Many Albertus Magnus students may be wondering what is happening in Ukraine that Russian military forces were ordered to invade the country. The answer is not too complicated, but for many Americans under the age of fifty, the answer may be elusive. I’ll try to give you a succinct answer to what is happening in Ukraine.
In 1917, when Czar Nicholas, the leader of Russia, was deposed and assassinated by Russian communists, the Ukraine sent soldiers to fight on the side of imperialist forces (looking to restore the monarchy) against the communist forces. The communists were then trying to consolidate power across the whole of Russia. After the communist victory in the Russian civil war, the communists took over the Ukraine, absorbing the area into a greater union of soviet-style socialist republics (popularly known for many years as the USSR).
The Ukrainians hated the communists and actually supported the German Army as it invaded communist Russia in 1941, hailing the Germans as liberators from the communists. Soon, however, the Nazi SS began killing Ukrainians just as they had done to other people, turning the Ukrainians against them. The Ukrainians then fought alongside the communists to destroy the German Army. In 1945 the communists pushed German forces out of greater Russia and back into Germany, ending World War II. From that point until the early 1990s, the Russian communists controlled the Ukraine.
When the communist party fell out of power in the early 1990s a number of former communist-ruled areas – among them Georgia, Estonia, Belarus, and Ukraine – became independent countries. Since then, many have struggled to forge parliamentary democracies along the lines of modern Western European countries. It has been a very difficult process, as no in those countries ever experienced democracy before. I therefore believe that what has happened in Ukraine over the past six months is growing pains and blood being spilled as that nation’s citizenry and political leadership comes to terms with what is expected under democratic rule.
Unfortunately, given the unrest in Ukraine, Russian President Vladmir Putin has made the situation much worse by ordering Russian military forces to invade Ukraine.
Ukraine has been called the “breadbasket” of Russia. The land is very fertile and Ukrainian farms have long provided Russia with the bread to feed the citizenry across the nation. In addition, as the country faces the Black Sea (which does not freeze over in winter) it is astrategically vital area for the Russians who desire to keep a naval presence there. The Black Sea, which connects to the Mediterranean, is the gateway to the rest of the world’s oceans for the Russians.
Since the breakup of the former USSR in 1999, most all Ukrainians have wanted to forge closer alliances with Western European democracies rather than remain economically tied to Russia. However, the two nations have gas and oil treaties that make them co-dependent. Recently, Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected offers from Western democracies to join the European Union which would help their economy. This ignited the waves of protests seen for weeks and weeks now. Many Ukrainians are suspicious that Russian President Vladmir Putin put pressure on the Ukrainian president to reject Western economic agreements. They very much want to “westernize” their nation and see closer western ties as a means to improve their economy.
Another issue for Ukraine is that although Ukraine is an independent nation, inside of it is a large area called the Crimea, where many Russians live. They desire some sort of reunification with Russia.
Given that Russia 1) invaded Georgia a few years ago, 2) presently has army and naval forces in Ukraine, 3) wants to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, and 4) has rejected calls from political leaders that it withdraw its forces from Ukraine, it is likely that a war will occur.
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Read more from Michael Geary:
National Security and Civil Liberty: A Chronological Perspective. M. Geary (2014) Carolina Academic Press.
Terrorism Investigations and the Public Safety Exception to the Miranda Rule. M. Geary (2013) Homeland Security Review, Volume 7, Number 3.