Meet cancel culture social justice warrior Vladimir Putin, the world’s premier professor of woke history

Vladimir Putin is preening himself as the white knight of traditional values jousting against the dark dragon of wokeness. In fact, his history lecture to Tucker Carlson last week was a master class in cancel culture. He “proved” that Ukraine has no right to exist because it had always been part of Mother Russia.

Carlson looked like a stunned mullet for much of the interview, overawed by Putin’s apparently encyclopaedic grasp of the history of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland. As an expert in deconstructing and ridiculing woke narratives, Carlson should have realised that he was being played for a sucker. The ploy of cancel culture historians is to seize upon one injustice which cries to heaven for reparation – like slavery in the United States or colonial domination in Africa. They use this narrative as a smokescreen to divert attention from other aspects of the history. They fail to mention, for instance, slavery within Africa, or the benefits of colonial administration.

Putin ignored counter-arguments from Ukrainian historians. He even ignored the most tragic example of Russian oppression – the Holodomor, Stalin’s genocidal policy of starving to death millions of Ukrainians to enforce collectivization and dekulakisation.

Weaponising history like this, however, is dangerous. It becomes a bomb which could blow up in your face.

Russia today is the result of imperial expansion under the Czars. Some lands governed by President Putin were only gathered into the embrace of Mother Russia in the 19th century. In the Caucasus region, Georgia, Chechnya and Dagestan were ruled by Persia until they were seized by Russia in a series of wars in the 18th and 19th centuries. What if Iran decided to take advantage of Russian weakness at some stage and recovers its ancient possessions? In fact, all of Russia’s neighbours could mount an academically respectable case for taking a bite out of Russia’s borders.

The vast lands of Russia’s east are sparsely populated. Across the border is China, a country with ten times its population. After Tucker Carlson’s interview, indignant Chinese nationalists suggested that China should reclaim Vladivostok, Russia’s main port on the Pacific. "Going further afield, today's Mongolia and Russian Siberia were both territories of China in the [7th century] Tang Dynasty with its capital in Xi'an," said one Weibo user.



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A war of conquest by China to take territory from a depopulated Russia seems unimaginable. But it’s not. In 1969 China and the USSR clashed over disputed territory along the border. A few dozen troops died. The dispute was not settled until 2003.  

Zichen Wang, a fellow at the China Center for China and Globalization and a former journalist with Xinhua News Agency, wrote on X: "historically some place belongs to somewhere can mean very little. why must we refer to the 8th or 13th century but not 220 BC? we live in the present day with laws, not the 8th century."

This is exactly the advice given by Tsakhia Elbegdorj, president of Mongolia from 2009 to 2017. He chided Putin for his historical amnesia. The Mongols ruled over the largest contiguous empire in history during the 13th and 14th centuries, including most of southern Russia. Does Mongolia have a right to reassert its territorial claims?  

Elbegdorj regards Putin’s history as a bare-faced pretext for domination. He wrote a year ago:

I know Putin does not tolerate freedom. I have sat with him on many occasions. He despises differences and competition. He fears a free Ukraine. As a deep narcissist, he could not afford to see more successful and prosperous neighbors.

Putin shines a klieg light on his country’s grievances and shoves its wars of colonial domination into a dark closet. If Russia’s right to Ukraine is accepted, what is to protect Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Mongolia, etc, etc -- from being gobbled up by the Russian bear? At one stage Russia ruled some or all of their territories.

Despite Putin’s urbane and reasonable tone in the Tucker Carlson interview, at the same time he was doing his damnedest to terrify neighbouring countries into thinking that they will be next. This week Russian authorities launched criminal proceedings against Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas plus officials in all three Baltic states for damaging or destroying Soviet monuments -- on their sovereign territory. 

The world has moved on since the Czars, except in the mind of Vladimir Putin.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, Martin Kimani, gave a terrific speech to the Security Council about respecting the UN’s founding principle of territorial integrity. As the representative of a former colony, he spoke with some authority:

“Kenya, and almost every African country, was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant colonial metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart. Today, across the border of every single African country live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural, and linguistic bonds. At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later. Instead, we agreed that we would settle for the borders we inherited.” 

Admittedly, since the UN charter was signed in 1945, territorial integrity has been ignored and violated countless times. But a rules-based international order must still be the starting point for the resolution of historical grievances. Otherwise the 21st century is going to become a jungle filled with ravenous beasts.  

