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“The West is much more influenced by Russian imperialism than it admits”

Mykola Riabchuk is director of research at the Institute of Political and Nationalities Studies of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and lecturer at the University of Warsaw. Honorary President of the Ukrainian branch of the PEN Club, an international association for the promotion of freedom of expression, he conducts research on the construction of national identity, civil society and the nation-state, as well as the post-communist transition. Through opinion studies and sociological surveys, he has observed the consolidation of Ukrainian patriotism since independence in 1991. Mykola Riabchuk is currently a guest researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Paris, where he is pursuing a project research entitled “The “Ukrainian crisis” revisited: values, interests and the revival of “geopolitics””.

What, in your opinion, is the cause of the war launched by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine?

Identity is at the heart of this conflict. Russia is not waging this war to conquer territory, or because of NATO’s alleged expansionism, it is waging it above all to affirm a Russian identity that considers the existence of an independent, democratic and forward-looking Ukraine West, as a threat. Russian identity was constructed in the XVIIIand century, under the empire, and still cannot think of itself without Ukraine. Putin is imbued with this imagination and has held an openly imperialist discourse with regard to Ukraine since 2007. This is what justifies, in his eyes, the elimination of those who would be bad Ukrainians, Nazis, according to the Kremlin, because they don’t think of themselves as Russians.

Ukrainians also make it a question of identity. The country’s independence is at stake, especially since Russia is falling into totalitarianism. Ukraine must either win or disappear completely. It is therefore very difficult to find a compromise to stop the fighting.

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You present the Ukrainian identity as fundamentally united, but aren’t there fault lines running through it, especially with regard to Russia?

In the foreign press and in the speeches of political leaders, we often hear that Ukraine is divided, which perfectly corresponds to what Russian propaganda claims. Ukraine would therefore be a fictitious country, without real unity, which is a lie. The country is made up of different ethnicities, different languages ​​coexist. But, as in France, there are no differences in status, the principle of equality before the law prevails, contrary to what the Kremlin claims, which wants to believe in an oppression of Russian-speaking minorities.

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