wars to reclaim Texas. To most, this proposition seems absurd at first sight. And it’s. But as residents of a state whose iconography commemorates a history of sovereignty under six different flags, Texans are in a unique position to appreciate the dark implications of its logic.
The Ukrainians are confronted with this distorted logic supported by the full force of the Russian army. Texans should be appalled that a world leader is weaponizing false historical grievances to deny self-determination to the people of an independent country. Putin is trying to use this narrative to sell this war, primarily to his own people, but also to the international community. We must reject that it has any basis in reality.
We can and must educate ourselves so that no one can ever use the abuse of history as justification for bloodshed.
Johnston is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at the University of Texas.