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The ties that bind are also contemporary and personal. Two Soviet leaders — Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev — not only spent their early years in Ukraine but spoke Russian with a distinct Ukrainian accent. This historic connectedness is one reason why their post-Soviet successor, Vladimir Putin, has been able to build such wide popular support in Russia for championing — and, as he is now trying to do, recreating — “Novorossiya” (New Russia) in Ukraine.

In selling his revanchist policy to the Russian public, Putin has depicted Ukrainians who cherish their independence and want to join Europe and embrace the Western democratic values it represents as, at best, pawns and dupes of NATO — or, at worst, neo-Nazis. As a result, many Russians have themselves been duped into viewing Washington, London, and Berlin as puppet-masters attempting to destroy Russia.

Freeland, Chrystia.  “My Ukraine: A Personal reflection on a nation’s dream of independence and the nightmare Vladimir Putin has visited upon it.”  The Brookings Essay.  Brookings Institution, May 12, 2015.