Times of India (6 March 2022)- Russia and Ukraine have shared a troubled past that stretches all the way back to the 10th century.
Both Russia and Ukraine share the same cultural roots. However, over the course of time, both the countries developed different cultural and political identities.
While Kyiv has resisted Moscow’s attempts to impose its supremacy over Ukraine, the latter has always insisted that Ukraine has always been a part of Russia.
However, despite the animosity between the two nations, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union for over seven decades.
In the last twenty years, there have been repeated instances of Kyiv accusing Moscow of meddling in its affairs.
We trace the history of the troubled relationship between the two nations.
10th – 19th century
The Origin: The modern nations of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus all claim their cultural ancestry to Kievan Rus — a mediaeval principality that was located in the Kievan Rus’ region.
Since the 10th century, the Rus principality was ruled by a Varangian dynasty, the Rurikids. In the 13th century, the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus led to the downfall of the principality.
Until the invasion by Mongols, Kyiv was the capital of Rus from the 9th century until 1240. Moscow then became the capital of the principality of Muscovy and, later, the Russian Empire.
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: In 1569, the city of Kiev became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a buffer state between the two major powers of Europe at the time: the Kingdom of Sweden and the Tsardom of Russia.The Commonwealth was a federation of two states: the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The city of Kiev was the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Annexation of Ukraine by Imperial Russia: In 1783, Ukraine was annexed by Imperial Russia in a largely bloodless event. The Ukrainian Cossacks, who had been semi-independent since the early seventeenth century, were eager to join the Russian Empire, and the tsar was happy to have them. There was some resistance from the Ukrainians, but it was quickly put down. The annexation of Ukraine was one of the first steps in the expansion of the Russian Empire into the Balkans and the Black Sea region.
Early 20th century
Suppression of Ukrainian culture: In the 19th century, the Russian Empire started to suppress Ukrainian culture and language. This was done in an attempt to assimilate Ukrainians into Russian culture. The Russian Empire began moving ethnic Russians into present-day Ukraine in the 18th century. This process continued into the Soviet period. As a result, the Russian population in Ukraine increased from approximately 3.5 million in 1917 to over 34 million by 1989.
The Russian Empire moved ethnic Russians to Ukraine in order to populate the region and make it more loyal to the empire. This was done in an attempt to strengthen Russian control over the area and to extend the empire’s borders.
Ukraine claims independence: On January 22, 1917, the Ukrainian Central Rada (council) issued the “Universal of the Ukrainian People” which declared Ukraine’s autonomy within a federal Russian state. On November 2, 1917, the council issued the “Declaration of Independence of Ukraine” and proclaimed the nation’s sovereignty. A few months later, it proclaimed the establishment of the Ukrainian People’s Republic on January 6, 1918.
The Soviet era
Soviet Union founded: In the Soviet-Ukrainian War (1917-1921), the Ukrainian Bolsheviks defeated the national government in Kyiv and established the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). Ukraine SSR then joined hands with Russia to become the founding member of the Soviet Union in 1922.
Ukraine became the bread basket of the USSR: Ukraine SSR became the bread basket of Soviet Russia because it had rich soil that was perfect for farming. The country’s climate was also conducive to agriculture, which meant that farmers could produce a lot of food. Additionally, the Soviet Union had a large population, so there was a big demand for food. Ukraine SSR was able to meet this demand and became a major supplier of food to the Soviet Union.
Industrialisation of Ukraine: In return, Ukraine SSR became industrialised under Soviet Russia. Factories were built, and the country’s agricultural sector was modernised. Ukraine SSR also became a major producer of coal, iron, and steel. In the 1930s, Ukraine SSR’s industrial sector grew rapidly as part of the move towards an industrial economy. The republic’s large agricultural sector continued to provide the country with large quantities of produce. Despite harsh conditions in Soviet Ukraine during the 1930s, the republic experienced relative prosperity and rapid industrialisation.
Holodomor famine: The rapid industrialization came at a great price as it destroyed the largely agrarian society. Ukraine was under the grip of a man-made famine from 1932 to 1933 that claimed the lives of around 3.5 million people. The famine was believed to have been engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin.
Crimea handed over to Ukraine: In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed over Crimea to Ukraine SSR. This move effectively transferred power over the strategically important region from Russia to Ukraine SSR. The transfer was part of Khrushchev’s vision for a politically unified Soviet Union. It marked the culmination of centuries of conflict and competition between Russia and Ukraine over the territory.
Independence: In the beginning of the 1990s, there was massive support within Ukraine to defect from the Soviet Union. Massive demonstrations took place in support of Ukrainian independence, such as the 300,000-people strong human chain. The chain stretched for over 600 kilometres from Lviv to Kiev, and it is believed to have united over 1.5 million people in support of Ukrainian independence. Later that year, a referendum was held and over 90 per cent of the people supported independence.
Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk was sworn in as the first president of independent Ukraine in 1991. He served till 1994.
Nuclear Disarmament: Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stockpile was third-largest in the world along with technology to design and produce more weapons.
In 1994, Ukraine agreed to destroy the weapons and agreed to join the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). On December 5, 1994, Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the US signed the Budapest Memorandum. Under the terms of the memorandum, Ukraine was promised security assurances in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state.
Orange Revolution: In 2004, a series of political protests took place in Ukraine in response to the elections of Viktor Yanukovych, who also had the support of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The protesters claimed that the result of the elections were rigged by the authorities in favour of Yanukovych.A results were annulled and a revote ordered. In the re-election, Viktor Yushchenko won by securing 52% of the votes.
Euromaidan protests: On 21 November, 2013, Viktor Yanukovych suspended signing the EU Association Agreement and instead chose closer ties with Russia. The decision to not sign the agreement sparks Euromaidan protests. The protests were aimed at widespread government corruption, abuse of power, and violation of human rights in Ukraine. Elected President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted and the Ukrainian government was overthrown.
Annexation of Crimea: In February 2014, masked Russian troops took over the supreme council of Crimea and several other strategically important buildings and pro-Russian Sergey Aksyonov’s government was established in Crimea and it was formally incorporated by Russia as a federal subject.
Russia invades Ukraine: In 2021, Russia started a large military buildup on the border with Ukraine. The buildup continued despite warnings from other western countries. On February 24, 2022, the Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to enter Ukraine.