Ukraine-Russia crisis: Vladimir Putin is discovering that Ukraine really is a different country – Kenny MacAskill MP

Putin has underestimated many things, not just the military capability or courage of the Ukrainian people.

In particular, he’s learning a salutary lesson that Ukraine’s not Russia. For sure, the two nations are closely entwinned and share many aspects of history since Kyivan Rus evolved into Russia. But the same folk they are not and being Ukrainian’s not just being a dissident or difficult Russian.

It's many years since I read a history of the land written in a very engaging way as I recall through a family history and detailing the different perspectives on the relationship. Russians, it said, see the Ukrainians as ungrateful little brothers, while Ukrainians perceive Russians as overbearing cousins.

Linguistically the languages are similar, as is Belarusian spoken in Belarus. They’re linked, as with Scandinavian languages, but are still from different nations. Culturally there are, of course, similarities and shared loves and interests, but the poet Taras Shevchenko is not Russian and Alexander Pushkin not Ukrainian, any more than Burns or Shakespeare can be transposed in the UK.

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Putin’s assessment of Ukraine was blinkered and arrogant. It shows a callous disregard for the idea that the peoples can be different. His suggestion that Ukrainian identity was only espoused by nationalist elements or neo-Nazis was as insulting as it was false. And he ignored the Jewish heritage of President Volodymyr Zelensky, a man who embodies the saying “cometh the hour, cometh the man”.

There’s a small minority that has been revelling in wartime history that’s deeply complex, especially when you’re caught between Hitler and Stalin. Support for Stepan Bandera, who sided with Hitler, needs condemned and neo-Nazi groups outlawed. But they’re not the majority view, nor the basis of Ukrainian identity.

There are, of course, some ethnic Russians who’ve moved into the area over generations and there are also Russophone speakers in the east of the country. But they are part of Ukraine and the latter especially remain Ukrainian. The extent of the fighting testifies to that. Sadly, their rights have been abused recently and that’s wrong but not the basis for war.

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People protest outside the Russian Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, shortly before Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade (Picture: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

The diplomatic solution required must provide for them but Ukrainian independence is not negotiable.

Kenny MacAskill is Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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