Throughout its history, Ukraine has been beaten up by its Big Brother Russia, and it is happening again, for the entire world to see. Kyiv was in fact, the first capital of the Czarist Russian Empire, to be replaced by St. Petersburg and later Moscow. After the Czar was deposed in World War I by the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union was created, Ukraine waged a five-year war (1918 to 1922) to become an independent country. Once that effort was defeated in 1922, Ukraine was absorbed into the Soviet Union.
After Stalin became the Soviet dictator in the mid 1920s, he imposed the Holodomor Famine on Ukraine in the early 1930s, starving the Ukrainian people by taking away the grain that they had produced. Up to 8.7. million people died during this brutal time. From 1936 to 1938, Stalin implemented the Great Purge of supposedly disloyal citizens, and during World War II, many millions of Jewish Ukrainians were killed as Hitler’s Wehrmacht rolled towards Moscow. Perhaps 40 million Russians died during the war.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated after 1989, Ukraine became one of the first of its constituent states to declare its independence, and ever since has embraced the European lifestyle and not the Russian lifestyle. This is so even though the Russian and Ukrainian people share a very similar ethnicity, a Christian Orthodox religion, and a language that is very similar. The Russians sometimes regard the Ukrainians as Russians who speak with a slight accent, much like Americans regard Canadians. Many Ukrainians have a Russian or part-Russian ethnicity, especially in Eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.
So what is happening in Ukraine since February 24 is almost like the United States suddenly invading Canada, a country which which we share a long common border and populations that have much in common culturally. It is often hard to determine that someone is a Canadian and not an American, unless they say the word “Out”, which Canadians pronounce “Ooot”. A number of “American” movie stars are in fact Canadian (such as Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, Jim Carrey, and Keanu Reeves).
Putin earned his spurs in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union by using left over World War II artillery and ammunition to shell Grozny, the capital of the breakaway Chechen province near the Caucasus, which has a large Muslim population, in 1999 and 2000, into a pile of rubble to destroy the rebels who wanted to break away from the Russian Federation. This was followed by the Russian invasion of the former Russian state of Georgia, in August, 2008. 20% of Georgia is still under Russian occupation. Also parts of Moldova.
As more and more former Soviet states decided to join NATO and the European Union, including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Putin—as he consolidated his power in the past 10 years—became more and more paranoid that the last remaining Soviet Block countries not already in NATO (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine) would join them. He decided to take action.
Shortly after the 2014 Sochi Olympics ended, Putin invaded the Ukrainian province of Crimea, in a surprise takeover. He said he never knew why Soviet Dictator Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 gave Crimea back to Ukraine. The answer: Khrushchev was himself Ukrainian, and he did it the year after Stalin died as a way to compensate Ukraine for the terrible way that Stalin had treated the state in the 1930s and 1940s. The world was surprised by Putin’s move here, and given how far Crimea was from Western military bases, there was little that could be done.
Shortly after this, Putin also moved troops (“little Green men” not wearing Russian uniforms) into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Eastern Ukraine that had a Russian ethnicity population approaching 50% to “protect” them from the supposed “fascists” in the Ukrainian government. This occurred after the pro-Russian head of the Ukrainian government, Viktor Yanukovych, was driven from power in the Maidan Revolution in 2014 and fled to Russia.
For the past eight years, a war has been fought in Eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian military and the Russian stooges backed up by Putin’s military. The day after the Beijing Olympics ended in late February, 2022, Putin gave the order to invade Ukraine to topple its government and bring Russia’s little brother back into the fold. However, having had a taste of democracy, the Ukrainians—including many of them with Russian ethnicity—have shown that they do not want to be forced to become a part of Russia again. they have fought back with incredible ferocity.
The war has now gone on for over two months, and has moved to Eastern and Southern Ukraine as Putin admitted defeat (at least temporarily) in his effort to take Kyiv and topple the Ukrainian government. The war is expected to go on for months if not years more, as a quarter of the population has fled the country. The world sheds a collective tear for the Ukrainian people, as Putin and his Russian supporters are hated by the rest of the world (except for China and India, who are staying out of the conflict for selfish reasons).
How will it end?
Putin may be paranoid, or perhaps deathly ill with colon cancer or another disease, and he seems to be on a path of killing off or imprisoning those in his government whom he suspects of treason or failing to accomplish his military objectives, or being disloyal oligarchs. He is threatening to push the nuclear button, endangering the entire world.
The only way to end this war is to:
1. Work out a diplomatic solution;
2. Find a way to get rid of Putin; or
3. Find a way to get Putin to “declare victory” and end the war.
Diplomatic solution. Wars often end with ceasefires and the parties staying in place after the ceasefire. This approach would cede to Russia the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine and the “land bridge” between Crimea and Russia north of the Azov Sea. Much of the Donbas region has already been “scrubbed” of the non-Russian population in the areas controlled by the Russians since 2014. (How many have been deported to Siberia over the past 8 years or killed?) As long as Odessa stays free, the “land bridge” area could be ceded to Russia. Much of it, such as Mariupol, has already been destroyed by the Russians. In fact, the Azov Battalion, which is holding out in the bomb shelters of Mariupol and its large steel plant, has a history of fascist thinking, and has been a sore point for the Ukrainian government for many years. But they are ferocious fighters, and could keep the Russians occupied for many months until a ceasefire is reached.
Getting rid of Putin. The problem with a diplomatic solution is that Putin has shown that he never will be satisfied until he brings all the former Soviet Republics back into the fold. Next could be an invasion of the Baltic States and Poland, and bringing Hungary, with its pro-Putin leader, back into the Russian orbit. I recall that starting in 1982, over the span of only a few years, three Soviet leaders, Brezhnev (1982), former KGB head Andropov (1984), and Chernenko (1985), died, opening the way for Gorbachev to assume power, which led to the breakup of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1980s. One can only hope…
“Declaring victory”. May 9 is a key Russian holiday, signifying the end of World War II for the Russian people. All Putin needs is something to happen that allows him to declare a victory and to call back his military from the front lines. But what happens then? Do the sanctions end? Do they continue? On what terms? Can Russia ever be trusted again, even if Putin is gone?