Russia and Ukraine have always been linked throughout history. Earlier forms of what came to be the Russian Empire included large parts of Ukrainian territory. This capital of this principality, which was also an European superpower, was Kyiv, the capital of today’s Ukraine. Thus, by the 18th century, the majority part of Ukraine was held by the Russian Empire. After a short period of independence, Ukraine was integrated to the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) in 1922.
Between 1932 and 1933, the forced collectivization policy carried by Stalin caused a great famine also called the « holodomor ». It killed between 3 and 5 million Ukrainians. In 1991 the USSR collapsed. Ukraine declared its independence but Russia continued to exercise a great influence in the South and the East of the country. Even today, Russian remains the native language of more than 60% of the Ukrainian population.
In November 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, supported by Putin, won the presidential elections. The results generated the Orange revolution. As a consequence to the protests, the result was cancelled by the Ukrainian Supreme Court on suspicion of electoral fraud. Finally, the victory of the liberal Viktor Iouchtchenko was announced.
East or West?
The country started an alignment with Europe which threatened Moscow. The European Union extended its influence by integrating 9 ex-countries of the USSR in 2004. Moscow pressured to maintain its influence on Ukraine by increasing gases prices sold to its neighbour. Caught between the tensions between Moscow and Europe, and faced with a corrupt government, the political situation in Ukraine had become tense by 2013. Despite pro-European movements, economic and political ties to Moscow were also still strong.While legal proceedings were engaged with Europe, Ukraine suddenly accepted the Russian proposition which offered a decrease of gases princes of one third and a credit of 15 billion dollars.
This turnaround led to a revolt from Europhile Ukrainians: the Maidan revolution. In parallel, the Crimean peninsula, until then part of Ukrainian territory, to Ukraine and disposing of an access to the Black Sea, was annexed by Moscow after a referendum whose legitimacy was not approved by the international community. However, Russia qualified this act as a “reintegration”.
The reasons of a probable invasion
Russia has always considered the existence of a buffer zone between Russian and Western territories as essential. According to the Paris Charter, the countries have the right to chose in a sovereign manner the alliances they belong to. This principle is supported by the European Union and Ukraine. Russia tempers this right : the conclusion of alliances is not possible if it poses a threat to the security of its neighbours However, the Russian definition of a “threat » does not seem to align with that of its European neighbours. As Ukraine has shown itself open to joining the military alliance NATO, the big thorn in Moscow’s side, Russia is keen to avoid an eastward expansion of NATO.
While Germany and France acted as mediator in the Minsk Agreements, which attempted to negotiate peace and a ceasefire in the fighting in Eastern Ukraine, Russia refuses to dialogue with Brussels and broke the links with the NATO. Russia’s actions are conformed to the constant objective of its president Vladimir Putin, that is ensuring the security of its country by his world view in tension with the Occident’s.
The reaction of the Occident
In April 2021, Russia deployed several thousand troops to the border of Ukrainian territory, in what was justified by Moscow as a “military exercise”. Despite withdrawing these troops after a few tense weeks, with worried reactions from the West and Kyiv, the latest build-up of troops over the past few months is happening on a much larger scale. According to the European Union, Russian soldiers were more than 100 000. However, on Saturday 22 January 2022, the United Kingdom accused Russia to « try to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv » and to « consider » to occupy Ukraine.
In a press release, the British diplomat Liz Truss denounced the « extent of Russian activity to undermine Ukraine ». However, these accusations are qualified as « absurdities » by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The situation is serious and new events happen every day, exacerbating the tensions. If today 8500 NATO soldiers are on alert, the majority of European countries and the Americans exclude the idea of a military intervention. In fact, the American president Joe Biden wants to avoid this kind of intervention after the disastrous American retreat from Afghanistan in August 2020. If Russia invaded Ukraine, the sanctions may be purely economic; yet that might not be enough to restrain Russia’s desire to “regain” territory.