Narrative Analysis of Ukraine Crisis; Contrasting Narratives and Counter-Narratives

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran

2 Postdoctoral Researcher in International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Kharazmi University, Tehran, Iran



Introduction: Analyzing and interpreting a narrative can provide insight into the occurrence of an event, its causes, and its nature. Therefore, it can be said that narratives are a way to understand events. Narratives can be based on fact or fiction, but they help people make sense of the world through stories about themselves and others. This highlights the importance of narratives in shaping actions in the world. From this point of view, the current crisis in Ukraine can be seen as a story in which both Russia and Ukraine are trying to present their narratives of the history, causes, and methods of their conflict. The purpose of this research is to examine the narrative dimensions of this crisis from the point of the view of Putin and Zelensky, who are its main narrators. To achieve this, data will be collected and then analyzed from the statements of the leaders of Russia and Ukraine.
Research question: The question of the article based on the relationship between the narrative and the dynamics of contradiction is: what factor has made the crisis in Ukraine prolonged and inevitable?
Research hypothesis: hypothesis is that conflicting narratives as incompatible ideological and identity beliefs by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine is the inevitable ground of the conflict and has become one of the long-term crises.
Methodology and theoretical framework: The theoretical approach of the article is narrative analysis. The reason for choosing this theory is that narratives shape our understanding of ourselves and even create the physical world. The research method for this article is qualitative content analysis. In this method, the main concepts of the subject are extracted based on the selected theoretical approach. In the next step, these concepts are interpreted as research data by referring to the words and opinions of Putin and Zelensky as the ruling elite. This method is a good way to achieve the research goal because it seeks to understand the opinion and infer the specific characteristics of a crisis.
Results and Discussion: Certainly, the history of the Ukraine crisis dates back to the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the turning point and the beginning of the conflict of this crisis was in early 2014, after the annexation of Crimea to Russia. Although this annexation was the beginning of a military conflict, on the political side, the first friction was caused by Viktor Yanukovych decision against Ukraine's agreement with the European Union in 2013. Since then, political movements in favor of a nationalist approach to opposing Russian influence led to a period of protests against Yanukovych government and ultimately to his ouster from power in 2014. After this period, Ukraine's tendency towards the West increased the tension between this country and Russia. Therefore, in the post- Soviet period, while Ukraine was following policies to consolidate its independence, the Russian Federation sought to control Soviet geography, which was defined as the foreign country close to the Russian Federation. These foreign policy goals, carried out by the two countries, have caused security duality against each other and the emergence of some crises. In defining this security dilemma, the narrative of the elites of these two countries has always played a fundamental role. Narratives are often used by the ruling elite to incite society and resort to war and violence against others. In addition to the reconstructing the identities that make conflict possible, another key condition in the escalation of conflict, is the role of elites who mobilize identities and narratives for war. According to this role of leaders, Putin's narrative of preventive war, removal of threats and nationalism, delegitimization, negativity and victimization have formed the three elements of his narrative to legitimize and justify the attack on Ukraine, while Zelensky, on the other hand, in response to Putin's narrative, has presented an opposite narrative of inversion, marginalization, and contradiction and has declared his narrative fictional.
Conclusion: The narratives of Russia and Ukraine have been formed in such a way that these narratives do not allow for mutual understanding or a short-term solution to the crisis, and that only a tragedy or miracle can end the war. Consequently, as long as the conflicting narratives remain unchanged and less conflicting narratives replace them, even if the current crisis temporarily subsides, it is still waiting to happen again. The structure of both sides’ narratives shows that Putin's story is based on both material elements and normative-identity, but the dominant and provocative narrative is based on material and geopolitical elements. On the other hand, Ukrainian narratives have a normative and identity nature due to their connection with Western narratives and formation against Russian narratives.


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