Putin’s Speech, Annotated: A Close Look at the Russian Leader’s Ukraine Address

And, in an escalation drawing concern across Europe, Mr. Putin suggests that this applies to all former Soviet republics. Three of those countries are now NATO members, meaning that the alliance has committed to their defense: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Ukrainian authorities — I would like to emphasize this — began by building their statehood on the negation of everything that united us, trying to distort the mentality and historical memory of millions of people, of entire generations living in Ukraine. It is not surprising that Ukrainian society was faced with the rise of far-right nationalism, which rapidly developed into aggressive Russophobia and neo-Nazism.

This is the beginning of Mr. Putin’s explicit case for war to seize parts of eastern Ukraine and his implied case for possible war against all of Ukraine.

The modern Ukrainian state itself, he argues, is a kind of attack on Russia because it divides Ukrainian and Russian peoples who should be united and because it cultivates anti-Russian extremism to justify this division.

In reality, Ukraine’s ethnic and linguistic groups have coexisted far more peacefully than Mr. Putin claims. While the country’s Russian-speaking populations have sometimes favored political ties with Moscow over those with the West, the country’s politics have reflected this, and those groups have grown sharply distrustful of Russia since 2014.

Essentially, the so-called pro-Western civilizational choice made by the oligarchic Ukrainian authorities was not and is not aimed at creating better conditions in the interests of people’s well-being but at keeping the billions of dollars that the oligarchs have stolen from the Ukrainians and are holding in their accounts in Western banks, while reverently accommodating the geopolitical rivals of Russia.

Here Mr. Putin extends his historical revisionism into an indictment of modern Ukraine. Its government, he argues, is not a real government but a clan of thieves — and therefore due none of the rights of a sovereign state — as well as an intrinsic threat to Russian security.

By couching his case in the supposed illegitimacy of the Ukrainian state itself, Mr. Putin is suggesting that no policy change or diplomatic concession could alleviate this threat. It is, in a sense, a declaration that there is no point in negotiation, that Moscow has no choice but to coerce Kyiv’s leaders by force, or else remove them outright.


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