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Russia without Ukraine is a country;
Russia with Ukraine is an empire.

Ukraine-Russian Relations

The Kremlin had hoped that by fomenting a separatist insurgency in east Ukraine’s Donbas region, Ukraine could be snapped back into the Russian orbit, but the strategy appears to have backfired. The debate over whether Ukraine should look west and align with the European Union or east towards Moscow appears to be over. The March 2019 presidential election was another major stage in Ukraine’s journey to break free of Russia and carve out an independent future for itself free of constraints imposed by the Kremlin. It is the first since the Soviet era that has not been dominated by debate about whether Ukraine’s best prospects rest with the West or Russia. Being labeled Russia-friendly was a liability for any candidate in an election that featured 43 hopefuls. An estimated 13,000 people have died in the Donbas conflict. As a result, two-thirds of Ukrainians view Russia as an “aggressor country,” fueling pro-West sentiment and public support for the country to join NATO.

popular TV comedian Zelenskiy, who turned the race upside down by capitalizing on economic hardship and public fatigue with falling living standards, promised to engage with the Kremlin to end the conflict in the Donbas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin informed George W. Bush at a NATO meeting in Bucharest in April 2008 : “Ukraine is not a real country.” By this, he meant that Ukraine has been an integral part of Russia for a thousand years. He publicly refers to Ukraine as Little Russia.

In his annual state of the nation address to parliament and the country’s top political leaders, on 25 April 2005 Putin said the Soviet collapse was a tragedy for Russians. “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” Putin said. “As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.... The epidemic of collapse has spilled over to Russia itself,” he said, referring to separatist movements such as those in Chechnya. “We are a free nation and our place in the modern world will be defined only by how successful and strong we are,” Putin said.

From the point of view of geopolitics the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, in fact, was inevitable. The outburst of confrontation was only a matter of time. American political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in his book "The Grand Chessboard”, analyzing the consequences of the collapse of the USSR, that the most painful for Moscow was the loss of Ukraine. Over time, it has become clear that Russia is not going to put up with it and just waiting for the right moment. "However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia," Brzezinski said in the book, published in 1997.

Two long articles in consecutive issues of "Dzerkalo Tyzhnya" ("Weekly Mirror") 12 and 19 September 2009 on Russia and Ukraine co-authored by Volodymyr Horbulin, Director of the Institute of National Security Issues and formerly National Security Advisor to President Kuchma. After a lengthy analysis of Russian politics, Horbulin concluded that various ideological and domestic factors "are forcing the Kremlin to make the extraordinarily dangerous and risky wager on Russian imperialist chauvinism and the fanning of militarist psychosis." While Moscow was not looking for a new global competition with the West, he wrote, Russia views the "taming" of Ukraine as the key task in restoring its regional domination. Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus all trace their origins to Kyiv, the "mother of Russian cities" that was once the capital of the great state of Kyivan Rus. All three countries have separate, but related, languages. Russians have not reconciled themselves to Ukraine's independence. Boris Yeltsin, in January 1994, described Russia's position in relation to other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States as "first among equals"; and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, in summer 1993, called Ukraine "a mythical state”. Zbigniew Brzezinski writes of "...the widespread feeling in Moscow that Ukrainian independence is an abnormality as well as a threat to Russia's standing as a global power."

Stephen J. Blank noted that with respect to Russia, "Kiev has good reasons for genuine alarm or concern about its security. Foremost among them, and perhaps the most deeply rooted and enduring, is many Russian elites' visceral and deep-seated belief that without Ukraine, Russia's very identity is imperiled and that Ukraine is nothing more than "Little Russia" (Malorossiia).... For many, even liberals, Ukraine's independence is worse than treachery; it strikes at the very concept, let alone existence, of a Russian state."

The population of Ukraine is about 45 million. Ethnic Ukrainians make up approximately 78% of the total; ethnic Russians number about 17%, ethnic Belarusians number about 0.6%. The industrial regions in the east and southeast are the most heavily populated, and the population is about 70% urban. Ukrainian and Russian are the principal languages. Although Russian is very widely spoken, in the 2001 census (the latest official figures) 85.2% of the ethnic Ukrainian population identified Ukrainian as their native language.

Moscow tended to view the Commonwealth of Independent States [CIS] as the basis for a future restored military-political union ofthe former Soviet republics. Since 1991 Russian clashed often with Ukraine on economic, territorial, and military issues within the CIS which the Ukraine refused to see as more than an instrument for a civilized divorce.

Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dmitri Trenin said in June 2014 that Putin's prime objective in Ukraine was keeping it from joining NATO, the Western defense alliance. He said Russia hopes to attain that goal by pushing for a higher degree of autonomy for eastern Ukraine's Russia-leaning population. “It is not dismemberment of Ukraine for the sake of annexing bits and pieces of Ukraine to the Russian Federation," Trenin said. "It is not instability for the sake of instability.”

NATO is reluctant to accept new members with security issues as it could drag the organization into military conflict. “Putin's strategy with regard to NATO is probably not failing," Trenin said. "I do not see any reason to believe that either Georgia or Ukraine, and I would include Moldova in this category, is on a path to join NATO in the foreseeable future. I just don't see it. I see very little appetite for that, particularly in Europe.”

Despite Kiev’s plan to cut its reliance on Russian energy supplies, by 2017 Russian natural gas continued to remain the crucial component of the country’s energy sector. Moreover, Ukraine remains a transit country for Russian gas to Europe, and Kiev does not want to lose transit fees. The issue of a new transit contracts between Ukraine and Russia’s Gazprom was on the agenda. In February 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia may continue to supply gas to Europe via Ukraine if it is economically reasonable.

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Page last modified: 05-03-2019 18:32:14 ZULU