It was the night of February 27, 2014. Armed men took control of the Parliament and Council of Ministers buildings in Crimea and raised Russian flags over them. Early the next morning more men in unmarked uniforms occupied the airports in Sevastopol and Simferopol. A Russian naval vessel blocked the port at Balaklava near Sevastopol where Ukrainian Marine Guard troops were stationed and Russian military combat helicopters moved towards Ukraine’s Crimea.
Eighteen days later, following a hurriedly held referendum, Vladimir Putin signed documents formally incorporating Crimea into the Russian Federation. Thus, on March 18, 2014, Russia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Crimea signed the Treaty of Accession of the Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol to the Russian Federation. The United Nations General Assembly quickly responded by passing resolution 68/262 that the referendum was invalid and that Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be maintained.
Only Russia voted against this resolution. However, this proposal could not be implemented. Efforts to pass enforceable resolutions in the United Nations Security Council were blocked by the Russian veto. How to relate Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 to today’s Ukraine crisis? Is there any continuity in this? Or any new changes? Why are two such countries, which remained an unbreakable part of the same union for decades, and were part of an empire for a long period of history, today stuck in the middle of the horrors of war? It is important to answer these questions so that we can properly understand the crisis that is taking place.
Soviet Union and Ukrainian Federation
Emerging from the shadow of imperialism in the midst of World War I, the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR) was established in 1917. The UNR declared itself independent after the official fall of the Czar. But in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917), the UNR did not escape the bitter conflict between the Russian Reds and Whites during the Russian Civil War (1917–22), as both forces did not recognize Ukrainian sovereignty. But the precedent of Ukrainian independence forced the Bolsheviks to create the Soviet Ukrainian Republic, which became a founding member of the Soviet Union in 1922.
However, by the early 1930s, Joseph Stalin was determined to complete the unfinished business of crushing the Ukrainian political nation. This political nation as mentioned above developed in the background of the Bolshevik Revolution. About four million Ukrainian peasants died in the state-sponsored famine of 1932–33, which is known in Ukraine as the ‘Holodomor’ (i.e., murder through starvation) and is considered a genocide. Stalin also destroyed the Ukrainian cultural elite and began to promote the notion that Ukrainians were the “younger brothers” of the Russians, prevalent since the Tsarist era.
Similarly, Ukraine as a whole remained forcibly part of the Soviet Union as a “little brother”. With economic reforms stalled, Boris Yeltsin and other Russian figures also began to remind domestic nationalists of the Soviet Empire by criticizing Ukrainian cultural policies and questioning the transfer of Crimea.
In 1997, a comprehensive treaty between Russia and Ukraine confirmed the integrity of Ukrainian borders. The treaty was guaranteed by Russia and Western nuclear powers in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum when Ukraine agreed to surrender its Soviet-made nuclear arsenal. This treaty expired on March 31, 2019.
The current crisis and US role
Ukraine has been an important strategic partner of the US outside the NATO framework since the mid-1990s. This status has been formalized into a strategic partnership under the US-Ukraine charter (2008; new treaty signed again in 2021.). The current charter reaffirms the US commitment to enhancing Ukraine’s security in “countering Russian aggression” but the specific measures listed in it only focus on US assistance in reforming the Ukrainian military and data-sharing. No existing treaty requires the US to defend Ukraine in case of war.
The aim of joining NATO is now enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution and its armed forces are gradually being converted to NATO standards. But the last time NATO members discussed the idea of Ukraine joining in 2008, Germany and France blocked it to prevent Russia from becoming an aggressor. The aggressive nationalism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia has not gone down well with Ukraine’s continued siding with the Western bloc over the past two decades.
In 2014, when a popular revolution in Ukraine ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych and brought pro-Western democratic forces to power, a serious crisis erupted in Crimea. As Ukrainian historian Serhiy Plokhi, in an interview with The New Yorker (February 23, 2022), says on the idea that a population in Ukraine still associates itself with Russian imperialism, “Certainly that idea gained traction in Crimea in 2014. majority of the population there Was Russian by kindness. And it also found traction in Donbass among a section of the population that had a popular Soviet identity. People there were really in denial about this idea of an exclusionary identity and that laid some ground for the idea that yes, maybe we are Ukrainians, but there’s also room for a big Russian role among us.”
