On February 24, Vladimir Putin shocked the world by starting a war in Ukraine. In the run-up to the Russian invasion, Putin delivered far-reaching speeches and wrote an article to legitimise his actions – packed with intense rhetoric on imperial as well as Soviet history.
This is, however, not something new. Putin has consistently instrumentalised history to achieve his policy goals since the day he became president1 . Over the years, he has increasingly and repeatedly referred to the history of the Russian Empire, as a discourse analysis of over 500 of his speeches and other sources over the years reveals2 .
Putin initially used the past as an inspiration. But in his hands, history gradually transformed into a weapon. Putin wielded this rhetorical sword at home and abroad to justify his actions and secure his power position. His legitimation of the current military operation in Ukraine is the culmination of this strategy.
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- 1This research was conducted at Utrecht University (UU) in fulfilment of the MA in International Relations in Historical Perspective. See the UU thesis archive for the complete research results.
- 2Much has been written about the ways in which Putin has instrumentalised the history of World War II and the Soviet Union, but less about how he uses the history of the Russian empire.