Vladimir Putin’s foreign minister is at it again. At a July 24 meeting of the Arab League, Sergei Lavrov launched another of his by now standard attacks on the “Kyiv regime” in general and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in particular.
“We are determined to help the people of eastern Ukraine to liberate themselves from the burden of this absolutely unacceptable regime,” Lavrov said. “We will certainly help the Ukrainian people to get rid of the regime, which is absolutely anti-people and anti-historical.”
Zelensky’s administration, according to Lavrov, is simply the handmaiden of the dastardly West, which hopes to defeat Russia and is using Ukraine and its people to that end. Zelensky, meanwhile, is trying to turn Ukrainians against the Russians by fomenting Russophobia aimed at “making Ukraine the eternal enemy of Russia.”
Forget the fact that Lavrov’s daughter, Ekaterina, attended grade school and high school in the decadent, satanical America that is out to get Russia and completed a Bachelor’s degree at Columbia University and a Master’s in Her Majesty’s London. Also, disregard the fact that Ukrainians had exceptionally high regard for Russia, its people, language, and culture for over thirty years. Their attitudes changed, not because of anything Zelensky or his predecessor Petro Poroshenko did or said, but because of a little thing like the genocidal war initiated by Russia on February 24, 2022. It’s hard to love your murderer, after all. Finally, ignore the fact that Zelensky and his policies are immensely popular in Ukraine.
Focus instead on one keyword: anti-historical. Why would Zelensky’s being “anti-historical” matter to Russia? Indeed, just what makes being anti-historical as odious as being anti-people? The answer is simple. For the “Putin regime” and its yes-men, the mere fact of the Ukrainian state’s and people’s separate, independent existence violates their interpretation of Russia’s history, greatness, and imperial destiny. Any Ukrainian who claims to be Ukrainian is necessarily a Russophobe. Any Ukrainian willing to fight for his or her country, as Zelensky manifestly is, is, of course, a Nazi.
None of these tropes is new. All of them have been repeated ad nauseam by Russian policymakers and propagandists for years. The Ukrainian response to Lavrov, therefore, came not from Zelensky but from his advisor, Mykhaylo Podolyak, who accused Lavrov of exhibiting “classic Russian schizophrenia: in the morning you state that Moscow wants negotiations, while in the evening you state your goal is to get rid of the anti-people Kyiv regime.” Worse, said Podolyak, “this was said by someone who represents a barbarian country that without any reason invaded foreign territory and with maximal viciousness is killing Ukrainians.”
As to Kyiv’s being “anti-historical,” Podolyak cautioned Lavrov about winding up on the “ash heap of history”—a favorite Soviet turn of phrase—especially as the world has little regard for war criminals.
Why do Lavrov’s insults matter? For three reasons.
First, he illustrates nicely just how divorced the Kremlin is from what most of the West regards as reality. Is it really possible for the West to conduct negotiations with people who live in another galaxy and have antithetical values and bizarre views of the universe?
Second, Lavrov illustrates just how wide apart official Russia and official Ukraine are, not just on the issues but on the very fact of Ukraine’s existence. Russia openly states that it wants to destroy the “Kyiv regime” and save the deluded Ukrainians—by waging a genocidal war, of course, a tactic practiced by the Russian czars, perfected by the Russian Communists, and diligently replicated by Putin.
And third, Lavrov shows just how much of an existential threat Russia is to the West and its institutions and values. According to the Kremlin’s paranoid reading of history, Ukraine’s existence threatens Russia’s. In fact, according to any semi-sober reading of Lavrov’s statements—as well as those of Dmitry Medvedev, Putin, and scores of other influential Russians—the reality is that Russia is out to destroy the West.
As Sergei Karaganov, a wildly unhinged Russian imperialist, recently told The New York Times, “Ukraine is an important but small part of the engulfing process of the collapse of the former world order of global liberal imperialism imposed by the United States and movement toward a much fairer and freer world of multipolarity and multiplicity of civilizations and cultures. One of the centers of this world will be created in Eurasia, with the revived great civilizations that had been suppressed for several hundred years. Russia will be playing its natural role of civilization of civilizations.”
With a civilization of civilizations like that, who needs barbarians?
Expert Biography: Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires, and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, including Pidsumky imperii (2009); Puti imperii (2004); Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires (2001); Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (1999); Dilemmas of Independence: Ukraine after Totalitarianism (1993); and The Turn to the Right: The Ideological Origins and Development of Ukrainian Nationalism, 1919–1929 (1980); the editor of 15 volumes, including The Encyclopedia of Nationalism (2000) and The Holodomor Reader (2012); and a contributor of dozens of articles to academic and policy journals, newspaper op-ed pages, and magazines. He also has a weekly blog, “Ukraine’s Orange Blues.”