The World

Putin’s Latest Comments on Ukraine Are Not Encouraging

An employee wipes a TV screen in a shop in Moscow, on April 17, 2014, during the broadcast of President Vladimir Putin’s televised question-and-answer session with the nation. 

Photo by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin held one of his annual televised Q&A sessions today, in which he spends a few hours taking preselected calls from viewers. This time, the callers included one Mr. Edward Snowden, a recent arrival in Russia. Obviously, the president also addressed the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

From an outside perspective, an end result of the crisis in which Russia maintains significant political leverage in a unified Ukraine seems like a better result than a costly intervention that inflicts further damage on the fragile Russian economy and likely results in Russian soldiers coming home in body bags.

But, his calculus may be different if he views the current chaos as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore lost territory to Russia. From that perspective, his remarks on Ukraine today were not encouraging.

Putin stated that the legislature has given him the right to intervene militarily in eastern Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians, and as David M. Herszenhorn of the New York Times put it, he “stressed Russia’s historical claim to the territory, repeatedly referring to it as ‘new Russia’ and saying that only ‘God knows’ why it became part of Ukraine.”

This echoed his remarks on Ukraine last month, when he stated that “for a number of reasons—may God judge them—added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine.”

This situation may have started with a major geopolitical setback for Russia, but now the president may view it as an opportunity to reverse what he sees as a historical wrong committed against Russia during the breakup of the Soviet Union.

With the violence only worsening on the ground in eastern Ukraine, the prospects for this all being resolved soon don’t seem great today.