Russia and Ukraine: The Long View
2013 - 2015

[ Welcome ]

"'Russia is a place where everything that happens is fraught with layers
of historical and cultural meaning'" (Sneider, quoted in Sheyner).

Acknowledging the one year anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea (just a year ago)
and the continuing Ukraine crisis, Russian president, Vladimir Putin,
commented to a Russian audience of thousands in Moscow,
"'This was not simply about land, of which we have no shortage.... The issue...was the
source of our history, our spirituality and our statehood--the things that make us a single,
united nation.... We in Russia always saw the Russians and the Ukrainians as a single people"

(Herszenhorn, "A Year..." A9).

During the Cold War, when the United States and USSR were arch-rivals, the Soviet Union stretched across twelve time zones, from Eastern Europe to the Pacific Ocean.

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By 1994, Russia was a mere shadow of its former self: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or the Soviet Union was no more. In its place was Russia and a plethora of "successor states."

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Not only did the SSRs (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the stans) break away, but so did the satellites: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria--what the Soviets considered their "near abroad" or "sphere of privileged interests" (Mcfaul 168).

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My goal is to provide some historical context, I hope not too much,
for the 2013-2015 Ukrainian crisis and to convey what a complicated
relationship exists and has existed for centuries between
Russia and Ukraine (with a detour into Crimea.)

4 part movie recreating Ukrainian history--worth a look, if you're interested
< >--pt 1 (through 18th century)
< >--pt 2 (through Civil War)
< >--pt 3 (through WWII/Yalta)
< >--pt 4 (through "Orange" Revolution)

The image (left) is European Russia, that is, Russia West of the Ural Mountains, the political dividing line between Europe and Asia. Note the locations of Russia (yellow,) Kazakhstan (green,) and Belarus (pink.) These three, all part of the former USSR, comprise the Eurasian Economic Union that President Vladimir Putin created in May, 2014. He hoped Ukraine (orange,) would join, back when the crisis erupted in November, 2013; western Ukrainians protested President Yanukovych's pro-Russian support for the Eurasian Economic Union and expressed preference for stronger ties with the EU.
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Ukraine, which means border or frontier in Russian, formed the core of the first Russian state founded by viking invaders in the 9th century; the fierce Norsemen exploded out of Scandinavia during the Medieval Warm to establish bases in Iceland, Greenland, northern Canada, France, the British Isles, and Sicily. In Rus, as they called Russia, they came to raid and stayed to trade. Indeed, the vikings made Kiev Russia's first capital. Kiev remained--to many Russians--the "Mother of Russian Cities." The Russian perspective is that Ukraine was and should be an integral part of the Russian state, by whatever name. "The ties binding the two countries form a complex weave--personal, historical, religious, geographical--that stretches back more than a millennium" (MacFarquhar, "Conflict..." 10).

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animation of Europe's changing borders (keep your eye on Russia)
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The Donbass, in eastern Ukraine, is the site of the separatist movement and of the "People's Republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since Russia's annexation of Crimea, the Donbass republics are re-instating Soviet style institutions and calling themselves Novorossiya.

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Mother Nature was not kind to Russia, handing out vast stretches of dense forest or taiga and Siberian tundra. But the temperate Ukraine, an "endless steppe," not unlike our own fertile Great Plains, comprised a rich "breadbasket" for Kievan Russia, Imperial Russia, and Soviet Russia. Ukraine contained the "rich, back dirt" of "mother Russia" (rodina.)

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The vikings--Varangians as they were known in the Russian chronicles--followed the
route known as "From the Varangians to the Greeks," with Byzantium or Constantinople
as their destination. In Russian, Constantinople was known as Tsargrad or the
Imperial City.

For much of Russian history, grand dukes, tsars and commissars lusted after ports on the Baltic and Black Seas, with a goal of access to the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles and Bosporous. Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula loomed large in Russian territorial ambitions. Kiev and Ukraine fell to the Mongols in the 13th century, and it wasn't until the 17th century that the rapscallion Don and Dnieper cossacks, under their hetman Bogdan Khmelnitsky, opted for protection under Orthodox Russian tsars and autonomy from either the Catholic Poles or the Muslim sultans (1654.)The 19th century Russian artist, Ilya Repin, commemorated the event.

