The conflict between Moscow and Kyiv has its roots in history. Its essence is that the Kremlin does not recognize the independence of Ukraine. This topic has always interested me, and when I needed to write my essays for me at college, I had to look into it deeply enough. This article appeared out of my meticulous study of material on the subject. I tried to be as factual as possible, stripping away any personal attitudes.
The conditions of tension in the relations between Russia and Ukraine and the great war, which broke out on February 24, have been forming for decades. The arguments put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin date back to the Middle Ages, when parts of present-day Ukraine and Russia were part of Kyiv Rus’. The Kremlin head’s thesis about “one people”, in which he includes the Belarusians in his list, is noteworthy. However, the president of the Russian Federation rarely mentions that Russians and Ukrainians have not always followed the same path and that two languages and cultures have formed – shared but different.
When the two republics became separate countries after the Radyansk Union’s collapse, another political difference emerged. Kyiv followed the path of Western democracies with a change in power. Moscow has turned on him. The current conflict is the result of the policy of the last 30 years. It can be divided into three stages, each for about ten years.
1992-2003: Ukraine is coming. Russia is not against it.
In December 1991, Ukraine, together with Russia and Belarus, was one of the three republics that consolidated the division of the USSR. Moscow expected to save its influence through the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the supply of cheap gas. But it turned out the other way. Russia and Belarus formed a union state, while Ukraine was more often directed to the West.
This was disruptive for the Kremlin, but Ukraine managed to get more than a million troops and the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal from the USSR. Kyiv gave up the missiles, handing them over to Russia in exchange for security guarantees (Budapest Memorandum) and economic aid.
Moscow’s response looked suspicious as long as the West did not reciprocate with Ukraine and did not intend to integrate it into its structure. There was no shooting, except for the incident of the shooting in the air in 1992 when the patrol ship of the Black Sea Fleet picked up the Ukrainian flag and marched from Sevastopol to Odesa.
In the Cold War’s first decade, Russia was economically weak, and the Chechen wars were taking away resources. After the Russian Federation disbanded the Black Sea Fleet and signed the “Great Treaty” in 1997, it recognized the Ukrainian border, including Crimea.
2003-2013: Fractures in post-Soviet friendship
The first great diplomatic crisis between Moscow and Kyiv was over Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the spring of 2003, Russia started building a dam in the Kerch stream in the direction of the Ukrainian island of Kosa Tuzla. Kyiv perceived it as an attempt to break the cordons. The conflict was resolved after a private meeting of the presidents. Construction was halted, but the declared friendship of the two countries received the first cracks.
During the presidential elections in Ukraine in 2004, Russia actively supported pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych, but the “orange revolution” did not allow him to win on the grounds of accusations of fraud. The pro-Zakhid political leader Viktor Yushchenko became the president. His victory became the starting point of the political changes in the Russian Federation. They were aimed at preventing what Moscow calls “colored revolutions,” for which the West is blamed. During Yushchenko’s rule, Russia twice cut off the gas pipeline to Ukraine – in 2006 and 2009, which led to disruptions in transit supplies to Europe.
The key event for understanding the current situation took place in 2008. U.S. President George Bush tried to give Ukraine and Georgia a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at the NATO summit in Bucharest. Putin strongly opposed it, and Moscow made it clear that it did not fully recognize the independence of Ukraine. As a result, Germany and France blocked the Bush plan. Two affected countries, Ukraine and Georgia, were promised membership in NATO, but without a date.
Since the military Alliance could not be reached quickly, Ukraine set a course for economic integration using the agreement on the association with the European Union. In the summer of 2013, a few months before the agreement could be signed, Russia began to exert a large-scale economic pressure on Ukraine, almost blocking Ukrainian exports at the border. In the spring, the government of Yanukovych, who became president in 2010, announced the suspension of preparations for the signing of the agreement with Brussels due to the pressure of the Russian Federation. Yanukovych’s decision triggered protests in Ukraine, which led him to go to Russia in February 2014.
2014-2021: Annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass
Kyiv had a power vacuum when Russia annexed Crimea in February 2014. It was a turning point, the beginning of an unholy war. At the same time, the Russian and local military structures gave postal separatism in Donbas, “people’s republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk, which people led from Russia, in unrecognized uniforms, were voted in. Kyiv reacted in good faith, waiting for the presidential election by the end of June, and only then ventured to use force on a large scale, called an “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO).
At the beginning of June 2014, the newly elected president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, met his Russian counterpart Putin in France for the first time, through the mediation of the leaders of Germany and France, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy. This is how the “Normandy format” came about.
In the evening of 2014, the Ukrainian army began to force the separatists, but by the end of September, Russia, as Kyiv claims, used its army on a large scale in the Donbas. Moscow denies this. Ukrainian forces were defeated at Ilovaysk, which was the beginning of the conflict. The war along the entire front line ended with the signing of an agreement in Minsk to cease hostilities, which was quickly broken.
At that time, a position war began, which is still going on. At the beginning of 2015, separatists went on a broad offensive. Kyiv again accused Moscow of using the army without recognition signs, and Russia again denied everything. Ukrainian forces sustained casualties near the hub city of Debaltseve, which they were able to abandon in a hurry. At that time, Minsk-2, the agreement, which remains the main document for the conflict settlement, was signed with the mediation of FRN and France. None of its clauses have been completely fulfilled, and the parties blame one another.
The breakthrough was deemed possible in the evening and the spring of 2019 when the parties agreed on deploying forces in several areas. But there were no more meetings after the Normandy format summit in Paris. Russia refuses to communicate directly with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, accusing him of failing to implement Minsk-2.
In 2021, the Russian Federation deployed troops to Ukraine’s borders twice – in the spring and late autumn. In March, President Putin, for the first time in an injunction, voiced the request to the United States and NATO not to accept Ukraine and other affected countries into the Euro-Atlantic Alliance and not to provide military assistance to them. The Alliance responded in kind.
2022: The Beginning of Russia’s War Against Ukraine
On February 21 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the independence of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” The parliament of the country ratified the relevant documents. Putin also stated that these institutions include the territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. This is significantly more than the region which the separatists controlled.
On February 24, the head of the Russian state announced the beginning of a “special military operation” against Ukraine. He called the “demilitarization” of the country the goal. The Russian Armed Forces began to strike at Ukrainian cities and military infrastructure – not only in Donbas.