Putin’s Russia Has One Goal: To Make Sure Ukraine Doesn’t Exist

How can Ukraine “talk” to Russia when Putin’s goal seems to be to make sure Ukraine doesn’t exist? Imagine it’s 1944 in Europe, and an Allied leader says this: “We’ll have a peace to build tomorrow, let’s never forget that…. We will have to do this with Jews and Germans around the table. The end of the discussion and the negotiation will be fixed by the Jews and the Germans. But this will not be done in denial, nor in exclusion from each other, nor even in humiliation.

I suspect most people would agree that the proposal is absurd, obscene and doomed to failure. How could Adolf Hitler and a representative of the Jewish community talk about anything? Hitler is determined to annihilate the Jews, and the Jews want to survive. A meeting of minds is impossible under such zero-sum conditions.

Replace the Jews with Ukraine and the Germans with Russia, and you will get the statement made by French President Emmanuel Macron in Strasbourg on May 9. Although Russia’s ongoing genocide in Ukraine is nowhere near as destructive as the Holocaust – after all, the war has only been going on for three months – the logic of the negotiation is identical in both cases. Just as the Jews could only negotiate with the Germans after the latter’s defeat, apology and renunciation of anti-Semitism and Nazism, so Ukraine can only negotiate with Russia after its defeat, its apologies and his renunciation of anti-Ukrainism and Nazism.

Until that happens, Putin’s Russia will remain a rogue fascist state bent on destroying Ukraine and Ukrainians and expanding its empire to all nations controlled by Soviet Russia. As a deputy of the Moscow City Council recently saidRussia must “denazify” Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova and Kazakhstan.

Russian policy makers have said several times that Ukraine is an artificial construct and that Ukrainians do not exist. A Duma deputy has declared that “the very notion of Ukraine should not exist in the future”. Nor should “the notion of Ukrainian” be. He calls his views “radical”, when in fact they are common in today’s Russia. So the Clarification “the educational publishing house… ordered its employees to remove as many references to Ukraine and Kyiv from the texts because, in the words of one editor, ‘we have to give the impression that the Ukraine does not exist’.” And, a few weeks ago, a Russian publicist offered a detailed analysis plan of the extermination of the Ukrainian nation.

Russian soldiers murdered, raped and looted with abandon, committing multiple war crimes in the process. At the same time, the Russians have destroy and looted nearly 200 Ukrainian cultural heritage sites. Just two examples: A museum dedicated to 18andthe Ukrainian philosopher of the -century, Hryhory Skovoroda, was bombarded at the beginning of May; a few days later, a cache of ancient Scythian gold jewelry and artifacts was Fly of a museum in Melitopil.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians were killed in Mariupil; thousands more died in other Ukrainian villages, towns and cities. Hundreds of thousands of people have been “ethnically cleansed” and forcibly deported to Russia. Thousands of children have been kidnapped.

Russia’s actions today are little different from its actions in the early 1930s, when Moscow launched an anti-Ukrainian campaign that was recognized as genocide by Rafael Lemkin, the Polish Jewish scholar who coined the term. Yesterday as today, Moscow aiming to destroy Ukrainians physically as well as their “tradition, folklore and music, national language and literature, national spirit”. So like today, if Moscow’s plans are successful, “Ukraine will also be dead” – to quote Lemkin – “as if every Ukrainian was killed, because he will have lost that part of him which has preserved and developed his culture, its beliefs, its common ideas, which guided it and gave it a soul, which, in short, made it a nation rather than a mass of people.

Given Putin Russia’s clearly genocidal aims in Ukraine, what are Ukrainians and Russians supposed to talk about? Indeed, what could President Macron or any of his Western counterparts discuss with Putin? About how many Ukrainians he should kill? About how many missiles he should rain down on Ukrainian cities? About the rhythm of the genocide? About building ghettos?

Like Hitler, Putin must first be defeated and his country denazified before any reasonable dialogue can take place between Russia and Ukraine, as well as between Russia and the West. This does not mean that diplomacy should stop: miracles happen. Nor does defeat mean the collapse or destruction of Russia. But that means, at a minimum, Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine and, arguably more importantly, Putin’s departure. The West should have no illusions. Even if Putin takes advantage of certain “exit ramps”, his Russia will remain a threat to world peace, and another war – with Ukraine or with other post-Soviet states – will be almost inevitable. Ursula, President of the European Commission von der Leyen was absolutely right to say that Russia “is today the most direct threat to the world order”.

Russian President Putin. Image credit: Creative Commons.

She could have added that it will be so as long as Putin remains in power. Only after his departure will it be possible, like a Russian commentator recommends that Russia “admit defeat, conclude a peace and move on to reforms as soon as possible”.

Dr Alexandre Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist in Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, as well as nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 non-fiction books, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919-1929 (1980); publisher of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor to dozens of articles in academic and political journals, newspaper opinion pages and magazines. He also maintains a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues”.