Russia - Ukraine. A historical insight

Sara Montesel
Current events

But how has this brought war back to Europe?

By declaring its intention to rely on diplomacy in order to avoid conflict and by reiterating this concept on several occasions, Moscow gained time. The outcome, however, was already obvious to those of us who had followed Putin’s deeds in recent years and understood his communication strategy as well as his modus operandi. Similarly, what was also clear was that declaring Donetsk and Lugansk socialist states was merely a pre-establishment of an opportunity to proceed with a full-scale invasion.

And so, on the night between the 23rd and 24th of February, Russia invaded Ukraine and wiped out its missile defences in a matter of hours. 

But how has this brought war back to Europe? Looking back at recent history, one may recall that in 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved, and Moscow was stripped of fourteen of the republics that had until then been part of the Russian Federation. Ukraine was undoubtedly the most painful loss.

The crisis we are witnessing today originated in November 2013 when Viktor Janukoviych opted against signing a free trade and political association agreement with the EU, thus preferring to strengthen his ties with Moscow.

The civil response was particularly violent: in Maidan Square thousands of Ukrainian citizens protested, demanding the resignation of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president who was also accused of being responsible for the current economic crisis. The protests reached their peak in February 2014, and the government’s response was violent repression in which dozens of protesters were killed. 

The Ukrainian president, impeached by the parliament, decided to flee to Moscow, triggering a new phase of instability.

Shortly thereafter, in Crimea, an autonomous Ukrainian territory populated mainly by Russian citizens, the local government expressed its intention to separate from Kyiv and called on citizens to vote for a referendum on joining the Russian Federation. To the simple question “Do you approve the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine?” 31,891,742 (84.18% of residents) voted, and among them 28,804,071 (90.32%) voted “Yes”. Nevertheless, the poll was deemed illegitimate by Ukraine, the European Union, and the United States. 

Subsequently, in spring 2014, pro-Russian separatists occupied the industrial areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, in the Donbas region, declaring them independent from Kyiv. The resulting clashes only came to an end in September of the same year with the peace agreement signed in Minsk after causing the deaths of around four thousand people. Despite the peace agreement, recent events had irreparably undermined the stability of international relationships with the West. While Russia supported the illegitimacy of the government in Kyiv and condemned the aggression against pro-Russian civilians in the country, the international community and humanitarian organisations denounced the Russian military intervention, which was responsible for fuelling the uprisings while violating the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people.

To this day, it is legitimate to ask why this conflict is generating such a strong media and international response. In fact, since the end of the Cold War, the world has been divided into two opposing factions: the Atlantic Pact and the Warsaw Pact.

The first, which was signed on the 4th of April 1949 in Washington, not only constituted a defensive alliance between the United States and eleven Western countries but was also the treaty that established NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) an international organisation for cooperation in the field of defence. 

The second, established in 1955, is a military alliance between the socialist states of the Eastern faction, which came into being in response to the rearmament and admission of the Federal Republic of Germany to NATO.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has progressively included some countries of the former Warsaw Pact, formerly satellite states of the USSR, and has expanded eastwards. On the one hand, the Russian government considers that this advance has put its national security at risk; on the other, the United States aims to limit Russian expansion in Europe by defending the concept of the self-determination of nations. 

In this respect, although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, it claims its right to freely create alliances with Western states; a right that seems to have to yield in the face of Russia’s concealed desire to keep within its orbit a last “buffer state” to defend its western border.