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Modern Ukraine & Russia, Essay Example

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Essay

During the 10th and 11th centuries, modern-day Ukraine was probably the most powerful state in Europe. Weakened by internal quarrels, the state took on many forms until absorbed by the Russian Empire in the 1775.[1]  During the twentieth century Ukraine experienced much death and destruction. For example, the pogroms of 1905, WW1 followed by revolution, civil war and WW2 are but a few major events affecting the lives of the Ukrainian people. According to the Foreign Broadcast Information Center:

Following the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917, Ukraine was able to achieve a short-lived period of independence (1917-20), but was reconquered and forced to endure a brutal Soviet rule that engineered two forced famines (1921-22 and 1932-33) in which over 8 million died. Although final independence for Ukraine was achieved in 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR [Union of Soviet Socialist Republic], democracy and prosperity remained elusive as the legacy of state control and endemic corruption stalled efforts at economic reform, privatization, and civil liberties.[2]

This paper briefly examines some of the major events impacting Ukraine in the twentieth century and then looks at modern Ukraine in the context of its relationship between with Russia since the nineteenth century.

There existed ethnic and political tension in Ukraine. After the ‘October Manifesto’ was issued by Tsar Nicholas II in 1905, a number of anti-Jewish pogroms were carried out.  Over 400 Jews were killed, 100 non-Jews were killed and over 300 Jews and others were injured in the city of Odessa. Historians believe that these official figures understate the actual numbers of people killed or injured during this period. Klier and Lambroza write:

Dmitri Neidhardt, City Governor of Odessa during the pogrom, estimated the number of casualties at 2,500, and the Jewish newspaper Voskhod reported that over 800 were killed and another several thousand were wounded.” Moreover, various hospitals and clinics reported treating at least 600 persons for injuries sustained during the pogrom. Indeed, no other city in the Russian Empire in 1905 experienced a pogrom comparable in its destruction and violence to the one unleashed against the Jews of Odessa.[3]

The start of hostilities between Austria-Hungry and Russia in World War I had an immediate effect on the people of Ukraine. Cultural organizations, pamphlets and leaflets were censored and political figures were arrested or exiled. As Austrian forces retreated west, thousands of Ukrainians were executed for having pro-Russian leanings. After the advancing tsarist Russian forces occupied Galicia, they instituted policies to incorporate the region into the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian language was not allowed to be spoken. They shut down local institutions and tool steps to close the Greek Catholic church. The Austrians stopped the campaign by Russian forces as they reoccupied Galicia in the spring of 1915. The region continued to be used for military operations until the end of the war.[4]

As a result of the Russian Revolution of 1917, life began to get better for the Ukrainians. The new Provisional Government allowed free speech and assembly. They removed the restrictions on minorities that were imposed by the tsarist Russian forces. Normal life soon returned in Ukraine with the press starting back up and the revival of political parties. In March 1917, a representative body, the Central Rada, was formed in Kiev and in April the new ‘All-Ukrainian Congress’ elected historian Mykhaylo Hrushevsky as its leader. While the Russian Provisional Government recognized Ukraine autonomy, disputes over territorial responsibilities broke out. Relations between Ukraine and Russia soured after the November 7, 1917 Bolshevik coup. The new Bolshevik Russian government proclaimed authority over Ukraine. The Central Rada’s refusal to accept this and on November 20 announced the formation of the Ukrainian National Republic. In retaliation, the Bolshevik government stated that Ukraine was a member of the Soviet republic.[5]

The Ukraine was a major theater of war during World War II. Snow writes, “While it is clear that Ukrainians played an important role in the victory over Nazism, during the military occupation of Ukraine by Nazi Germany some Ukrainians chose to collaborate with the Nazis for various reasons, including the hopes for self-rule and dissatisfaction with Soviet control.”[6] The attitude of the Ukrainians towards the Germans soon changed as hundreds of thousands of people were mistreated, deported and used as slave laborers. Most Ukrainians saw the advancing Red Army as liberators by the end of the war. Over 4.5 million Ukrainians fought against the German army during the war.

