In March 2014, following the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution, the internationally recognized Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by the Russian Federation. This annexation provoked the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War (Reuters, 2015). The president of Russia Vladimir Putin said that the annexation wasn’t because of the strategic aspects of Crimea but that it had elements of historical justice and that he had no regrets about his decisions (RIA, 2015, mentioned in Reuters, 2015).
To better understand the reasons behind the annexation of Crimea this blog will be looking at the effects of the annexation on the image of Vladimir Putin within Russia.
In the current Russian society there are several growing organizations that promote ultra nationalism as a new post-communist ideology (van Herpen, 2014). The role of this ultra nationalism within the Russian public is under examined, but could be an important aspect in Putin’s, and thereby Russia’s actions (Gerber, 2015). As commentators have tried to understand the motives for these actions, many have asserted or assumed that such actions, like the annexation of Crimea, have tremendous support under the Russian people. While ethnic nationalism has been growing in the Russian society in the last couple of years, Putin has been careful to express his own nationalism in non-ethnic terms (Marten, 2015).
However, following the annexation of Crimea, Putin gave a speech before the Russian parliament. In this speech Putin used clear ethnic nationalist terms for the first time during his tenure as president, to explain and justify Russia’s foreign policy, calling Crimea “primordial Russian land” and announcing that since the fall of the Soviet Union “the Russian nation became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, ethnic group in the world to be divided by borders” (Marten, 2015).
Public opinion surveys conducted around the time of the annexation among the Russian people showed that a total of 86 % of the people see Crimea as still being Russian territory, and that almost 92 % supported the reunification of Crimea with Russia (President of Russia, 2014). Further opinion polls have shown that Putin’s popularity skyrocketed in the wake of the annexation (Gerber, 2015).
According to Van Herpen, Putin is making efforts to fill the void left after the downfall of communism with elements of nationalism, chauvinism, and xenophobia (van Herpen, 2014). These efforts enable Putin to gather support for his actions. The Ukraine policy of Russia is a perfect example of Putin’s attempt to restore Russia’s former imperial glory.
Putin’s actions like the annexation of Crimea enjoy a great support of the Russian people, especially with the rising feelings for nationalism in the last couple of years. And by expressing himself in a more nationalistic way Putin exercises a great positive effect on his image within Russia, strengthening his place as a leader.
Gerber, T.P. (2014). Beyond Putin? Nationalism and Xenophobia in Russian Public Opinion. The Washington Quarterly, 37(3), 113–134.
Marten, K. (2015). Putin’s Choices: Explaining Russian Foreign Policy and Intervention in Ukraine. The Washington Quarterly, 38(2), 189–204.
President of Russia. (2014). Address by President of the Russian Federation. On the internet: http://en.special.kremlin.ru/catalog/regions/CR/events/20603, consulted on 25 september 2015.
Reuters. (2015). Putin: Russia’s Annexation of Crimea Righted Historical Injustice. On the internet: http://www.themoscowtimes.com/article/519789.html, consulted on 25 september 2015.
Van Herpen, M.H. (2014). Putin’s Wars: The Rise of Russia’s New Imperialism. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, pp. 276.