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Khmnelnitsky remains a controversial Ukrainian hero for his alliance with the Russians; however, his image is on a Ukrainian banknote and as recently as 2009, people continued to leave flowers at his monument in Kiev. I tell you all of this to indicate that Russia and Ukraine have a long and complicated relationship.

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Tsar Alexis, father of Peter the Great, allied with Bogdan and the cossacks to wage war against Poland. Alexis detached much of western Ukraine (including Smolensk, Chernigov, and Kiev ["mother of Russian cities"]) from Poland-Lithuania; he annexed these trading cities on the "route from the Varangians to the Greeks" to an expanding Russian empire.

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For more on the cossacks, see
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At Ukraine's southern tip lay the Crimean Peninsula. Until the 18th century the Crimean Tartars--neither Catholic nor Orthodox but Muslim--raided Ukraine and Russia indiscriminantly. They were able to do so due to their protection by the Ottoman Empire. By the 18th century, Peter the Great had secured access to the Baltic and Catherine the Great was determined to seize and annex the Black Sea littoral. She did so in a series of Russo-Turkish wars, culminating in the annexation of Crimea in 1783.

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follow link for the evolution of Crimea and Ukraine from 15th century to the present
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Catherine the Great relied on her lover and advisor Grigory Potemkin to "Russify" the peninsula, that is to inhabit it with ethnic Russian immigrants. Potemkin took the Empress on a cruise down the Dnieper River to show her the stunning economic development of the "rich black dirt." According to legend, the Potemkin Villages were fake, and Potemkin had put the rubles designated for development in his own pocket.

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As the Russian "bear" learned to "swim" in the Baltic and Black Seas, it put increasing pressure on the Ottoman Turks. Britain viewed Russian expansion with considerable alarm and moved to protect the Ottomans from a suffocating "bear hug," as illustrated in the British humor magazine, Punch.

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A quick glance at a map of the locations of the Ottoman and Russian Empires reveals their mutual rivalry and hostility. The Ottomans blocked Russia from access to the Mediterranean and sought British friendship to hold the Russian "bear" at bay. Friendship with Britain did not always work to the Ottoman advantage as Britain determined to keep the Mediterranean as a "British Lake."

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The great rivalry of the 19th century was Britain v. Russia: the more Russia pursued its Ottoman ambitions--access to the Mediterranean--the more Britain sought to "protect" the Ottomans from Russian encroachments. The Ottoman Empire, "the sick man of Euope," was stuck between a rock and a hard place: the British lion and the Russian bear.

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In addition, Russia expanded southeast into the "stans," challenging British India, "jewel in the crown...." In a clandestine war, known to the diplomats of the day as "The Great Game," Britain and Russia carried on a behind-the-scenes "cold war." While both powers tried to secure a foothold in Afghanistan, neither was successful. Is there a lesson here?

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Hostilities between Britain and Russia erupted in the Crimean War in 1853. Combined British-French-Ottoman naval and military forces sailed through the Straits to attack the Crimean Peninsula. The war was a must-win for Tsar Nicholas I, fighting as he was on home turf for political, economic, diplomatic, and economic reasons. Its outcome was a disaster for Russia, even though at war's end the Tsar retained control of both Crimea and Ukraine. The invasion and war poisoned relations between Britain and Russia for the remainder of the 19th century.

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Prince Menschikov (a Russian general) led an attack against the British position at Balaclava, defended by the 93rd Highlanders, "a thin red streak tipped with a line of steel." Encouraged by the actions of the "brave lads," General Lord Raglan ordered the cavalry to pursue the Russians. In the ensuing confusion, and amidst conflicting views and understanding of the situation, Lord Lucan led the Light Brigade into "the jaws of death," in the immortal words of Tennyson--"galloping, galloping, galloping onward...." Nevertheless, Sevastopol fell in 1855. Somewhat luckily for Russia, the great powers did not dictate horrifically onerous terms at the Peace of Paris, 1856.

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In 1936, Hollywood made a movie The Charge of the Light Brigade (starring Errol Flynn);
it is still gripping 70+ years later

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1968 version in color
< > disregard or silence annoying soundtrack

The balmy Crimean climate made it a resort destination for Russian nobility and the imperial family in the 19th century. Tolstoy and Chekhov both vacationed there. Tsar Nicholas II and Alexandra commissioned architects to build their Italianate summer residence at Livadia near Yalta in the early years of the 20th century. At the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, Nicholas and Alexandra hoped that they would be allowed to go to Livadia for safe evacuation from revolutionary Russia. Lenin and Trotsky had other plans for them and their children, although Nicholas' mother, the Empress Dowager, was rescued by the British from Livadia.

