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 Kievan 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 seeing the Ukrainians as ungrateful little brothers, Ukrainians perceiving Russians as overbearing cousins.
Linguistically the languages are similar, as is Bylorussian spoken in Belarus. They’re linked, as with Scandinavian languages, but are still from different nations. Culturally there’s of course similarities and shared loved and interests, but Shevchenko is not Russian and Pushkin not Ukrainians, any more than Burns or Shakespeare can be transposed in the UK.
Putin’s assessment of the Ukraine was blinkered and arrogant. It was and remains a callous disregard that the peoples can be different. His suggestion that Ukranian identity was only espoused by nationalist elements or neo-nazis was as insulting, as it was false. It ignores the Jewish heritage of President Zelensky, a man who embodies “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 Stefan 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’s 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.
The diplomatic solution required must provide for them but Ukrainian independence is not negotiable.