By Jay Holmes
If we are to have any chance of understanding the present dynamic of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, we must look to the history of the region and its people. In Part One, we followed the Ukraine Timeline from the founding of the first Ukrainian city in 907 A.D. through the ascendance of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, a.k.a. Stalin 2.0. In Part Two, the Timeline continues up to the present Russian invasion. Today, we look at current situation and what it means to Europe and the West.
The crisis in Ukraine is the product of many factors. Russian speaking pro-Russian citizens populate the Crimea and other areas of Ukraine. Putin is using this most effectively to satisfy the centuries-old Russian imperial ambitions to expand southward. Russia has well equipped military forces based in the Crimea by treaty with the Ukraine — a treaty that many Ukrainians no doubt deeply regret today. Ukraine shares borders with Poland, Romania, and Moldavia, which are all becoming more “Europeanized” and more “Western-looking” with each passing year. Unfortunately for Ukraine, they also share borders with Russia and with her pro-Putin police state ally, Belarus.
A clear majority of Ukrainians have rejected the police state values of Russia and Russian allies. They have made it clear that they want to be part of Europe. On the surface, this is evidenced by the Ukraine’s attempts to forge a trade agreement with Europe. That trade agreement included provisions for basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and an independent judiciary. Vladimir Putin remains opposed to that trade agreement and opposed to those basic human rights because such basic human rights make it more difficult for him to operate as a dictator in Russia and to achieve his goals for the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union.
The Crimea and the region of Ukraine that lies between Russia and the Crimea are of immense value to Putin. If he is able to annex or control those areas, Russia and any members of the Eurasian Customs Union will then have direct access to the Black Sea and hence the Mediterranean. Part of Putin’s timing in taking over the Crimea has to do with the weather. Historically, the winter has meant a decrease in military operations in and by Russia. In a reversal of that trend, Russia now prefers to conduct as much of its military operations in Ukraine while the weather is still cold.
That’s because Ukrainian gas supplies come from Russia. Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, Moldavia, and Turkey all get between 64% and 100% of their natural gas supplies from Russia. Austria, France, Germany, Italy, and Romania receive between 14% and 48% of their natural gas supplies from Russia. Those natural gas supplies are more critical during colder months. That basic fact of European life gives Russia important leverage over any European response to its actions in Ukraine.
Given Putin’s naked expansionist ambitions and Western Europe’s dependency on Russian natural gas and Russian oil, Putin may be boldly aggressive in Ukraine. Responses from the West will range from muted to lame “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will not be without a stiff price.” However, Russia has been trying for a thousand years to rule the Crimea and the greater Ukraine. In spite of ruthless genocides and unbridled brutality, it has never succeeded in the past, and it’s unlikely that the Ukrainian people will bend to Russian will regardless of support or the lack thereof from the West.
Vladimir Putin is telling his audiences in Russia and in Ukraine that Ukraine’s anti-government protestors are led by a Jewish conspiracy. He is simultaneously telling everyone outside of Russia and Ukraine that the protestors are dangerous anti-Semite Nazis. They are neither. The protestors in Ukraine are a broad coalition of diverse affiliations ranging from women’s rights groups and lesbian and gay rights groups to right-wing Ukrainian nationalists. What they share is a desire for Ukraine to be free of Russia and for its citizens to enjoy basic human rights.
Putin may see a victory for himself in Ukraine, but should he be unlucky enough to pursue and achieve that victory, the results will make the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan resemble a picnic compared to dealing with the Ukrainians and their sympathizers in the West. Putin will undoubtedly make his best effort to gain as much territory as he can and as many Ukrainian concessions as he can without instigating a full-scale war in Ukraine. If he miscalculates, the price will be steep for Ukraine, but it will also lead to a severe decline in the Russian economy, which might further erode Putin’s popularity at home.
An overwhelming majority of Ukrainians has made it clear that they want independence from Russia, human rights, and membership in the European community. Their demands are reasonable. For the sake of the Ukrainians as well as Russians and Europeans, let us hope that the power-thirsty Russian dictator does not overplay his hand.
Special Thanks to photographer Mstyslav Chernov of Unframe Photographers for the amazing photographs he made available at Wikimedia Commons. Please visit the Unframe Photographers site at Unframe.com and Mstyslav Chernov’s site at MstyslavChernov.com for more outstanding documentary photos.