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Ukraine has been a country plagued with turmoil. With seven bordering neighbors, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland, it faces a constant threat of invasion. It’s territory, divided into five sections, are open and difficult to defend except for its southern frontier which includes the Black and Azov Seas Nahayevsky. (1) Dating back more than 1,000 years, relations between Russia and Ukraine have been atrocious. After 20 years of both being an independent state, Russia continues an attempt to recover back what it has lost long ago. Ukraine’s efforts in shaping and stabilizing its country are threatened due to its battle with Russia’s goal of rebuilding its empire and Ukraine’s internal factionalism and corruption. History, key players, goals, and tactics play a role in this ongoing conflict. A leader, backed by strong supporting members, who are not afraid to stand against opposition and have the courage to make a change will help unite this country.
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Russia and Ukraine relations date to A.D. 800 Kyiv, Ukraine where the Russian civilization was born. (2) The invasions of Mongolia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Sweden divided Ukraine into two warring sides, Left-Bank Ukraine under Poland rule and Right-Bank Ukraine under Russian rule. Russia’s goal of expansion forced Ukraine to become part of the Russian Empire, though they did not have much choice. It was part of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) throughout most of the twentieth century. (3)
Ukraine’s climate is favorable for agriculture making it its main economic source. Having land that is three-fourths black soil, Ukraine holds 44 percent of it in all of Europe and about eight percent in the world. (4) Ukraine is known to be the “bread-basket of Europe”. Crops such as wheat, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, mize, millet, sugar beets, and buckwheat are abundant. In addition to agriculture, Ukraine is also mineral-rich. Cole, iron, mercury, phosphorite, kaolin, aluminum, and dolomite can be sourced. It can resource manganese 40 percent higher than the rest of the world. (5) Russia knew of Ukraine’s wealth and sought to acquire it to feed their Empire and later the Soviet Union. The Soviets were supplied one-fourth of Ukrainian industrial products, one-fourth of agricultural produce, one-third of meat, one-half of iron ore, and one-third of steel. (6) In return, Russia repressed Ukrainians. The school was prohibited, the Ukrainian language was not spoken, overall, they had a “low place in the ethno-social hierarchy of the Russian Empire”(7)
During World War I, Russian citizens rebelled against their government throwing Alexander Kerensky out of power. Ukraine saw the civil war as an opportunity for independence from Russia. On January 2, 1918, Professor Mykhaylo Hrushevsky became the first president of the Ukrainian National Republic. This independence was short-lived because when World War I ended Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romanians invaded Ukraine to claim. March 1921, Ukraine was once again under the USSR’s rule. Joseph Stalin retaliated for Ukraine’s resistance by causing the “worst human-caused famine in recorded history.” (8)
Germany invaded Ukraine during World War II. Ukraine at first thought of the Germans as their savior and joined their cause. A few years later, the Ukrainians found that Adolf Hitler only wanted their land and that he saw them as slaves. This caused them to turn their allegiance back to Russia.
Ukraine’s road to independence started with the creation of the Rukh, meaning “movement”, in September 1989. The group was created to become the voice for political change. They competed against Communist candidates for the seats in parliament. Mikhail Gorbachev, who was currently in power, felt threatened by the Rukh and devised a coup. August 19, 1991, President Boris Yeltsin stopped a coup and called for a general strike to end communism. After signing the Minsk Agreement, dissolving the Soviet Union as a political entity, Ukraine finally received independence on August 24, 1991.
For Russia to recover from the Soviet’s downfall it needs to keep a hold on Ukraine and the Caucasus and extend its influence on the Eastern European countries.(9) Presently, Moscow regards Ukraine as part of their zone of influence and they do not want that to change. There will always be a constant threat from Russia. Knowing what Ukraine can provide, Russia will fight to keep ties with them. Ukraine also relies on Russia. They provide gas and oil resources that Ukraine lacks. (10) Russia is also Ukraine’s main trade partner. Farmers would travel to Russia to sell goods for a price much higher than what they can sell at home.
