Feb 26, 2022 Clare Fitzgerald, Guest Author
The history of Russia-Ukraine relations is a contentious one. The pair’s relationship dates back long before the creation of the Soviet Union and has continued after its dissolution, and throughout it all there has been little peace. Here’s a detailed look at the history between the two countries.
Ukraine’s unrest up until the creation of the USSROver the course of centuries, Ukraine has been fighting for independence while controlled by different groups. This began during the 10th century when various tribes came together to form Kyivan Rus‘, a governing system based near modern-day Kyiv but, as expected for the time, plagued with feudal conflict. Approximately 300 years later, Kyivan Rus’ was invaded by the Mongols.
Upon the Mongol invasion, the two nation’s cultural myths split. Part of the Kyivan Rus’ stayed in modern-day Ukraine, reforming as the Cossack Hetmanate under Mongol rule. Another section of the Kyivan Rus’ left and moved north, towards modern-day Moscow. The Kyivan Rus’ who moved north eventually established the Tsardom of Russia, while the Kyivan Rus’ who remained transformed into the Cossack Hetmanate, and eventually were overrun by the Polish and Lithuanian armies in the 16th century.
During the 17th century, war broke out between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Tsardom of Russia, splitting Ukraine between the east, which was controlled by Russia, and the west, which fell under Polish control. This divide existed until 1793, when the Russian Empire annexed western Ukraine, plunging the country into a century of “Russification.” For Russia, they claimed this was “reunification” of the Kyivan Rus’, but for Ukrainians, it was another subjugation.
Following the start of the Russian Revolution, Ukraine became embroiled in civil war, during which it existed independently as the Ukrainian Central Rada (the Central Council of Ukraine). This lasted until 1922 when it became absorbed into the Soviet Union.
To force Ukraine’s peasants to join collective farms, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin created a manmade famine in 1932-33, killing an estimated 7.5 million Ukrainians and recognized today Holodomor. Following this, large populations of Russians were relocated to bolster up and Russify Soviet satellite states in the east.
Collapse of the Soviet UnionBetween 1989 and 1990, anti-Communist protests swept across Eastern and central Europe, beginning in Poland and spreading across the Soviet bloc, and Ukraine was no exception.
By July 1990, there was a vote in favor of Ukraine’s independence and a new parliament. However, this struggled to remain legitimate in the face of Soviet pressure. Following a failed coup in Moscow in mid-1991, Ukraine’s parliament once again declared independence, which was supported by 92 percent of Ukrainians.
The USSR officially dissolved on December 26, 1991. A little less than a year later, Ukraine established relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Association (NATO).
Ukraine following the dissolution of the USSRIn 1994, with Ukraine in possession of the world’s third-largest stockpile of nuclear arms, the Budapest Memorandum was organized. Completed in partnership with the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, Ukraine’s government agreed to trade away its nuclear weapons in exchange for the other signatory countries respecting its “independence and sovereignty” and existing borders.
Between 1994 and 2004, President Leonid Kuchma began to transition Ukraine towards the Western, capitalist world. He didn’t run for office in 2004, instead, picking Viktor Yanukovych to be his successor. Yanukovych went up against Viktor Yushchenko, who was poisoned during the campaign process.
When the assassination attempt failed, the ruling party used voter intimidation to win a runoff election. This prompted what became known as the Orange Revolution, a series of protests and sit-ins held by Yushchenko’s supporters. This caused the previous election results to be voided, and in the second runoff, Yushchenko was elected as the country’s new president.
In 2008, Yushchenko and his Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, formally requested to join NATO. While US President George W. Bush showed support, Germany and France voiced their opposition after backlash from Russia.
On January 1, 2009, Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas company providing natural gas to Ukraine, stopped sending gas through its pipelines, the result of failed negotiations over gas prices. This soon caused a continent-wide gas crisis, as countries in Eastern and central Europe relied on Ukraine’s pipelines to receive gas from Russia.
Tymoshenko was eventually able to negotiate a deal with Putin, albeit under intense international pressure.
Ukraine as a “neutral state”Viktor Yanukovych was elected into office in February 2010, winning against former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. He announced Ukraine should be a “neutral state,” cooperating with both its Western allies and Russia.
In October 2011, Tymoshenko was arrested and convicted of “abuse of power” in relation to the 2009 negotiations with Russia during the gas crisis. She was sentenced to seven years in prison, prompting the West to share its concerns over the country’s potential persecution of political opponents.
Maidan RevolutionA few days before it was due, Yanukovych announced he wouldn’t sign a 2013 deal with the EU to bring free trade to Ukraine. Citing pressure from Russia, he said he would instead revive economic ties with the country. This prompted mass protests across Ukraine and calls for him to resign.
The situation escalated in late February 2014, when the violence between protestors and authorities resulted in the death of over 100 people. At the time is became the single bloodiest week since Ukraine left the Soviet Union.
Facing an impeachment vote on February 22, Yanukovych fled to Russia. Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove him from office, and in his place organized an interim government. He was also charged with the mass murder of the protestors who’d been killed during the Maidan Revolution. The interim government proceeded to announce that Tymoshenko would be released from prison and the agreement with the EU, signed.