Paradigm for peace applied to Russia, Ukraine, and the US: Proposal for a peaceful pathway forward – Part 4S. Obtuse US and UK “experts” issue libelous statements re: Putin’s concept of unity

Part 4. Mental escalators of violence in US policy and media makers – Part 4S. Obtuse US and UK “experts” issue libelous statements re: Putin’s concept of unity

 False Bias #19. When Putin Speaks of “Unity,” He Means That Ukrainians Aren’t Ukrainians but Russians and that Russia and Ukraine Should Merge into One Nation. Peter Dickinson, a member of the highly pro-NATO Atlantic Council, is a UK “expert” who, like so many US “experts,” summarized Putin’s July 2021 essay, “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” with a horrendously cynical interpretation with twist after twist upon the truth.

Dickinson states of Putin:

“His unapologetically imperialistic attitude towards Russian-Ukrainian relations was laid bare in July 2021 in the form of a 7,000-word essay authored by Putin himself which set out to explain the alleged ‘historical unity’ binding the two nations together. ‘I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. For we are one people,’ Putin the amateur historian concluded. This bizarre treatise was widely interpreted as a declaration of war against the entire notion of an independent Ukraine and has since been made required reading for all Russian military personnel.”[1]

Dickinson, the amateur essay analyst, gets it all wrong: Putin’s attitude in the essay was not imperialistic. The “historical unity” did not refer to the dissolving of political borders or the political conjunction of the two nations. The partnership with Russia was a positive, cooperative partnership, not a controlling takeover partnership. The treatise was not bizarre. The essay was absolutely not a declaration of war.

Picture a multiple-choice reading comprehension exam which asks for the significance of Putin’s essay. The choices are: (a) declaration of war, (b) request for an increased military budget, (c) statement of allegiance to the US government, and (d) description of several pressing concerns about Ukraine.

People from the Atlantic Council would all check off (a) “declaration of war”—and get it wrong. The answer is (d). Probably the fact that the essay is not a statement of allegiance to the US government translates in US and UK “experts’” minds to the conclusion that it’s a declaration of war.

In the spirit of a cooperative quest attitude of thought and dialogue, we have to consider that perhaps Dickinson has additional information to back his interpretation since he has worked extensively with Ukraine media and with the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert and Business Ukraine Magazine. However, it seems more than likely that he may be highly biased because of these very experiences, which may have put him in contact with certain Ukrainians and their particular biases and not others.

In fact, a youtube video about Dickinson is entitled, “Ukraine needs Western partners to send offensive weapons to defeat Russia, argues magazine editor.”[2] His conviction that the goal is to defeat Russia—rather than resolve conflict—sounds dangerously out-of-line and suggests a severe lack of empathy and sense of justice for Russia’s perspective and legitimate grievances.

Frankly, the more I read the US and UK news, the more I find these policy and media makers to be acting like a parent handling a divorce very, very badly. In this divorce, there are kids. And the parent who has custody of the kids fills their ears and minds with lies about the other parent, to make the kids hate and fear that other parent and instead remain loyal and loving exclusively towards the first parent. This is exactly what the US propaganda machine is doing, as well as UK experts such as Dickinson. They’re filling our ears and minds with twisted half-truths at best and lies at worst about Russia, especially about Putin.

The group of words used by Putin that continually trip up US and UK “experts” into a mud puddle of confusion and bewilderment are the words “unity,” “one,” and “one people.” For example, Dickinson claims, “For more than a decade, he [Putin] has questioned the historical legitimacy of Ukrainian statehood and publicly insisted that Ukrainians are really Russians (‘one people’).” Similarly, Reuters falsely asserts on June 9, 2022, “In July 2021, the Kremlin published a long essay by Putin in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided.”[3] In fact, a June 10, 2022 article in The Guardian by Andrew Roth with contributions from Reuters repeats this lie word-for word and refers again to Putin’s July 2021 essay, “in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided.”

These examples demonstrate not only weak but dangerous reading comprehension skills. Interpretations like that only lend false justification for unwarranted American hostility towards Putin and Russia. In the first place, when Putin speaks of “the harsh and artificial division of Russians and Ukrainians,” he is not speaking of artificial national borders or artificial political sovereignty. He is referring to the “forced change of identity” in which Ukrainians are being led by their government to reject Russian cultural elements within their own culture and to hate and fear Russia itself.