Donetsk and Luhansk are two states located in eastern Ukraine that share a border with Russia. Within these two states are two separatist regions known as the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) which are run by Russian-backed separatists. This entire region, which includes Donetsk, Luhansk and their respective separatist regions, is commonly known as the ‘Donbass’ region. Russia has long claimed that because these are predominantly Russian-speaking areas they need to be protected from “Ukrainian nationalism”. During the Soviet period, the presence of Russian speakers continued to increase as many Russian workers were sent there after World War II.
So by now, you know that there is more to cultural issues of nationalism than just strategic power or territorial hegemony. At the same time, due to the obstinate attitude of NATO and Western countries, instead of solving these issues, they have become more complicated. In many countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Venezuela, the obstinacy of western nations to build a democratic system like theirs by installing governments supported by them, the consequences are very serious. Similar horrors were seen many times in Europe, Asia and African countries during the Cold War. While Russia and Ukraine could resolve their issues on their own historical and cultural differences, Western interference and their insistence on Vladimir Putin as a ‘dictator’ complicated the conflict. Since Putin is the leader of a nuclear power nation, he cannot be removed like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.
Nation building of Ukraine
In 1922, the Soviet Union named the part of Ukraine USSR Ukraine and made it a founding member of the Soviet Union. With this, Ukraine became a part of Soviet Russia. But peace was never written in Ukraine’s destiny. The government of Ukraine of the Ukrainian Republic Army has now become a terrorist army of armed patriots who have found refuge in Poland and Europe and America is helping. Angered by this, Stalin started the Russification of the Soviet Union.
Incidents of atrocities on Ukrainians in the name of cultural nationalism also came to the fore. In 1932 there was a severe drought in the USSR. The world showed horrifying pictures of the horrifying tragedy of Holodomor, USSR Ukraine. The whole world called it the Genocide and government mass murder of the Soviet Union over Ukraine. It is said that millions of Ukrainians were killed.
Although the Soviet Union calls it propaganda of the American-European media regarding Ukraine and says that the entire Soviet Union was suffering from drought. Several countries in Europe, including Ukraine, recognized Holodomor as an incident of mass genocide in 2006 to irritate Putin and Russia and provoke Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Second World War started.
It was from here that the fortunes of Ukraine began to turn. In 1939, when Hitler attacked Poland, the Soviet Union also attacked Poland and annexed the area of Ukraine that went to Poland in the Rig Treaty, Western Ukraine in Ukraine. After that, by taking the territory of Ukraine from Hungary, Moldova, and Romania and adding it to USSR Ukraine, Ukraine was given the border of a country for the first time.
Ukraine got an area of 603,550 km² (233,032 mi²) and a population of 100,000 also got it. Now the Soviet Union says the same thing that we have created Ukraine and Ukraine is running away from us.
Sacrifice for Russia
But even then the struggle for the independence of Ukraine was going on abroad. The Ukrainian Liberation Army started fighting with Hitler on the Soviet border. During this, the pro-German Ukrainians were killed by the Soviet Union, which today Putin calls the Nazi forces of Ukraine. After this, the mission of Europe and America in Ukraine was stopped immediately.
But in the Second World War, the people of Ukraine also sacrificed a lot to save the Soviet Union from the Nazis. Between 1945 and 1953, the Soviet Union killed 8.6 million soldiers and 18 million civilians, of whom 6.8 million were Ukrainian. Ukraine’s Kyiv was destroyed by 85 per cent and Kharkov, the second largest city, was destroyed by 70 per cent.
The people of Ukraine say that we have made great sacrifices to save the Soviet Union. We have lost more because of the Soviet Union than we have gained from the Soviet Union.
Ukraine-Russia friendship show round
After Stalin’s death in March 1953, when Nikita Khrushchev, the communist secretary of the Ukrainian USSR government, became the head of the entire Soviet Union, the work of healing Ukraine’s wound began. Atrocities and Russification on Ukraine were said to be wrong for the first time. In 1654, the three-hundredth anniversary of the Treaty of Pereslavl, the unification of Ukraine and Russia 300 years ago during the Cossack Hetmanate Empire, was celebrated in Kyiv and Leningrad.
To make it a historic occasion, Russia gifted Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, while only 22 per cent of Crimeans are Ukrainian. After this, Leonid Brezhnev, a resident of Ukraine, became the Communist Secretary of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union of Ukrainians On becoming the head of the union, there was a lot of celebration in both areas. This was seen as an attempt by the Soviet Union to counter the Ukrainian propaganda of the US-Europe and to win the heart of Ukraine.
