Occasionally, people claim that Vladimir Putin is a geopolitical player of extraordinary competence and success. The jury is still out on that, if history is anything to go by.
Once upon a time, Putin talked about the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the greatest geopolitical disaster of our age. From the Kremlin’s rather narrow perspective, that might well have been the case. But the Soviet Union was an unviable construction and fell into demise. The new Russia that emerged needed to build friendly and constructive relationships with the newly formed independent states.
By far the most important relationship was with Ukraine. Coming from a common origin in the old Rus formed around Kiev a thousand years ago, the two nations had developed different identities but still retained strong bonds. And the two economies were highly integrated. In Kiev, speaking Russian was as natural as speaking Ukrainian. It was the determination of Ukraine, more than anything else, that sealed the fate of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The Kiev-Moscow relationship was to define the new geopolitical situation in the wider Eastern European space.