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During the Revolution, Red Terror, and Civil War (1917-1921,) Red and White armies ravaged Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. Ukraine experienced (if not enjoyed) a brief period of autonomy/independence during this chaotic time. However, by 1921, the Bolsheviks were determined to absorb the area into their new state. Lenin and Trotsky were ruthless in their suppression of Ukrainian peasants and in their forced requisition of grain. The result was a famine that swept through western Ukraine, the Donbass, as far East as the Volga and Ural Rivers. Historians estimate that it may have taken as many as 6 million lives. Herbert Hoover, recent mastermind of Belgian relief during the Great War, offered his expertise in famine relief, but Lenin rebuffed him and continued his war on Ukrainian peasants and nationalists. Some Ukrainian historians called it the world's first "man-made famine" (Serbyn).

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Push came to shove for Lenin in 1921 as the famine, peasant uprisings, internal dissent within the Bolshevik Party, and the revolt of the Kronstadt sailors convinced him to announce the New Economic Policy, which allowed the introduction of some market incentives into the economy, especially with regard to Ukraine. With astonishing rapidity agricultural production soared, enriching the most successful, entrepreneurial peasants known as kulaks.

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Kulaks could lease additional acerage and hire other peasants to work for them. They fulfilled their quotas, paid a tax in kind to the Party/state, and sold their produce "at the market." A kind of "golden age of Russian agriculture" brought production up and food prices down. Ukrainian kulaks had discretionary income to spend on consumers' goods.

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NEPmen were the urban counterparts of the kulaks during the agricultural boom of NEP. Urban entrepreneurs known as NEPmen produced the supply of consumers' goods to meet the growing demand for pots, pans, clothes, cosmetics, luxury goods, even cars. Kulaks and NEPmen liked NEP while hard-line communists--Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev--hated it and feared the selfish, petty bourgeois attitudes that it fostered in kulaks and NEPmen. NEP comprised a kind of golden age for Ukraine and Crimea. In 1924, Lenin died, and by 1927 Stalin had won the power struggle for control of the Party and nation.

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Firmly entrenched in power by 1928, a triumphant Stalin took a dim view of NEP: Russia was farther from socialism than it had been in 1917; kulaks and NEPmen cared only about profit; they were enemies of socialism; and, between them, they had a stranglehold on the economy. Supported by a massive propaganda blitz, Stalin denounced NEP and announced the First Five Year Plan to collectivize agriculture and industrialize the nation. The 1928 propaganda poster (right) shows the NEPman scorning the First Five Year Plan and being crushed by its successes.

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Stalin was a master of propaganda, see clip below for celebration of his 50th birthday
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Collectivization, especially in Ukraine, moved peasants off their individual plots and on to massive collective farms called Kolkhozy or Sovkhozy where they had access to tractors and other machinery not available on "Grandpa's farm." As well, Stalin launched all-out war on the kulaks: "We must smash the kulaks so hard they will never rise to their feet again" ("Collectivization"). The text reads, "...increasing crops, establishing a technological culture."

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see clip below for de-kulakization, aka "liquidation"
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While the peasants resisted with every weapon they could muster, including destruction of their assets, the police, communist cadres, and the Red Army moved in. The poster text (right) reads, "Come Comrades, join us on the Kolkhoz!" The First Five Year Plan ended NEP dabbling in market economics and re-established central, i.e. Party, control over the economy. Stalin was not so crazy about the artistic experimentation of the avant garde either; it was soon replaced by Soviet Realism, which extolled heroic workers and peasants.

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Ukrainian famine <>
"Harvest of Despair: Genocide by Famine"
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The statistics (left) and happy kolkhoznik (below/left) are at odds with the human cost: 2-4-6,000,000 (more?) deaths; the number of horses, goats, and sheep declined by half; the number of cattle declined by one third; hundreds of thousands, even millions, of peasants were dispossessed and forcibly moved to the collective farms. Agricultural production plummeted and, yet again, famine stalked the land.

