The Russian-Ukrainian conflict reaches back to the times when Ukraine emerged on the world map. In fact, it had started long before Russia established itself as a state. The nature of this conflict, though, has remained unchanged.
Since the creation of the Tsardom of Muscovy, its eastern and northern territories have been protected by seas, and the southern territories have been protected by mountains.
However, basic human resources, agricultural land, and infrastructure routes were located along the western border. In addition, while possessing vast natural resources, the Russian Empire didn’t have access to warm-water ports.
The defeat of the Tsarist Russian Empire in World War I and the October Coup didn’t in any way change the imperialist policies of Bolshevik Russia.[boxright]
READ MORE ABOUT THE EVENTS OF THOSE TIMES:
In fact, immediately after its formation in 1917, Soviet Russia began the occupation of the newly established Ukrainian People’s Republic. The occupation began with the formation of the “Ukrainian People’s Republic of Soviets” – an enclave controlled by the Bolsheviks (similar to today’s ORDLO – Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions).
During the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles in 1919 – 20, the leaders of the three nations – the United States, United Kingdom, and France – conceded statehood to nations that emerged from the ruins of European empires. The leaders of the Ukrainian People’s Republic sought support to oppose the Bolsheviks and the recognition of their statehood. However, it was the offensive of Bolshevik Russia that prevented the recognition of the Ukrainian Republic.
Western powers were exhausted by World War I and didn’t have the resources and desire to resist the Bolsheviks, whose intentions were unclear to them. They chose to isolate and ignore the Bolsheviks instead.
The return of control over Ukraine and its resources opened up new opportunities for the Russian Bolshevik government. The most valuable of such resources was grain, which could be exported to raise funds necessary for the industrialization of the Soviet Union.
Collectivization and “dekulakization” provoked thousands of peasant revolts throughout Ukraine. People demanded the return of land and local governance to their communities. In order to prevent any potential peasant revolts and to secure control over land and grain, which was the main currency back then, Stalin killed millions of Ukrainian peasants by starvation in 1932 – 33.
Nazi Germany was the closest ally for Stalin’s empire at that time. Hitler and Stalin relied on each other’s resources in preparation for their own wars.
Stalin intended to move west, establish control over the seas and increase the “sanitary zone” under the banner of the socialist revolution. Hitler needed Ukrainian lands as the source of a workforce and food for his future empire.
World War II was started by both dictators, but only one of them was punished.
Stalin ended the war as a winner who spelled the terms of peace. As a result, as of 1945, the Soviet empire had advanced its borders to Berlin.
Stalin intended to move even further west. He first laid siege to West Berlin and established the German Democratic Republic (once again, similar to today’s ORDLO) in breach of the conditions of the occupation zones.
Later on, in 1952, he attempted to expand westward, proposing that German leader Konrad Adenauer unite the GDR and the Federal Republic of Germany under conditions of an amnesty to former members of the Nazi party, new elections, and the non-aligned status of a united Germany. To this Chancellor Adenauer replied,
“Refusal to integrate with the West will lead to the capture of Germany by the Bolsheviks and will be tantamount to “political suicide.”
Control of the Baltic Sea was secured by the Kaliningrad enclave – the remnant of the Kingdom of Prussia with its capital Königsberg, as well as the occupation of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and the GDR satellite.
The Black Sea was put under Russian control as a result of control of the Crimea and the Ukrainian coastline, which was further boosted by the occupation of Georgia and the turning Bulgaria and Romania into Soviet satellites. The “sanitary zone” was expanded enough to keep the empire’s lifeline safe.[quote float=left] Without control over the Baltic and Black Seas, as well as without control over Ukrainian resources, “Greater Russia” is impossible. [/quote]
Meanwhile, Europe needed to recover from the war of the past, protect itself from the Soviet military threat of the present, and prevent wars between European nations in the future.
To maintain geopolitical balance on the European continent, the North Atlantic Alliance was established, whose aim, according to its first Secretary General, Baron Ismay, was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”
That is why Russian aggression against Ukraine, unfortunately, was inevitable. It is no coincidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century.”
Without control over the Baltic and Black Seas, as well as without control over Ukrainian resources, “Greater Russia” is impossible.
Initially, Russia took advantage of Ukrainians’ lack of experience in state-building and management of their resources after independence, and during large-scale privatization, they freely bought up strategic enterprises and critical infrastructure.
They have never held a Ukrainian identity or interest in the development of Ukraine, so they easily pumped out and continue to pump out money from Ukraine through offshore jurisdictions. At the same time, in order to maintain their monopolies and guarantee Ukraine’s movement in the Russian fairway, those actors established control over Ukrainian politics through dependent media and political projects.
After all, today these oligarchs no longer make a secret of their reliance on Russia, openly lobbying for a Russian “appeasement” scenario in both Ukraine and the United States.
However, even this control wasn’t enough for Russia’s plans. Generations of people were born and raised in Ukraine, for whom any pro-Russian sentiments were alien and who increasingly looked to the West, identifying with European civilization and not with the “single Slavic people.” Time played against Russia – the territory got out of control.[boxright]
The Revolution of Dignity proved to be only a pretext for the Russian invasion. The main purpose of the annexation of Crimea was to gain control of the Black Sea and strengthen geopolitical leverage in the greater Mediterranean region.
Thus, the main reasons for the occupation of East Ukraine were the levers of Russian pressure on Ukraine in both domestic and foreign policies.
Is it possible to resolve the age-old Russian-Ukrainian conflict? Is Ukraine able to do it alone? Is the democratic world ready to recognize the dependence of its own security on Ukraine’s security, realizing, in historical perspective, the price it will have to pay in the event of Ukraine’s loss of its freedom and independence?
“Thus it would be hypocrisy to deny that an independent Ukraine is as essential to […] the tranquility of the world. Merely because it is inconvenient to consider it and highly so to attempt its solution, the problem has too long been ignored. But it is a problem which has deep and intricate roots in history and in its modern form has assumed extreme urgency. Voltaire noted admiringly the persistence with which Ukrainians aspired to freedom and remarked that being surrounded by hostile lands, they were doomed to search for a Protector.
Until they are assured of liberty they will be faithless to whichever State they are bound and will continue freely to shed their own blood and that of their conquerors. So long, too, as this situation continues other nations will be tempted to exploit it. What then is the use of pretending that there is peace when there is no peace? Nor will there be any until this Ukrainian question is satisfactorily disposed of.”
These are the words of Lancelot Lawton, a British soldier, historian, economist, Ukrainian scholar, public figure, and international journalist, which he spoke in 1935. Ignoring these words then cost Europeans tens of millions of lives. Perhaps, history provides us with a chance to correct this mistake, doesn’t it?[editorial]Read the entire report here. The text in this article has been slightly edited for clarity.[/editorial]
Oksana Syroyid is co-chair of the Lviv Security Forum, leader of the Samopomich Union political party, Deputy Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament in 2014-2019.