There is an attempt that I became aware of this morning, by those who want to see a middle-ground, maybe through non-alignment with either the USA or Russia, to explain that both sides are wrong. One analyst from India explained that Putin is wrong for invading Ukraine, but Western nations lied to Russia at the end of the Cold War, promising to dissolve NATO and then not doing it. That would have explained how Putin and his colleagues always expect treachery from USA and the West and how they justify calling for NATO to back off. But the history doesn’t corroborate that interpretation. Time to look again.
FACTS ABOUT UKRAINE
1. Ukraine as an ethnic and political entity is older than Russia. In the 10th and 11th centuries Kievan Rus’, with Kiev at the center, was the largest and most powerful state in Europe. The Mongol invasion completely destroyed Kiev in 1240.
2. For the next 700 years Ukraine was under various powers and ended with territory divided between Russia and Poland.
3. The present state of Ukraine was created by the Bolsheviks in 1918. In 1917 they had included it in their treaty with Austria-Germany to end participation in World War I after they had taken over Russia and ended the Czarist regime. The next year they tried to break that treaty but lost the battle. The failure of the Bolsheviks’ revolt against that agreement led to the Central Powers re-imposing terms which created Ukraine as a separate state.
4. Under Stalin, by 1928 Ukraine was completely absorbed into the Soviet Union.
5. When the Nazis invaded Russia, Ukraine was also a major objective. The Soviet Army liberated Ukraine in its drive against the Nazis. When the Soviet Army defeated Germany, Stalin solidified the USSR to include Poland and most of Eastern Europe including Ukraine.
6. On August 24, 1991 the Ukrainian parliament adopted an Act of Independence, as the Soviet Union was disintegrating. For the next 30 years Ukraine has moved toward alignment with Western Europe, toward greater democracy and toward free-market economic development.
7. In 2014 the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea was taken over by “unmarked forces” that included local Russian partisans. Crimea was then incorporated into Russia.
8. On February 24 of this year Russia invaded Ukraine and after a week of making little progress they seem to have begun mass destruction reminiscent of the devastation they inflicted on Chechnya in 2000 as Putin came to power, turning the capitol city, Grozny, into what the UN called “the most destroyed city on earth.”
9. The first tragedy this current invasion has caused is the “greatest refugee crisis in Europe” since the Second World War as more than a million and a half people (half of them children) have fled Ukraine to escape the bombing and destruction.
10. The President of Ukraine has pleaded for NATO to send help.
FACTS ABOUT NATO
1. As Stalin moved toward taking over Eastern Europe after World War II, the USA and 11 other nations in North America and Europe agreed to a North Atlantic Treaty and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed to defend against any aggression by the Soviets against any member state.
2. The USSR formed the Warsaw Pact in response.
3. A major issue arose about the reunification of Germany. Negotiations were complex and there was no agreement about whether or not a reunified Germany would include NATO operations in the former Soviet part of Germany. After reunification Germany continued in NATO. A number of former Soviet bloc nations joined, including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Russia has not liked this expansion.
4. NATO has reiterated its principle that it does not wish to escalate the war, and none of its member states have been attacked by Russia. Member states, however, are free to act on their own, and many have sent military supplies to Ukraine and made extensive humanitarian responses.
FICTIONS ABOUT NATO
“As the Soviet Union was coming apart President GHW Bush promised President Gorbachev that if the Warsaw Pact was dissolved NATO would also be dissolved.”
No such agreement ever became official, but a number of mutual troop reduction and arms control agreements were made and most were carried out. The most important was the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) which was expanded to include decisions about Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The treaty was signed in Paris on November 19, 1990 by 16 NATO states (USA, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, UK, and Belgium) and 6 Warsaw Treaty states (Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union). This CFE Treaty was challenged by Russian President Putin at the Vienna Conference on June 11-15, 2007 and then abolished by Russia in 2015.
“NATO is a threat to Russia, and is continuing to diminish Russia.”
Russian nationalists, including Putin, are determined to (a) re-establish its protective wall of buffer territories, (b) and re-build Russian influence. As nations next to Russia seek to join NATO these goals are being threatened, but not Russian sovereignty. Russian grandeur has been diminished, not by NATO but by the failure of authoritarianism in Russia to prove effective, and thereby to attract allies. Instead, many new nations aspire to join NATO, now including Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
FICTIONS ABOUT UKRAINE
“Ukraine is part of Russia.” Only in the fantasy of leaders of the former USSR is Ukraine not a free and sovereign nation state. Ethnicity and shared culture are not the issue. The will of the Ukrainian people to be free and independent has been demonstrated and solidified as Russian troops invaded Ukraine beginning on February 24, 2022.
“Ukraine is ruled by a Neo-Nazi clique.” There is a neo-Nazi faction in Ukraine, but it has been able to garner only 2% of the votes and no seats in Parliament. The present leadership, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the head, are not Nazis in any form.
“The people of Ukraine want to return to Russia.” Evidence of that is the “insurgency of people in the Donbas region against Ukrainian tyranny”. Indeed, in Putin’s pre-invasion rhetoric he repeatedly voiced support for these “beleaguered people.” It was assumed that Putin was getting ready to send troops to try to take over this small area on the eastern side of Ukraine. But then Russian troops surrounded Ukraine on three sides and invaded from all directions. In the event, the people of Donbas also seem to be fighting against the Russian invasion they were presumed to be in favor of.
“Ukraine will welcome Russian liberators.” This is what the Russian troops expected. It was what happened in Crimea. But Ukraine has resisted the invasion.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.