A recent uprising among protesters raises a question whether the Ukraine is stuck in a post-Soviet ring of fire since its independence in 1991. The former big brother among the nations of the union that lead the communist world for decades is now being accused of playing a string puppet chess game in Kiev, while many Ukrainian patriots seem to want a more western-based foreign policy.
To give a quick overview of the history these two countries share, the Ukraine is really the cradle of both. Established as “Kievan Rus”, the Grand Duchy of Kiev was the second city-state known as “Rus”. Founded in the later half of the 9th century AD by a Varangian (Eastern Viking) led coalition including Finns, Balts and Slavs, it’s territory that included most of modern-day Belarus and nearby territories in modern-day Russia. Most of its modern-day southern and eastern regions belonged to the Khazar Khanate at the time.
It wasn’t until the death of Mstislav I of Kiev, son of the legendary Vladimir Monomach of Kiev, that “Old” Russia fell apart, and Muscovy became a city state, under the rule of Yuri “Dolgoruki” (ENG: “the long-armed”), who’s labeled the founder of Moscow. Thus, the two became separate countries.
The Ukraine then went through invasions: The Mongols, Lithuania (later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), Turks, Cossacks and eventually, again under Russia. During the days of Ivan IV, and later, the Romanovs, the Russian empire expanded. Under Catherine the Great, the Tatar Khanates in the south and east fell and were settled by Ukrainian and Russian settlers, linking the Russian steppes to the sea and Europe to Asia. So the post-Soviet era, which the Ukraine might still be experiencing the residuals of, can hardly count as the first time the country finds itself stuck in a ring of fire.
This quick overview gives us perhaps a deeper perspective into what lies at the root of the conflict today as we can look at the patterns throughout their history. Still today, this is a large geographically and also geopolitically important country with different ethnicities, some of whom might still seek to identify as Russian, whose native language is Russian, not Ukrainian. Some have another native language, such as Rusyn or Belarussian (related to Russian and Ukrainian), or something different entirely.
There has, however, been a visible pull in several of the former USSR countries since the fall of the union, as we’ve noticed especially in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Chechnya (which is still under Russia) and Belarus, to name a few. Many believe that there’s a pull toward the west, toward the European Union, and, to a lesser extent, the United States, especially from the younger generations, particularly in the European former SSR republics. They would further believe that in the meantime, a geopolitical chess game is being conducted by the Kremlin, using local politicians as string puppets to maintain supremacy in the old union’s territories.
The “Orange Revolution” of 2004 – 2005 involved a claimed electoral fraud performed by the authorities in favor of Viktor Yanukovych, who happens to be the current president as of 2010, over rival Viktor Yushchenko. The Supreme Court eventually ordered a revote, at the end of which rival Yushchenko was inaugurated.
Whether pre- or post-Soviet, the Ukraine has a historic tendency to be stuck in a ring of fire, a tug of war between superpower neighbors and now, perhaps even global powers. Some believe that the Ukrainian people’s ability to unite as a nation, and the ability of the big power players, such as Russia, the USA and the EU, to value Ukrainian lives over geopolitical and financial interests, will determine the outcome and future of the Ukrainian nation.
Editorial By Halldor Fannar Sigurgeirsson