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The propaganda image (left) portrayed the public image of a happy Ukrainian peasant as she enthusiastically joined the local collective farm.

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The Ukrainian Holodomor (extermination by hunger,) 1932-1933, made the 1920s famine pale by comparison. Millions literally starved to death in Ukraine while Stalin touted the Soviet escape from the Great Depression and even exported grain. Since the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine's independence, its historians have named the Holodomor a genocide, Soviet and Russian propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding.

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While the hard evidence details hunger, famine, and 3,000,000 (4? 5? 6? more?) deaths during de-kulakization and collectivization, propaganda posters such as this one (left) tell a different story. The text reads, "Work hard during harvest time and you will be rewarded with plenty of bread." The loss of life, the slaughter of livestock, and destruction of seed and grain led Stalin to deliver the extraordinary "dizzy with success" speech in 1930, gently admonishing the cadres for their excessive enthusiasm in carrying out his orders.

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Although de-kulakization, collectivization, and the Holodomor have been termed a genocide, right up there with the Holocaust, Stalin persevered. By 1931, 20,000,000 individual farms had been absorbed by 250,000 collectives (either kolkhoz or sovkhoz) through coercive means as peasants slaughtered their livestock and destroyed their seed rather than, willingly, collectivize (Valcourt). The Holodomor dragged on into 1933 and 1934. De-kulakization was literal not metaphorical or virtual.

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This is not the place to chronicle the next bleak chapter in Soviet
history, the purges/Great Terror. Follow link if you're interested.
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On to World War II.

When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, June 22, 1941, Stalin was caught off guard--still believing in the Molotov-Ribbontrop Non-Aggression Pact--even though his spies (Richard Sorge and the Red Orchestra) warned him otherwise. Stalin viewed their dispatches as "disinformation." It is a gross understatement to say that the invasion surprised Stalin. Operation Barbarossa hurled 3,000,000 men on a 2,000 mile front at Leningrad in the North, Moscow in the center, and Stalingrad in the South. "...the Nazi onslaught sent them staggering backward with terrible losses" (Wesson 169). Note that three army groups headed directly for Ukraine.

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WWII/Russian Perspective <>
for summary of the "cronies," Molotov-Ribbontrop Pact, Operation Barbarossa,
Stalin nervous breakdown--advance to 12:50-22:00
The series, Soviet Storm: War in the East walks you through (in detail) WWII
from Barbarossa to the end
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advance to 5:15 for invasion maps/diagrams

Operation Barbarossa from British documentary, War of the Century
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newsreel footage of German invasion of the Soviet Union, June, 1941
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Stalin spoke to the nation in the fall of 1941 < >

Given the fraught relationship between Ukraine and Moscow, it should come as no surprise that some (definitely not all) Ukrainians collaborated with the invading Germans. Ukrainians and especially Ukrainian Jews suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of the einsatzgruppen (mobile killing squads,) Waffen-SS troops, and the Wehrmacht. 34,000 Jews were massacred at Babi Yar*, a "killing field" (actually a ravine) outside of Kiev in September, 1941. Nazi brutality caused Ukrainians to turn to guerrilla warfare against their German "liberators"; most Ukrainians welcomed the return of the Red Army.

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*In 1978, a made-for-TV miniseries, Holocaust, recreated the massacre at Babi Yar
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After the epic battles of Stalingrad, winter, 1942-1943, and Kursk, July-August, 1943, the Red Army, supported by Ukrainian partisans drove Germany out of Ukraine and liberated Kiev, its capital, which was designated a Hero City by the Soviets. In the last analysis, Ukrainians rallied to Soviet rather than Nazi rule.

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1944 Pathé news on Ukrainian liberation < >
Steven Spielberg 2013 documentary Surviving the Holocaust in Ukraine or
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In February, 1945, Stalin, FDR, and Churchill met in the old tsarist estate at Livadia, Yalta, Crimean Peninsula, to hammer out details regarding the conclusion of World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War or the War of the Fatherland.

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After World War II, Ukraine was re-incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Odessa (in western Ukraine) and Svastopol (in Crimea) were important Black Sea fleet bases controlled by Moscow rather than Kiev. Although the SSRs were theoretically autonomous, their political and economic systems were dominated by ethnic Russians who were, of course, communists and took their orders from Stalin. The Crimean Peninsula itself was administered directly from and by Moscow.