Putin states that the “formation of an ethnically pure Ukrainian state, aggressive towards Russia, is comparable in its consequences to the use of weapons of mass destruction against us.” This is the context of his speaking of the “artificial division.” He is speaking of the division of culture and emotional bonds of caring and connection, a type of bond perhaps too heartfelt to be grasped by power-oriented US policymakers with shriveled hearts.

And do you see that word “one” in “one people”? It tripped them up again. In fact, the word is acting like a trip wire that sets off explosions of outraged indignation amongst these “experts.” In his essay and speeches, Putin has stated that Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia were once all part of Russia. This is commonly understood by historians. The land called “Russia” was later divided into these three nations. Putin’s point is not to say they should not have been divided. His point is that these three nations have extremely close historical, cultural, and family ties, and it’s natural and right that these three nations, as three politically separate nations, be in cooperative, positive social and economic relations with one another. Efforts by the West to push Ukraine to feel and behave antagonistically towards Russia, including cutting off economic cooperation and promoting years of NATO cooperation and training with Ukraine’s military, are wrong and unnatural.

Based on Putin’s statements in his July 2021 essay and his February 21 and 24, 2022 speeches, I feel quite certain that the purpose of Putin’s use of these words: “unity,” “one,” and “one people” is not to justify the merging of these three nations into one nation but rather to justify the need for current cooperation and positive relations amongst the three nations. US and UK experts, however, inaccurately interpret—or deliberately misinterpret—Putin’s words “unity” and “one people” to infer that Putin seeks to dissolve political borders. Such a misinterpretation not only helps to paint a false picture of Putin as evil, but it hides and distracts from US attempts to pull Ukraine into the US orbit for ulterior motives.

The inability of these experts to be accurate and truthful should send up a huge red flag to us all that we have the wrong people making and influencing foreign policy. If they don’t have the truthfulness or the reading skills to report accurately on a foreign leader’s words, what business do they have being in positions of influence? We’re moving closer to the cliff of a disastrous war and the end of planetary life simply because US and UK experts either deliberately distort or cannot comprehend written material.

“One people” is more of a poetic term, a feeling of unity based upon historical, cultural, and family connections. Historically, Russians, Belorussians, and Ukrainians emerged from the same Eastern Slavic branch of the Slavic family. You can see this in any family tree of language, where these three nations and their languages were more closely connected to one another because of their common heritage than, say, the Western Slavic languages, such as Czech and Slovak. The Eastern Slavic branch first developed around what is now Kiev.

By saying “one people,” Putin is not saying that Ukrainians are Russians or Russians are Ukrainians. He’s not denying their differences. But he is pointing, with passion, to their common background and feelings of connection, because it feels so wrong to so many Russians and Ukrainians to be turned against one another by Western powers, including groups such as NATO, the Atlantic Council, and the National Endowment for “Democracy,” who find some sort of pecuniary, economic, political, military, or psychological benefits out of rending the unity between Russians and Ukrainians.

Furthermore, when Putin speaks of the “unity” between Ukraine and Russia, he’s not speaking of any wish to dissolve the political borders and combine the two nations. Absolutely not. He compares the type of relationship Russia seeks with Ukraine to that between Canada and the US, and between Austria and Germany. When he speaks of “one people,” he’s not suggesting that Ukrainians are really Russians.

Currently, referendums are planned to be held in the two regions located between Crimea and Donetsk, to determine whether or not the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions wish to secede from Ukraine and request to unite with Russia. As explained in a previous essay, I do not see these plans as results of Russian imperialism and I see no reason to believe that they’re being forced upon these regions by Russia. For decades, US policymakers—perhaps in an act of psychological projection—have continually erred in assuming that indigenous movements and actions are instead the results of Russian brainwashing and Russian plants.

I think many Ukrainians, particularly those of Russian ethnicity, prefer to be joined with Russia rather than with Ukraine, which now appears to be a Western puppet. The Western press spin is to dismiss the referendums as fraudulent and to paint the “We are one with Russia” signs as some sort of clone-like mantra, but I think this is false, negative spin. At the very least, when it is hard as an American over here to know what is true and what is false over there, I see no reason to automatically assume that the referendums are false or a deceitful disguise for the coercion of the Ukrainian people.

