Elise Giuliano, (Senior Lecturer in Political Science; Director of the MARS-REERS Program; Director of the Program on U.S.-Russia Relations) published a book chapter on the origins of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine in an edited volume released by the Foreign Policy Association (FPA), Ukraine: Changing World Order? (November 2023). The chapter stems from a talk Giuliano delivered at FPA.
Giuliano argues that though Russian foreign policy had been motivated primarily by pragmatic concerns in the past, the decision Putin made to invade Ukraine in February 2022 was different, and rooted in the imperialist idea that Ukraine constitutes a part of “historical Russia.”
The idea among Kremlin leaders that Ukraine is not a sovereign state and that Ukrainians and Russians form a common national community led them to misunderstand Ukraine’s Euromaidan protests in 2014. For them, the protests could not be Ukrainians’ homegrown rejection of pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych; it had to be a product of western interference. This began Putin’s attempt to “take back” Ukraine in 2014, annexing Crimea and establishing the self-styled Peoples’ Republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. Following the historians Serhii Plokhy and Jeff Mankoff, Giuliano argues that in 2022, the Kremlin interpreted current US and EU support for Ukraine through the prism of the imperial Russian historical narrative that the West encouraged Ukrainian nationhood in the 18th century and again during WWII in order to weaken Russia. Thus, Russia’s existing geopolitical concerns about NATO and EU expansion combined with colonialist ideas about correcting the shifting status hierarchy between Ukraine and Russia to motivate Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The article also shows how Russian leaders misjudged the identities and opinions of Ukrainians living in Ukraine’s east and south.
Other contributors to the book include Fiona Hill, Marie Yovanovitch, Henry Kissinger, Mark Milley and Columbia professors Michael Doyle and Jason Bordoff.