The Estonian foreign minister, Margus Tsahkna, delivered his annual policy speech this week. He was scathing about Putin’s woke version of history:

“No one wants to live in a world where Putins roam, kidnapping and orphaning children, attempting to cancel their neighbors and mining nuclear power plants,” he said. “Aggression must not succeed; it must not become a new acceptable reality. Otherwise, the world will become the domain of force, arrogance, callousness, authoritarianism.”   

Michael Cook is editor of Mercator

Image: Vladimir Putin on the Tucker Carlson Network


Showing 13 reactions

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  • Peter Fährmann
    Russia got its name from the Kievan Rus. That’s right, Kiev in Ukraine. The Russian heartland used to part of Ukraine. Perhaps its time to cancel Russia!
  • Kenneth Ndehi
    commented 2024-02-18 06:34:45 +1100
    Micheal, Eastern Ukraine is and has been – for many centuries – a defacto part of Russia (Novorossiya). Russia’s black sea fleet has had its home port in Crimea since the 18th Century; every second or third Eastern Ukranian has close relatives in Russia – including the new top Ukrainian general whose parents live in central Russia; the open border between the Dombass and Russia and the closely coupled industrial supply chains between both sides of the border; and for 29 years, the General Secretary of USSR was Ukranian etc etc. Therefore, Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO is the red line that would trigger a military response. To make matters worse, NATO has known this since at least 2008, when the then US ambassador to Russia – and current director of the CIA, sent the famous Nyet means Nyet memo to his bosses (
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-02-17 21:00:02 +1100
    I realise that this issue excites strong emotions. However, can you please keep comment brief and to the point. 200 words should be enough…. EDITOR
  • paolo giosuè gasparini
    commented 2024-02-17 19:38:35 +1100
    An homage to
    Aleksej Anatol’evič Naval’nyj

    (This article was published in an Italian newspaper on September 30, 2022.)

    “What does a desirable and realistic end to the criminal war unleashed by Vladimir Putin against Ukraine look like?

    If we examine the main statements of Western leaders on this matter, the bottom line remains: Russia (Vladimir Putin) must not win this war. Ukraine must remain a democratic independent state capable of defending itself.

    This is correct, but it’s a tactic. The strategy should be to ensure that Russia and its government, in a natural and non-coercive way, do not desire to start wars, do not find wars enticing. This is undoubtedly possible. At this moment, the stimulus for aggression comes from a minority of Russian society.

    In my opinion, the problem with the current tactics of the West lies not only in the vagueness of their objective but in the fact that it ignores the question: what will Russia look like once tactical objectives are achieved? Even in the case of success, where is the guarantee that the world won’t face a regime even more aggressive, plagued by resentment and imperialistic ideas that have little to do with reality? With an economy affected by sanctions but still large, in a state of permanent military mobilization? And with nuclear weapons ensuring impunity for every provocation and international adventure?

    It’s easy to predict that, even in the case of a painful military defeat, Putin will declare that he lost not against Ukraine but against the “collective West and NATO,” which aggressed Russia to cause its destruction.

    And then, resorting to his usual postmodern repertoire of national symbols – from icons to red flags, from Dostoevsky to ballet – he will swear to create an army so strong and weapons of such unprecedented power that the West will regret the day it challenged us, and the honor of our great ancestors will be avenged. We will then witness a new cycle of hybrid wars and provocations, which will ultimately degenerate into new wars.

    To avoid all this, the issue of post-war Russia should become the central theme – and not just one element among others – for those who fight for peace. Long-term goals cannot be achieved without a plan to ensure that the source of problems stops creating them. Russia must stop being an instigator of aggression and instability. This is possible, and this is how we should define a strategic victory in this war.

    There are several important things happening in Russia that need to be understood:

    First, jealousy toward Ukraine and its potential successes is an innate characteristic of post-Soviet power in Russia; it was also a characteristic of the first Russian president, Boris Yeltsin. But since the beginning of Putin’s government, and especially after the Ukrainian Orange Revolution began in 2004, hatred for Ukraine’s European choice and the desire to turn it into a failed state have become a lasting obsession not only for Putin but also for all politicians of his generation.

