Putin Threatens Ukrainian Statehood

A remarkable display of blaming the victim (by the victimizer).

The NYT reports: Putin likens sanctions to an ‘act of war’ and warns Ukraine might lose statehood.

“The current leadership needs to understand that if they continue doing what they are doing, they risk the future of Ukrainian statehood,” he said at a meeting in Moscow on Saturday, in his first extended remarks since the start of the war. “If that happens,” he said, “they will have to be blamed for that.”

This reminds me of a similar statement made either by Putin himself or a representative of the Russian government, that the Ukrainians would only have themselves to blame for the deaths and bloodshed should they continue to resist (my attempts at finding it came up zero but if anyone wishes to google-fu it, be my guest).

One can only assume these statements are all primarily made for a domestic Russian audience, where Russian military actions are being cast as some kind of liberation. As such, making it sound like the death and destruction is the fault of the “Nazis” in Ukraine makes some semblance of sense if the goal is the manipulation of the Russian public.

Indeed, increased authoritarianism is on the rise in Russia around this very topic as The Hill reports (based on reporting from WaPo and the WSJ): Russian parliament passes law to punish journalists for ‘fake’ news

Russia’s parliament on Friday passed a law that makes publishing “fake” news a crime, according to multiple reports.

If enacted, the law would punish any journalist who contradicts Moscow’s official statements on the war in Ukraine with punishments resulting in up to 15 years in prison, according to The Washington Post.

Under the new law, journalists must verify their reports on the invasion of Ukraine with official Russian government sources.

The law prohibits the words “war,” “invasion,” and “attacks” from publication, according to the Post, as the Kremlin assures the Russian people that it is doing everything in its power to avoid civilian deaths, which runs counter to many social media videos from Ukraine showing the shelling of civilian areas. 

The law comes as Moscow has also restricted access to several international news outlets, such as the BBC and Deutsche Welle.

Nothing like having to coerce journalists into using the terms the government wants them to use to underscore the immorality of the actions being undertaken, yes?

It is also possible that he is trying to dissuade Ukrainians from resisting. That is: threatening loss of sovereignty if they continue to fight and lose. Of course, the absurdity of it all is hard to ignore, since the entire invasion gambit was predicated on the quite clear position that Putin did not respect Ukrainian sovereignty one iota.

It also seems worth noting that the question of whether Ukraine is recognized as a sovereign state is really about what the rest of the world thinks, not what what Moscow asserts.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    Putin really is a disappointment to all the Americans who instinctively succumbed to his manly man appeal. Turns out he’s a bit of an idiot. He doesn’t even realize that he is in effect creating a new Ukraine, friendly to the West, hostile to Russia, with a genuine national hero to rally around. Tsar Vlad the Shirtless has led his country to economic ruin and for a country with the GDP of Texas, a ruined economy is not a great way to maintain an oversized military.

  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I dunno. I think his calculation is more that he still is the heavy favorite to win the war, er, I mean liberation.

    He might be wrong, but he’s got a crapload of artillery and rockets still in his pocket, and things are gonna get grim. I expect to see a calculated series of escalation of atrocities. The dude has refined intimidation into high art – please don’t read this as an endorsement, just a “know your enemy” kind of thing.

  3. Scott F. says:

    Nothing like having to coerce journalists into using the terms the government wants them to use to underscore the immorality of the actions being undertaken, yes?

    Of course, similarities with a recent presidency in the US will be lost on Trumpist enablers. ‘Tis a pity.

  4. charon says:

    If the Russian economy goes south, Putin will be lucky not to wind up like Tsar Nicolas.

  5. @Jay L Gischer:

    I think his calculation is more that he still is the heavy favorite to win the war, er, I mean liberation.

    The short-term calculation would suggest it is likely that Kyiv will fall and that Russia will at least try the farce of installing a pro-Moscow government. The rest of the world will not accept this, of course, but it seems unlikely that the Ukrainians will be able to expel Russian forces in the short term.

    I could well be wrong (if you had asked me a few weeks ago if a Russian invasion would get bogged down as quickly as I turned out to be, I would have said no and that, as Putin himself thought, they’d have seized Kyiv in a few days).

    Regardless, as long as there are Russian troops on the ground and over a million (and counting) Ukrainians have fled the country, not to mention whatever internal displacements have occurred, it is too early to sound triumphal about Putin’s fate or the ultimate outcome of the invasion.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    If Putin pisses off enough of the wrong oligarchs he could lose his personhood status.

