The History Behind the Conflict in the Ukraine

It is no secret that Putin would like to reconstitute a new Soviet Union that would again dominate Eastern Europe and be a superpower.  This is the reason behind the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

Historically, the western Ukraine has had more of a western European focus.  Hundreds of years ago it was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.    The split from the Commonwealth primarily came about because of religious differences.  Most western Ukrainians tended to be Catholic but eastern Ukrainians are Russian Orthodox.  The czars eventually put the entire Ukraine under their hegemony once the eastern Ukrainians opted to join the Russian Empire.  Thus for centuries the Ukraine was under Russian domination during the days of the Czars and the Communists.

With the split up of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Ukraine became an independent nation.  The new nation had several problems.  First, there are sizeable Russian minorities in the eastern part of the nation and in the Crimea.  The relocation of Russians into non-Russian areas was a policy of controlling the local populations pushed by the Soviet Union.  Second, the industrial areas and the natural resources are located in the areas with the sizeable Russian minorities.  Third, the Ukraine and most of Europe heavily depends upon Russian oil and natural gas.  That dependency gives Putin an economic weapon to use against anybody who opposes him.  Fourth, the geography of the Ukraine doesn’t provide any natural defensive barriers against the Russians.   The Ukrainian steppes are flat.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, one of the former satellite nations became a model for the Ukraine – Poland.  The Polish Solidarity Movement was one of the reasons why the Soviet Union broke up.  Communism favors the workers (proletariat).  It was the Polish proletariat that revolted against the brutality and mismanagement of the Communist “command control economy.”  Once freedom came, the Poles embraced capitalism and shook off the last vestiges of the government controlled economy.  There were growing pains but they successfully made the transition.

Today, Poland has a robust economy that is the envy of the Ukrainians.  Industry is a big part of the nation’s prosperity.  Poland is also part of the European Union and NATO.

Over the years, many Ukrainians have travelled to Poland to find work.  They have seen its prosperity and want to emulate the Poles.  Poland has long been oriented towards Western Europe. Although Poland joined the European Union, it maintained trade with Russia. Poland, as a member of NATO, no longer shares a common border with Russia.  Byelorussia lies between the two nations which helps relations because the Poles don’t trust the Russians due to their numerous conflicts over the centuries.

Putin doesn’t want the Ukraine to be part of the European Union or NATO especially the latter.  A NATO member Ukraine would put a potential enemy on the southern border of Russia.  This is intolerable to Putin’s plans to rebuild the Soviet Empire.

Adding to the Ukraine’s troubles is a major debt. The acting finance minister reported that the nation needs $35 billion in loans to meet minimum government obligations through 2015.  But the nation is a poor credit risk.  The Ukrainians have found that under Putin’s puppet, Viktor Yanukvych, billions are missing from the Ukraine’s treasury.  Compounding its financial problems is the fact that the government failed to meet past loan obligations making it a poor credit risk.  As a result, other nations don’t want to advance any credit to the government because they may not get the money back.

The safety and well-being of the Ukraine has suffered because of its debt.  The Ukraine is between the proverbial “rock and hard place.”  In all likelihood, Putin will get his way and probably annex the eastern Ukraine and the Crimea.  He is repeating history from the Stalin era and he knows he can get away with it.   It may be the beginning of a new cold war.

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About camden41

Retired public school administrator Retired history professor: Taught Western Civilization, American Civil War, United States History, Economic History, Ancient & Medieval Foundations, American History Since 1945
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