To help Readers get a better sense of Putin’s meaning, I’ll quote the final paragraphs of Putin’s essay:

“Just have a look at how Austria and Germany, the USA and Canada live next to each other. Close in ethnic composition, culture, in fact sharing one language, they remain sovereign states with their own interests, with their own foreign policy. but this does not prevent them from the closest integration or allied relations. They have very conditional, transparent borders. And when crossing them the citizens feel at home. They create families, study, work, do business. Incidentally, so do millions of those born in Ukraine who now live in Russia. We see them as our own close people.

“Russia is open to dialogue with Ukraine and ready to discuss the most complex issues. But it is important for us to understand that our partner is defending its national interests but not serving someone else’s, and is not a tool in someone else’s hands to fight against us.

“We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions. We respect Ukrainians’ desire to see their country free, safe and prosperous.

“I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties formed for centuries and have their origins in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories. Our kinship has been transmitted from generation to generation. It is in the hearts and the memory of people living in modern Russia and Ukraine, in the blood ties that unite millions of our families. Together we have always been and will be many times stronger and more successful. For we are one people.

“Today, these words may be perceived by some people with hostility. They can be interpreted in many possible ways. Yet, many people will hear me. And I will say one thing—Russia has never been and will never be ‘anti-Ukraine.’ And what Ukraine will be—it is up to its citizens to decide.

“V. Putin”[4]

Does this sound like a man with goals of conquest? Like a man who doesn’t recognize borders or sovereignty?

If journalists and so-called experts are allowed to make such false claims and libelous statements about Putin’s words, I suggest we throw out the SATs (Scholastic Aptitude Tests) and the GREs (Graduate Record Examinations). What use is reading comprehension? In fact, why have any standards of knowledge or truth at all? It seems the burdensome US educational curriculum is perhaps purposefully intended to merely fatigue and distract students’ minds so they’re left with no time or interest to ever question contemporary US policymakers and media makers.

It’s time for some more multiple choice. Describe the meaning of the statement, “For we are one people.” The choices are: (a) Ukrainians are really Russians and must join Russia as one nation, (b) Russians are really Ukrainians and must join Ukraine as one nation, (c) All Russians and Ukrainians think alike, or (d) Russians and Ukrainians have a common historical, cultural, and social background that gives them a feeling of unity and kinship.

Although Atlantic Council members, such as Dickinson and NED President Damon Wilson, would undoubtedly choose (a), the answer is (d).

One more multiple choice. Define the meaning of Putin’s statement: “We respect the Ukrainian language and traditions.” The choices are (a) The Ukrainian language must be abolished and Ukraine’s traditions stampeded, (b) Ukrainian traditions are all right but the language has got to go, (c) We respect the Ukrainian language because it’s the same thing as the Russian language, or (d) We appreciate and will not harm the Ukrainian language and traditions.

The Atlantic Council, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the lobbyists for right-wing Ukrainians smothering Washington, DC in unprecedented numbers—they’re even outnumbering the Saudis[5]—might insist the answer is (a). But the answer is (d).

In his July 2021 essay, Putin speaks of Russia’s and Ukraine’s historical and cultural unity and history of economic cooperation, and he describes the ways in which he sees this unity being deliberately eroded. He writes of his fears that Westerners wish to use Ukraine to serve certain Westerners’ ulterior motives to harm Russia. He writes with alarm about neo-Nazism in Ukraine—a documented fact—and about anti-Russian policies and attitudes being encouraged by the government—also a documented fact. He writes of the beating of monks and priests in the Orthodox Church by anti-Russian Ukrainians—yet another documented fact. When Putin speaks of the need for “unity,” he clearly is not talking about a merging of the two nations and a dissolving of Ukrainian independence. He is speaking of emotional, ethnic, and cultural ties as well as economic cooperation.

In essay Part 4K, we spoke of Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker who interviewed Harvard professor Serhii Plokhy. Going out on what seems to be a limb of fiction, Plokhy states, “We are almost back to the mid-nineteenth century with imperial officers trying to hinder the development of Ukrainian culture and ideas.” But where’s the evidence to support such a claim? Everything I’ve read in Putin’s essay and speeches suggests the utmost respect for Ukraine’s culture and ideas. From what I’ve read with regard to Putin’s actions, I’ve seen nothing to suggest that he’s trying to suppress Ukrainian culture.

