Putin – Peter The Great Redux, Or A Modern-Day James Monroe?

Apr 18, 2014

After hours of negotiations Thursday, top diplomats from the United States, Europe, and Russia agreed to halt any violence, intimidation or provocative actions in Ukraine.

University of Oklahoma historian Joshua Landis, a regular contributor to KGOU’s World Views, says a Ukrainian use of military force could provoke a Russian counterattack, but Putin still has his eye on Eastern provinces.

"The phase that Putin used that struck me is, he said, ‘This is new Russia,’” Landis says. “Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Tsarist times.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 29, 2009.
Credit World Economic Forum / Flickr Creative Commons

Landis says the region has had a revolving door of claimants since Peter the Great took large portions of Ukraine and Poland during the early 18th Century. The region was later divided between Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Habsburg Empire and Russia before World War I.

“Ukraine got sucked up again in the Second World War, and spit out again,” Landis says. “We just saw Yugoslavia get chopped up into seven countries. Czechoslovakia split into two. This could mean a separation of Ukraine between Russians and Ukrainians.”

For Americans having trouble understanding Russia’s three century-fixation on Eastern Europe, compare it to the United States’ 200-year-old Monroe Doctrine.

“Whenever a foreign power has gotten too close to Latin America, we say, ‘Keep out! This is our zone,’” Landis says. “In a sense, Russia is saying that about Ukraine.

But Russia’s interest in Ukraine already has had severe economic consequences. Inflation is on the rise, their currency and stock market are declining, prices are up, wages are low, and billions of dollars of capital are leaving Russia.

Suzette Grillot, the Dean of the University of Oklahoma’s College of International Studies, says even though consumer confidence is declining along with the public’s faith in Russia’s economy, there’s still significant support for Putin’s land grab.

“He has the highest popularity ratings and approval ratings of all time, right now, so that historical connection seems to be very real,” Grillot says. “But there is a disconnect between historical connection and their actual economic, physical well-being today.”


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