I don’t remember the topic, I think it may have been health care, but a friend loudly complained, “I don’t care about the past, I care about now.” He was annoyed with me for suggesting there was turmoil with the passage of the Social Security Act under FDR and more with Medicare under LBJ. I have to admit that stunned me for a moment because I look behind nearly every current event that crosses the news.
As I am writing, Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded approval to deploy troops to the Ukraine. The demonstrators in Kiev made use of the Olympic media presence to make their move, and that was smart. But now that the cameras have gone, Putin is laying down some payback for the distraction to his Olympics. All done in the present tense and understandably awful.
But why? What is the back story? Who died and put Russia in command of the Ukraine?
Old story. It began when a Viking named Rurik founded Kievan Rus back in the day. And President Putin claims the same authority for this current invasion in 2014.
I am not trying to write a report for my fifth grade teacher, but the Russians do look at that region as within their sphere of influence. And believe me, I am not an expert on that part of the world–but the impact of Russia’s past claims to the south and west doesn’t require shiny credentials to understand.
After the 1917 Revolution and the First World War, the Ukraine folded into the emerging Soviet Union, it’s boundaries fading from maps for the next seventy years. During Marshall Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1930’s, nearly the entire middle class of Ukrainian farmers, “Kulaks,” were exterminated and the land collectivized.
Russian nationalism, it’s sense of blood and belonging, includes the southwestern region of the Ukraine. And they mean business. I remember the Ukrainian president who suffered mercury poisoning which left him alive, but quite disfigured. Though the proof is circumstantial, the likely perpetrator was the old Soviet KGB, or the agency’s non-Communist replacement. Putin was an operative at that time.
I offer very little in solutions to this aggressive action on the part of the Russian government. We in the West believe the people of the Ukraine deserve their own national integrity and future. Still the pull of history remains overwhelmingly powerful. All I can offer is an understanding of the roots to this conflict. The connection between the two republics stems from a past that is far more complicated and difficult than a headline.To assume that justice and fair play figures into this struggle for freedom is irrelevant. There has never been any such understanding between the Russians and their cousins.
A Russian scholar would certainly shed more historic light on the topic, and flesh out more details and episodes, especially concerning the Romanov Dynasty. However, this iron-clad dynamic exists between the two countries whether the western press examines the connection or not.
For the record, more remote republics are viewed in the same possessive light as the Ukraine, Chechnya for example. If the past provides any guidance, which I believe it does, this story is nowhere near over.