Looking Back at the History of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Thomas Daniels, Editor in Chief

Photo courtesy of Associated Press.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, on February 24, 2020, ordered troops into Ukraine, starting the war between the two. Russia sent troops to the eastern border of Ukraine in support of two Russian separatist groups in what Russia calls a “peacekeeping” mission. Essentially, Russia’s aim was to create a pretext for invasion by calling the separatists independent, and then declare that the suppression of said separatists was an act of Ukrainian aggression, thus justifying the invasion. 

Before the Russian troops set foot in Ukraine, Putin gave a faux retelling of Russian-Ukrainian history, stating that “modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia.” The Bolsheviks, also known as “the majority,” was led by Vladimir Lenin  and took control over the Russian government in the fallout of the October revolution of 1917. Putin sees Russia and Ukraine as one in the same, saying, “I would like to emphasize again that Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space.” But this is ignoring that an independent Ukraine briefly existed after WWI, until it was pulled into the USSR. In addition,

Infographic by Zainab Rentia.

Ukrainians held a vote in 1991 that determined whether Ukraine would break from Russia during the dying days of the USSR, and the votes were 90 percent in favor of an independent state. 

In fact, before Russia entered the picture, most of Ukraine was under Polish rule. What formed modern Ukraine was the split between Catholic Poles and Orthodox Ukrainians in the 1600s. Long before the Bolsheviks, Ukrainian Cossacks broke off from Polish rule and created their own separate state, which later joined Russia to establish concrete territory and to distance themselves from the Poles. What came in the following centuries was a nation split by multiple empires, which eventually became mostly dominated by Russia. This isn’t a Russia-lite that broke off from Russia due to ungratefulness, as Putin wants to paint this situation as, rather, Ukraine is an entirely different culture from Russia with distinct origins.

Putin’s motivations stem from his desire to keep NATO, an organization aiming to protect its allies and their interests, out of Ukraine, which Putin sees as a direct threat to Russia’s sovereignty. However, it is unclear if Putin wants solely Ukraine, or if his intentions are more expansive. Former Soviet states, such as Poland and the Baltics, are part of NATO, and would, by contract, force all other NATO members to defend those countries, setting off a chain reaction.