Following the Crimean Anschluss, Russians have stopped focusing their anger on Nikita Khrushchev, who transferred Crimea from the RSFSR to Ukraine, as a primary source of their problems with Ukrainians and shifted attention to the role Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin played in creating the current tensions between the two nations.
Some Russians, largely out of ignorance, Ilya Lazarenko writes in a commentary on Rufabula.com, believe that “Lenin created Ukraine, added Kharkiv to it, and so on.” But such views arise from the “one grandmother said to another” school of historical interpretation and need to be fought.
The facts, the Ukrainian commentator continues, are these, “the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) appeared as a result of the Ukrainian National Republic (UNR),” had borders which “corresponded with the borders” of that earlier state, and was demarcated according to regions which were “predominantly” Ukrainian in population.
But those historical realities were overwhelmed in the minds of many Russians by government propaganda beginning a year or so ago which claimed, among other falsehoods, that “Lenin was the creator of Ukraine,” a claim that not only denigrated the Ukrainians as a nation but implied that Lenin had made a mistake and that Moscow must “correct” it.
The events of 1917 and the years following are complicated but not that difficult to understand, Lazarenko says. Two days after Nicholas II abdicated, the Ukrainian Central Rada was set up in Kyiv as a coordinating council for the Ukrainian national movement which at that time was pressing for the autonomy of Ukraine within a Russian federal state.
Even when the Bolsheviks ceased power in November 1917, Kyiv did not immediately declare independence because it was placing its faith in the Constituent Assembly. But even before the Bolsheviks suppressed that body, they issued an ultimatum to Kyiv to subordinate itself to their regime, something the Ukrainians rejected.
Even then, however, Kyiv did not declare its independence, but its refusal to recognize the Bolshevik regime led a group of Bolshevik deputies of the All-Ukraine Congress of Soviets to go to Kharkiv where they proclaimed what was in effect a marionette state, the Ukrainian Peoples Republic of Soviets.
When Lenin dissolved the Constituent Assembly, Lazarenko continues, “the legitimacy of statehood on the territory of the former Russian Empire completely broke down.” And as a result, the Ukrainian National Republic declared its independence. Although later destroyed by the forces of the Bolshevik regime, it continued to exist de jure in the emigration until 1992.
That summary should make it clear, he says, that “the USSR was not established by the Bolsheviks from nothing” as some Russians think, “but was the result of the recognition of the right of Ukrainians to self-determination under the pressure of objective circumstances — a strong Ukrainian national movement and a Ukrainian statehood recognized even before the Bolsheviks.”
More intriguing are Russian commentaries about Stalin’s role in creating the current situation in Ukraine as a result of his decision to annex Western Ukraine, something that became possible as a result of his alliance with Hitler and invasion of Poland and that, as many Western specialists have pointed out, has had serious consequences for Ukraine and Moscow ever since.
In an article on the Russian nationalist site Stoletie.ru, Mikhail Slobodskoy argues that by annexing Western Ukraine, the Soviet leadership allowed into the USSR “a Trojan horse” that ultimately played a key role in the destruction of the USSR and the radicalization of Ukrainian nationalism.
“The events in 1939 developed so rapidly,” he says, “that the Soviet leadership apparently then simply was not able or not able correctly to calculate all the negative consequences connected with the unification of Western Ukraine to the USSR,” given that the different historical experiences of Ukrainians there who were now to be tied to Soviet Ukraine.
It is very likely, Slobodskoy says, that “the leadership of the USSR” – his euphemism for Stalin – “simply did not have any other geopolitical possibility” and may have been driven by a desire for “the triumph of historical justice” by the inclusion of lands that in most cases had been part of the Russian Empire.
“But by including Western Ukraine within the country, the leadership of the USSR by its own hands allowed in a unique ‘Trojan horse,’ which was absolutely alien socially and historically on what was then the common territory” of the Ukrainian SSR and of the USSR as a whole.
Moscow first encountered this reality when following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, people from Western Ukraine were among the first to join the German forces to fight the Soviet ones. But even after the war and until at least 1953, Western Ukrainians continued their armed resistance to Soviet power.
But the destructive influence of the Western Ukrainians re-emerged with the beginning of perestroika, Slobodskoy continues, during the discussion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, something which “literally” became a Pandora’s box for the USSR. “The unification of Galicia to the USSR on the whole played a negative role in the fate of the entire former Ukrainian SSR and, as we see, Russia” as well, he says.