What are Vladimir Putin's long-term goals in Ukraine? An overlooked treaty from the mid-1990s reveal that his ambitions go far beyond Ukraine to building a Russian Empire 2.0.
What does Vladimir Putin want?
One big clue is the “Union State”, a supranational organization consisting of Russia and Belarus that was founded in 1996. The union aimed to gradually create a single political, economic, military and cultural space.
But Putin’s vision for the union doesn’t stop with Belarus. He has been quietly but diligently building the formations of the USSR 2.0 for decades.
And just in the past few weeks, Russia has announced that the occupied territories of Ukraine that have been annexed into Russia — as well as their armed militias — would also become part of the Union State.
What is USSR 2.0?
The Union was created in stages throughout the mid to late Nineties. In 1996, an agreement was reached on the creation of the Union between Belarus and Russia, with the official signing the following year of the “Treaty on the Union between Belarus and Russia”
In 1999, the “Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus” was officially signed. Since then, the driving aim is to reproduce what has been referred to as the "USSR 2.0" or the "Russian Empire 2.0". Other events show that Putin’s true ambitions stretch far beyond the orders of Belarus. It's also notable that the organization has gotten renewed attention since the war begin, particularly in the past few weeks since the sham referendums on annexation have begun.
Here are some highlights of that history:
• In 2001, the former president of Moldova Vladimir Voronin announced plans for Moldova to join the “Union State”, but this was never implemented.
• In 1999, Slobodan Milošević announced his desire for his country to join the Union State as an observer.
In Kyrgyzstan in June 2007, the opposition was determined to initiate a referendum on joining the Union State.
• On Oct. 17, 2008, the “parliaments” of the Russian-occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia received the status of permanent observers at the “Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State”.
• On Sept. 30, 2022, Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov announced that the annexed territories of Ukraine would become not only part of Russia but also the Union State.
• On Oct. 9, 2022, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's second CIS department, Alexey Polishchuk, said that the illegal armed formations of the "Donetsk People’s Republic", "Luhansk People’s Republic" and the occupied parts of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions became part of the Union State of Russia and Belarus.
• In 2022, the State Secretary of the Union State Dmitry Mezentsev visited the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine four times and even took part in a meeting in the occupied Donetsk together with First Deputy of the Presidential Administration of Russia Sergey Kiriyenko and First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Andriy Turchak.
What’s more, three billion rubles ($48 million) were allocated to support the occupation administrations in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko observing strategic deterrence forces exercise in the Kremlin’s situation room on Feb. 19, 2022
Putin's new title
After analyzing the activities and structure of the so-called Union State, it is clear that this formation was founded and supported with the sole purpose of reproducing the "USSR 2.0". That is, the very existence of such a structure foreshadows the violent takeovers of independent states that were previously part of the post-Soviet space.
According to the political scientists analyzing the processes in the post-Soviet space, in 2023 Russia is planning a transition of power, which implies the transition of Vladimir Putin to the post of “Secretary General of the Union State”. The role will not just encompass Russia and Belarus but have a broader meaning. In the information space of Russia, they have already begun to promote the topic of a new “union state”. So on Aug. 13, 2022, Kremlin propagandist and “political scientist” Anton Bredikhin said that in addition to Russia and Belarus, the new “union state” may include temporarily occupied territories of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia; temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine; Transnistria and the Autonomous Republic of Gagauzia [in Moldova].
It's an aggressive policy against the states of the post-Soviet space that don't want to join the new union.
According to Bredikhin, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan can join this formation (but this is more a desire than facts). According to colleagues of political scientists, the transition of power in 2023 is that Putin must leave the post of president of Russia and become the head of a “union state” in a new format.
The processes described above stem from one factor, which is the desire of Vladimir Putin to reproduce the 20th century empire, a "USSR 2.0," which is likely to lead to new political crises or military conflicts. The beginning of the reproduction of the “new Soviet empire” is just the first step in an aggressive policy against the independent states of the post-Soviet space that do not want to join the new union. Ukraine just turned out to be the first one on the Kremlin’s list.
*Pavel Lysyansky is the Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Security