While Russia and Ukraine have a long history filled with periods of cooperation and strife, in the formal sense, Ukrainian-Russian relations have an extremely short history. It began when the parliamentary chairmen of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk and Boris Yeltsin of Russia met in Kiev in November 1990 to sign a treaty recognizing each other’s sovereignty. For the first time in more than three centuries of Russian rule, a representative of Moscow had travelled to Kiev to recognize Ukraine’s equal status. After returning to Moscow, Yeltsin told his parliament that Russia, in its own interests, no longer wanted to claim any special role. He said that Ukraine does not wish to become the centre of any new empire and receive advantages over other republics. This attempt to put Ukrainian-Russian relations on a new basis still assumed the continued existence of the Soviet Union. Each side recognized the other’s ‘sovereignty’ rather than its full independence. However, the treaty was just another step towards the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of the republics which accelerated sharply after the failed Moscow coup. On August 24, 1991, Ukraine’s parliament declared independence in a referendum. Within a week, Ukraine’s independence was recognized by Russia unconditionally. With the resignation of Gorbachev and the final collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine and Russia entered 1992, on paper at least, in the unfamiliar guise of fully independent states. From that time on, both Ukraine and Russia have been trying to deal with a foreign policy in uncharted territory.

The normal diplomatic roadmaps used by Western governments in the 1990s, with their familiar organizations and treaties such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) have been of little use to policy-makers in Ukraine and Russia. Orest writes:

Lacking any formal framework for relations as independent states, each side has fallen back on its own historical memories and myths as a guide to action, a tendency reinforced by the pressures of domestic politics in each country. For Russia and Ukraine, both struggled to redefine their statehood, nationhood and interests in the post-1945 world. Not surprisingly, the memories on both sides diverge sharply and have shaped widely differing expectations and aspirations. Individual areas of dispute such as the division of the Black Sea Fleet, the control of nuclear weapons and the related issues of debt and property are symptoms of a wider failure to reach an agreed political basis for the new Russian-Ukrainian relationship.[7]

For Ukraine, the crucial recollection is of the Pereyaslav agreement of 1654 in which the Cossack Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky swore allegiance to the Tsar of Muscovy. While historians still disagree over the exact nature of the agreement, they agree that the treaty was ambiguous from the beginning.[8] Disagreement quickly followed. The Ukrainians understood the Pereyaslav Treaty as obligating both signatories and as a military association in the form of a personal union and (quasi) protectorate. This was a source of contention for the Muscovites, who believed the treaty gave them the right to occupy the Ukrainian Cossack state. [9] Conflict was inevitable.

The Russian look at their relationship with the Ukraine differently. Instead of seeing Ukraine as an enemy, the Russian version of history does not recognize Ukraine at all, or fails to see it as a separate entity from Russia. At best, Ukrainians are ‘younger brothers’, junior shareholders in the Russian empire rather than its victims. Mikhailo Hrushevsky, the historian who later to become the first president of the ill-fated Ukrainian republic, wrote in 1904, “This is an old scheme which has its beginnings in the historiographical scheme of the Moscow scribes and at its basis lies the genealogical idea-the genealogy of the Moscow dynasty.”[10]

The traditional ‘scheme’ that Hrushevsky was questioning is still the only one valid for most Russians and is generally accepted in the West too, where the Muscovite perspective on eastern Slav history is rarely challenged. It traces Russian history back in a straight line through Muscovy to the Kievan state of ‘Rus’ in the early medieval period.  Hrushevsky writes, “One should not forget that Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, was the birthplace of the Russian nation.”[11] It was here a thousand years ago that the Russians adopted Christianity, wrote one American political scientist of Russian origin.[12]

