|a cloud has descended: protests in kiev, 2014|
given the limits of my research team [mostly me, because the cats are just not the research assistants i had hoped they would be], i can only hit on a few main points, but this should illustrate that, for organisations that don't have to rely on feline support, there is no reason why this shouldn't be a standard part of their coverage. this is especially true given that the history behind the conflict isn't actually that long. virtually all of the contributing factors to the current climate of tension are things that have arisen in the last century, which, compared to most of the other things we've looked at in world wide wednesdays, is pretty recent.
that's not to say that there isn't a lot to ukrainian history, although, from a certain point of view, there isn't. that's because the notion of a ukrainian national identity is something that only started to emerge in the nineteenth century. ukraine had once been home to a powerful state, arguably the most powerful in europe, whose borders stretched much further north and included the modern-day country of belarus. however, the people of that kingdom were not ukrainian, but "rus", an ancient people who [you've figured this out already] gave their name and much of their genetics to russians and belarussians. modern-day ukrainians are partly descended from these people, but also from other eastern slavs, most notably the polish. following the mongol invasion, the territories we now call ukraine were shared between many of the world's great powers, such as lithuania, poland, the ottoman empire and, of course, russia. [side note :: interestingly, even at its zenieth, the kiev rus kingdom never included all the territory that is part of ukraine now. most interestingly, the kingdom never expanded to the southeastern edge of the country and the crimea peninsula. but more on that later.]
|kiev in more peaceful times|
the root of much ukrainian-russian enmity does not come from the russian takeover of the ukraine so much as what happened in its wake. in the early 1930s, millions [anywhere from 2.5 to 7.5] of ukrainians died as the result of a catastrophic famine. that might be bad enough, but the actual reasons for the famine and the russian/ soviet treatment of it made the situation very much worse. at the very least, the stalin government was guilty of some truly egregious errors as they attempted to industrialise agriculture within the new soviet union. the new practices caused a precipitous drop in the wheat harvest and thus was the famine created. or not. others have theorised that stalin's motivations were significantly more diabolical. while he might not have intended to start the famine [increasing domestic wheat production was necessary in order to counteract the trade embargoes placed on the new republic by western powers, who feared that the communist example would spread elsewhere], there is no doubt that his actions and the actions of his government made the situation worse: they continued to export grain from the region; they failed to seek assistance from other countries in supplying grain; and they prevented ukrainians from moving away from the affected area. given that stalin was engaged in a battle of wills with ethnic [western] ukrainians at the time, some have argued that the famine was really a form of genocide, employed to defeat stubborn opposition with strong ties to the rest of europe.
|ukrainian famine victim|
one crucial action that affects today's situation in ukraine was taken by soviet premier nikita khruschev in 1954. krushchev came from a town near the russian-ukraine border, his wife was ukrainian and he had served for some time as head of the communist part in kiev. while that did not stop him from participating in stalin's purges in ukraine, he did have a fondness for the area. so in 1954, he transferred administration of the crimean oblast [a position below that of being a republic in the federation] to ukraine. for all intents and purposes, this amounted to giving the territory, which had to that point been held by the ottomans and then the russians, to ukraine. that was more or less fine while the ussr held ultimate control of both, however once that power disintegrated, the ukraine stepped onto the world stage as its own independent entity, dragging the crimea like a grafted on tail along with it. without krushchev, the ukraine would have no claim whatsoever to the crimea.
|the iconic swallow's nest castle, crimea|
that is a very brief outline of events affecting the current conflict between russia and ukraine. it is neither detailed nor comprehensive but i would still argue that it's more than you're getting from mainstream media coverage. [and, for what it's worth, i think that this is one story that should be getting greater coverage; a showdown between europe's two largest countries, home to europe's two largest militaries and both controlling nuclear sites is worth paying attention to.] i don't know exactly how the current tensions can be resolved, however here are a few points i'd recommend when coming up with your own ideas on the subject:
- whatever your feelings on vladimir putin, it is a little bit of a stretch to cry "imperialism" when russia stakes a claim to a territory they unintentionally relinquished to a country that didn't exist when the decision was made and that has few historical ties to the disputed region. the reason that there are significant russian populations in the disputed areas is that they were russian, not ukrainian, in their recent history.
- the european union and nato [a military organisation, which supposedly existed as a counterbalance to russian-allied nations during the cold war, but which has flourished since the fall of european communism] have been expanding ever closer to russia. whether there is any larger plan at work, there is no doubt that there is at least an attempt being made to surround russia with military installations friendlier to american/ western policies than to russian ones. it's always good to play the reverse situation game: how would america react if china tried to create a military union that included canada and mexico, with the provision that china could move military units into both countries? how would the united kingdom react to a russian pact that placed their soldiers in ireland? that's what having ukraine and georgia in nato would be like for russia.
- there is an inherent danger to picking sides in a conflict without knowing the sides in depth. remember when everyone was calling for the demise of syrian leader and probable mass murderer bashir al-assad? and western countries were under pressure to send money and arms to those rebelling against him in the civil war? it turns out some of those people were the progenitors of islamic state. the point there isn't that people should have supported assad, it's that sometimes you have to take things very slowly before rushing aid to any group in a conflict somewhere else in the world. the above point is not meant to establish vladimir putin as some kind of hero. he absolutely isn't and his record of repression, violence and corruption [along with stoking the worst sorts of prejudice in order to distract russians from the country's problems and his government's complicity in them] establishes him as the sort of person who should be kept at a safe distance. parts of the ukrainian nationalist forces and the government installed to replace that of viktor yanukovych are legitimate neo-nazis, with the same racist rhetoric and reliance on violence.
my point [one of them, at least], is that this is a situation that deserves our attention, but no one should be tricked into equating attention with action. rushing in with guns blazing, or at least with armfuls of guns to hand out, would not just be risky, it would be incredibly irresponsible. sometimes, as difficult as it might be, the best course of action is to sit still and try to keep the lines of communication open.