  7. Slugger says:

    After the conquest of Ukraine, there will certainly be a purge of Ukrainian leaders with imprisonment, exile, and executions. These statements are laying the groundwork of justifications for those steps. I wonder if this will also turn against the insufficiently supportive people in Moscow and St. Pete. I would not be surprised by a replay of the Red Terror.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    There are two wars taking place. Russia vs. Ukraine, and Russia vs. The World. These wars have two related but different goals. Ukraine wants to be free. We want to weaken Russia.

    Putin no doubt imagines he’s acting strategically, but at the strategic level he’s already lost, and we’ve already won. In effect Putin is helping the West, and the longer he drags this out, the more we win because the weaker Russia becomes and that – not saving Ukraine – is the American war goal.

    If you set aside the horrors inflicted on the Ukrainian people, what we’ve already gained is a newly militant Germany, a stronger NATO, the emergence of the EU as an actor engaged in more than yogurt labeling, the exposure of the Russian military as a second-rate force, the impoverishment of Russia and the re-assertion of the United States as the sole superpower. Broad picture Putin beats up on Ukraine, we beat up on Putin. An independent Ukraine is of no great value to the US, but a weakened and discredited Putin is.

    Yet to be discovered is what Xi is making of all this. Is he focusing on our refusal to engage directly militarily with Putin? Is he learning that Putin is more trouble than he’s worth? Is he noticing that despite Ukraine the US Navy still rules the Pacific and our allies are in position to thwart his efforts to become a serious sea power? Is he thinking of how far his economy will fall if the world does to China what it’s doing to Russia?

  9. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Yet to be discovered is what Xi is making of all this.

    One China-related thing I’ve been wondering about is how this is going to impact the dynamics of the China/Russian relationship. China has two modes of interacting with other countries: potential adversary and client state. With client states China expects to set the terms, set the agenda and reap most of the benefits. I wonder if this is tilting China’s view of which category Russia belongs in?

  10. charon says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Yet to be discovered is what Xi is making of all this. Is he focusing on our refusal to engage directly militarily with Putin? Is he learning that Putin is more trouble than he’s worth? Is he noticing that despite Ukraine the US Navy still rules the Pacific and our allies are in position to thwart his efforts to become a serious sea power? Is he thinking of how far his economy will fall if the world does to China what it’s doing to Russia?

    China has been taking about half of Russian oil exports. Xi can and will screw Putin as hard as he can, exploiting Russian desperation on price etc.

  11. charon says:


    Xi to Putin: Who’s your Daddy?”

  12. charon says:


    Latest poll: 82% of Ukrainians believe their country can prevail in war against Russia. 77% say Ukraine will end up being stronger after victory.
    Like I said, popular morale is very, very high.

  13. HarvardLaw92 says:


    We are starting to see Chinese banks refuse to extend credit to Russian entities, including banks which are partially owned by Russia. That’s a pretty loud statement of where China believes its interests to lie. They’ll try to thread the needle as much as possible, to be sure, but at the end of the day, a weakened Russia is probably as useful to the Chinese as it is to us.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    I maintain that long-term Xi is eyeing Siberia. Taiwan’s an emotional thing, but Siberia is every natural resource China needs and it’s right there all frozen and underpopulated and a very long train ride away from Moscow.

  15. Lounsbury says:

    When I saw the statement, my first reaction was what kind of logic behind statements that can only serve to stiffen Ukrainian resistance when given the evolution a play to moderate that in terms of potentially splitting resistance makes more sense.

    However, on reflexion, Putin’s strange ceding of the war propaganda (minimising, deny t is a war), these statements tend to indicate that he has serious concerns about his Russian base. Ones that lead to actions – adoption of military strategies, adoption of political discourse that are unhelpful for Ukranian objectives proper.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @charon: Getting a good, well-balanced, statistically accurate poll is hard under the best of circumstances. These are not the best of circumstances for polling — many people are away from their homes because of evacuation and/or mobilization which leaves land-lines at risk, they may not be answering mobile phones because local cell towers may be destroyed, and there is a strong bias towards answering what they think the right answer is.

    The poll is likely flawed. Or just propaganda.

    Bravo to whomever decided that 72% is a much more believable number than 95%. Ukraine propaganda is much better than Russian propaganda — it passes the initial smell test, the numbers seem plausible but strong, it doesn’t have Jewish Nazis whose family lost people in the Holocaust.

    Separating good information from bad is hard, especially when everyone has an incentive to flavor the outcomes. I’m sure I have fallen for some Ukrainian propaganda stories.

    Also, Sunflower Woman was brilliant, and if it’s not made up entirely, the Ukraine government should hire her.

  17. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    The think is, he seems not to know his enemy, which is strange.

    I’m reconsidering my earlier view that Putin was purely cynical in his endorsement of the Great Russia/Shulgin/Ilyin school; that it primarily got him bodyguards he could trust more than simple mercs (ideology often trumps money in the loyalty stakes).