The collapse of the Soviet Union changed the rules of Russian-Ukrainian relations in several ways. It gave a new role to Western governments and institutions, particularly the United States, as potential mediators in the Moscow-Kiev relationship. It also highlighted the emergence as independent actors of such neighboring states as Belarus and Kazakhstan. As Russian-Ukrainian relations suddenly moved into the unfamiliar setting of ‘foreign policy’, Russian and Ukrainian domestic politics became for the first time cut off from each other, losing the remnants of the all-Union framework.[13] This tended to augment the roles of politicians and parties who had chosen a purely national, rather than all-Union, context for their activities. The main beneficiary of the shift to national politics proved to be the ex-communist Kravchuk, whose victory in the Ukrainian presidential election of December 1, 1991 owed little to ideology or policy but much to his success in appearing to be a symbol of national unity capable of reconciling the differing interests of western and eastern Ukraine. Since his victory, however, Kravchuk had has lost much of his initial dominance, both over parliament and over the government. Without any kind of organized ‘presidential party’ behind him, he lost influence in skirmishes with parliament. His room for maneuver in key areas of policy become narrower, with parliament increasingly overriding his wishes by delaying ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), for example, and by claiming Ukrainian ownership of nuclear weapons on its territory.[14]

Despite frequent declarations by Yeltsin that Russia will no longer pursue an ‘imperial’ policy towards its neighbors among the former Soviet republics, Ukraine has frequently complained Moscow had not changed. In practice, Moscow’s definition of its own interests since January 1992 had been inconsistent and to a large extent passive, in that it has responded to initiatives from the other republics, who themselves have had difficulty defining what their relationship with Moscow should be.[15] The pendulum has swung back and forth between a ‘Russia first’ course giving priority to the interests of the Russian Federation with scant regard for neighboring states, and a broader concept of Russian interests at the centre of a wider alliance or union of post-Soviet states. Among the Ukrainian political elite, although not among its economic managers, there was an initial consensus that the building of an independent state was incompatible with any form of political, economic and military integration with Russia. According to Corbert and Gummich, there was widespread belief that peacefully backing away from Russia which would allow Ukraine to cut the limit the economic ties through which Russia had taken Ukraine’s resources and given little in return. These ideas were bolstered by the almost total absence of proper statistics about the real terms of trade between Russia and Ukraine, and by the conclusions of a much publicized report by Deutsche Bank which gave Ukraine better economic prospects than the other former Soviet republics.[16]

Ukraine’s persistent trade deficit with Russia and with the outside world as a whole weakened its negotiating position with Moscow on the complex issue of succession to the Soviet Union’s foreign debts and assets. For political reasons, Ukraine has always insisted on a separate share of Soviet assets and liabilities and has rejected Russia’s offer to assume general responsibility for both. “While there is room for debate about the degree of unselfishness of the Russian position,” writes Aslund, “most of the other former Soviet republics, strapped for cash, have been happy to accept Moscow’s formula, that Western economist call ‘magnanimous.”[17]

