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The Putin Interview – An African Perspective 

Putin Interview _ African Perspective
President Putin during an interview with Tuker Clarson (photo : screenshot from the video)

By Samuel Estefanous

1- From Cold War to Cold Peace

In the mid-90s, we were College students and the former Union Republics of the USSR were very young Nations struggling to find firm ground in the tumultuous post communism world order solely dominated by the United States. Even back then when a two weeks late Time or Newsweek magazine was advertised as ‘new arrival’ around Ambassador Cinema, somehow a glossy thick magazine straight from Moscow got into my hands titled ‘Passport to the CIS’. 

You see, very early on the Union Republics had the wisdom to found a Commonwealth of Independent States on the ruins of the USSR. They had figured it out that their fates and destiny were firmly intertwined no matter what the United States thinks of it, and however hard it works to foment conflict among them. As I remember it, except for the three Baltic Republics, all former Republics of the Soviet Union were members of the CommonWealth.

In that magazine the Ukraine and the ‘filthy rich’ oligarchs of Russia were predominantly featured. I have this persistent impression  that in those days there wasn’t much to tell Ukraine apart from Russia yet there was this palpable simmering tension between Russian-Ukraine and Ukraine proper (Western Ukraine). Boris Yeltsin, great chum that he was with Clinton, couldn’t miss the role of the United States behind all the conspiracy to set a segment of Ukrainian population against Russia. He will ever be remembered for frankly noting at the time that though the Cold War was indeed over, Russian- American relations are in a state of cold peace. He had smelled what the West was cooking. 

If you remember it, NATO was bullying Serbia like a vicious gang leader in an inner city high school. When the poor country wouldn’t back down the full force of the alliance was unleashed on it. The carpet bombing was so extensive that even the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade wasn’t spared.  Serbia has always been Russia’s Achilles’ heel and Yeltsin declared that a red line was crossed.  

In this connection, what Putin explained to us in plain terms is, no matter what- whether the Russian Federation is a very traditional Imperial autocracy or an Orthodox theocracy or a dictatorship of the proletariat or an aspiring Western democracy it remains a threat to the West in general and the United States in particular.  They cannot and will not stand a strong Russia under any form of government.

2- The Ukraine is an artificial State

 Fast forward two decades to the time of the presidency of Petro Poroshenko.  Footage from a typical cabinet meeting of the government of the Ukraine was sneaked out and went viral. Apparently contrary to the grand standing of Ukrainian Nationalism the choice medium of communication for all affairs of government is Russian. In that YouTube video ministers and regional governors of the Ukraine were hurling insults at one another- ‘sucker to Russia’ being the mortal insult of all.  In those days Zelensky’s role as the chief Republic comedian was held by the fugitive Mikheil Saakashvilli (he was made chief of the governorate of Odessa after he was booted out of his native Georgia). He was louder than the rest. Beneath the video someone had written-and they are saying it all in Russian; the Russian language is the only thing they have in common. 

I was very much amused when Putin related the story of a unit of Ukrainian fighters who had run out of ammunition and whose fate had been sealed as they were totally cut off from the rest of the army. When they were asked to surrender to honorable terms they responded ‘no self-respecting Russian soldier ever surrenders to the enemy’ and chose to die in battle. President Putin mused ‘you see they still consider they are Russians’.

In this context, who would dare take issues with Putin when he contends the war raging in that part of the world is actually a civil war. It sure is.

Thus, one of the greatest takeaways from the Putin interview is his contention that Ukraine is an artificial state. I will have to repeat this, seriously, who can take issue with that? I mean, back in high school we- in Sub-Saharan Africa- were taught or read the rudimentary of World History to the effect that the Russian State was born in Kiev and it was known as Kievan Rus and it grew in strength to eventually become Muscovy. To this day older folks here refer to Russia as መስኮብ and one would have to do a lot of bogus explanation to convince them that Kiev isn’t part of መስኮብ:: 

The rest of Ukraine (Western Ukraine) is either Polish or Hungarian or Romanian. Remember along with England and Russia, these countries except perhaps for Hungary were missed out in the Westphalia phenomenon that had firmly established the Nation- States Sovereignty of European countries. Despite the external manifestations, nationalism in East Europe is as raw as it is in Africa. 

The only thing that surprised me was Putin’s naked insinuation that all the three counties would be in their right to claim the territories. I am not going to lie; I didn’t like that segment of the interview. I guess, no native of the Horn of Africa would.      

