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Historically unresolved tensions, spectre of NATO among factors Putin cites

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Valentina Matvienko was born in West Ukraine and rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, becoming a party leader in a St. Petersburg district at age 35 (pictured). When the USSR fell she entered the diplomatic service, and in 1998 was appointed a Deputy Prime Minister by PM Yevgeny Primakov who was a major figure in the KGB. After Putin took over, she became a governor in St. Petersburg, and her son became a billionaire. She is the only woman on the Russian Security Council, rubber-stamping Putin’s policy on Ukraine. (Photo: @kamilkazani)

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Russia had gathered close to 150 000 troops along the Ukrainian border — many  predicted that this could spiral into the largest military conflict Europe has experienced in decades. The roots of this conflict go back centuries, but have been exacerbated in recent years, mostly due to demographics.

Russia and Ukraine became new countries when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Of all the post-Soviet states, only Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine have considerable Russian language use, (by both ethnic Russians and non-Russians) in everyday life. In Ukraine, the east is more Russian speaking and pro-Russian while the west is more Ukrainian speaking and anti-Russia. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of Ukrainian nationals use more Russian language on a daily basis. To summarize: the eastern part, along the border has a more Russophile culture than the west.

Going back in time, over a thousand years ago, Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev, was the center of the Slavic state, Kyivan Rus, birthplace of both Ukrainian and Russian cultures. Ukraine was rarely ever an independent entity, before 1991. There were only a few periods: right after World War I, and a short span in the 1600s, when they had self-rule. The nation has therefore been under partial or total Russian rule for most of its history, which is a big part of why the subject of Russian influence is divisive in popular discourse. Many see Russia as the source of historical imperialism and to be resisted, while others feel a sense of shared culture and heritage.

To make an analogy, it is probably similar to Scotland and Ireland, where most of them speak the English language today and anglicisation has had a huge impact despite popular discourse, with Northern Ireland wanting to be in the UK and Scotland voting to remain in the UK after a 2014 referendum, despite the popularity of Braveheart! 

Mikhail Gorbachev once said that President George H.W. Bush had told him in the 1990s that NATO would not expand eastwards. Yet, despite this assurance, NATO added Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and other Eastern nations to its membership.

Ukraine, also has not improved economically as well as other post-communist states such as Poland, Lithuania, Estonia etc. which are now 5 times richer per capita than Ukraine. These post-Soviet states that joined the EU progressed due to a shared currency and economic sustenance from the richer Western Europe.

Partly, the size of Ukraine (42 million people) and corruption probably prevented the EU from granting membership to a nation that they see as harder to assist than say the smaller nations they took in prior. The advent of Brexit could only make this harder. Turkey, which is also a poor nation and has a bigger population than Ukraine is in NATO, however, it has a better economy. So, it seems more possible that Ukraine could join NATO rather than the EU, although many analysts feel that this is also unlikely.

In 2014, the pro-Putin then-President, Viktor Yanukovych, was overthrown during the wave of unrest called Euromaidan. Since then, Russia annexed Crimea, Donbass and other regions along the border. The Russo-Ukrainian War has killed over 14,000 people since 2014.

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Before Monday, it was considered a ‘proxy war’ as pro-Russian and anti-Russian militias duked it out. Among them are Serbian, Moldovan and other foreign mercenaries. The Somalia battalion notably is aptly named since they took according to its former commander, “They have no fear like Somalians.”

The inhabitants of Crimea, the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic which are under pro-Russian de jure administration have since been issued Russian passports just like the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia when it also fell under Russian control in 2008 after a war with Georgia.

In a further ratcheting up of tensions on Monday, Putin ordered soldiers into the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk regions, to “keep the peace”, while other military hardware was shifting around the region. There is also a proposed union among these Ukrainian secessionist states to form a new nation called Novorossiya (New Russia).

As we went to press, Putin declared a “special military operation” was underway, after the Ukraine declared a state of emergency; cyberattacks hit banks and government websites, and ground incursions intensified. Footage from Kalanchak checkpoint, which is under Russian attack, showed Ukrainian soldiers and civilians fleeing. (Screencap: @DrAlakbarov Twitter)

Ukraine has a Jewish President and the Neo-Nazi Azov battalion is fighting against Russia, so it is a very turbulent time indeed. US and NATO forces still may not get directly involved like they did in Kosovo, but solely provide additional aid and weapons to Ukraine after  imposing sanctions in response to Putin’s moves. The US has seen 3 presidents since the war began in 2014 as well as the Syrian civil war, which Russia is also involved in: in contrast, Russia has had only 1 leader overlook both conflicts.

Since Putin and Russia have been very consistent in their military strategies, they have persisted in the long-haul despite sanctions and NATO assistance in not one, but two major multifaceted conflicts. So, as long the Eastern regions seem to have a more Russophile leaning, it seems that Russian troops will continue to assist these militias for as long as they can exert their influence.

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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