Ukraine: a Russian view

This post will present the Ukrainian crisis from the Moscow’s perspective. It will be followed by another post with a Ukrainian view. My intention is not to take sides but rather present the opposing views on what has led to the recent flare-up in the Ukrainian-Russian relations.

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East Ukraine fell under the Russian control  after the Peace of Riga, signed by Poland and the Soviets in 1919. In 1922 the Soviet Ukrainian Republic became one of the founding members of the USSR. In 1920s Ukraine enjoyed a degree of autonomy as it was rebuilding after the years of war. The pace of Soviet-style planned development was rapid and transformed the largely rural economy into an industrial power, arguably with the Russian economic assistance. During the WW2 Ukraine suffered terrible destruction. While most Ukrainians were loyal to the USSR some nationalists collaborated with the Germans in hope of creating an independent state. Mass killings of Poles and Jews were carried out in 1943 and 1944 by the Bandera faction of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists. Polish reprisals followed.

In 1954, by Khrushchev’s order, Crimea Province became part of the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic. This was a purely administrative exercise as all Soviet Union territory was under a tight political and economic control of Moscow. When the USSR dissolved in early 1990s Ukraine inherited Crimea, although Russia kept the military bases on the peninsula. The independent Ukraine had a mix of Ukrainian and Russian population. The ethnic Russians constituted a majority in the Eastern part of the country, including Crimea. The election results in 2000s clearly reflected this polarity, with either pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian forces winning by a slim margin.

As the political jostling carried on the economy took a nose dive around 2008. As a result of payment disputes with Russia the supply of natural gas was periodically cut off. The country sank deeper and deeper in debt. A pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych won the presidential elections in 2010 but was ousted and forced to leave the country by the Maidan Revolution in 2014. This change of government was un-constitutional, un-democratic and amounted to a coup. The new non-democratically elected government in Kiev was recognised by the West (which had actively supported the Maidan movement) but not by Moscow.

At about the same time the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill which made Ukrainian the only official language in the country. This upset the Russians making up more than 50% of population in some areas. Feeling threatened, the Russian self-defence groups in Crimea turned to Moscow for help. As a result of a formal request for help the Russian military forces gradually took control of Crimea in a largely orderly takeover. In a democratic referendum called by the transitional authorities over 95% of the population voted for re-unification with Russia. Consequently the Republic of Crimea declared independence and was promptly recognised by Russia. It is on track to be formally incorporated into Russia by the act of the Russian Parliament.

So, from Putin’s perspective, the turn of events following the Maidan Revolution was viewed as a threat to the strategic interests of Moscow. In particular, the West’s involvement and sponsoring of the pro-Ukrainian nationalist factions constituted an interference in the political buffer-zone separating the ex-Cold War adversaries. The Russian military bases in Crimea were in danger of being surrounded and isolated. A plausible excuse to intervene was provided by the disquiet of the local Russian population upset at the cultural pressure exerted by the Ukrainian nationalists from Kiev. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ukraine: a Kiev’s view

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