Of course chances are if a major war breaks out involving NATO territory Poland wouldn’t hesitate to reclaim its historical territory of Galicia. As it is, anybody except the befuddled Ukrainian leadership knows that the only winner of the war between Russia and the Ukraine is Poland. Note that though it was laced with Russian Nationalism and Orthodox fanaticism, Gogol’s Taras Bulba is a historical novel about the war of the Cossacks of Ukraine and Great Russia against the Catholic Kingdom of Poland. Incidentally Taras Bulba in Amharic translation is way much a good read than the English version.   

But if you ask me the first ‘stereotype’ Ukrainian I came to know in literature is the blind kid who affects exaggerated Ukrainian accent every time he is up to some treachery in Lermontov’s inimitable classic-The Hero of Our Times. 

3 –Khrushchev and the Banderite Nazi boot lickers

Recently I read that as part of the West’s brazen cultural disowning of Russian heritage, a gallery in Finland has rebranded Repin as Ukrainian. They don’t even realize the rest of the world is laughing at them. Guess what? Even that certified plagiarizer and spoiler of the Ankara peace initiative, Boris Johnson, is averse to anything that slightly degrades the Russian cultural heritage in any form much as he hates the government of Russia under Putin.  

But there is one giant of world literature whose Ukrainian ancestry isn’t contested-Nikolai Gogol. But as a thoroughly Russified Ukrainian in terms of literature he is an iconic Russian and he is rightly counted among the 19th Russian literature miracle makers. It is just like modern and vernacular Amharic literature refined by the likes of Tsegaye Gebremedhin, Be’alu Girma and Sebhat G/Egziabiher. 

In some sense of belongingness, Khrushchev impresses me as the better Ukrainian than Gogol. Along with Stalin, he was the one who had redrawn the territories of the USSR to create Ukraine out of the blue including the Crimean Peninsula. Putin says, the West spares no words when they demonize Stalin but when it suits them they bemoan that any attempt to redress his mistake would be a great affront to international law.  

 Incidentally it was in his memoir (Khrushchev Remembers, translated by Strobe Talbot) that one can have a closer and original understanding of the Banderite fascist collaborators of Western Ukraine.  The gruesome atrocities they had committed against the Poles and local Jews was exceptionally despicable chiefly because it was carried out just to please and placate their Nazi masters. I wonder if the Poles will ever forget and forgive that bestiality of the Banderite militia in the service of the Nazis.  

But for some reason the government of Zelensky wants to glorify that ugly chapter of Ukrainian history instead of issuing a formal apology if necessary. Imagine anybody trying to speak or write anything good about our own fascist collaborators. We all know that to this day third and fourth generation descendants of the infamous Banda traitors are being called names on account of their grand and great grandparents’ blemish. 

There is no honor in Banda heritage except in the Ukraine.

God Bless.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of

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  1. Erudite commentary rarely seen in our community pages. Wonder why you went with “African” instead of “Ethiopian” perspective. You well know we shared with Mother Russia the Orthodox faith (Kiev), the great Pushkin, a radical 1970s socialist revolution, Bulatovich’s Eth thru Russian eyes (1890s), and so on. Your mention of Gogol’s ታራስ ቡልባ brought back a flood of memories.

    In the interview, Putin knew full well what he needed to say and to which group. American public is ignorant of what’s going on out there or anywhere, for that matter; cared less so long as hamburgers are available and no American got killed on the battle-field (American mercenaries are in for the $$ and, as in Iraq/Afghan wars, could rape, loot, and brutalize the other side without being held accountable). US gov never missed a chance to make a situation worse. Europeans are merely American poodle.

    At the start of the present strife Ukraine was presented as the bastion of democracy worth defending by all means necessary. Of course a baloney. In the interview, Putin had to re-frame the case by providing a historical context (which American leaders were well aware of, except for them the primary objective was to curb Chinese power). I liked Putin’s final comments that Russians and Ukrainians shared a soul that can’t be separated. And with foreign interference out of the way, would come together to resolve the current impasse within weeks.

  2. Dear Alem
    A valid question.
    Considering our unique and season defying ‘kinship’ with Russia, an Ethiopian Perspective would have been a fitting title.
    But increasingly it is looking like the rest of Africa isn’t any different. The ECOWAS breakaway Sahel near Confederacy is a good example.
    Africa is choosing it’s partners with its head and heart not with its tummy and ditching the West- perversion & wheat and the rest of it.
    Just listen to Musveni and Putin on societal values-one would think both are reading from the same tele-prompter.
    God Bless

  3. My ever Backward proud Abysinian.!!!, but hunger striken, as you described in you all languages.
    Believe me you are not heading any where, any tme what ever you clain is, in about another three thousand years to come. And this is becsuse you are pathological self hatreds and mentally retarded, who hates every one, and blindly blieve in conquest, despite your poor hunger ridden condition.


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