In trying to find information online to support Plokhy’s claim, I found an article by Guzel Yusuprova, a law passed in 2018, and a few articles referring to the reduction of the teaching of Ukrainian in Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk. We’ll look at each of these. Yusuprova stated:

“Since he came to power 18 years ago, Vladimir Putin has overseen a sweeping transformation of Russia’s ‘ethnic federalism,’ where a majority of ethnicities have their own territorial autonomy. That includes the effective abilities of one of the last elements of true federalism in Russia—namely, the status of minority languages in ethnic republics as second official languages with equal status to Russia. The Kremlin is increasingly pursuing a programme of cultural homogenization, gradually removing support for education in minority languages, curriculums with ethno-regional components, and other cultural initiatives by the ethnic minorities. All political activities designed to shore up minority identities are under pressure as well.”[6]

While the article implies some sort of oppressive stamping out of ethnic multiculturalism, without hearing the details, it’s hard to know the nature of the so-called “homogenization” policies and whether they’re oppressive and unjust or not. Keep in mind, in his February 24, 2022 speech, Putin specifically accused the West of deliberately fomenting discord in Russia: “This is how it was in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the so-called collective West was actively supporting separatism and gangs of mercenaries in southern Russia.”[7]

If political activities of minorities are “under pressure,” it’s quite possible that this pressure is in response to fears that US policymakers are seeking to deliberately ignite revolutions amongst minority ethnic groups within Russia itself. Just as US policymaker use of the Kurds in Iraq to fight Saddam Hussein only heightened distrust and hostility towards the Kurds, egging on ethnic minorities within Russia to break away will only bring down the distrust and wrath of Russia upon them. Of course, this dynamic is what’s transpired in US policymakers’ use of Ukrainians as pawns in a fight against Russia.

With regard to the law of 2018 described online, this law did not ban Ukrainian. It didn’t ban any language at all. It didn’t drop any language from school curricula. The law also didn’t change the fact that Russia has 35 official languages in addition to Russian, a condition that sounds quite pluralistic to me. It seems strange to even suggest that Russia is trying to homogenize when the US has only one official language, a suffocating system of social conformity, economic and commercial homogenization, mainstream media centralization of information sources, and legal and educational standardization.

Now, what the 2018 law did do was remove the mandatory nature of instruction in a minority language—a language other than Russian—for those students whose native language is not the minority language being taught. So if a student designates Russian as their native language, they’re not required to study any other regional language of the republic in which they live. Compare that to US language policies, where you’re not likely to be instructed in anything but English.

Some people dislike the 2018 law because the law gives a relative boost to the study of Russian, which all students are required to learn. The law also places a two-hour per week maximum on the study of minority languages.[8] Nonetheless, this law can hardly be considered parallel to laws in Ukraine or Latvia which have dropped the teaching of Russian altogether in all or certain grades, despite significant ethnic Russian populations and despite the fact that Russian can serve as a commonly understood language between a variety of ethnic groups.

What’s strange and suspicious is the favor given to European Union and NATO languages. In Latvia, where Latvians comprise about 60 percent of the population and Russians 25 percent, as of 2021, Russian is no longer taught the last three years of high school, but EU languages, including German and French, are still taught at some schools.[9] In Ukraine, a law passed in 2019 requires Ukrainian to be used in most aspects of public life. Newsstands, for example, must have at least half their content in Ukrainian. Any publication in another language must also be accompanied by a Ukrainian version.

Oddly enough, the law makes exceptions for certain minority languages, English, and official EU languages—but not for Russian![10] So presumably, if I’m understanding the report correctly, a newsstand’s products could be 25 percent in Ukrainian and 75 percent in English but not 75 percent in Russian. It’s this type of deliberate distancing from Russia, the Russian people, and Russian culture—and the simultaneous pushing towards the US and Europe—that is so painful, enraging, threatening, and unacceptable to Russia. Psychologically, it seems akin to pushing someone’s spouse out of bed and taking their place.

