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Russian President Vladimir Putin at the unveiling ceremony of a monument to Vladimir the Great outside the Kremlin, Moscow, Nov. 4, 2016 (AP photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko).

Russia’s Calculus in Ukraine Is a Mix of Strategic Patience and Grim Resignation

Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017

There is a new landmark in Moscow, opposite the towering ramparts of the Kremlin’s Borovitskaya Gate. That imposing fortified passage, through which presidential motorcades traditionally enter and exit, now shares its position on the Kremlin’s southern flank with an enormous statue of Vladimir, which was unveiled late last year. This Vladimir is not Putin, but the sainted Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev, whose baptism signaled the conversion of the Rus’ to Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century, and the alignment of their vast Eastern European empire with Constantinople and the heirs of Rome. Notably, the baptism of Vladimir—the first step of the so-called Baptism of the Rus’—took place neither in Moscow nor in Kiev, but in Crimea.

This symbolism is not lost on Russian officials or ordinary Moscovites. Both understand that just as Soviet and post-Soviet rulers have governed Russia from the Kremlin, they now seek to assert their sway over lands once ruled by Vladimir. The conviction that Crimea is legitimately Russian land—never again to be lost, bartered or leased—has become a catechism. As for the rest of Ukraine, Russians see a mix of a grim but acceptable status quo and developments that may gradually break in their favor. That is why, for now at least, Moscow’s strategy is to stay the course there. ...

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