The current unstable and dangerous situation in the Ukraine where large elements of the Russian speaking part of the Ukrainian population in in Eastern and Southern Ukraine are apparently pushing for Russian annexation can be largely attributed to Ukraine’s turbulent and violent history.
Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine is considered by many Russians to be the birthplace of Russia, or “Kievan Rus” in the thirteenth century. While no longer a predominantly Russian speaking country, its principal connection has been with its more powerful northern neighbour over the last 800 years.
Ukraine ,or “the Ukraine” as it is often known, literally means “borderlands”, an indication of its status as a standalone state entity over the last 1000 years.
After the Partitions of Poland (1772–1795) (around the time of the US War of Independence), Ukraine was divided between Russia and Austria, with the largest part of Ukraine being integrated into the Russian Empire, and the rest under Austrian (known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire since 1849) control.
Gaining its independence briefly from the Russian Empire in the chaos following the Russian Bolsehvik Revolution of 1917 , Ukraine was forcibly incorporated under Soviet control in 1921 and remained a semi-autonomous republic of the Soviet Union until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when it once again became independent.
During the rule of Stalin in the USSR in the 1930s, agrarian collectivisation policies were brutally enforced across the entire Soviet Union, but particularly in what has been referred to as the bread-basket of Russia; the Ukraine. Known as Holodomor, the communist collectivist policies resulted in at least 7.5 million deaths with mass starvation occurring amongst the peasantry of western Ukraine particularly. Ukraine has defined the process as genocide, and the brutal process of starvation and loss of lands was instrumental in the rise of right-wing groups in Western Ukraine, (whose populations tend to be more Eurocentred than the South-East), who supported the principles of both Mussolini’s fascist party in Italy and Nazi policies in Germany. The views were largely centred by 1943 in the actions of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army led by Stepan Bandera, in ethnic cleansing of Poles and Jews as well fighting with the Nazis against the Russians . Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) was strongly supported by Western intelligence agencies and particularly the CIA after the second world war .
In addition to those horrors, in 1944 approximately 200,000 Crimean Tatars were forcibly deported to other parts of the USSR because of their presumed alliance with the Nazis, where a large percentage subsequently died of starvation. Those Tatars who have since returned to the Crimea remain fiercely hostile to the Russians and some have been implicated in anti-Russian warfare in other countries and also within Crimea and wider Ukraine.
Jews and Russians were seen to be the cause of the death, destruction and dispossession which occurred in the Holodomor. In retaliation, Ukrainian fascist and Nazi groups were formed which both fought alongside the Nazis against the Russians and also aided in the Nazi’s Jewish progroms in Western Ukraine. The Svoboda party and its activist group, the Pravyi Sekor (Right Sector), are the current manifestations of those nationalist movements. Members of these two groups have also fought alongside Chechnyan separatists and jihadists in Russia in the past few years. In addition the right -wing Ukrainian nationalist private army and political party, the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defence (UNA-UNSO) , a violent and extreme right-wing and anti-Russian organisation, has been implicated in the sniper shootings of both police and demonstrators in Maidan Square in Kiev.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet President of the day, transferred the Crimea , to the Southeast of Ukraine and previously part of Russia itself , to the Ukraine republic .
The most defining reason for the recent demonstrations in Maidan Square in Kiev, against the corrupt but democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych, was Yanukovych’s decision to switch from supporting alignment and eventual Ukrainian integration with the European Union (after IMF “re-alignment” of the economy), to alignment with Russia and its $15 billion no-strings loan. It is likely that many of those early demonstrators in Maidan Square saw their chance to escape a Ukraine of poverty, for the wealth and opportunity of Europe, slipping away. However the muscle on the ground at Maidan Square and even since the new government in Kiev was installed, has been the Svoboda Party (whose insignia up until 2003 was the Wolfsangel, both a symbol for the swastika and the acronym for “Heil Hitler”) and its hand-maiden, the ‘Right Sector’.