Now some articles did refer to a reduction of instruction in the Ukrainian language in Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk. However, the titles and opening lines of the articles seem exaggerated. An article written in 2019 by Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty, for example, is entitled, “Rights Group: Ukrainan Language Near Banished in Donbas Schools,” and the first sentence reads, “The instruction of the Ukrainian language has been virtually wiped out in areas that Moscow-backed separatists control in eastern Ukraine where an armed conflict has simmered since April 2014, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHTG, a Ukrainian group) says.” I wouldn’t call 14,000 dead in civil war a “simmering” conflict. But further on, the article explains that actually instruction in Ukrainian has not been virtually wiped out: “Currently in the parts of Donbas that Kyiv doesn’t control, schoolchildren learn Ukrainian for one hour a week in comparison to up to five or six hours of Russian, in addition to other courses they take in the same language, KHPG said. The Kremlin-backed authorities there have justified the curriculum change based on meeting local demand on language preferences.”[11]

Similarly, a 2019 article by KHPG is entitled, “Russia Has Eliminated All Classes Taught in Ukrainian Since Its Annexation of Crimea.” Further on, however, you find that not all classes taught in Ukrainian have been eliminated, only reduced. The article explains that “immediately prior to annexation, 90.7% of school students studied in Russian; 6.5% in Ukrainian; and 2.7% in Crimean Tatar. . . .There were 7 schools where all subjects were taught in Ukrainian and 15 in Crimean Tatar. . . .By the 2014/2015 school year only one of 532 schools in Crimea had a full program in Ukrainian,” and by 2016, only 0.2%  of school students were receiving education in Ukrainian.[12] So the complaint is that the 7 out of 532 school teaching in Ukrainian—not many to begin with—has been reduced to 1 out of 532, according to KHPG’s figures.

But why slant the articles’ titles to say that instruction in Ukrainian has been altogether eliminated? Moreover, while there is certainly evidence of a reduction of the teaching of the Ukrainian language in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and the shuttering of the Ukrainian library in Moscow, at the same time, it’s strange that Plokhy doesn’t mention the fact that the Ukrainian government has been forbidding instruction in Russian and banning Russian and Western books.

Yes, it’s unjust if parents or teachers in eastern Ukraine and Crimea who wish to learn more in Ukrainian are afraid to even ask for this. But it’s also unjust for parents and teachers in Ukraine who wish to learn more Russian to be afraid to ask for that! In fact, Putin has expressed despair over the anti-Russia cultural campaign being waged in Ukraine since the 2014 coup, another topic being denied and ignored by the supposedly pluralistic US “experts.”

In his July 2021 essay, Putin explains:

“. . . well before 2014, the US and EU countries systematically and consistently pushed Ukraine to curtail and limit economic cooperation with Russia. . . .

“Step by step, Ukraine was dragged into a dangerous geopolitical game aimed at turning Ukraine into a barrier between Europe and Russia, a springboard against Russia. Inevitably, there came a time when the concept of ‘Ukraine is not Russia’ was no longer an option. There was a need for the ‘anti-Russia’ concept which we will never accept.

“. . . And there is no need to deceive anyone that this is being done in the interests of the people of Ukraine. . . .

“Nor were the interests of the Ukrainian people thought of in February 2014. . . . Western countries directly interfered in Ukraine’s internal affairs and supported the coup. Radical nationalist groups served as its battering ram. . . .

“All the things that united us and bring us together so far came under attack. First and foremost, the Russian language. . . .

“. . . .And the most despicable thing is that the Russians in Ukraine are being forced not only to deny their roots, generations of their ancestors but also to believe that Russia is their enemy. . . .

“The anti-Russia project has been rejected by millions of Ukrainians. . . .”[13]

In other words, to serve Western interests, Ukraine is being turned against its historical, cultural, and spiritual affinity with Russia in order to serve as a tool for the West to harm, conquer, and destroy Russia. Once the US-supported government came into power after the US-supported 2014 coup, first the Russian language came under attack, then dropped from the school curriculum. As Putin points out in his essay, Russian-Ukrainians and their culture are no longer even protected in Ukraine as an indigenous people, because Ukraine’s government recently changed the definition of an indigenous person!

According to the 2001 census, ethnic Russians comprise 17.3 percent of Ukraine’s population. However, when Ukraine’s President Zelenskiy passed an Indigenous People’s law, a law designed to protect minorities from discrimination, forced assimilation, the incitement of hatred against them, and genocide, and to ensure their representation in government and their ability to be educated in their own language, Ukraine was the first in the world to include in the definition of indigenous people the precondition that they must not have statehood outside the nation in which they’re living.[14] Therefore, since the nation of Russia exists, Russians living in Ukraine do not have the protection of coverage under the Indigenous People’s law.

Ukraine’s attack upon the Russian language is not over. In August 2022, Russia Today reported that Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy introduced a draft law promoting English as a “language of international communication.” In other words, even though Russian has been the common denominator language of Russia and the numerous former Soviet republics, Ukraine’s post-coup leadership now wants English to be the new common language.

