Vladimir Putin’s unearthed speech mourning ‘tragedy’ of USSR fall

Putin to launch ‘desperate effort’ warns expert

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The Russian war in Ukraine has been raging on for almost 250 days with Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” not going as he planned. In a desperate move, he introduced martial law in the Ukrainian regions he annexed, namely Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and the Kherson regions. In his annual state of the nation address to Russia in 2005, Putin described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”. And according to experts, Putin set out to reclaim the glory of the USSR with his sights not solely set on conquering Ukraine.

An archive speech from almost 20 years ago reveals how the Russian President mourned the death of the USSR, which spanned much of Eurasia from 1922 until 1991. 

He said: “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”

Approximately 30 million Russians were outside the borders of the Russian Federation following the collapse of the USSR. The majority of which were in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. 

Putin, in reference to the separatist movements, such as that seen in Chechnya which achieved independence from Russia in 1996, added: “The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself.”

Former ambassador to Ukraine and Uzbekistan, John Herbst, told Times Radio earlier this month that Putin wants to reestablish control over the former Soviet Union states, not just Ukraine. 

He said: “Putin’s aims are not just limited to Ukraine. He wants to reestablish substantial Russian control over the whole territory of the former Soviet Union which happens to include three current NATO members. So we need to stop Putin in Ukraine by sending more weapons, and not let ourselves be bluffed into doing anything less.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, the Ukrainian adviser to the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Office, also told the Finnish publication Helsingin Sanomat in August: “Putin’s plan is simple. He wants to restore the Soviet Union in one form or another. Ukraine here is his main enemy.” 

For 16 years, Putin worked as a foreign intelligence officer for the KGB, the main security agency of the Soviet Union. However, he resigned from his post in 1991 when the USSR collapsed and ventured into politics.

In a series of interviews in the 2000 book “First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin”, he appeared to be saddened by the once powerful state’s demise and that nothing was implemented in its place. 

He said: “I wanted something different to rise in its place. And nothing different was proposed. That’s what hurt. They just dropped everything and went away.”

Putin views the USSR through rose-tinted glasses as Ukrainians at the time described it as the “worst empire” of all time with Russians being lambasted as “colonisers”. 

The USSR, established following the revolution in Russia in 1922, was founded as a confederation of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Transcaucasia (which is now Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia). But it eventually expanded to include 15 republics.

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However, in a referendum held in Ukraine in December 1991, the overwhelming majority – more than 90 percent of those who turned out to vote – opted for Ukrainian independence. 

Ukraine had withstood pressure from Russia to remain with a newly restructured Soviet Union. Its independence referendum result also put pressure on the USSR which was by then falling apart.

Ukrainian writer and legislator Volodymyr Yavorivsky described the landslide win as marking a “unique event”. In 1991, he said: “Last night marked the end of what probably had been the worst empire in the history of the world.”

The republic’s first president-elect, Leonid M. Kravchuk, also added at the time: “A new Ukraine has been born. A great historical event has occurred which will not only change the history of Ukraine but the history of the world.” 

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