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The History of Russia's Invasion of Ukraine the Entangled Past That Connections

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Protests in Kyiv during the Euromaidan in December 2013.

Protests in Kyiv during the Euromaidan in December 2013.

On August 23, 1991, Ukraine declared independence. A referendum in early December ratified the Ukrainian declaration with a 90% 'yes' vote. Its first president, Leonid Kravchuk, was elected. When Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, after 70 years of totalitarianism that included civil war during the Bolshevik revolution, famine in the 1930s, the brutal Nazi occupation, the Second World War Holocaust, and political purges and stagnation in recent decades. The Soviet Union voted itself out of existence the same month Gorbachev resigned. Ukraine experienced euphoria at first. The transition to independence had been peaceful, with both communists and democrats agreeing to secede, owing largely to the country's predicted economic potential. The Soviet Union was a Russian-dominated political construct, with the Ukrainian communist party serving as little more than a pawn of Moscow's central authority. Ukrainian culture and language were regarded as secondary to Russian, the language of science, politics, administration, and urban centers. Its political and cultural elites were either exterminated or syphoned off to Moscow to serve the Soviet regime. Ukraine, like many other Soviet republics, was effectively colonized by Moscow, a relationship that dated back to Tsarist imperial Russia's pre-revolutionary era. Its wealth and population were used to enrich the ruling Russian class. Ukraine was a traumatized nation at the time of its independence, with no statecraft tradition on which to build a new, independent state. Moreover, despite the dissolution of the political union, its energy, trade, and cultural ties with Russia remained strong. The story of modern Ukraine is largely defined by its attempts to define a new future for itself in Europe, as well as Russia's efforts to obstruct this new direction.

Protesters in Kyiv's Independence Square during the Orange Revolution in November 2004.

Protesters in Kyiv's Independence Square during the Orange Revolution in November 2004.

The United States was taken aback by Ukraine's firm stance on independence. However, due to Ukraine's large Soviet nuclear arsenal, it had to remain closely engaged. The Budapest Memorandum of 1994 agreed to decommission the weapons in exchange for security guarantees from the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France to ensure Ukrainian territorial integrity. However, Ukraine suffered during the 1990s as its planned economy in the Soviet style collapsed. There was widespread economic distress, including shortages, blackouts, inflation, and increased emigration. Similarly, corruption and cronyism persisted in the country. Russia's invasion of Ukraine poses the greatest threat to European peace and security since the Cold War's end. On February 21, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a bizarre and at times insane speech in which he laid out a long list of grievances as justification for the "special military operation" announced the next day. While these grievances included the long-simmering dispute over NATO expansion and the shape of Europe's post-Cold War security architecture, the speech centered on a much more fundamental issue: the legitimacy of Ukrainian identity and statehood themselves. It reflected a worldview Putin had long expressed, emphasizing the deep unity among Eastern Slavs Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians who can all trace their ancestors back to the medieval Kyivan Rus commonwealth and suggesting that the modern states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus should share a political destiny both now and in the future. The allegation that distinct Ukrainian and Belarusian identities are the results of foreign manipulation and that, today, the West is following in the footsteps of Russia's imperial rivals in using Ukraine and Belarus as part of an "anti-Russia project" is a corollary to that view.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, from left, in Paris, December 2019.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, from left, in Paris, December 2019.

In February 2014, protesters in Ukraine deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. He had been supportive of Russia's interests. During the revolution, more than 100 people are killed in protests centered on Kyiv's main square, known as the Maidan.
Following this pro-Western revolution, the interim government signs a trade agreement with the European Union, which is seen as the first step toward membership in the bloc. The Crimean Peninsula is then annexed by Russia. Secessionists in eastern Ukraine, backed by Russia, later declare independence as the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. They declare war on Ukraine. The separatist war in the eastern region known as Donbass continues. It then moves westward. Approximately 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are killed in the conflict. For years, the front lines have barely moved.

During Russia's military intervention in Crimea, a pro-Ukrainian demonstration in Simferopol (Ukrainian flag on the left, Crimean Tatar flag on the right) was held on March 9, 2014.

During Russia's military intervention in Crimea, a pro-Ukrainian demonstration in Simferopol (Ukrainian flag on the left, Crimean Tatar flag on the right) was held on March 9, 2014.