Unbelievably, the proposed law would require all civil servants and law enforcement officers to be able to speak English! English! A language from thousands of miles away! A language whose alphabet can’t even support its language, where spelling makes absolutely no sense. A language with such a lack of musicality that poetry and lyrics can go nowhere near where they go in Russian.

This is clearly a rude move of cultural imperialism. Perhaps it’s even a move to further support for dollar hegemony. And people dare to accuse Putin of pursuing a program of “cultural homogenization”?! US policymakers and businessmen are the kings and queens of cultural homogenization! If you were dropped down in an American town, unless you were lucky enough to see some mountainous landmark, most likely, you’d have no idea what state you were in. Everything is made to look alike. Identical products and services are uniformly and monotonously provided from coast to coast. Aside from local news, the newspapers all spout the same things from the same centralized sources of information. Are US policymakers hoping for this same uniformity worldwide?

The Ukrainian ministry states that the proposed law would further Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. Of course, the English-speaking UK left the EU years ago. That leaves the Republic of Ireland, where Irish is the first official language and English is the second. So why push English? Why not German, French, or Italian? Perhaps this is more about furthering Ukraine’s integration with NATO. Remember, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) warned that the EU shouldn’t displace NATO in Europe’s decision-making. No doubt the US wants to make sure everyone in present and future NATO nations speaks English so they can all easily comprehend their orders from the US.

Th Ukrainian ministry also states that the proposed law would “attract more investment and tourists.”[15] Tourists? As if tourists are just dying to go someplace where people speak English. I supposed they should heighten the presence of American fast-food joints and cinemas, too, so people can feel like they’re in the US when they’re abroad. Yeah, that’s what tourists want. Frankly, I think that investment attraction is a huge clue not to be overlooked: potential US investors who hope to profit off Ukraine’s resources and land would likely favor this law so that communication isn’t so confusing for them when they take over more and more of the countryside.

Putin writes:

“Again, for many people in Ukraine, the anti-Russia project is simply unacceptable. And there are millions of such people. But they are not allowed to raise their heads. They have had their legal opportunity to defend their point of view in fact taken away from them. They are intimidated, driven underground. Not only are they persecuted for their convictions, for the spoken word, for the open expression of their position, but they are also killed. Murderers, as a rule, go unpunished.

“Today, the ‘right’ patriot of Ukraine is only the one who hates Russia.”[16]

And note that the statements Putin makes with regard to legislation against the Russian language in Ukrainian schools, legislation against protecting Russians as indigenous people, and violent crimes committed by neo-Nazis and other ultranationalists against Ukrainian individuals and against the Orthodox Church and its members are all supported by other independent sources online.[17]

So why not show that the animosity towards the other’s language and culture has been at least a two-way street, or perhaps a much stronger attitude within Ukraine’s US-supported government against Russia? An honest approach towards examining the issue can help readers to see the actions and language policies as a consequence of the wider conflict dynamic, rather than a one-way street perpetrated only by a “malicious” Russia against Ukraine. An honest approach would also recognize the potential role English will play in diminishing the existence of both Ukrainian and Russian.

The severe danger of half-truth is not only the loss of truth but the promotion of horrific violence. If the media and policy makers perpetually propagate propaganda to make only one side—the Russian side, or the Chinese or Iranian side—seem unjust and evil, this is not only false but it serves to promote a falsely justified conviction that war or proxy war through weapon shipments to one’s puppet army and private military contractors is necessary to attack “evil.” An honest approach to revealing the full 360 degrees of truth would show that non-violent conflict resolution and cooperative negotiation are the only effective responses in this conflict, for each side has fears that must be addressed, and violence only aggravates both fear and injustice.

Oblivious or dismissive of the anti-Russian project in Ukraine, Chotiner and Plokhy instead discuss why Russia is “threatened by Ukrainian identity. . . specifically, language.” The conversation is absolutely absurd and the falseness grotesque, especially given the failure to discuss the anti-Russian laws and possibly pro-English laws being promulgated in Ukraine!

Just recently, the Ukrainian government has taken yet another step towards rupturing historical and cultural ties with Russia: it has banned the teaching in Ukrainian schools of Tolstoy’s War and Peace, falsely claiming that the work glorifies the Russian military and associates mythical power to Russian weaponry. Ukraine’s Deputy Education and Science Minister, Andrii Vitrenko, stated, “‘All works in which there is a mystical, some mythical power of Russian weaponry, all this should be thrown out. Everything related to, as they say, the suffering of the Russian soul should be thrown out, such difficult works for Ukrainians in general, we don’t need them.’” In an interview with Ukraine’s media, “Vitrenko explained that the novel glorified the Russian military, which was deemed unacceptable.”