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And here the plot thickens. Stalin died in 1953, and Nikita Khrushchev triumphed in the ensuing power struggle. For a variety of reasons--and certainly never anticipating the collapse of either the USSR or communism--his government gifted Crimea to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954. Maybe he had a guilty conscience for his role in collectivization, de-kulakization, and the Holodomor. The document (right) shows the decree of the Soviet Praesidium authorizing the transfer of territory.

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Khrushchev intentionally chose the date for the "gift," 1954, to remind Russians and Ukrainians of their indissoluble relationship, established in 1654 in the deal with Bogdan. Moscow retained control of the Soviet Black Sea naval bases. The poster (left) commemorates the close ties between Ukraine and Russia that Khrushchev wanted to highlight and emphasize. Russians and ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine viewed the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine as an act of treason on the part of Khrushchev.

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The Cold War continued during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Some of the epic confrontations included: the erection of the Berlin Wall, 1961; the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962; Prague Spring, 1968, (see right image) when Soviet tanks rolled down the streets of Prague; and détente in the 1970s. Brezhnev, in power from 1964-1982, enforced tight control over the SSRs and the Bloc. The Brezhnev Doctrine tolerated no dissent in the Soviet "near abroad" and moved aggressively in Afghanistan. Brezhnev died in 1982, succeeded by Andropov and Cernenko, who were both gone by 1985.

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The Communist Party of the Soviet Union selected Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU and leader of the state in 1985. Only in power from 1985-1991, Gorbachev's policies of Glasnost, Perestroika, and Demokratzia set the nation on a new trajectory, the aftereffects of which "moved the goal posts" in global diplomacy and the global balance of power. The satellites broke away, and the Soviet Union itself fell apart as the SSRs rejected promises for autonomy in favor of full sovereignty and independence. The Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) were the first to go.* And this brings us back to Crimea, Ukraine, Russia, and their tumultuous relationship. "Gorbachev had always said that the U.S. had promised that, in exchange for his acquiescence to the reunification of Germany, NATO would not expand to the east" (Remnick 58). In 2013-2015, Putin is determined not to allow Ukraine to join NATO or the EU.

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*See The Other Dream Team for Lithuania's quest for independence, San Francisco's
Grateful Dead, and the 1992 Olympics.
And, The Singing Revolution for Estonia.

In August, 1991, just as hard-line communists staged their failed coup against Gorbachev, the Ukrainian parliament, Rada, issued a declaration of independence and put it to the popular vote. An impressive 84% of registered voters went to the polls in December, 1991. It's worth noting here that the lowest turnout and the most "against" votes were in eastern Ukraine and Crimea with their large ethnic Russian populations. According to the constitution, the Crimean oblast retained considerable autonomy within the framework of the Republic of Ukraine. There was some controversy regarding the status of Sevastopol. However, the establishment of full sovereignty for Ukraine ended Russian hopes for possession of Ukraine as a member state of the Russian Federation. Moscow was not pleased!

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In 1994, according to a series of accords known as the Budapest Memorandum, Ukrainian leader, Leonid Kuchma, agreed to transfer the Ukrainian nuclear arsenal to Russian control in return for pledges that Russia would respect Ukraine's borders and "refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity...of Ukraine" (Keating). Britain (Major,) USA (Clinton,) and Russia (Yeltsin) signed on. See cartoon (right) for how the Budapest Memorandum looked in 2014.

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Ukraine and the Russian Federation apparently resolved their differences over Crimea (especially Sevastopol, home of the Russian fleet) in a 1997 Peace and Friendship Treaty, which guaranteed Russia long-term leases to disputed areas. The map (left) once again illustrates the division within Ukraine. It is accurate to state that irrespective of the troubled Russian-Ukrainian relationship, Ukraine was neither stable nor well-governed after securing independence in 1991; in 2013, Putin was not averse to manipulating the ethnic tensions that divided eastern and western Ukraine (Lapidus) to Russia's advantage. Poroshenko, as recently as his September 25, 2014, press conference, pledged to address aggressively Ukraine's economic problems and history of corruption.

