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Editorial | Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine

24 February 2022

Russia’s imperial war against Ukraine is a resurgence of an ideology that should have been left in the dustbin of history. For the Caucasus, as for the whole world, it represents a profound threat.

On the morning of 24 February, Russian forces, supported by their Belarusian allies, launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

This vicious and unprovoked attack could lead to thousands of deaths if not more, thousands of families ripped apart, and untold misery and suffering. 

It is the attempted suffocation of a democratic government by a brutal autocracy.

It also represents a resurgence of Russia’s imperial ambitions that concern all of us, not least in the Caucasus. 

At this point, it is hard to see how Russia will stop in Ukraine. On 21 February, Vladimir Putin delivered a rambling and ahistorical speech denying the right of Ukraine to exist. 

He evoked the language of empire to justify Russian expansionism. He condemned the decision of the Soviet authorities to grant areas of the Russian Empire the status of ‘republics’ under the USSR, calling them ‘gifts’ made to appease ‘zealous nationalists’. 

Needless to say, this is a denial of the right to statehood and sovereignty not only of Ukraine, but to everywhere that once fell under Russian imperial control. It should be seen as a clear and direct threat from Helsinki to Bishkek.

As for the Caucasus, from the genocide of the Circassians in the 1800s to the levelling of Grozny in the 1990s, our region is no stranger to Russia’s imperial boot.

Russia entered the 2008 war under the very similar guise of ‘peace enforcement’, displacing thousands of Georgian civilians. Russia’s swift recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia did nothing to resolve these conflicts and can be seen as having emboldened the Kremlin in their use of military force. 

We have also seen the kind of government the Kremlin deems suitable for recalcitrant populations. For nearly 20 years now, Chechnya has been ruled by Ramzan Kadyrov, a totalitarian psychopath who has sent queer people to camps, had minors tortured to death, and sends hitmen after enemies abroad. 

What we have witnessed in recent weeks was an unprecedented exposure of Russia's military ambition. And if he is not stopped now, Putin’s brand of imperialism threatens to spread further still.

It is hard to overstate what is at stake, for Ukraine, for Russia’s other neighbours, including here in the Caucasus, and indeed, for the world. 

Today the cause of Ukraine is the cause of the Caucasus, and indeed the world.

Putin is attacking not only the Ukrainian state, the Ukrainian people, but the ideas that were made manifest in the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements that swept the world in the 20th century — that people have the right to choose, and that Ukrainians have chosen democracy.

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