“‘Such things will not be studied in Ukraine. Everything that glorifies the orc troops will disappear from the program of foreign literature.’ Vitrenko explained, referring to Russians as ‘orcs,’ a derogatory, dehumanizing term that originated as the name for the villain race in J.R.R. Tolkein’s fantasy novel, The Lord of the Rings.[18]

Vitrenko, whose lack of knowledge of literature may stem from his background in economics, is evidently more familiar with Tolkein than Tolstoy. In fact, he’s obviously never read or at least not understood War and Peace, throughout which Tolstoy makes repeated slights against the military, its supposed glory, and its supposed practical purpose. With regard to Vitrenko’s concern about displays of mystical power of Russian weaponry, one of the ways in which Tolstoy displays irreverence towards both weaponry and soldiers is to diminish the valor of a soldier wearing a sword during a social gathering by writing more than once how the sword clanks clumsily against the furniture.

Vitrenko is surprisingly unfamiliar with Tolstoy’s disgust for war, his condemnation of patriotism, and the fact that he was even in trouble with the Russian Empire’s authorities at one point for his “subversive” ideas. Tolstoy insightfully described patriotism and patriotic war as aggrandized, armed selfishness that illogically and immorally legalizes and admires government-initiated violence and robbery that would never be tolerated if committed by an individual acting on his own. Could it be that the Ukrainian government, determined to pursue a military “solution” to conflict, is opposed to anti-war literature?

Perhaps Ukrainian policymakers dislike War and Peace because they’re not eager for Ukrainian youth to learn that Russians can be likeable, admirable, and wise, with profound, honorable ideas and values. Perhaps that’s the real sin of War and Peace and its author. In order for a state of war and animosity to continue, hatred must be brewed and reasons for love and understanding must be kept out of sight.

Ignoring the Ukrainian government’s actions against Russian culture, and pumping once again the theme that Putin’s sense of “unity” equates to the Russian absorption of Ukraine, Peter Dickinson quotes Putin’s words as if they prove Putin’s alleged imperial aims: “‘I am confident that true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia. For we are one people.’” But when Putin states that a truly sovereign Ukraine will be a Ukraine in partnership with Russia, he absolutely does not mean that Russia will dictate to Ukraine. I believe he means that because of the two nations’ long history and ties, a Ukraine that is true to itself will be one that has a cooperative relationship with Russia, because that would be most natural and harmonious with Ukraine’s own culture and experience. Putin is not telling Ukraine what to do. He clearly would like Ukrainians to decide things for themselves. He does not, however, want Ukraine to be covertly overpowered from within by people who simply represent the pecuniary and militarily strategic interests of Westerners.

Why don’t these American “experts” get it? Is it because the American sub-culture from which these “experts” originate is so oriented towards power and wealth that the idea of kinship, blood ties, and spiritual unity is meaningless? When they hear Putin speak of affection between cultures, why do they automatically perceive this as an issue of control and domination? Is this how many American relationships are? Is this how many American friendships are? To Americans, are “friends” and “allies” merely those who will allow themselves to submit to another’s control and demands for services and favors?

Is the word “unity” now really only a political term, referring to the spiritually shallow state of loyalty to one group in order to hate or kill another, as when school and college teams put each other down? When Biden preached during his inauguration of the need for “unity” amongst Americans, was he anticipating his pre-planned mission of uniting Americans behind him in a patriotic war against Russia by means of proxy war in Ukraine? Is “unity” to these Americans in power nothing more than clonelike commonality of purpose in killing others, in believing themselves united in “goodness” in killing “evil”? If so, no wonder US policymakers are bothered and confused by Putin’s use of the word “unity.” They don’t get it.

Putin, I believe, is speaking of a deeper sense of unity that is psychological, emotional, spiritual, and historical. In his essay, he seems to be speaking of the emotional pain of having not only the practical economic ties with Ukraine torn apart, but also the social ties, the feelings of friendship and caring between the two nations and populations, social ties that are hundreds of years old. The animosity that, according to Putin, has been deliberately brewed by the West is itself painful and unnatural. It just goes to show that even with an English translation, the cultural divide can make it impossible for the US foreign policy establishment to ever understand Putin. US policymakers will forever feel threatened by that word “unity” if it means something different to each culture.

