A Brief History of Russia and Ukraine
Despite what Vladimir Putin says, we know both Russian forces and Russian mercenaries are fighting in Eastern Ukraine in support of the separatist rebels. If Putin had his way, all of Ukraine would be under his control especially given the significance of Kyiv. However, this longing for Ukraine to be part of Russia is nothing new and can be traced back centuries. Putin is just the latest chapter of this saga and as Henry Kissinger wrote in his book World Order:
“Its policy has pursued a special rhythm of its own over the centuries, expanding over a landmass spanning nearly every climate and civilization, interrupted occasionally for a time by the need to adjust its domestic structure to the vastness of the enterprise — only to return again, like a tide crossing a beach. From Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin, circumstances have changed, but the rhythm has removed extraordinarily consistent.”
In 1686, the Treaty of Eternal Peace was signed between Russia and Poland, which gave Russia control of Kyiv. Under the rule of Catherine the Great, Russia conquered both Crimea and the once autonomous Cossack realm that is now Central Ukraine.
Following the Russian Revolution and the era of Communism, Ukraine was considered one of the most important satellite republics within the Soviet Union. In 1954, the Soviet Union began a propaganda campaign that celebrated the 300th anniversary of the “reunion” between Russia and Ukraine. One of the Russian newspapers at the time, Izvestiya, wrote the “reunion” was “the completion of a prolonged struggle of the freedom-loving Ukrainian people in a united Russian state.” That idea stemmed from the signing of the Pereyaslav Treaty of 1654, which is viewed differently by Russians and Ukrainians. Russians view the treaty as Ukraine agreeing to be annexed by Russia, while Ukrainians believe the treaty allowed Ukraine to remain an independent state but bound to the Czar. It is that treaty that Ukrainians believe is the source of continuing Russian oppression with Ukrainians being considered the “Little Russian” people.
The Small Soviet Encyclopedia of 1931 stated the 1654 treaty was, “reunion of two parts of a single Russian nationality and denied the independence of the historical process of Ukrainian development.” Volume ten of the second edition of the Small Soviet Encyclopedia, published in 1940 stated, Russia acquired Ukraine because it “corresponded to the desires of the greater part of the peasantry, the Cossacks and the leadership, who wished union with the brother Russian people.” Soviet medieval history textbooks from 1946 and 1950 that were used in schools stated the Russians and Ukrainians fought together against the Mongols and that it was because of Russia that Western Europe did not have to endure the Mongols.
Starting in 1944, the individual republics that comprised the Soviet Union were allowed to establish their own diplomatic relations with other countries, but only Ukraine and Belarus could have separate delegations at the United Nations. So as a symbolic gift ten years later, in remembrance of the 1654 treaty, the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev gave Crimea to Ukraine. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union when Ukraine officially became its own country again, it maintained possession of Crimea until Putin decided to retake it by force in 2014, which led to the Obama Administration enacting sanctions against Russia and Russia being kicked out of what is now the G7.
What is frightening now is that Trump seems to be more open to Putin’s perspective on this subject than actual facts and protecting our allies. Trump should have been removed from office over his attempts to extort Ukraine as it was staring down the barrel of Russian tanks. Ukraine is not part of either the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). So while the United States and European nations do not technically have to come to the aid of Ukraine, doing absolutely nothing will only further encourage Vladimir Putin and Russian aggression.