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UK Defense Ministry: Russia publishes collection of pseudo-history to justify war against Ukraine

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk November 11, 2023 3:27 PM 3 min read
Principalities of Kyivan Rus in 12th-13th century. Screenshot from the video. Illustraition by Alina Radomska. 
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Russia's State Archive Agency has published a collection of hundreds of documents, dating back to the 11th century and including pseudo-historical analyses by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, that attempt to justify Russia's full-scale invasion, the U.K. Defense Ministry wrote on Nov. 11.

The documents are representative of the Kremlin's "weaponization of history," the U.K. Defense Ministry said, which is "intensifying" and "aimed at inculcating anti-Westernism in the minds of the Russian population and intimidating its immediate Western neighbors."

The collection, titled "On the historical unity of the Russians and Ukrainians," is used to support the oft-repeated Russian hypothesis that Russians and Ukrainians are one people and that the Ukrainian shift westward is only because of foreign malign influence.

In addition, the U.K. Defense Ministry said that Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev recently published an article containing a pseudo-history of Russian-Polish relations, arguing that Poland's "Russophobic" policies could lead to the destruction of the Polish state.

Medvedev, a former president of Russia and close Putin ally, was once seen as a more liberal representative of the Kremlin but has become one of Russia's most prominent hawks during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

He regularly threatens Ukraine and NATO with a nuclear attack, including in July 2023, when he said that Russia would use nuclear weapons if Ukraine liberated more territory.

However, he has become an object of ridicule since his numerous threats have failed to materialize.

Putin and other Russian officials have often used history to justify aggression towards Ukraine and other countries. In addition to trying to portray Russians and Ukrainians as one people, history has been used and distorted to deny the existence of a separate Ukrainian identity and language.

Russia has also weaponized the history of World War II, seeking to portray Ukrainians as Nazis, thereby justifying their current need to be "de-Nazified." Claims that Nazism is somehow prevalent nowadays in Ukraine have been thoroughly debunked, and far-right parties have failed to have any significant success in Ukrainian elections.

The title of the collection copies the name of a notable essay written by Putin in June 2021, which many saw as a warning sign of future imperialist plans, including the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The essay, along with the larger field of Russian historical revisionism, has been widely condemned by historians as being fundamentally wrong about the history of Ukraine.

Historian Timothy Snyder referred to Putin's essay as the "kind of argument that makes historians wince." Writing in January 2022, shortly before the beginning of the full-scale invasion, Snyder said that the pseudo-historical narrative illustrated by Putin's essay was a "myth" that served to show that "Ukraine cannot be a real country."

Despite the historical inaccuracies, the narrative has been used as a means to try to justify Russia's aggression towards Ukraine and other countries.

As a historian, Snyder wrote, there is a temptation to engage in the narrative, but one "can't really engage in historical argument with people who are set on believing a myth, let alone with presidents who believe that the past is just there to confirm their present prejudices."

Timothy Snyder: If you want peace, Crimea has to be a part of Ukraine
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