I would strongly suggest, instead of shutting down Russian news sources, that the US and Europe open up cooperative dialogue, dialogue about the very ideas we’re discussing here, not with the goal of once again slamming Putin, but with the goal of sincerely trying to understand his meaning. Then we can find out who got the answers right to the multiple-choice questions above.

It’s enraging that horrible, irresponsible misinterpretations of Putin are unnecessarily egging on the killing and hatred, and it’s therefore crucial to publicly settle the matter of the meaning of Putin’s essay. Otherwise, it will be forever misused as ammunition against him, against justice, and against peace.

Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuNEw9-10lk-CwU-5vAElcg. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She is a contributing author to the peace anthology Bending the Arc: Striving for Peace and Justice in the Age of Endless War (2020), edited by Breyman, Amidon, and Aumand. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4.  [email protected]

[1] Peter Dickinson, Atlantic Council, June 10, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org.

[2] Peter Dickinson, Apr. 12, 2022, “Ukraine Needs Western Partners to Send Offensive Weapons to Defeat Russia, Argues Magazine Editor,” https://www.youtube.com.

[3] Reuters, “Hailing Peter the Great, Putin Draws Parallel with Mission to ‘Return’ Russian Lands,” June 9, 2022, https://www.reuters.com.

[4] Vladimir Putin, “Article by Vladimir Putin: ‘On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians,” July 12, 2021, Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, https://russiaun.ru.

[5] Jonathan Guyer, “Inside Ukraine’s Lobbying Blitz in Washington,” Vox, July 5, 2022, https://www.vox.com.

Russia Today, “How Professional Lobbyists Have Worked to Generate Enthusiasm in Washington for a Long Proxy Military Conflict in Ukraine,” July 26, 2022, https://www.rt.com.

[6] Guzel Yusupova, “Russia Is Cracking Down on Minority Languages—but a Resistance Movement Is Growing,” Sept. 11, 2018, https://theconversation.com.

[7] Vladimir Putin, “Transcript: Vladimir Putin’s Televised Address on Ukraine,” Feb. 24, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com.

[8] Damelya Aitkhozhina, “Self-Immolation Highlights Controversy over Cultural Rights in Russia,” Sept. 23, 2019, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org.

World Mind, “The Battle over Language Policy in Russia and Former Soviet Republics,” Dec. 4, 2019, https://www.theworldmind.org.

[9] Yusupova, “Russia Is Cracking Down.”

[10] Rachel Denber, “New Language Requirement Raises Concerns in Ukraine,” Jan. 19, 2022, Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org.

[11] Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Rights Group: Ukrainian Language Near Banished in Donbas Schools,” Sept. 15, 2019, https://www.rferl.org.

[12] Halya Coynash, “Russia Has Eliminated All Classes Taught in Ukrainian Since Its Annexation of Crimea,” Mar. 27, 2019, https://khpg.org.

[13] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[14] Valery Engel, “The Law of the Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine. What Does It Bring to National Minorites?” Culturico, Dec. 20, 2021, https://culturico.com.

[15] Russia Today, “Ukraine Eyes Promotion of English Language,” Aug. 12, 2022, https://www.rt.com.

[16] Putin, “On the Historical Unity.”

[17] Lev Golinkin, “Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are on the March in Ukraine,” Nation, Feb. 22, 2019, https://www.thenation.com.

Christian Mamo, “Explainer: The Split in Ukraine’s Orthodox Church,” May 3, 2021, https://emerging-europe.com.

Orthochristan.com, “Ukrainian State Deputy Attacks, Beating Nun While Seizing Canonical Church,” Mar. 18, 2019, https://orthochristian.com.

Orthochristian.com, “Schismatic Dismantle Doors to Church Where Community Voted to Remain Loyal to Orthodoxy,” Feb. 13, 2019, https://orthochristian.com.

[18] Russia Today, “Ukraine to Ban ‘War and Peace’: Kiev Claims Tolstoy’s Masterpiece ‘Glorifies’ the Russian Military,” June 7, 2022, https://www.rt.com.

Russia Today, “Russian Literature ‘Too Difficult’ for Ukrainians—Kiev,” Jun. 20, 2022, https://www.rt.com.

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