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Putin "cut his teeth" in the KGB and succeeded Yeltsin as Russian leader in 2000. President Putin identified his goals: restore law and order; restore Russian strength, power, and national pride; create a decent life for Russians. He consolidated power into his own hands, muzzled the media, silenced critics, disciplined the Duma and oligarchs, and curtailed the autonomy of the provinces. He termed his increasingly autocratic exercise of authority a "dictatorship of the law." Petrodollars and government discipline of some of the glaring abuses by the oligarchs contributed to his early popularity. He presided over a growing coldness in his relations with the West, especially the United States. He took a dim view of the Baltics' (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) membership in NATO, American efforts to bring Georgia into it, and to establish missile bases in the Czech Republic and Poland (the old Soviet "near abroad.") Like his Soviet predecessors in the Cold War, Putin saw Russia surrounded by hostile nations affiliated with the West and supported by a "triumphalist" United States; he saw Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution" as a direct threat and an indirect assault on Russia (Remnick 58) and is categorically opposed the Ukrainian membership in NATO or the EU.

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According to Gail Lapidus, Vladimir Putin is a nationalist and determined to preserve
and expand Russian influence in areas of former Soviet domination (the so-called
"near abroad") and prevent the expansion of NATO. He knows and accepts that the Baltics
are gone. Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus are a different story. Indeed, he has "ratcheted up"
Russian patriotic fervor, partially as an antidote to his harsh treatment of critics and voices of opposition.
Lapidus commented that neither the West (USA, NATO) nor Putin wants war, despite their posturing.

In the 2010 Ukrainian presidential elections, eastern Ukrainians (pro-Russian) voted for Viktor Yanukovych--who won the presidential election--while the western half opted for Yulia Timoshenko--a leading figure in the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Yanukovych charged Timoshenko--a west-leaning politician and Prime Minister, 2007-2010--with embezzlement and corruption and sent her to prison. Yanukovych favored Moscow and ties with Putin's Eurasian Economic Union rather than the EU. In 2010, the Ukrainian Parliament, or Rada, passed a law that forbad Ukraininan membership in "in any military or political alliance..." (Herszenhorn, "Ukrainian President..." A8). With regard to corruption, Yanukovych re-wrote the book! And now to the winter of 2013-2014.

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Follow link to see what Yanukovych built for himself!
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"The protest began on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in central Kiev...after President Viktor Yanukovych, apparently under pressure from Russia, halted preparations for a long-awaited trade agreement with the European Union" (Gessen 46). From a few hundred protesters, the demonstrations swelled to hundreds of thousands in Maidan and spread across western Ukraine. Violence escalated (by both police and demonstrators) as did the appearance of barricades in the streets and of tent cities to accommodate the protesters. The riot police moved in, and according to reports, hundreds of protesters were killed. In February, 2014, Yanukovych fled to Russia, where he was welcomed. The situation in Kiev and Ukraine deteriorated. Putin maintained and maintains that the Maidan events were scripted in the West.

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After the Sochi Olympics, Putin took advantage of the dissarray in Kiev--where a strong leadership did not emerge--and the separatist movement in Crimea, where ethnic Russians dominated. Unidentified troops but presumably Russian according to reliable sources (the so-called "little green men") supported Russian separatists in Sevastopol, Simferopol, and the rest of Crimea. Events moved quickly in March, 2014: the month ended with a disputed (overseen by the "little green men") referendum and Russian annexation of the peninsula. The General Assembly of the United Nations and the Ukraininan parliament condemned the annexation.

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The big question then (and now) was what were Putin's designs on eastern Ukraine, or all of Ukraine for that matter? Ukrainian presidential elections were expedited, and the May 25, 2014, outcome was the election of Petro Poroshenko who garnered 54% of the vote. Due to separatist demonstrations and threats of violence, turnout was sparse in the pro-Russian Donbass. As recently as June 26, 2014, Poroshenko was calling for the return of Crimea as a precondition for normalization of relations with Russia.

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The eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk declared themselves independent people's republics and hoped to be joined by Slovyansk. Both Ukraine and Russia adopted militant postures towards each other, punctuated by periodic violence, threats and counterthreats, and menacing troop concentrations and movements. A cease fire brokered in June, 2014, proved unsustainable.

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Ukraininan President Petro Poroshenko signed a long-delayed trade agreement with the EU on Friday, June 27, 2014.
Moldova and Georgia also opted for commercial relations with the EU rather than Putin's
Eurasian Economic Union, though none of the three former SSRs was or is on the short list for membership in the EU.
Meanwhile, Moscow suspended deliveries of natural gas to Ukraine.

