Ukraine first gained independence in 1917 following World War one and the collapse of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires. However, Ukraine’s independence was short lived.
Ukraine was invaded by Poland. In 1918, the new Bolshevik government took power following the Russian revolution. In 1922, Ukraine was then incorporated into the Soviet Union. At that time, Ukraine had a failing economy and a starving population.
Ukrainian peasants refused to join collective farms in the 1930’s. Joseph Stalin, The Soviet leader orchestrated a famine and executed Ukrainians. It is estimated that ten million perished. Stalin then imported millions of Russians into the coal and iron rich east region. Russia and Ukraine share a turbulent history that stretches back 1,000 years.
World war two saw the invasion of the Nazis into Ukraine. The Ukrainians fought alongside the Nazis believing Hitler would reward them with an independent state. The Nazis used Ukrainians as slave labour. Approximately five million Ukrainians died during World War two. Most of them were Jewish. Stalin deported Ukrainians that collaborated with the Nazis and sent them to Siberian prison camps and executed thousands.
In 1991, Gorbachev announced that after 74 years as one of the world’s most powerful nations, the Soviet Union no longer existed, and would break up into fifteen separate countries in a historic speech. He stated that communism was over and declared he wanted to democratise Russia.
In 1991, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians voted to declare independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in the creation of fifteen new countries.
The former Soviet republics are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
The Warsaw Pact
During the Cold War, the USSR founded its own military alliance in response to NATO called the Warsaw Pact.
The alliance included Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union itself.
All the Warsaw Pact countries outside the USSR have now joined NATO, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, among others.
Three of the former Soviet republics, known as the Baltic states, have become members of NATO, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
The three countries are now considered Western aligned democracies. These countries border Russia and have turned their back on the Kremlin since their incorporation into NATO.
While Ukrainian leaders were initially close with Russia after the end of the Cold War, pro-democracy protests in 2014 ousted the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych during a coup in 2014. Ukraine became a deeply divided country When Russian speaking eastern Ukraine rebelled when leader Viktor Yanukovych was succeeded by a pro-Western interim government.
In 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea in the nation’s south and supporting Russian speaking separatist groups in eastern Ukraine. That conflict has killed 14,000 people to date.
Why did Russia invade and annex Crimea? There are two reasons, Russia has a historical claim over the Crimean territory and its inhabitants.
The second reason, most of the Crimean population seems to prefer being part of the Russian Federation than the Ukrainian government, the Russian invasion and annexation met little resistance from the Crimean population. The peninsula, on the Black Sea is important to Russia as its strategic placement provides Russia with defence capabilities. Crimea is home to majority ethnic Russians and houses Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Russia had ruled Crimea for hundreds of years. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev suddenly gifted it to Kiev in 1954. Many Russians think Khrushchev was drunk when he signed the Crimea away, while others believe he was trying make amends for the Ukrainian famine.
Ukraine became a battleground in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and began arming pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region in the country’s southeast.
Ukraine wanted to be recognised as a sovereign state. Ukraine developed closer ties with Western institutions, including the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Deep internal divisions exist in Ukraine. A more nationalist, Ukrainian-speaking population in western parts of the country has supported greater integration with Europe, while a mostly Russian-speaking community in the east has favoured closer ties with Russia. Here lies the conflict.
The conflict in Donbass between the Ukrainian government and the self-proclaimed pro- Russian Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) has been under way since April 2014. The hostilities began after DPR and the LPR declared independence following a coup in Kyiv in February 2014.
Interestingly, Donetsk was founded in 1869 by John Hughes, a Welsh businessman, who wanted to develop eastern Ukraine’s coal industry, and it was initially called Hugheskova.
Russia supplies about a quarter of Europe’s gas, with just over half of that flowing through Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Beijing, China on February 4, 2022. Putin has called for NATO to stop its expansion towards Russia. Russia is surrounded by NATO member countries. Russia sees NATO as the aggressor and has amassed thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin called for NATO to halt expansion as they met in Beijing. Putin and Xi accused NATO of having a Cold War ideology.
In a statement, the two leaders stated that “China and Russia oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized cold war approaches, to respect the sovereignty, security and interests of other countries, the diversity of their civilizational, cultural and historical backgrounds, and to exercise a fair and objective attitude towards the peaceful development of other States,” a joint statement released by the Kremlin said.
Russia has stated on several occasions that there are no plans to invade Ukraine. According to a recent report, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky recently urged President Joe Biden during a call, to tone down his rhetoric with regards to situation between Ukraine and Russia, amid fears it could cause panic or a run-on supplies, according to a report.
Can Western military forces afford to sabre rattle in the wake of the recent joint statement by the Chinese and Russian leaders? Many believe this would begin a global war with devastating consequences.