Alexander Muzychko (Sasha Biliy of the “Right Sector” ) “speaking” to a state prosecutor 27th Feb
While Svoboda has partially dissociated itself from its neo-Nazi past; its offspring, the Rights Sector or “Pravyi Sektor” regards “de-Russification” of Ukraine as its core ideology, along with ensuring the ethnic purity of the Ukrainian population including the exodus of Jewish populations, and good moral values.
Global Research notes that ” Canvas, formerly Otpor, received significant money from the US State Department in 2000 to stage the first successful Color Revolution against Slobodan Milosovic in then-Yugoslavia. Since then they have been transformed into a full-time “revolution consultancy” for the US, posing as a Serbian grass-root group backing “democracy.” While Poland under President Tusk, and Sweden have been pushing for Ukraine’s integration into the EU since the initial “colour revolution”, with the strong backing of the US State Department and CIA, they have perhaps inadvertently been also supporting and subsidizing the far right Ukrainian agenda, who have no interest in EU integration. Ostensibly EU/US support has been for the “technocrats” (ie those who support IMF financial “reforms” ) like ex-boxer Klitschko and the newly appointed acting president Oleksander Turchinov. (of Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s “fuck EU” fame”)
However one of the first steps of the new government was to rescind the previous government’s recent legislation to legitimize Russian as an official language of the Ukraine. It is likely that that rescindment, more than any other factor, was the key reason for South-Eastern Ukrainians of Russian descent, many of whom solely speak Russian, to fear for their future in a ‘Ukraine for Ukrainians’.
The other major factor is undoubtedly the fear by Russia that the new Ukrainian government will also rescind the lease recently extended out to 2042 for Russia’s only warm water naval base. As the US is well aware, the Sevastopol base allows the Russians to re-supply its ally President Bashad in Syria against US, Turkish and Saudi funded extremists in the Syrian civil war. Loss of the warm water naval base in in the Crimea would have significant negative strategic impacts for the Russians, as the British and French are also only too aware of, after their battles, in alliance with the Turks to re-capture the Crimea and Sevastopol from the Russians in the Crimean War in 1853.
It should be noted also that the industrial base of Ukraine is predominantly in the South-Eastern parts of the country, where there are significant populations of Ukrainian ethnic Russians, and where it’s heavy industry was a key part of the Soviet economy. As with many ex-Soviet states, the factories are by Western standards, unproductive and out of date, and hence would require massive injections of IMF capital and machinery, along with massive layoffs of superfluous workers; a prospect for which Western industrialists have been rubbing their hands in glee since the Ukrainian Orange Revolution in 2004. (Post-script-see the great analysis of the neo-con plan for acquisition of Ukrainian/Russian assets by Michael Hudson here )
The complex interactions of internal Ukrainian and international players, create the opportunity for war. The Russian decision to send in more troops into the Crimea certainly escalates the situation. Additionally, other South-Eastern Ukrainian cities with varying proportions of Russian speaking populations, are now also rising up against the new Kiev anti-Russian government and establishing self-protection militias against the Right Sector and other far-right Ukrainian groups. How much support those Russophiles will get in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkov, Simferapol, Odessa Lugansk and Kerch, is currently unknown. Russia currently insists that its forces have not left their Crimean bases (25,000 Russian troops are permitted in the Crimea as part of the Ukraine /Russia lease agreement) and that all pro-Russian forces on the ground in Ukraine are pro-Russian Ukrainians – a statement disputed by the EU and the U.S.
Given the tragic history outlined above, it would appear the only rational solution to the problems exacerbated by foreign state actors, is negotiation. In the 1990s the 55-state member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (the OSCE) was created to deal with détente in Europe and emerging post-cold war problems . The OSCE offers a unique and relatively non-partisan pathway to a negotiated settlement of the complex issues facing Ukraine. The alternative, despite the huff and puff from NATO and the US, may well be the secession of some part of what is now Ukraine to form a Russian speaking autonomous or semi-autonomous state, unless the power and hostility of the far right groups opposed to ethnic Russians in Ukraine can be controlled.
We Cannot Still Ignore the Perils of Intervention-Patrick Cockburn
Pew (U.S.) Public Opinion Survey Undertaken in Ukraine by Region: April 5-23rd 2014