In intense telephone conversations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French
President Francois Hollande urged Poroshenko and Putin to extend the cease fire in
eastern Ukraine where skirmishes between separatists and Ukrainian troops continued.
European leaders meeting in Brussels threatened new sanctions against Putin unless he agreed to:
release of all hostages; surrender of checkpoints; international monitoring of the cease fire;
negotiations based on Poroshenko's 15 point peace plan (Herszhenhorn, "Russia..." A6).

Poroshenko called off the cease fire, and fighting resumed on July 2, 2014. The Obama Administration imposed sanctions on some high ranking Russian officials and institutions. Relations between Russia and the US took a nose dive with the crash of Malaysia Flight #17 over eastern Ukraine--hot bed of ethnic Russian separatists. Accusations flew thick and fast (no pun intended) between Presidents Obama and Putin. Civil war raged in eastern Ukraine throughout the summer of 2014. As of July, 2015, Putin continued to block efforts by the United Nations to investigate the crash.

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As fighting escalated, Russian aid to the separatists increased. In late July, 2014, European nations "...agreed to sharply escalate economic sanctions against Russia..." (Ewing and Baker 1). The United States followed suit. American and European attitudes hardened even though Europe depends on Russia for oil and natural gas; many European leaders worry about isolating and alienating Putin. Fierce fighting and a rising casualty toll continued throughout the summer.

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Consider the map (right) from Putin's point of view: Remember the Russian perspective that the unification of Germany would not be accompanied by the expansion of NATO; remember that it was in Ukraine that the original heart of Russia beat, that it contains the rich black dirt. Putin will not allow Ukraine to join NATO. According to some experts and observers, Putin's goal is less to rescue the separatists than to prevent Ukraine's entrance into NATO (Higgins and Gordon A6) or the EU. Supporting Ukrainian separatists in the Donbass is a "hedge against Ukraine's fully integrating into Europe" (Herszhenhorn, "A Year..." A9).

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The map (left) also illustrates Putin's fear of encirclement and his determination to keep Ukraine out of NATO and/or the EU. Sweden and Finland are NATO affiliates though not full members. Can Putin tell the difference?

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University of Chicago Professor of Political Science, John Mearsheimer, argues that
the United States and its European allies must bear some responsibility for the present crisis (77).
The expansion of both NATO and the EU has been viewed as inimical to Russian national
self-interest since the 1990s; Putin also looked at the Maidan uprising and overthrow of the
legitimately elected Ukrainian leader, Yanukovych, as the result of anti-Russian, Western machinations.

Mearsheimer contends that Putin views "[t]he West's triple package of policies--NATO enlargement,
EU expansion, and democracy promotion--..." as explicitly threatening to Russia (80).

New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman, would argue with Mearsheimer. Friedman
baldly accused Putin of complicity in the downing of Maylaysian Flight #17 and of encouraging his FSB of nibbling at the edges of Belarus, Moldova, and the Baltics. Friedman acknowledges Putin's resentment at the expansion of NATO, but he argues that the West does not want Ukraine in NATO (A27). Putin is more worried, according to Friedman, about Ukraine gravitating more effectively towards the EU, especially
as the Russian economy suffers from Western sanctions, and as gas and oil prices dip worldwide.

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As of the end of August, 2014, President Putin "upped the ante," "raised the stakes." Russian armored personnel carriers, tanks, artillery, and accompanying troops crossed the border from Russia into Ukraine, perhaps with the goal of seizing Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, opening a direct corridor from Russia to Crimea, specifically to aid the separatists, or to force Poroshenko to the bargaining table. Suffice it to say, the ongoing crisis represents the "worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War..." (MacFarquhar and Gordon A12). Russian actions, whether "incursion" or "invasion" have been condemned by the United Nations.

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Putin's "harder line" did force Poroshenko to the bargaining table to negotiate a revised status, at least for the separatist "republics" of Luhansk and Donetsk. Compromise with Russia would be a bitter pill for Poroshenko to swallow. Putin confidently uses the term Novorossiya (New Russia) with increasing frequency as he advocates for ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.

