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The single most important sentence in Putin's new comments on Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Chris Jackson

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in expansive comments to a Russian youth forum on Friday just publicized on Saturday, argued that "the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are practically one single people," which is being taken as a major rhetorical step toward occupying or annexing more of Ukraine as Russian territory.

The comments came just a day after Putin referred to the Russia-backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine as "the militia of Novorossiya," which means New Russia. Novorossiya is a politically charged, imperial-era term used when southern Ukraine was a part of the Russian Empire, and used by Russian far-right nationalists today to assert Russian ownership over the region.

While Putin is not stating outright that southern and/or eastern Ukraine should be annexed to Russia, the imperial language and heavy use of dog whistles certainly seems to suggest as much. Putin used similar language when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea in March 2014.

Here is the relevant section of Putin's comments, with the especially alarming quotes in bold. Note Putin's heavy reference to ancient, pan-Slavic history and his recollections of glorious past when present-day Russia and Ukraine were part of the same political unit. He also compares Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, to Crimea as a "holy place," which may sound quite scary if you are a Ukrainian worries about which part of your country Putin will annex next. He speaks of Orthodox Christianity as the true religion of Ukraine and of Catholicism as an alien force.

These are all Russian nationalist dog whistles for suggesting that Ukraine, or part of Ukraine, is not actually an independent country but part of Russia that by all rights should be reunited. This, by the way, is also how members of Russia's truly scary far-right fringe speak about Ukraine.

There are historians here, and people with their own views on our country's history might argue with me, but I think that the Russian and Ukrainian peoples are practically one single people, no matter what others might say.

Correct me of course if you want, but just listen first. There was no Russian people as such back then. There were Slavic tribes. Some say there were 16, others 32, people have different figures for these tribes, Slavs, Drevlians and so on. And with the baptism of Rus, Vladimir was himself first baptised in Chersonesus, and this makes Crimea a holy place for us too, and he then came to Kiev and had the whole of Rus baptised.

It was after this that the Russian nation began to take shape, but it was multi-ethnic right from the start. People living in what is Ukraine today all called themselves ‘Russian'. Yes, there was Galicia, the territories in the west, close to Western Europe, and it was natural that they developed particular relations with the Catholic world and their neighbours through the intermingling of languages and cultures. But they should not impose their views on their entire Ukrainian people.

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