    Control over Ukraine is the most important act of faith for all Russians with imperial visions, from officials to ordinary people. According to them, Russia combined with a submissive Ukraine equals a “rebirth of the USSR and the empire.” Without Ukraine, according to this vision, Russia is only a country without the possibility of dominating the world. Everything Ukraine acquires is something taken away from Russia.

    Second, the view of war not as a catastrophe but as an extraordinary means to solve all problems is not just a philosophy of Putin’s top echelons but a practice confirmed by life and evolution. From the Second Chechen War, which made the little-known Putin the most popular politician in the country, through the war in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, the war in Donbas, and the war in Syria, the Russian elite in the last 23 years has learned rules that have never failed: war is not so expensive, it solves all domestic political problems, it skyrockets public opinion approval, it doesn’t particularly damage the economy, and, above all, winners don’t have to answer for anything. Sooner or later, one of the constantly changing Western leaders will come to us to negotiate. It doesn’t matter what motivations will drive them – the will of the voters or the desire to receive the Nobel Peace Prize – but if you demonstrate the right perseverance and determination, the West will come to make peace.

    Don’t forget that in the United States, Great Britain, and other Western countries, many politicians have been defeated and lost ground because of their support for this or that war. In Russia, simply, there is no such thing. Here, war is always a matter of profit and success.

    Third, therefore, the hope that replacing Putin with another member of his elite will radically change this vision of war, and in particular the war for the “legacy of the USSR,” is at least naive. The elites simply know from experience that war works, better than anything else.

    Perhaps the best example is that of Dmitry Medvedev, the former president on whom the West pinned so many hopes. Today, this once amusing Medvedev, who was once brought to visit Twitter headquarters, makes statements so aggressive as to seem a caricature of Putin’s statements.

    In fourth place, the good news is that the bloodthirsty obsession with Ukraine is not widespread outside the power elites, regardless of the lies that pro-government sociologists may tell.

    War boosts Putin’s approval rating by hyper-mobilizing the part of society with an imperial mindset. The news agenda is completely consumed by the war; internal problems take a back seat: “Hurray, we’re back in the game, we’re great, they’re dealing with us!” However, aggressive imperialists do not have absolute dominion. They do not constitute a solid majority of voters, and they too need a constant input of propaganda to sustain their beliefs.

    Otherwise, Putin wouldn’t have needed to call the war a “special operation” and imprison those who use the word “war.” (Not long ago, a member of a Moscow district council received seven years in prison for this). He wouldn’t have been afraid to send conscripts to war and wouldn’t have been forced to seek soldiers in maximum-security prisons, as he is doing now. (Several people have been “enlisted for the front” directly from the penal colony where I am).

    Certainly, propaganda and brainwashing have an effect. However, we can assert with certainty that the majority of inhabitants of big cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as young voters, are critical of the war and imperial hysteria. Horror at the suffering of Ukrainians and the brutal killing of innocents resonates in the souls of these voters.

    We can thus state the following: the war against Ukraine was started and conducted, of course, by Putin, in an attempt to solve his internal political problems. But the true party of war is the entire elite and the power system itself, which is an imperial authoritarianism that reproduces itself endlessly. External aggression in any form, from diplomatic rhetoric to actual war, is its preferred mode of operation, and Ukraine is its favorite target. This self-generated imperial authoritarianism is the true curse of Russia and the cause of all its problems. We cannot rid ourselves of it, despite the opportunities that history regularly offers us.

    Russia had its last chance of this kind after the end of the USSR, but both the democratic public opinion within the country and the Western leaders of the time made the monstrous mistake of accepting the model – proposed by Boris Yeltsin’s team – of a presidential republic with enormous powers for the leader. Giving so much power to a good guy seemed logical at the time.

    But soon the inevitable happened: The good guy turned bad. To begin with, he unleashed a war himself (the Chechen war) and then, without normal elections and proper procedures, handed power over to cynical and corrupt Soviet imperialists led by Putin. They caused several wars and countless international provocations and are now tormenting a neighboring nation, committing horrible crimes for which neither many generations of Ukrainians nor our own children will forgive us.

    In the thirty-one years since the collapse of the USSR, we have witnessed a clear pattern: countries that have chosen the parliamentary republic model (the Baltic states) are thriving and have successfully entered Europe. Those that have chosen the presidential-parliamentary model (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia) have faced persistent instability and have made little progress. Those that have chosen a strong presidential power (Russia, Belarus, and the Central Asian republics) have succumbed to rigid authoritarianism, most of them are constantly engaged in military conflicts with their neighbors, daydreaming about their own small empire.

