Sociologist Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski has compiled a list of speeches made by President Vladimir Putin and those close to him between 2001 and 2023, in which he announced his imperialist plans.

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In this comprehensive work, divided into three parts, Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski explores the thinking of the Russian president, revealing a leader obsessed with the recognition and reconstitution of the Russian empire as a regional player. But above all, the speeches and statements she analyses give a glimpse of the Russian regime's aims with regard to Ukraine.

Placing Russia at the centre of the international order

Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski uses a chronological presentation and systematically reviews the implications and interpretations to be retained before each transcript. In his speech to the Bundestag on 25 September 2001, the Russian President certainly welcomed Germany's integration into Europe, but he also stressed that Germany's economic and political development could not be achieved without a partnership with Russia. He recalled the crucial role played by the Soviet Union in the destruction of the Berlin Wall. In his view, such a partnership could only be achieved by abandoning Cold War strategies, and should take the form of pan-European cooperation in which Russia and its European partners would be treated on an equal footing.

However, in 2007, at the Munich Security Conference, Vladimir Putin reversed his pro-European stance and criticised the unipolar strategy of the United States, which resulted in armed conflicts outside its borders. In his view, this American hegemony had led to new threats and an ever-increasing arms race, particularly with regard to weapons of mass destruction. He pointed out that a multipolar world was emerging, in which China and India would have their rightful place, given the size of their combined GDPs, which exceeded that of the United States. This argument was used by the Russian President throughout the following years to criticise the former colonising countries and to call for a new world order to which the former colonies would belong, with Russia at its head.

In 2010, in an article for the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Vladimir Putin, now Prime Minister, called for a greater Europe with a "harmonious economic community from Lisbon to Vladivostok". He put forward the idea of a Russia-EU partnership with the abolition of visas, which would guarantee economic development for both parties. The construction of the Northstream and Southstream gas pipelines and Russia's investment in European research projects were all illustrations of the success of such collaboration.

Finally, in 2011, in the Russian magazine Evraziiskaïa Integratsiia Ekonomika, Pravo, Politika, the future President Putin presented a project for a Eurasian union modelled on the European Union, with the aim of strengthening its regional position through coordinated action in all areas. He saw this project as "one of the poles of the modern world", establishing a link between Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

This first part of the book highlights the Russian President's desire to play a major role at the negotiating table with the West because of his history and his regional position (between Asia and Europe).

Rewriting history to restore "Greater Russia"

From 2012 onwards, the control of Russian historical memory became a key issue in the construction of a narrative around "Greater Russia" and a propaganda tool to justify the regime's actions towards Ukraine. In this respect, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 is presented not as a territorial violation but as the recapture of a "stolen" territory on the grounds that "Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia". In Vladimir Putin's words, it is a "historically Russian land" ("Speech on the Annexation of Crimea", 18 March 2014). The Russian president hijacks the principle of a people's right to self-determination to justify this annexation and draws a totally inappropriate parallel with the US Declaration of Independence and the reunification of Germany. It should be noted that after the annexation, Russia enacted a series of "memory laws" penalising any questioning of the official account of the USSR's activities during the Second World War or contradicting the military actions of the Soviet regime.

In 2020, the Russian President published a text in the American magazine The National Interest and on the Kremlin website, stressing that the "root causes" of the Second World War were to be attributed to the Treaty of Versailles, which was experienced as a profound humiliation by the Germans and gave rise to dissension, as well as to the failure of the League of Nations, dominated by the victors. He completely concealed the USSR's cooperation with Nazi Germany and recalled that the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact had been considered by a resolution of the Supreme Soviet in 1989 as a "personal exercise of power" that did not reflect the will of the Soviet people, who "were not responsible for this conspiracy". The Russian President presented the USSR regime as an unwavering supporter of the Allies and its heroic people as fierce opponents of Nazi Germany throughout the war.

In a particularly inflammatory article published in April 2021 by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Timofei Sergueïtsev, an ideologue close to the Russian regime, called for the "cleansing" and "purification" of Ukraine, in other words, the total extermination of the Ukrainian people. This bellicose language was used by the Russian president to theorise the need for a "denazification" of Ukraine, following the Maïdan revolution. In his speech in July 2021 entitled "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians", Vladimir Putin argued that the two peoples were in fact one and the same nation, since the populations of the western and eastern parts of Russia shared the same language and religion. According to him, Russian unity was broken in the 12th century following the Mongol invasion, which led the Ukrainians to fall under the influence of the Polish Catholic Church. He also points to the role played by the betrayal of Ivan Mazepa, a Ukrainian army leader who, in the 18th century, allied himself with the King of Sweden against Tsar Peter the Great, wanting to join the Western camp, but without success. This story puts Ukraine back in the heart of Greater Russia, from which it was stripped through betrayal and Western support.

The West in the firing line

Vladimir Putin has always pointed to the threat posed by the United States to the international order, particularly through its involvement in armed conflicts that have led to security instability in the Middle East. After the annexation of Crimea, the Russian president addressed the UN General Assembly in 2015, in which he recalled the founding role of the USSR in the creation of this organisation, following the Yalta conference. He responded to American intervention by supporting Iraq and Syria against the terrorist threat of the Islamic State. In so doing, it has returned to the forefront of the international stage as the defender of non-Western states under threat. Paradoxically for the man who decided to invade Crimea, he explains that stability in the Middle East and Libya depends on an international coalition under the aegis of the UN, respecting the sovereignty of these states within the framework of international law and the UN Charter. And while Russia's primary aim is to guarantee the stability and security of these regions, this is not the case for Western countries, which, according to the Russian President, have pursued strategies dating back to the Cold War (the expansion of NATO military bases being a perfect illustration of this).

The involvement of the United States and Europe in the Maïdan revolution precipitated the deterioration in relations with Ukraine, which was then drawn into a "geopolitical game" aimed at "creating a barrier between Europe and Russia". This anti-Russian stance was unacceptable to Vladimir Putin: as he has stressed on several occasions, Ukraine and Russia were historically one and the same   . Closer ties with the West therefore represented a threat to traditional Russian values and the reconstruction of the great Russian empire sought by the regime. By way of illustration, we might mention the sermon delivered by Patriarch Krill a few days after the invasion of Ukraine, which was presented as a "special military operation" rather than a war. It was a particularly virulent indictment of a West seen as decadent: homophobic remarks were used to justify the unjustifiable, namely a military intervention to preserve and protect Ukraine from the moral corruption embodied by the West. This intervention is seen as a necessary "holy war" to prevent the values on which Russian society is based from collapsing.

This dense but particularly revealing overview of the Russian President's speeches and those of his supporters over the last two decades establishes a clear thread running through Russia's intentions towards Ukraine. The texts commented on by Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski have been particularly well selected and point very clearly to the intentions of the Russian regime. The Russian president appears obsessed with restoring a fallen empire, even if it means erasing the darkest pages of the Soviet era and punishing any information that runs counter to the national narrative. This quest for memory has resulted in total censorship of the press, the arrest of opponents, the closure of NGOs such as Memorial, and so on. Reading these texts, however, leaves one question unanswered: why has Vladimir Putin's constant concern for Ukraine and this obsession with a single historical memory escaped Western attention to such an extent?