It was the era of the post-Stalin Soviet Union when progress in Ukraine reached its peak. Today’s present Ukraine had attained such heights of development during that time. From weapons, and nuclear reactors to fierce industrialization took place.
Euro-US backed nationalism and Russian fear
Along with this development, when the Soviet Union came on the decline, the people of Ukraine started thinking about their independence. Ukraine was on the border of the Soviet Union, adjacent to Europe, so America and Europe easily got a chance to fill the spirit of freedom and patriotism in Ukraine, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, America and Russia provoked the sentiments of the people of Ukraine.
Nationalist stories and poems started being written and read in Ukraine during this period. The dream of making Europe a dazzling world country like France, Germany and Britain started to awaken in the eyes of the people of Ukraine. On the other hand, the struggle between the communist government of the Soviet Union started and on the other hand, and Ukraine declared independence. In August 1991, the parliament of Ukraine declared independence, not after the failed coup of Gorbachev’s Communists.
Russia still feels that because of Ukraine and then because of the way America and Europe promoted Ukraine, the Soviet Union disintegrated. When Mikhail Gorbachev was involved in managing the Soviet Union, Ukraine became the first country to declare its independence, after which the Soviet Union disintegrated like a pack of cards. Then the remaining 14 countries broke away from the Soviet Union.
Even today there is a fear in the heart and mind of Russia that if Ukraine does not stay with us then America and Europe can cheat us. While Europe and America feel that if Ukraine does not stay with us, Russia’s bullying will increase in the world. We can surround Russia only through Ukraine.
Russia has not forgotten how the Soviet Union made the Versova Pact in Poland for its defense against NATO, but today the NATO army is standing at Russia’s doorstep in the same Versova. Russia wants Ukraine as a buffer estate. America and Europe have not left any chance to intimidate and provoke Russia.
A resolution was passed in the Parliament of Ukraine on the atrocities on the people of Ukraine during Stalin. All this scares Russia too. Russia thinks that after Poland, if NATO forces continue to stand in Ukraine, then Russia will be surrounded from all sides. Russia will not allow this to happen and Europe and America are engaged in making Ukraine a free democratic country, so they will not allow Ukraine to become a neutral or Russian-leaning country. That is why it is being said that Ukraine is trapped in the Great Game like Afghanistan, from which there is no way to get out.
Russia’s decision to annex Crimea was made on February 20, 2014. On 22 and 23 February, Russian troops and special forces began entering Crimea through Novorossiysk. On 27 February, unmarked Russian forces began to take control of the Crimean peninsula. They controlled strategic positions and captured the Kramiya Parliament and hoisted the Russian flag.
Security checkpoints were used to cut off the Crimean peninsula from the rest of Ukraine and restrict movement within the region. In the days that followed, Russian troops took control of major airports and communications centres. Official Ukrainian government websites, news media, as well as social networks were shut down as the cyber war began. Cyberattacks disabled or gained access to the mobile phones of Ukrainian officials and members of parliament.
On 1 March, the Russian legislature approved the use of Armed forces, thereby validating the arrival of Russian troops and military material on the peninsula. In the following days, all remaining Ukrainian military bases and bases, including the southern naval base, were besieged. After Russia formally annexed the peninsula on 18 March, Ukrainian military bases and ships were taken over by Russian forces. On 24 March, Ukraine ordered the withdrawal of troops; By March 30, all Ukrainian forces had left the peninsula.
- In 2019, more than 110 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
- In May 2019, newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took office promising to end the war in Donbass.
- In December 2019, Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists began exchanging prisoners of war. About 200 prisoners were exchanged on 29 December 2019.
- According to Ukrainian officials, in 2020, 50 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists.
- In September 2021, Ukraine conducted military exercises with NATO forces. The Kremlin warned NATO not to cross a “red line” by expanding military infrastructure in Ukraine.
- In November 2021, the Russian Defense Ministry described the deployment of US warships in the Black Sea as a “threat to regional security and strategic stability”.
On 13 November, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced that “Russia has again gathered 100,000 troops in the border area”. In early November, US officials alerted the European Union to a possible Russian attack on Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Russia was preparing a possible attack on Ukraine. He said Ukraine was “planning an offensive against Donbas”. Accused. Peskov urged NATO to “concentrate its military fist” near Russia’s border and urge Ukraine to stop using modern weapons.
On 26 November, President Zelensky accused Russia of supporting plans to overthrow his government. Russia denied his allegations.