While we are waiting for a full-scale Russian invasion of all or large parts of Ukraine, it is time to look at the cause of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. In this blog I will look back at historical events, the Maidan uprising in 2013-14, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Russian – backed breakaway republics in the Donbas. Major clashes are currently taking place along the border between the separatists and Ukrainian forces. That is, the separatists are provoking the use of heavy weapons against Ukrainian positions. It is probably hoped that Ukraine will respond with the use of heavy weapons so that Russia gets a pretext for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine knows, of course, that responding to the provocations will be tantamount to declaring war on Russia. Therefore, Ukraine does not respond to the provocations of the separatists along the border. Maybe it’s so that Russia invents a false story to have a pretext for invasion.
Why Ukraine is important to Russia
Ukraine was long in the same category as Belarus. A country that Russia controlled by supporting pro-Russian candidates in the elections. One of my Ukrainian friends described this well when he said that Russia needs slaves in neighboring countries. Slaves who produce what they themselves do not produce for cheap money. Ukraine is important. The country produces equipment for agriculture, weapons, tanks, etc. But perhaps most important is Ukraine’s agriculture. Ukraine is often called Europe’s food chamber or Europe’s granary.
The idea of a Russian sphere is also central. A kind of buffer zone between themselves and what they themselves define as the enemy that is Western Europe and the United States. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a number of former Soviet republics and countries in the Soviet sphere have become members of NATO and the EU. Especially the three countries that make up the Baltics are a problem seen through Russian eyes. Here, former Soviet republics bordering Russia have turned into “enemies”. This is what Russia feverishly wants to avoid with Ukraine and Belarus.
The idea that a great power has the right to a sphere around it is a way of thinking from the time of imperialism. Some of Putin’s supporters want to rebuild the Soviet empire.
Ukraine and Russia an old conflict
Russia and later the Soviet Union have historically tried to gag Ukrainian culture and language. The Ukrainian language has been banned in various phases of history. Which has led to the further east in Ukraine you get, the more Russian the people speak. The reason is is parts of western Ukraine were part of other countries at different stages of history. Thus, the Ukrainian language was spoken more there than in the East. It is not the case that Russians speak Russian. It has to do with the historical attempt to gag Ukrainian culture and language.
I wrote a couple of blogs a few years ago about Holodomor and Stepan Bandera . Holodomor was the great famine in 1932-33 in which 7-10 million Ukrainians died of starvation. Whether this famine was an attempt at ethnic cleansing or the result of a failed policy of Stalin, there are differing views. I mean it was an attempt at ethnic cleansing, something I explain in my blog. Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian nationalist who collaborated with the Germans. We may describe him as a Nazi, but we must take into account that he primarily wanted Ukraine to become an independent country.
A few years after the terrible famine, confidence in Moscow’s communism was low. Feel free to read my blog about Bandera as well. If you have heard of the Nazis in Ukraine as pro Russian websites claim, it is Bandera they often refer to. To claim that Ukrainians are Nazis with reference to Bandera is as hopeless as to claim that Norway is with reference to Quisling.
The fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine independent
When the Soviet Union dissolved, Ukraine became an independent country in 1991. It was a period when Russia and Western Europe lived in harmony. The time of the Cold War was over and it was now almost unthinkable with a great war in Europe between the great powers. The defense of most countries in Europe was greatly reduced. We lived in a time of downturn. It was also during this time that Ukraine and a few other former Soviet republics gave their nuclear weapons to the Soviet Union. In return, they received a guarantee from Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom guaranteeing the borders of these countries. Reducing the number of countries with nuclear weapons was obviously important, not least in the time of austerity. Feel free to read my blog about when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.
Ukraine was in fact dependent on Russia for several years, not least economically. An addiction that many believed hindered the development of the country. High corruption, the oligarchs’ power over the economy and governance were striking. The people were tired of Russia’s hand over the economy and wanted a change. The people wanted Ukraine to see a little more of the rest of Europe. They still wanted a good relationship with Russia, but not what anyone perceived as almost slavery.
