State-building, Putin Style

The formation of the modern state is a process of monopolising the physical and symbolic violence over a territory and its population. Vladimir Putin has learnt this lesson and enforces his agenda of splitting the Ukraine and creating a Russian statehood within sovereign Ukrainian territory.

In order to analyse that process in more detail, it is helpful to take a look into the literature on the formation of the modern state. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat differentiate between two languages of stateness: the languages of authority and the languages of governance (Hansen/Stepputat 2001: 7).

The languages of governance include the assertion of territorial sovereignty and monopolisation of violence, the gathering of knowledge of the territory and its population, and the generation of resources and the ensuring of the well-being of the population. The languages of authority include the institutionalisation of law and the legal discourse, the materialisation of the state and the nationalisation of the territory (ibid. 2001:7f.).

Let us take a look of some of the most obvious languages used and see how Putin employs these strategies in order to create a Russian statehood within sovereign Ukrainian territory.

1. The assertion (or undermining) of territorial sovereignty and monopolisation of violence:

Russian military forces are present in the Ukraine. It does not matter whether they have removed all official signs from their uniforms or are reported to be on holiday. Putin commands the strongest fraction in this conflict and is about to monopolise violence in the southeastern part of the Ukraine.

2. The gathering of knowledge of the territory and its population:

Putin sent his agents into the Ukraine to gather information months before the military escalation we experience now. Even the former President Janukowitsch was regarded to be a puppet operated by the Kremlin. Through him, Putin was always well aware of the important developments within the Ukraine.

3. The generation of resources and the ensuring of the well-being of the population:

An important facet of Putin’s propaganda to justify the intervention is the protection of ethnic Russian minorities. Therefore, Putin creates the image of being seriously concerned in the well- being of these. Following his propaganda, that well-being can only be guaranteed if they are under the protection of Russian power. Once the territory is taken, they will be further integrated economically.

4. The nationalisation of the territory:

Through the use of the term Novorossiya, Putin has made clear that he regards the zones of conflict as Russian territory. This strategy follows the plan of inscribing a common history into the territory and therefore nationalise it. By declaring the Southeastern part of the Ukraine to be Russian territory, Putin legitimises further military action and the escalation of the conflict.

5. And now?

It remains to be seen how the conflict will continue. As a matter of fact, Europe is in deep crisis and the order of power, which has been established after the breakdown of the Berliner Mauer, is shattered to pieces. The ongoing crisis still raises another, very uncomfortable question: Which capacities must the European Union pose in order to meet Putins aggressive behaviour? Clearly, a war with Russia is not an option. Nevertheless, Europe must think about a strategic scenario beyond the current crisis: What if Putin, motivated by his success in the Ukraine (and pressed by domestic hardliners at the same time), attempts to destabilise the Baltic states next? How could and how should a European answer look?

Maybe is is time to re-invent the specific way of European state-building: Why not offering Russia an economic partnership so convincing that war would be an impossible option? Why not enlarging the European market to such an extent that it would not matter anymore whether the Ukraine is European or not since everybody benefits from the economic growth?

This option is not fair or just for all the people who suffered because of the ongoing crisis. Moreover, there are certain values which must not be compromised. However, such an enlargement could avoid far greater damage and create a saver future.


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