Russia Says 'Impossible' to Revive Soviet Union Amid U.S. Concerns, Growing Nostalgia
The Kremlin has dismissed the feasibility of reviving the Soviet Union, even amid U.S. concerns and the growing nostalgia for some aspects of the former Communist system among Russians today.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, repudiated remarks made days two days earlier by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, who expressed "concern" to lawmakers that the Russian leader "is actually as a legacy project seeking to reconstitute the Soviet Union," especially in regard to Ukraine, which she argued Putin believed "is actually a part of Russia, belongs to Russia."
Peskov credited Nuland with having "extensive knowledge about Russia and all the nuances of the post-Soviet space." He said he was "convinced that Mrs. Nuland, just like us or other experts, clearly comprehends that restoring the USSR is impossible," as quoted by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.
"Furthermore, Ms. Nuland surely knows that integration processes with different rates of development have appeared in the area of the former Soviet Union for quite a long time and are maturing," Peskov added. "There are the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and more top-notch integration organizations, namely the EAEU, and more advanced allied structures, such as the Union State of Russia and Belarus. None of this is an attempt at the reincarnation of the USSR, and nor can it be."
The comments came on the 30th anniversary of the declaration that resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
While no evidence has emerged of a wider effort by Putin or his administration to reestablish the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics that existed for nearly 70 years from 1921 to 1991, Russians living three decades after its collapse have expressed increasing levels of support for the state-run political and economic policies of the fallen superpower.
A poll published in September by the independent Levada Center demonstrated that some 49% of respondents said they "would prefer the Soviet political system," by far the most of any option, and "the highest number since the early 2000s." Only 18% chose the current political system, while just 16% favored "the Western model of democracy."
The Soviet economic system was even more popular, with 62% preferring policies of "state planning and distribution," marking a record high that is the "maximum in the entire history of observations." Some 24% opted for "a system based on private property and market relations."
The mounting nostalgia for the Soviet times comes as even more recent survey findings by the Levada Center indicated Putin's popularity was waning, with a 63% approval and 35% disapproval as of last month. While still higher than Reuters' figures for President Joe Biden at 46% approval and 49% disapproval around this same time, the Russian leader's popularity has dropped significantly from a decade-spanning high of 88% in October 2014.
Putin experienced a massive surge in popularity that year that directly coincided with his hardline response to a 2014 uprising in Ukraine that brought a pro-West government to power in Kyiv.
Following the uprising, Russian forces quickly moved in to assert control of Crimea, a strategic Black Sea peninsula inherited by Ukraine after the Soviet Union's collapse.
Russia subsequently annexed the territory after an internationally disputed referendum. Meanwhile, an insurgency erupted in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, where Kyiv and Western partners alleged separatists received direct backing from Moscow.
Seven years have passed, and Crimea remains firmly under Russian control, while clashes between Ukrainian security forces and Russia-aligned rebels continue in spite of repeated attempts to implement ceasefires. And now, a buildup along the border of Russian troops estimated by U.S. intelligence to number some 175,000, along with additional military equipment, has raised concerns of a potential imminent Russian incursion into Ukraine.
Putin continues to deny any plans to escalate, but has warned of potential provocations being staged from within Ukraine, something officials in Kyiv have dismissed as disinformation attempts. But as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky seeks to join the U.S.-led NATO Western military alliance created to counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Putin has demanded the coalition halt its eastward expansion.
The rising tensions were the subject of the latest summit held virtually between Putin and Biden on Tuesday. The U.S. president told reporters in Washington on Wednesday he told Putin that "if, in fact, he invaded Ukraine there will be severe consequences," especially in the economic realm.
Putin separately told journalists in Moscow that it would be "criminal inaction" to stand idly by while a neighboring country joined a defense pact that has brought foreign troops and weapons systems closer to Russia's borders.
Although the events of 2014 have not yet fulfilled Ukraine's aspirations to join NATO, they were followed by the deployment of four multinational troop battalions to the frontline alliance states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, all former parts of the rival Warsaw Pact during the era of the Soviet Union. Poland and Romania have also received advanced missile defense systems that Putin sees as a threat to Russia's national security.
"We have every reason to believe that the same will happen if Ukraine is admitted to NATO, but this time on Ukrainian territory," Putin said Wednesday.
The Biden administration has so far signaled it would not commit to excluding Ukraine from a NATO membership bid. At the same time, the president has reiterated that placing U.S. troops directly in Ukraine was "not on the table."
Both the White House and Kremlin readouts of the two leaders' summit stated that talks would continue via their respective officials. Putin welcomed this development.
"We have an opportunity to continue this dialogue," he said. "I think this is the most important thing."
"We have agreed that we will create an appropriate structure that will be able to deal with this substantively, in detail, and submit appropriate proposals," Putin added.