    In short, strategic victory means bringing Russia back to this key historical moment and letting the Russian people make the right choice.

    The future model for Russia is not “strong power” and “firm hand,” but harmony, agreement, and consideration of the interests of the entire society. Russia needs a parliamentary republic. It is the only way to stop the endless cycle of imperial authoritarianism.

    It may be objected that a parliamentary republic is not a panacea. Who can prevent Putin or his successor from winning elections and gaining full control of the Parliament?

    Certainly, even a parliamentary republic does not offer 100 percent guarantees. It is possible that we are witnessing the transition to authoritarianism of the parliamentary India. After the seizure of power, the parliamentary Turkey has turned into a presidential republic. The core of Putin’s European fan club paradoxically lies in parliamentary Hungary.

    And the very notion of a “parliamentary republic” is too broad.
    Yet I believe this remedy offers crucial advantages: a radical reduction of power in the hands of one person, the formation of a parliamentary majority government, an independent judiciary, a significant increase in the powers of local authorities. Such institutions have never existed in Russia, and we desperately need them.

    As for the possible total control of the Parliament by Putin’s party, the answer is simple: once the real opposition can vote, this will be impossible. A large faction? Yes. A coalition majority? Maybe. Total control? Definitely not. Too many people in Russia today are interested in normal life and not in the phantom of territorial conquests. And there are more and more such people every year. They simply have no one to vote for right now.

    Certainly, changing Putin’s regime in the country and choosing the path for development are not issues concerning the West, but jobs for Russian citizens. However, the West, which has imposed sanctions on both Russia as a state and some of its elites, should make its strategic vision of Russia as a parliamentary democracy as clear as possible. In no case should we repeat the mistake of the West’s cynical approach in the 1990s when the post-Soviet elite was effectively told: “Do whatever you want there; just mind your nuclear weapons and provide us with oil and gas.” Indeed, even now we hear cynical voices saying similar things: “Let them withdraw troops and do what they want from there. The war is over; the West’s mission is accomplished.” That mission was already “accomplished” with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the result is a war in Europe in 2022.

    This is a simple, honest, and fair approach: the Russian people are obviously free to choose their own path of development. But Western countries are free to choose the format of their relations with Russia, to revoke or not revoke sanctions, and to define the criteria for such decisions. The Russian people and the Russian elite do not need to be forced. They need a clear signal and an explanation of why such a choice is better. Basically, parliamentary democracy is also a rational and desirable choice for many of the political factions around Putin. It gives them the opportunity to maintain their influence and fight for power while ensuring that they are not destroyed by a more aggressive group.
    The war is an incessant flow of crucial and urgent decisions influenced by constantly changing factors. Therefore, while I commend European leaders for their ongoing success in supporting Ukraine, I urge them not to lose sight of the fundamental causes of the war. The threat to peace and stability in Europe is aggressive imperial authoritarianism, continuously inflicted by Russia upon itself. Post-war Russia, like post-Putin Russia, will be doomed to become belligerent and Putinist again. This is inevitable as long as the current development path of the country is maintained. Only a parliamentary republic can prevent this. It is the first step towards transforming Russia into a good neighbor that helps solve problems instead of creating them."

    Thank for you heroic witness and courage, brother Aleksej Anatol’evič
    May your soul rest in peace and intercede for Russia.
  • mrscracker
    It’s true Jurgen that few nations or empires have respected the borders of their neighbors historically. It doesn’t suggest that should be a model for the future though. But it is something that’s going to reoccur since human nature doesn’t change much.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-02-16 18:46:37 +1100
    With regard to the Pandora-box-comment:

    That box is already open. Does Israel respect the borders of its neighbors, do the US and Turkey respect the borders of Syria?

    Before that background the Russian legalistic approach, including by the way popular votes by the people in the Donbass, does look ok.

    Each Swiss community has the constitutional right to leave its Canton, and it happens from time to time.

    And each Canton has the constitutional right to leave Switzerland.

    Kiew should have allowed its regions the leave.