The road for a democratic Ukraine state has been described as “one of the longest and most tortuous in post-Communist Eastern Europe.”(11) Ukraine faced after their independence regarded state-supported industries. These industries were cultivated by Soviet rule, therefore, were inefficient and corruptly managed. Russia left the country with roads and bridges in disrepair and an unstable government.
Ukraine was divided between those who want to follow Europe and the western states and those who relate to Russia. Crimea, housing 70 percent of Russians, was given back to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Khrushchev, never imagining that Ukraine would ever break away from Russia. Despite Ukraine’s fear of Crimea becoming autonomous and becoming part of Russia, Ukraine accepted the Crimean’s parliament vote for autonomy but denied their independence in May 1992. Russians who live in Crimea and many of its citizens see this independence as temporary. Being part of the Russian and Soviet empires for many years, they believe that Ukraine will not be able to live without Russia and will soon rejoin. Others see this differently and see little interest in rejoining.
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In 1994, Crimea restored the constitution of 1992 authorizing Crimea’s sovereignty as an independent power that enabled them to declare Sevastopol a Russian city. This act would cause more tension with Russia in the future. In the meantime, Ukraine appointed Anatoley Franchuk as prime minister to calm the tension. The biggest concern with Sevastopol for the Ukrainians with the Black Sea fleet. They feel that if Russia gets ahold of it, they could take over the region. Sevastopol housed Russian fleet making it theirs, but Ukraine countered with it being located in their land, therefore, it is partly theirs. Negotiations were reached in 1995 where Russia has 82 percent possession while Ukraine owns 18 percent.(12) “Both countries had agreed to allow the Russian fleet to stay until 2017, but after the election of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych as president in 2010, Ukraine agreed to extend the lease by 25 years beyond 2017, in return for cheaper Russian gas.”(13)
Ukraine knows of Russia’s power. Before their independence, they were the Soviet’s stronghold for their nuclear weapons.(14) November 1994, agreeing to transfer all nuclear weapons to Russia, Ukraine signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, in return, Russia would cancel Ukraine’s debt.(15) Also within that year, Ukraine joined NATO’s peace program to assert its independence from Russia and securing itself from outside aggression.(16) Ukraine then transferred the rest of the nuclear warheads to Russia in 1996.
The 2004 presidential election caused a huge protest for re-election called the Orange Revolution after which Viktor Yushchenko won. (17) In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych, who aligned with Russia, became president and could sign an agreement that would bind Ukraine to the European Union. Because of his Russian influence that did not happen. Protests broke out that eventually caused Yanukovych to hide in Russia. This opposition was backed by the United States which increase tension between Russia and Ukraine.
Russia, who still feels that Ukraine should remain part of their nation used this unfortunate event to invade Ukraine. “President Vladimir Putin’s government sent troops without insignia to the peninsula, seized key buildings, took control of the regional legislature, and staged a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries at the UN.”(18) Which brings it to its current state of conflict. In March 2014, “the Crimean parliament voted to secede from Ukraine and joined the Russian Federation” in which Russia quickly annexed.(19) A poll was taken in 2008 and again in 2014 that showed approval of the events that happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine by Putin.(20) Putin received overwhelming support against the West and Ukrainian nationalists. More than 70 percent were satisfied with Russia’s show of power. (21) This shows the division within Ukraine.
In 2014, Russia was further threatened by the United States influence in NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe. The U.S.’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, their involvement in the democratic revolution in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan, nations that border Russia added more tension to the Russia government. (22)
Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is “focus on the counties domestic overhaul, and that he is not striving to become the anti-Putin”.(23) Due to his background of comedy, there are hopes that he can deal with Russia in a way that appealing to Russian citizens. Only time will tell when or if the threat of Russia will ever cease to exist.
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