For much of its history, Ukraine has been divided into West and East. Indeed, the name “Ukraine” is commonly translated as “border land“. Until the Soviet era, Western Ukraine was under the control of various powers, while Eastern Ukraine was dominated by the Russian Empire. With the end of World War II, the territories of East and West Ukraine were merged into one Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Although these historic divisions have developed social and political fractures, in the December of 1991 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence – surprisingly, even the Crimea.
From this point of view it is easy to convince oneself that the war in Ukraine represents one historical war between Russia and the West. However, the history of Russian-Ukrainian relations begins when the borders of these two states were not yet defined as they are today. The world knows a lot about Russian culture and the Russian version of Russian-Ukrainian relations. But that’s only one side of the story. Thanks to a deep historical analysis it can be said that Russia has always considered Ukraine as a fundamental part of its future – and of its borders.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a great hobby: history, i.e. changing it. He used the past as a tool to justify the Ukrainian invasion. For students of history it is easy to decipher that his essays and televised speeches are part of his greatness propaganda machine. However, for an ordinary Russian citizen, surrounded by propaganda from birth, his words may sound like universal truths. His claims about theUkraine founded by Vladimir Lenin and that Russia is the cultural and historical heir of Kievan Rus’ represent an instrument of soft power with which Putin – like his predecessors – would like to see the historical importance of Ukraine disappear. Indeed, unlike Moscow, which was first mentioned in history books in 1147, the Kievan Rus’ was founded around Kiev in 882, which then existed as a city for 400 years.
Another historical fact that takes place even before the foundation of the BORN and of Cold War and the Russification occurred on a large scale throughout the Russian Empire from 1709 until Ukrainian independence in 1991. Especially with the Ukaz (law in Russian) of Emsissued in 1876 by the Tsar Alexander IIthe printing and distribution of Ukrainian-language works in the territories of the Russian Empire was prohibited thereby repressing Ukrainian national identity. Russification was only briefly interrupted by the policies of korenizatsiya in the twenties. In the early thirties, Stalin started the gradual revival of the symbolic importance of the Russian language and culture. Indeed, it can be argued that the same Holodomor – the Ukrainian famine of the years 1932-1933 – was not only a hunt for grain and kulaksbut also – and, perhaps, above all – to the Ukrainian culture and language. The Holodomor served as a tool to bring Ukrainians under Soviet power. In fact, it all began in 1932 when Stalin posed end of support for Ukrainian language teaching, also discontinuing any publication in Ukrainian outside the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Furthermore, stricter control policies of Ukrainian cultural activities were introduced to deal with the potential rise of Ukrainian nationalism, persecuting not only exponents of Ukrainian culture but also key figures of the Communist Party of Ukraine. So, it wasn’t just a famine, but a larger tragedy: the killing of a nation.
The destruction of the Zaporizhzhya Sich
Another phenomenon that calls into question Russian benevolence towards its “lesser” Ukrainian brothers is the destruction of Zaporizhka Sich – the administrative and military center of the Cossacks of Zaporizhzhya – in the 1775 by order of Catherine II. When the Hetmanate and the hundred regiment system a Slobozhanshchyna were liquidated between 1764 and 1765, the last stronghold of Ukrainian freedom was the Zaporizhzhya Sich. The Moscow authorities were just waiting for the right opportunity to liquidate the Zaporizhka Sich which came in 1775, when the Russo-Turkish war (1768-1774), which the Cossacks helped win Moscow. On April 23, 1775 the Imperial Court Council decided to liquidate the Sich. So in the June of 1775, Russian troops returning from an Ottoman campaign suddenly surrounded the Sich. Since the Cossacks did not expect such a development, there were very few soldiers in Zaporizhzhya at that time. Knowing the Russian methods of torture, the Cossacks they decided to surrender to the will of the oppressors.
A complicated relationship
It’s not easy to enclose in an article millennia of history. However, no easy conclusions can be drawn based on the events of recent decades either. The dilemma over the promise of the United States of not expand NATO jurisdiction to the east not may be enough to justify theinvasion of Ukraine in 2014 and 2022 – as well as that of Georgia in 2008. In September of 2021, Putin spoke about do not cross the line when the Russian military services had taken over i Western strategic bombers within twenty kilometers of borders of Russia. We must not forget, however, that at that moment one hundred thousand Russian troops they were already positioned on the Ukrainian border. NATO enlargement in itself does not threaten Russia’s security in the strict sense, but it has further fomented theidea of humiliation from the West that feeds the Russian victim nationalism. In this way, history simply repeats itself. So Ukraine, wanting to exercise the freedom to choose which side to take, is having to pay the consequences of one inconvenient geographical location and having a neighbor who pours his dissatisfaction into violence and oppression.
Picture of Jernej Furman via Flickr
The war in Ukraine is not the war between Russia and the United States