In the 2010 election, Viktor Yanukovych was elected president. He promised to negotiate an association agreement with the EU. The agreement was negotiated, but the president never signed the agreement. Instead, he wanted to link Ukraine even closer to Russia. This combined with Yanukovych amending the constitution so that the president’s power increased, abuse of power by the president and corruption made Yanukovych very unpopular. The uprising in Kyiv started in November 2013. We will not forget the pictures from Maidan Square this winter.
The uprising began as a protest against Yanukovych not signing the agreement with the EU. Gradually, demands for more democracy, the fight against corruption and the reduction of the oligarchs’ power also became important. The riots eventually led the president to use his security forces to fire on his own people. Many were shot and killed. Finally, Yanukovych fled to Russia. The National Assembly democratically deposed Yanukovych.
Russia’s reaction, the road to war
Putin’s response to what Ukraine did was to go to war against the country without doing so. Russia first annexed Crimea. Feel free to read my blog about this. In parallel with the annexation of Crimea, Russia started a conflict there with the help of some pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine). Government buildings were taken over, and the rebels received weapons aid from Russia and also Russian soldiers were deployed there. The area they eventually managed to conquer is relatively small. Originally, they wanted to take far more, including Kharkiv with 1.5 million inhabitants and large arms industry, as well as the strategically important city of Mariupol. However, the resistance was stronger than Russia expected and these cities were not conquered.
Ukraine was in fact very close to conquering back the territories controlled by the separatists. But large-scale Russian military aid prevented Ukraine from doing so. The clashes then between Ukrainian and Russian and Russian-backed rebels led to heavy losses. Many Russian soldiers were probably also killed, but these figures are difficult to confirm.
Russia has never admitted that it is present in eastern Ukraine with military forces, or that it has supported the separatists with weapons. The reason Putin has not admitted this may be the 1994 agreement.
Reduce 2 agreement
In 2015, what has since been described as the Minsk 2 agreement was signed. The agreement is an agreement in which Russia dictated the terms. The agreement contains several problem areas. One of these is the part that says that Ukraine will have control over its own borders. Another is the part that says something about the referendum in the occupied territories. Who should be allowed to vote, what should be voted on, etc. The most controversial is that the agreement almost gives the separatists a veto on foreign policy issues in Ukraine. That a small area should be able to dictate the foreign policy of 50 million Ukrainians is highly controversial.
Shortly after the signing of the Minsk 2 agreement, the rebels also broke the agreement by capturing Debaltseve. The Minsk 2 agreement said that the borders went there which the parties at that time had control over. In Debaltseve, many hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers lost their lives.
Attempts to destabilize Ukraine, a long-term war
Putin’s long-term goal has probably been to destabilize Ukraine. Perhaps Europe’s poorest country, which was dependent on Russia, would probably be an easy target to destabilize. Through the agreement with the Russian naval base in Crimea, Ukraine had access to cheap Russian gas. After the annexation, Ukraine lost the cheap gas under the pretext that Crimea was Russian. In reality, it was an attempt to create discontent internally in Ukraine. Repeated provocations by Russia are part of a long-term project on destabilization.
However, the opposite has happened. Ukraine is more united than ever. This is probably what Putin sees as well. Destabilizing Ukraine has not been a success. Then Russia is looking for a pretext for a major invasion to gain control of this problem. For Russia, Ukraine has been a quagmire since 2014. Western sanctions have cost them dearly, as have the water supply problems of Crimea. It is probably also very costly to maintain control over the areas controlled by the rebels. Russia must somehow end the conflict. The end can be war.
War hardly has the support of ordinary Russians
It is a risky war Putin may choose. Relations between ordinary Russians and Ukrainians are close. Putin is likely to face strong reactions from ordinary Russians if they choose to invade Ukraine. That one Slavic people go to war on another is inconceivable to many.
On the other hand, there are those who dream of rebuilding the empire from the glory days of the Soviet Union. If Ukraine is taken by force now, it will probably trigger this group to demand further conquests. Who can be next? Probably Georgia, another country that Russia is trying to keep in its sphere.
Min fulle støtte til Ukraina, til folket og for freden.