    Maybe Ukraine would have become the next wealthy and highly innovative Switzerland over time.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-02-16 14:51:58 +1100
    Marianna, let me repeat: Ukraine and it’s western guarantors France and Germany broke the Minsk agreements. Ukraine never stopped shelling Donetsk. Ukrainian politicians have publicly admitted and Mrs Merkel has publicly confirmed that Ukraine NEVER intended to honour the Minsk agreements. Instead, they signed the agreements only to buy time, to get more weapons into Ukraine plus US military “advisors”.

    Even you have to admit that this is a standard CIA practice. We have seen it in many countries during the past decades.

    The CIA needs to be closed! It’s leaders and Mrs Nuland belong in jail!
  • Мар'яна Чорна
    very correct conclusions. The problem of the Russian dictator is not only the manipulation of history, but also encroachment on recognized borders, which is the opening of the Pandopa box for other nations
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-02-15 17:54:13 +1100
    Michael, your argument, your article begins with a misunderstanding. You are, however, not the only one that misunderstand. Tucker, at least in the interview, had the same misunderstand and therefore drew the same wrong conclusion.

    Putin never said that Ukraine has no right to exist. Please, listen carefully to the interview again.

    What Putin said, was that Ukraine is an artificial state and that it shares history, economic connections, many personal connections, culture and languages with Russia. And remember that this situation is even more pronounced in eastern Ukraine.

    So yes, and Putin did not object to that statement, Russia has a “historic claim” at least on eastern Ukraine.

    But Putin never said that this claim or this claim alone allows Russia to go to war with Ukraine.

    Putin and the Russians in general tend to be legalistic, they tend to honour treaties.

    So, and Putin explains this in the interview, while he clearly did not like Lenin’s decision to give Novo Russia to Ukraine, he and the previous Russian government respected the treaty, that lead to Ukraine’s independence. Putin himself did negotiate some of the relevant treaties between Russia and Ukraine.

    But: a historic claim is not a right.

    A right basically needs a treaty.

    I assume this is the point that you and Tucker do not fully understand.

    Again: Putin and Russia, Russia as a guarantor, signed the Minsk agreements, agreements that were signed to end the civil war in Ukraine and that would have kept the Donbass, which is part of the old Novorossia, inside Ukraine!!!!!

    Also: see again, where Putin and Tucker discuss the hungarian region in Ukraine (min 20), where Putin explains that Hungary can indeed make a historic, claim, but that they do not have the right.

    Again, a right needs a treaty.

    Why did Putin then explain all this?

    During the civil war in Ukraine, that began in 2014 and was provoked and engineered by Mrs Nuland, the CIA and therefore also the US government of those years, the Russian government did not acknowledge and accept the independence of the two Donbass regions from Ukraine.

    A war by Russia against Ukraine, from Putin’s point needed a legal basis. That basis was created, when Russia accepted the statehood or independence of the Donbass republics from Ukraine and therefore could sign a treaty with them for the provision of military support to them, of formally going to war in Ukraine.

    The historical background Putin provided the, one might say, moral basis for these legal state-actions.

    Because eastern Ukraine is populated by Russians that have good and plausible reasons for wanting to join Russia, and Russia has good reasons to accept.

    Note that these legal things are obviously important to Russians, probably more than to Americans.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-15 09:01:31 +1100
    mrscracker, my mother’s documents say she was born in Germany. That territory is now part of Russia. Turns out I am theoretically eligible for Russian citizenship.

    As you say, borders and empires change.
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-02-15 08:57:50 +1100
    Yes, yes, and yes.

    With one quibble “… Carlson should have realised that he was being played for a sucker.”

    He was not being played for a sucker. His agenda was to feed his fanboys what they wanted to hear, not to get to the truth of matters.

    I think he was disappointed that Putin proved so long winded and boring. But, by and large. I think he achieved his goal.

    By the way, I doubt Carlson is a “Russian Asset” as some people have claimed. His goal is simply to promote Tucker Carlson.

    In any case, I think Ukraine is in deep trouble. Trump and his lackeys in the Republican Party are effectively blocking the Biden Administration’s efforts to send aid. Xi is watching with interest.
  • mrscracker
    The Mongol Empire comments are pretty funny, thank you for sharing that.
    A late in-law was born in the Ukraine at the beginning of the 20th century & her official documents clearly stated “Russia” as her place of birth. But I understand borders & empires change.
  • Michael Cook
    published this page in The Latest 2024-02-14 23:13:10 +1100