    I’m beginning to think he really is high on his own supply.

    Why I say “he seems not to know his enemy”: he just does not seem to factor in other peoples ideals.
    He seems to think that his opponents in the West, in Ukraine, cannot themselves be other than the decadent, corrupt, effete, disorganized “liberals” or corrupt commercial classes he has categorized them as.
    Being a chekist who thinks himself an astutely cynical judge of others motives, yet himself motivated by a higher vision.

    It really reminds me so much of the nonsense about the “decadent Westerners” peddled by so many others in recent history: Fascists, Nazis, Japanese militarists, Soviets.

    And yet, here we decadent weaklings are, while they are pushing up the daisies of history.

    Oh yes, understanding Ukrainian history and identity.
    Which Putin really should be capable of doing.
    At least, as explained to me eight years ago by some Ukrainians.
    I keep teasing about this, and going to continue, but here’s another clue:
    the Ukrainian national/patriotic/cultural identity is self-consciously a peasant, rather than an elite culture based one.
    That has implications in the context of Russian history.
    A prize to the first person to guess what that is! 🙂

  18. CSK says:

    Well, you can’t use your Visa or Mastercard in Russia anymore.

  19. JohnSF says:

    Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank freezes Russia lending.
    It would take a heart of stone not to laugh.

    OK, the Great Yacht Grab is even funnier, but this is more subtle 😉

  20. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Have to say I doubt this.
    Siberian real estate?
    Might as well leave it to the Russians and buy what they can dig up for kopecks.

    It’s not like it’s viable for serious at-scale agriculture.
    Growing season too short, winters too cold, soil p’ss poor podzol.

    One thing I suspect may happen: Chinese “buy” (for an “offer they couldn’t refuse” value of buy) the water rights to the Amur for irrigation in Manchuria.

  21. charon says:


    Douglas MacGregor, nominated by Trump as ambassador to Germany; appointed by Trump as sr advisor to the Secretary of Defense, says Russian forces have been “too gentle” and “I don’t see anything heroic” about Zelensky.

    This is the Putin wing of the GOP.

  22. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You are right to point out two conflicts here. I do not estimate Putin to be successful in the second one. It’s likely that he got a response other than what he expected.

    For instance, I think he attacked in winter expecting to make it that much harder for Europe to shut of the gas, or think about shutting it off. I can’t but wonder if besides coordinating a response for a few months in advance, if there wasn’t some disinformation thrown his way.

    And, he may not care. Maybe he thinks he can power through this. Maybe he thinks the West is decadent and lacks character (which is true of, well, many Wester leaders). That’s a common story, as others have mentioned. Maybe he thinks he has an ace up his sleeve. The Ukrainians will buckle, and the West will get over its little tantrum and accept reality. I mean, I’ve known people like that, haven’t you?

  23. JohnSF says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Kyiv may fall.
    Putin and his subalterns may rule Greater Russia.

    But what might be the Ukrainian response?
    Perhaps, a shrug, and acceptance of the rule of Muscovy?
    Perhaps, think of the IRA turned up to 11.

    I know which way I will be betting.
    Because Putin has generated a hatred that will make hell seem tepid.
    May he have joy of the day.

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    Look at population density maps along the Russo-Chinese border. There are Chinese cities the size of Chicago north of NK and within an hour’s drive of the Russian border. On the other side, emptiness. Extraction industries need workers and the nearest supply is in China. Also, China can afford to develop Russia’s far east – roads, bridges, rail lines, internet, pipelines – and Russia is going to be short of capital for a while. In short order the eastern reaches of Siberia can become much more tied to China than to far-off Moscow. They already fought one war there in 1969 and IIRC China kept a little piece of the USSR. Just sayin.

  25. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    You could well be right.
    Perhaps just my inclination, when I am God-Emperor of the Horde, to prefer conquering regions with vinyards, beaches and warm sunny summers.

    And a judgement that, before too long, extraction works aren’t going to need that many workers.

    Just more trouble than it’s worth IMO.
    Look at the British Empire; contrary to a lot of perceived opinion, the preference was for the locals to rule, the Brits to invest and make money.
    During the heyday of Empire, some of the most profitable areas for investment were USA, South America, eastern Europe.
    Ruling is expensive.

  26. Lounsbury says:

    @JohnSF: Multiple commentators have said that the extreme Covid19 social distancing aka isolation Putin has imposed on himself over the past 2-2.5 yrs seems to have had a real impact on him. That there’s something different in his discourse…

    It seems quite possible that this is a real factor, that the pre-Covid Putin drawing on a wider network was in a more well informed and rational mental place.