In 2014, Ukraine President (ethnic Russian) Viktor Yanukovych was negotiating with Brussels and Moscow, playing the two against each other regarding financial and other ties Ukraine would have in the immediate future. In the end, he concluded that Moscow had offered the better deal and moved forward to ink the pact.
This did not sit well with the strong majority in Central and Western Ukraine — 75%+ of the national territory — that had European roots and leanings.
Aided by the US State Department, some 3-letter types, and an influential ultra-nationalist paramilitary minority group, a coup-d’etat was performed to replace the previously elected President and the established government. Immediately when the new Parliament was seated it set out to outlaw the Russian language, spoken at home by about 30% of the population, and spoken fluently by more than 50% overall.
The Russian language, culture, religion and traditions were predominant in the southeastern and southern parts of the country that had been part of Russia prior to post-war gerrymandering of national borders long ago.
President Yanukovych fled the country to Moscow. Citizens in two eastern Ukraine states, Donetsk and Luhansk, who were well over 50% ethnic Russian or minorities identifying historically as Russian, started talking about secession. They took the outlawing of the language that operated in their government functions and schools to be a warning of further rough treatment from Kiev.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe joined with Russia and representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk to open negotiations with the Kiev government, seeking special autonomy for the people of the two regions under Ukraine Law, with priority # 1 reinstating the Russian language. An agreement that later became known as Minsk 1 was reached in a series of meetings in Minsk, Belarus in 2014; it granted the regions a degree of autonomy in crafting their state laws which the new parliament was to enshrine in national law, but never did.
A minority group of Ukraine ultra-nationalists that had been incorporated into the new Ukraine government as a paramilitary arm of the Department of the Interior — notable for the uniform insignia and tattoos notorious for having been fashionable in Germany’s Third Reich — and still angry at Russians whom they blamed for Germany’s defeat in WWII, started bombarding the regions that had been denominated for autonomy in the two regions.
One often hears this paramilitary group, self-styled as “The Azov Batallion,” referred to as “neo-Nazis.” This term is often heard as implying anti-semitism, of which there may well be some among them — but their primary targets for hate are Russians, which they call “Orcs” in a manner we would recognize as similar to the use of the “N-word” in the US. Their revered national hero, for whom there are statues in Ukraine, is Stepan Bandera, who led a Ukraine-manned German Regiment against Russia in WWII.
New negotiations were undertaken, once again with OSCE and Moscow representatives involved, and again in Minsk, 2105. A second agreement similar to Minsk 1 was adopted and agreed upon by the 5 parties, predictably known as Minsk 2.
Once again the people of Donetsk and Luhansk were soon under siege; they eventually declared themselves “The independent Republic of Donetsk,” and “The Independent Republic of Luhansk.”
Hostilities between the breakaway republics and the Kiev government continued for nearly 7 more years. According to sources in the two republics, 16,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in those years. The number of 10,000 such deaths seems to be undisputed by Kiev.
The two Republics appealed (I think several times) to Russia for diplomatic recognition, but Putin declined. Finally, in 2021 their entreaties and continuing victimization convinced enough members of the Russian Duma to pass a resolution requesting the Russian government to formally recognize the two Republics, which Putin did.
I think I don’t need to review the role NATO played in pushing Putin by threatening to admit Ukraine into NATO, right on a long stretch of Russia’s southwestern border. Readers here must also know that several US officials — starting with Secretary of State James Baker during negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev for the reunification of Germany — made multiple promises that NATO “would not move one inch” eastward toward Russia’s European border. None of these promises were documented in treaty form, but are recorded in notes of functionaries and confirmed in the words of Gorbachev, who eventually enjoyed a long residence at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
Russia started building up military men and materiel along the border, thought it may have started getting really serious in December 2021. Several sources claim that the Azov Brigade saw the buildup and started planning — according to Russian intelligence — to strike first. Russia pre-empted with an invasion it called a “Special Military Operation”(SMO) on February 24 of this year. The SMO terminology signified — to the Russians if to no one else — that there were specific aims far short of what might be pursued in full-scale war. Those limited aims included avoiding, to the extent possible, harm to civilians or civilian infrastructure.
All of this is separate from Russia’s taking of Crimea, which was done without violence. (I read that there was only one injury to a protestor who drove a truck into the gate of a military base.) Russia has long held its only warm water port (other than a small repair base on the coast of Syria) on the Southwest coast of Crimea at Sevastopol. Everyone in the developed world knew that Putin was not going to allow that very important naval base — on which Russia had a (I think 99-year) lease — slip out of his hands. Also, Crimea has the highest percentage of any Ukraine region of people who identify as Russian. There was a plebiscite, but everyone knew it to be a formality — the region was essentially Russian territory occupied by Russians already. Russia did not take Crimea following the coup in 2014, so much as merely announcing, without violence, that it was theirs.
This is Opinin’, where you will find writing contributed by authors and readers ranging from idle musings to full editorials.
Use the Contribute page to send us your writing for consideration.