Military tensions over the Black Sea Fleet and over control of nuclear weapons are sometimes perceived as the causes of the poor relations between Ukraine and Russia, instead of as their result. While there is some evidence that the military hierarchies in Ukraine and Russia have exacerbated the problems, it is on the whole more realistic to see the officer corps as the victims of the tug of war. In many cases military units and their officers have had to pay the price of the failure by Russian and Ukrainian leaders to agree on what their future security relationship should be.[18] The Ukrainian takeover of army and air force units was largely the result of giving military units the right to decide their own futures, a move which weakened civilian political control over the armed forces. Rather than splitting their units along ethnic lines, most Russian officers preferred to swear loyalty to Ukraine, although, like the coal-miners of the Donbass, their motivation may have been based on a shrewd judgment of their material interests. Few wanted to exchange housing in Ukraine, however modest, for the likelihood of a tent somewhere in Russia, as Russia was unable to house thousands of disgruntled military officers after withdrawing them from Germany and other former Soviet Republics. As time went on, relationships between the two states continued to deteriorate.[19] Several factors lead to that further deterioration. Ukraine and Russia had signed an agreement on the prevention of rocket attacks and the control of airspace in 1997. In February 2008, Russia unilaterally withdrew from this agreement. The 2008 South Ossetia War created more disputes between the nations as Russia would not agree to the Ukraine terms for the allowing Russian troops to cross their border. According to an October 2008 article on Radio Free Europe’s website, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticized Ukraine for being involved with the war by supplying arms and troops to the war.[20] Ukraine claimed that Putin’s claims were false. In January 2009, a dispute began between Russia and Ukraine over the price Ukraine was paying Russia for natural gas. As a result of this dispute, Russia curtailed delivery. The Ukraine began working on a delivery plan with the European Union while Russia claimed that Ukraine was greedy and wanted to take advantage of cheap Russian natural gas. On July 17, 2013 there was an incident between a Russian coast guard boat and a Ukraine fishing boat. According to witnesses, the Russian boat rammed the fishing boat, resulting in the death of four Ukraine fishermen. The Russian took one fishermen into custody charging him with poaching in Russian waters. On August 14, 2013, the Russian Custom Service halted all imports from Ukraine.[21] Many believe this action was designed to prevent Ukraine from finalizing a trade deal with the European Union. Frequent border incidents continue as tensions between the two countries remain high.

CONCLUSION        

Since independence, Ukraine has been forced to acknowledge that its economic position is weaker, and its leverage both with Russia and with the West far more limited than it originally believed. It has become obvious that Russia, with its near-monopoly over Ukraine’s energy supplies, is in a better bargaining position.[22] The Russian-Ukrainian conflict has so far been largely one between political elites. Ethnic tensions between Russians and Ukrainians have failed to materialize, and separatist pressures have been contained without spilling over into the kind of violent insurgency seen in the Caucasus and in Moldova on Ukraine’s western borders. Nonetheless, for Ukraine and Russia there remains a long list of unsolved problems, any of which could sharply worsen if either Putin or Yanukovych were to be replaced by more nationalist figures.[23] Fresh elections in Russia and in Ukraine could either help to stabilize relations, or introduce fresh tensions. Economic decline in Ukraine relative to Russia could threaten internal cohesion and increase the risk of separatism in Russian-speaking regions. An election win by pro-Moscow Russian nationalists in Crimea could spell real trouble for Ukraine, as could further industrial unrest in the Donbass.

The Ukrainian view is that most of the problems between Ukraine’s and Moscow’s differences would quickly vanish if Russia would abandon ‘imperial thinking’ and come to terms with Ukrainian independence. But the alternative view is that Ukraine is equally to blame for being unable to come up with a realistic strategy for relations with its powerful northern neighbor. There is a strong case for saying that Ukrainian policies have sometimes tended to exacerbate ‘imperial thinking’ in Moscow.[24] According to an article on December 7, 2013 in The Voice of Russia, Russia and Ukraine are working on a new agreement for restoring full-scale cooperation. [25] Time will tell if both countries can forget the past and adopt this new cooperation for the benefit of both nations.

Bibliography

Aslund, Anders. Systemic change and stabilization in Russia. London: Post-Soviet Business Forum, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1993.

Corbet, Jurgen and Gummich, Andreas, The Soviet Union at the crossroads: facts and figures on the Soviet republics. Frankfurt: Deutsche Bank, 1990.

“FBIS-SOV-90-225.” Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1990.

Hrushevsky, Mikhailo, ‘The traditional scheme of “Russian” history.” The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the US, II, No. 2, New York, 1952.

Klier, John D. and Lambroza, Shlomo. eds. Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Kozyrev, Andrei. FBIS-SOV-93-013Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1993.

Nahaylo, Bohdan. “The shaping of Ukrainian attitudes toward nuclear arms.” RFE/RL Research Report, vol. 2, no. 8, Munich, February 1993.