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In early September, 2014, Russian assistance to the separatists turned the tide in their favor,
breaking the Ukrainian encirclement of Donetsk and Lughansk. A tenuous cease fire accord
was signed between Russia and Ukraine on September 5, 2014, in Minsk. Sporadic
fighting between separatist militias and the Ukrainian army continued despite the truce.

Meanwhile, the United States and Russia entered into an economic and commercial "tit-for-tat" standoff. American sanctions on Putin cronies and some companies were met with spot inspections and shut-downs of American companies such as MacDonalds. The deteriorating economic relationship between the United States and Russia has had consequences not only for Russia but for the hundreds of American companies doing business there since the 1990s, such as Visa, Mastercard, Exxon, Condé Nast, and the Disney Company. "The problems could get worse. Russia's Parliament is considering a law that would allow the government to seize foreign-owned assets--a rule...that...precipitated a global stock dip in September" (Kramer B8).

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President Poroshenko met with President Obama (September 18, 2014,) who welcomed him warmly and pledged sympathy, support, and non-lethal aid to the belieaguered Ukrainians. The tenuous cease-fire--punctuated by periodic violence--remains in effect. According to its protocols, Poroshenko made concessions to President Putin: considerable autonomy and "special status" for the Donbass, amnesty for some separatist militia leaders (MacFarquhar, "For Many..." A6). That said, after his trip to Canada and the US, Poroshenko took a harder line, reiterating his intent to move to a closer relationship with the EU, if not with NATO.

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As Poroshenko moved to repeal the 2010 legislation about Ukraine's non-participation
in military and political alliances, the Kremlin warned of "severe consequences" if Russia's
interests in the Donbass are disregarded (Herszhenhorn, "Ukraininan President..." A8).

Despite the cease-fire and the alleged withdrawal of 30,000 Russian troops,
fighting continues. The Eastern provinces remain under the control of pro-Russian
rebel separatists. Meanwhile, a general election is scheduled in Ukraine on
Sunday, October 26, but the lead-up has been plagued by violence.

According to New York Times correspondent Herszhenhorn, the elections of Sunday,
October 26, "...envisioned...a step in transforming the government from an opaque
kleptocracy...beholden to the Kremlin..., to a transparent, reform-minded pro-Western
administration with a Parliament accountable to the people" ("Parliamentary..." 13).

The jury is still out!

Video of Eastern/separatist Ukraine voting, Sunday, November 2, 2014
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The Ukrainian crisis is more than 2 years old. NATO and UN observers commented (November 13, 2014) on Russian artillery, armored units, and troops moving across the border into Eastern Ukraine, which Russian authorities categorically denied. Once again, these personnel wear uniforms without insignia, to allow for plausible deniability.

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It's almost 2 years since Russia annexed Crimea. A Russian documentary, Homeward Bound, celebrated the one year anniversary, praising President Putin for his "triumph of security planning and execution" (MacFarquhar, "Putin..." A3). MacFarquhar quoted Putin's spokesman, "''s our people, our historical land...'" (A3). The annexation (seizure!?) was "wildly popular" and raised Putin's approval to "88%" (A3). MacFarqurhar's article quotes Putin directly, "'Frankly, this is our historical territory and Russian people live there, they were in danger, and we cannot abandon them'" (A3). The documentary emphasizes old spin and suggests new: the West and the US were the "real puppeteers" behind the Maidan uprising; Putin admitted that he "sent thousands of troops, particularly the special forces, to secure Crimea..." (A3).

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The Big Questions that remain (along with many smaller ones):
Can Ukraine solve its economic and corruption problems and preserve its territorial integrity?
Will Putin be satisfied with an influential role rather than absorption of Eastern (or all of) Ukraine?
Does Putin harbor grandiose ambitions for the Baltics (which are members of NATO and EU)?

According to the New York Times, Poles are also nervous;
some have begun paramilitary defensive exercises.


Get it?

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Complicating the already complicated story of Russia and Ukraine is possibly the
newer issue of ISIS' recent downing of a Russian jetliner in Egypt, bombings
in Beirut, and the terror attacks in Paris (November 11, 2015.) France (President
Holland,) USA (President Obama,) and Russia (President Putin) seem
to be struggling towards some sort of a rapprochement on Syria, Bashar al-Assad,
and the Islamic State. Will Ukraine be one of the cards on the table?



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