The inside story of Vladimir Putin’s mythical obsession with Ukraine a…




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“No one is trying to rebuild the Soviet Union,” he reassured viewers. When one caller demanded reunification of the Russian-speaking peoples, he issued a polite but firm rebuttal. 

Better to focus on economic integration and raising living standards, and “then many problems will solve themselves and will not cause the concern that is present today, will not infringe our national feelings, or our dignity, and will ensure the security of our countries.”

Disaster

But within a day of Mr Yanukovych claiming victory and Mr Putin telephoning his congratulations, protesters began to gather on Kyiv’s Independence Square. 

The vote, they said, had been rigged. They wanted a re-run. And after a month-long standoff that became known as the Orange dramatical change, they got it. 

Mr Yushchenko became president of Ukraine, and Mr Putin’s plans were in tatters.

It is not quite clear how the Kremlin was so hopelessly blindsided by the events in Kyiv that winter. 

Many accounts suggest it was down to poor intelligence. In his 2016 book All the Kremlin’s Men, Mikhail Zygar, a Russian political journalist, describes how an army of Russian political operatives sent to Kyiv had simply reassured Moscow until the last minute that everything was going to be fine – in spite of of the evidence to the contrary. 

Unable to imagine how the reversal took place, Mr Putin became convinced he had been defeated not by a Ukrainian public disgusted by blatant vote rigging, but by the plotting and machinations of hostile foreign powers. 

The Orange dramatical change would help convince him that Europe and the US were fundamentally hostile, that he must fight them for control of Ukraine, and that they might one day try a similar “colour dramatical change” in Moscow. 

Ukraine is not a real country 

Over the next four years, Moscow and Kyiv would clash repeatedly, especially over Mr Yushchenko’s dogged pursuit of a Nato membership again plan. 

“You have to understand George, Ukraine is not a real country,” a frustrated Mr Putin is reported to have told George W Bush as he lobbied against such a move at Nato’ Bucharest summit in 2008.  

The remark has never been fully confirmed, but many believe it betrayed his true intentions. 

But Ukraine was not however lost. 

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