By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s recent remarks show that he still wants to annex all of Ukraine except for Galicia, the extreme Western portion, a conclusion that flows from the Kremlin leader’s reference a week ago to a remark by Nicholas II’s interior minister, Pyotr Dunovo, Lyubov Stepushova says.
The Pravda journalist reports that Putin noted that Durnovo had warned that “if you want to lose Ukraine, join Galicia to it,” because that region had been under Austro-Hungarian rule and was a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism (pravda.ru/world/1783495-putin_ukraine/; for Putin’s own use of this idea, see rg.ru/2022/12/22/putin-schitaet-chto-rossiia-poterpela-fiasko-kogda-udalos-razobshchit-russkij-i-ukrainskij-narody.html).
According to her, Putin believes that he can annex the rest of Ukraine and that Galicia (consisting of today’s Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv and Ternopil oblasts) could be left as a rump Ukraine, after Russian negotiations with Poland. Indeed, these may be the only negotiations Putin really wants to have.
As Putin likely has been told, the idea that much of Ukraine which had been ruled by the Russian Empire could be re-absorbed by Moscow but that those portions in the west which had not could not be has its real origins in the words not of a tsarist minister but in the observations of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
After the Bolshevik revolution, Lenin and many Bolsheviks believed that as the revolution spread so too could the borders of their country and that the creation of SSRs like Ukraine could be the model for a future in which there would be a German SSR, a French SSR and even an American SSR.
But there was one Bolshevik leader who didn’t, Joseph Stalin. And at the time of the Second Congress of the Komintern in 1920, he registered his objections in two code cable, one of which was published in Soviet times just once (in a footnote in the third edition of Lenin’s collected works) and one of which remained unpublished until after the demise of the USSR (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/12/if-lenin-had-had-his-way-ussr-might.html).
In both, Stalin made clear that national identities would remain powerful even after a socialist revolution and that trying to impose Moscow’s control on those who had never experienced Russian rule before would be a mistake. He said that the Poles would never accept Soviet RUSSIAN rule and that the same would be true elsewhere.
In the event, Lenin was incapacitated and died not long after the USSR was formed, and Stalin was able to put his ideas into practice, ideas that gave birth to a world socialist system in which there were many states not one with the kind of diversity that he had no intention of allowing within the Soviet Union.
After 1945, Stalin was consistent in not absorbing communist bloc countries. He violated his own view only when he occupied Western Ukraine, Western Belarus, and parts of what is now Moldova as well as when after a gap of 25 years he re-imposed Moscow’s rule in the Baltic countries.
Precisely for the reasons Stalin had foreseen earlier, these violations played a major role in the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Putin clearly understands some of the dangers Stalin recognized and hoped to avoid, but he doesn’t seem to recognize that all of Ukraine has now been independent of Moscow longer than Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were when Stalin occupied them, something that is true of all the other former Soviet republics as well.