Eight years have passed since the Ukrainian people toppled their former Russia-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych, in a tumultuous revolution mostly taking place in the cold and chaotic streets of Kyiv. The Ukrainian people, having grown tired of sucking up to their big neighbor the Russian Federation along with desiring both meaningful change and closer economic ties with Europe and the European Union, made their voices heard and brought in, as the world was watching, a new government that would heed their aspirations and longings. A new dawn had broken, so it seemed.
A few weeks later, the Kremlin launched a calculated counterstroke. Using historic ties and strategic geopolitical and military interests as their main line of action, they, in the most discreet and dubious of manners, wrested control of the important Crimea Peninsula, sending unmarked military personnel in a bid to deny the new Ukrainian government their sovereignty over the peninsula.
These “little green men” surrounded Ukrainian military bases across Crimea, and in short order, the Russian Federation took full control, with Crimea becoming one of its constituent republics in a much-criticized referendum.
In addition, the Kremlin likewise supported the separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in the predominantly-Russian speaking eastern part of Ukraine, resulting in the two entities becoming de facto independent from Ukraine.
This move led to the Ukrainian government sending military forces to attempt to recover the east, which has led to a stalemate and mounting casualties on each side. Although a peace deal was signed a few years ago after several months of tough combat, the tension between “Little Russia” (a widely-pejorative term), Ukraine, and Big Russia lingers on.
In the latter part of 2021 and continuing to the early part of this year, the Russian Federation led by President Vladimir Putin has positioned and mobilized troops along the border between them and Ukraine. Many sources have indicated that he is preparing for a military incursion or a destabilizing political action aimed at installing another pro-Russian government, as Presidents Poroshenko and Zelensky of Ukraine have likewise made clear their stand on their country’s territorial integrity and economic sovereignty.
Other sources have indicated that Putin, upset by sanctions imposed on him, his associates, and upon Russia by the West, is doing these things to gain a better position at the negotiating table.
History, of course, provides significant clues and insights. The most crucial element towards comprehending these moves by Russia and by Putin is to look closely at the history between them and Ukraine. The latter provided the heartland of one of the first great Christian Slavic empires of the world, the Kievan Rus, revered by many eastern Slavs, Russians and Ukrainians alike, as their sacred state of origin. It also helps to look at the mighty Soviet Union and analyze their mindset post-collapse, after the events of December 1991 and the decline in people’s living standards that followed it.
There has been a strong undercurrent within the Russian establishment that the world needs to respect the Federation, after the traumatic events that lead to the breaking apart of the “empire”. Russia, too, possesses a wide range of resource and energy interests in Ukraine’s economy. For some, owing to cultural, political, historical, and economic links, they view Ukraine as inherently part of a larger Russian-Slavic State, their little brothers in the eastern Slav milieu.
It is this particular feeling of affinity, this longing for empire and for greatness, that seem to underpin the current actions taken by the Federation as to its military and political maneuverings around the Ukrainian state.
In response to these, Ukraine’s Western and European military partners have begun to send materiel, armor, and weapons to outfit the much-outclassed and outnumbered Ukrainian Armed Forces.
There has been a general feeling of unease and tension in the region, one that causes world gas prices to rise and has left even the United States of America wary of any potential confrontation in the snowy wheat fields of Eastern Europe.
Understandably, the Biden Administration does not see war as a positive prospect, as does many of Ukraine’s allies. Putin and the Kremlin, however, see an opportunity for restoration and greatness knocking at their door, or at least one for economic advantage.
What will that cost them? The world watches Eastern Europe once more, holding its breath.