Pritsak, Omeljan and Reshetar, John S. Jr. “Ukraine and the dialectics of nation-building.” Slavic Review XXII, Seattle, No. 2, 1963.

“Putin Sharply Criticizes Ukraine Over Georgian Arms Reports.” Radio Free Europe. October 3, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Putin_Sharply_Criticizes_Ukraine_Over_Georgian_Arms_Reports/1293613.html.

“Russia’s customs service halts all Ukrainian imports, says Ukraine’s Employers Federation.”Economy. Interfax News Agency: Ukraine. http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/164137.html.

“Russia, Ukraine draw up “roadmap” for boosting economic cooperation, December 7, 2013.”

The Voice of Russia. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_12_07/Ukraine-Russia-draw-up-roadmap-for-boosting-economic-cooperation-4470/.

Simes, Dmitri K., “America and the post-Soviet republics.” Foreign Affairs, New York, Summer  1992.

Snow, Edgar. The Pattern of Soviet Power. New York: Random House, 1945.

Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: a history. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

“Ukraine.” Europe. CIA World Factbook. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/up.html.

“Ukraine.” United States Institute for Peace. http://www.usip.org/category/countries/ukraine.

“World War I and the struggle for independence.”  Ukraine. Encyclopedia Britannica.  http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/612921/Ukraine/30076/World-War-I-and-the-struggle-for-independence.

[1] “Ukraine.” Europe. CIA World Factbook. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. https://www.cia.gov/library/ publications/the-world-factbook/geos/up.html.

[2] “FBIS-SOV-90-225.” Foreign Broadcast Information Service. (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1990), 72.

[3] John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, eds. Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, Cambridge University Press, 1992: 248-89.

[4] “World War I and the struggle for independence.”  Ukraine. Encyclopedia Britannica.  http://www.britannica.com/ EBchecked /topic/612921/Ukraine/30076/World-War-I-and-the-struggle-for-independence.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Snow, Edgar. The Pattern of Soviet Power. (New York, NY: Random House, 1945), 73.

[7] Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: a history. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 134.

[8] Ibid, 135.

[9] Omeljan Pritsak and John S. Reshetar Jr., “Ukraine and the dialectics of nation-building.” Slavic Review XXII, Seattle, No. 2, 1963, 23.

[10] Mikhailo Hrushevsky, “The traditional scheme of “Russian” history.” The Annals of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in the US, II, No. 2, (New York, 1952), 355-64.

[11] Dmitri K. Simes. “America and the post-Soviet republics,” Foreign Affairs, (Summer 1992), 82.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Ukraine.” United States Institute for Peace. http://www.usip.org/category/countries/ukraine.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Andrei Kozyrev. FBIS-SOV-93-013, (January 22, 1993), 31-4.

[16] Jurgen Corbet and Andreas Gummich. The Soviet Union at the crossroads: facts and figures on the Soviet  republics (Frankfurt: Deutsche Bank, 1990).

[17]Anders Aslund. Systemic change and stabilization in Russia. (London: Post-Soviet Business Forum, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1993), 11.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Putin Sharply Criticizes Ukraine Over Georgian Arms Reports.” Radio Free Europe. October 3, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/Reports/1293613.html.

[21] “Russia’s customs service halts all Ukrainian imports, says Ukraine’s Employers Federation.” Economy. Interfax News Agency: Ukraine. http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/economic/164137.html.

[22] Bohdan Nahaylo, “The shaping of Ukrainian attitudes toward nuclear arms.” RFE/RL Research Report, vol. 2, no. 8, Munich, February 1993, 21.

[23] “Ukraine.” United States Institute for Peace. http://www.usip.org/category/countries/ukraine.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Russia, “Ukraine draw up “roadmap” for boosting economic cooperation, December 7, 2013.” The Voice of Russia. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2013_12_07/Ukraine-Russia-draw-up-roadmap-for-boosting-economic-cooperation-4470/.

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