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Putin’s Lessons from History

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[Putin] explains that New Russia was created by “the victories of Potemkin and Catherine II […] with its center in Novorossiisk. Therefore [it is called] New Russia. Later, for various reasons, the territories vanished, but the [Russian] people remained there.” 
It has been said that Catherine II could make four mistakes in a three-letter word, and here Putin managed to make a dozen in a single sentence. Kharkiv, the center of the Ukrainian Cossack regiment in the seventeenth century, never belonged to the short-lived “province of New Russia.” Since it was the first capital of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, founded in 1919, it could not have been transferred to Ukraine from Russia in the 1920s. “New Russia” could hardly be conquered from Novorossiisk because the town itself was founded only in the 1830s, when Catherine II and Potemkin were long dead, and, like Kharkiv, it was never part of the region once called “New Russia.” The regions listed by Putin did not belong to Ukraine during the “tsarist period” for the simple reason that there was no “Ukraine” either as a state or an administrative unit in the nineteenth century. Finally, the core of the original province of “New Russia” was the Ukrainian Cossack republic of Zaporizhia, which was destroyed by Russian troops in 1775.

“Putin’s historical illiteracy is nothing unusual in today’s world. He, however, believes that he knows history and is able to draw on “the lessons of history.” One history lesson that I am trying to convey to my students is that fantasies should be taken seriously when espoused by the leader of a large state. In the twentieth century the world community made the mistake of neglecting one leader’s fantasies and paid dearly for this political myopia. We should not step on the same rake again, and revanchist lunatics should not be treated as sensible and pragmatic politicians.”

Andriy Zayarnyuk is an associate professor of history at the University of Winnipeg this is his article, Putin’s Lessons from History, 2014.

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