Here's a quick rundown of their relationship in the twentieth century:

  • In 1918 Ukraine declares independence from Russia after a multi-year conflict fought by multiple countries and armies. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk officially recognizes its independence and sovereignty. Later, Soviet forces deposed independent Ukraine. In 1921, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic is established, and the following year, Ukraine is absorbed into the Soviet Union.
  • In 1932 and 1933, a famine caused by Stalin's collectivization policy kills millions of people, primarily ethnic Ukrainians, in a republic known as the Soviet Union's breadbasket. The Holodomor disaster is named after the Ukrainian word for famine.
  • From Poland and Romania, the Soviet Union annexes what is now western Ukraine in 1939-1944. Later, Nazi Germany and the Axis powers invade and occupy the Soviet Union, wreaking havoc on Ukraine.
  • In 1991, Ukraine declares independence, a move supported by 92 percent of voters in a referendum. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signed an agreement recognizing the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Ukraine begins its transition to a market economy and acquires a significant stockpile of nuclear weapons that belonged to the Soviet Union.
  • In 1994 Under the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine gives up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for Moscow's promise to "respect Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, and existing borders."
  • In 2004, estimates put the number of protestors in Kyiv at 100,000, making it the largest demonstration in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution in late 2004 when hundreds of thousands took to the streets. An estimated 30,000 people marched in Lviv in support of European integration. Since then, large numbers of students have gone on strike in both Kyiv and Lviv. Protests in Kyiv and other cities continue, and many have pledged to continue until the Vilnius summit concludes.
  • In 2008, NATO made it clear at a summit in Bucharest that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members one day. The alliance also agreed to support both countries' applications for Membership Action Plans (MAPs) as the next step toward eventual membership. Thirteen years have passed since the Bucharest summit, but Ukraine and Georgia remain on the sidelines. Russia has always been the beast in the room. It seemed like a good idea in 2008 to try to calm the Russian elephant, but it is now clear that this was a mistake. Since the Bucharest summit in 2008, Russia has launched military operations against Ukraine and Georgia, resulting in the loss of many lives and significant territory.
  • In 2014 and 2015, Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany sign the Minsk Accords, a series of cease-fire agreements. Many people see these agreements as ambiguous.
  • In April 2019 Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedian, is elected president of Ukraine with a large majority on a promise to make peace with Russia and return Donbas to Ukraine.
  • In a provocative move, Zelensky also declared that joining NATO would ensure his country's survival, defending a goal that has enraged his powerful Russian neighbor. He did not, however, mention any specific additional military mobilization in response to the threat posed by thousands of Russian troops amassed on Ukraine's borders. Instead, he urged his countrymen to sing the national anthem and raise the flag at 10 a.m. on February 16 to "show the world our unity."
  • From the year 2021 to 2022 Russian President Vladimir V. Putin seeks to prevent Ukraine from drifting toward the United States and its allies. Mr. Putin wants "security guarantees," such as NATO's assurance that Ukraine will never join the alliance and that the alliance will withdraw troops stationed in countries that joined after 1997. Many Russians consider the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, to be the birthplace of their country, citing the numerous cultural ties that exist between the two countries.
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Rising Tensions in the Ukraine-Russian War

On February 23, 2022, US paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment depart Italy's Aviano Air Base for Latvia. Thousands of US troops have been deployed to Eastern Europe in response to Russia's military buildup.
During these developments, the Russian government repeatedly denied it had plans to invade or attack Ukraine; those who issued the denials included Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov in November 2021, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in January 2022, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations Sergei Lavrov in February 2022. Following Russian denials, the US released intelligence on Russian invasion plans in early December 2021, including satellite photographs of Russian troops and equipment near the Ukrainian border. The intelligence service reported the existence of a Russian list of key sites and individuals to be killed or neutralized in the event of an invasion. The US continued to issue reports that accurately predicted the invasion plans, but the Ukrainian government, according to Michael Kofman of the Center for Naval Analyses, did not adequately prepare for a large invasion.

On January 10, 2022, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the media about the possibility of a Russian invasion.

On January 10, 2022, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the media about the possibility of a Russian invasion.

On March 6, 2022, Ukrainian refugees in Kraków demonstrate against the war.

On March 6, 2022, Ukrainian refugees in Kraków demonstrate against the war.

Ukraine Will Never Surrender and Will Continue to Fight for its Freedom.

Despite its military's underwhelming performance thus far and the potentially crippling impact of the sanctions it now faces, Russia could still emerge victorious on the battlefield, but only at a high cost. Its chances of remaining a long-term protectorate appear to be dwindling with each day Ukraine resists. The conflict's ultimate outcome will be determined by the West's response and, above all, by Ukrainians' willingness to fight for a nation Putin believes does not and should not exist. Since then, Russia has cast a pall over Ukraine. With a full-fledged war underway, the country is in danger of being swallowed whole. The Ukrainian people will fight, especially in the country's west and center, where the love of freedom is strongest. That meant making orange flags and erecting orange tent cities in 2004. It means making Molotov cocktails and organizing a resistance this year, and likely for many years to come. Ukraine will never give up and is ready to fight for its nation's freedom.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Faith Nacario

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